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Souls in the Great Machine (Greatwinter Trilogy) Paperback – May 12, 2000

3.7 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 40th-century Australia, Zarvora Cybeline discovers the world is threatened by destruction from the sky--yet the planet doesn't have enough technology even to build a steam engine. To save civilization, Zarvora must recover lost 21st-century technology. But technology is proscribed, and the dangers from the sky are joined by enemies in the sea, and even among her own ranks. Zarvora embarks on a bold and ruthless plan to save a world no one else believes is in danger.

Souls in the Great Machine is a big book at 450 pages. Stuffed fuller than a Thanksgiving turkey with great storylines, characters, and concepts, it's got thrilling action, hair's-breadth escapes, tyranny, treachery, villainy, heroism, duels, riots, war, love, hate, obsession, powerful women, mad monks, a returning ice age, a lost race, rediscovered civilizations, invasions, executions, high-tech, steampunk tech, a computer with human components, and numerous subplots. In short, Souls in the Great Machine is huge; it is epic--but it is not sprawling. In the hands of most authors, this complex and ambitious SF novel would be a trilogy. And while Souls may occasionally move a little too fast, the plot never drags and the reader's interest never flags. If you're looking for a sense of wonder, for adventure that respects your intelligence, for an enormously fun read--look no further than Souls in the Great Machine. --Cynthia Ward --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Fast-paced and amusing, McMullen's latest novel (after The Centurion's Empire) is an action-packed adventure in the tradition of world-building SF. Set 20 centuries in the future, in a postnuclear winter society, the tale centers on the Calculor, a fantastic calculating machine powered by nameless human components who remain imprisoned within its workings. As the Highliber of LibrisAaka head librarianAZavora is the de facto ruler of the Calculor, and thus of all Confederation society, packing more political clout than the mayor himself. Through the Calculor's number crunching, Zavora has discovered that the world will be plunged into another "Greatwinter," or ice age, unless she can gain control of a satellite in Earth's orbit, which seems nearly impossible given her society's limited technology. Aiding Zavora in her mission are the Abbess Theresla, who has an innate ability to resist "the Call," a psychic phenomena that forces all humans to follow its deadly beckoning; Lemorel, a spirited young street fighter and librarian within the Libris; and Johnny Glasken, a rogue and former prisoner of the Calculor. McMullen's dramatic pacing and believable characters ensure that readers will enjoy Zavora's quest through a well-wrought, richly imagined multidimensional world.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Greatwinter Trilogy (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (May 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312872569
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312872564
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sean McMullen is an award winning Australian author working in science fiction and fantasy. He has written over seventy stories and seventeen books, and has a PhD in Medieval Literature from the University of Melbourne.

In 2011 his novelette Eight Miles was runner up in the Hugo Awards, and he has won Poland's Nova Fantastyka for Voice of Steel and the Analog Reader's Award for Tower of Wings. His books, stories and articles have won another twelve awards in Australia.

His first internationally published novel was The Centurion's Empire, which featured a time machine built during the Roman Empire. This was followed by the Greatwinter trilogy, set in a post-apocalyptic Australia ruled by a caste of psychopathic librarians, and his four volume Moonworlds series, which saw McMullen use his unique blend of science and romance in a fantasy setting.

His most recent series is the Century War series for young adult readers. Set in 1901 Melbourne, Before the Storm has been reviewed as The Terminator meets the Bronte Sisters.

Sean's non-fiction work includes the non-fiction Strange Constellations, a history of Australian science fiction jointly written with Van Ikin and Russell Blackford. He also co-wrote the first histories of Australian fantasy and horror with Steven Paulsen.

Sean works full-time in scientific computing, and in what's left of his spare time, he is a third dan black belt in karate, and teaches at the Melbourne University Karate club. People have called him a renaissance man: the question is, which renaissance?

This biography was provided by the author or their representative.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I found Sean McMullen's Souls in the Great Machine a difficult book to evaluate. On the one hand it has some wonderful, sense of wonder-inducing ideas, and some exciting action and colourful characters. But the "colours" of the characters are a bit garish, certainly unrealistic, as they act out the author's whims. And the plot, action-filled as it is in places, also drags in other places, and is somewhat creakily structured. On the whole, though, I recommend this novel for the neat stuff, with a warning that it is far from perfect.
Many years after a disaster called Greatwinter destroyed human civilization, people in what was once Australia live in smallish city states. Technology includes fairly ingenious mechanical devices, and guns, but no electricity or electronics. A central feature of local civilization is the libraries, where intelligent men and women seem to maintain what records of the past they can. The most important library, called Libris, is in Rochester, and a new leader, Zarvora Cybeline, has just been appointed. She establishes a curious project: a huge calculating machine, the Calculor, in which the individual components are human slaves. Add to this intriguing setup a culture which places great emphasis on personal combat -- duels. And one more odd feature -- a mysterious Call, to which every animal larger than a cat, including humans, is subject.
Into this mix Sean McMullen throws Lemorel, a young provincial woman and a talented mathematician, whose ambition has led her into several duels. She ends up at Libris, with many other talented mathematicians, supporting the Calculor. There is also Zarvora, the odd genius who has invented the Calculor, and who has some mysterious use for it besides simply improving communications and tax collection.
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Format: Paperback
Souls in the Great Machine is an epic novel set in Australia of the distant future. An unspecified disaster and extended winter has erased most traces of world of the 21st century. Electricity is a memory, steam engines are forbidden, and a siren "Call" of unknown origin periodically lures untethered people and large animals to their death.
This is an ambitious book and the first half of the story is well told as we follow the ruthless librarian Zevora's struggle to build her beamflash network and Calculator. The Calculator is a primitive computer where the "circuits" are actually people who have been pressed into service. The development of the beamflash system and Calculator mirror the modern development of the personal computer and internet and you do get the feeling that such as system could be built without electricity and silicon.
After this promising start, the novel begins to unravel. Characters are constantly bumping into each other by chance as they travel around the interior of Australia. The coincidental meetings become more and more annoying as credibility is stretched. Eventually, one of Zevora's lieutenants, Lemorel, breaks away from her service and rallies what amounts to a barbarian horde which she uses to attack the cities under Zevora's control. This is a major plot point and the fighting occupies much of the novel. Unfortunately, Lemorel's motivation for starting her rebellion is not convincing and she plunges an entire continent into war for little apparent reason other than the author wanted to have the war occur.
The ending of the book feels rushed as too many characters and plots are wrapped up very quickly.
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1 Comment 15 of 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
Souls in the Great Machine is a big book filled with lots of great big Science Fiction ideas. Enough ideas to make the average sci-fi fan drool in anticipation.
Big Idea One: Humanity in post-apocalyptic Australia is regularly beset by The Call, a strange siren call that makes everything larger then a small dog drawn to the south like lemmings are drawn to the sea.
Big Idea Two: Something is going on in outer space. Some sort of intelligence is building a structure in Earth orbit designed to reflect light away bringing on the next Greatwinter.
Big Idea Three: Despite a complete lack of technology, a huge computer is being designed and built. Not with circuit boards and transistors, but with kidnapped human beings armed with abacuses.
And there is a whole lot more that goes on. Human powered galley trains, networks of light towers transmitting coded messages across the continent, and so on.
But the focus is in this book is on the technology. Granted, it's cool technology, but after a while it really gets tiresome. By the time I was finished, I knew more then I ever wanted to know about post-apocalyptic trains. In fact, this story could have been call Souls Riding the Great Trains. Ultimately, I cared more about the machines in this book then the people.
And here is the big problem. The characters act in an illogical and inconsistent manner. The author suffers from a God complex. Need a war in the West? So-and-so will start one. Why did so-and-so do that? Because the author made them do it. The characters are not evil, they are written that way.
Once the characters start to careen off track, the story follows. What begins as compelling story-telling, ends as a train wreck of inconsistencies. Even the Big Ideas get wasted (the source of The Call is just plain stupid and disappointing). For me, this is not Book One in the Greatwinter Series, it's Book Only.
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