Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

"Write down what you think happened, or what you believe happened, or something like what might have happened. All of these are better in the end than writing down nothing at all; all are true, in their own way."
The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer is written from the perspective of Harold Winslow, a greeting-card writer imprisoned aboard a zeppelin that floats above a city with a motor run by a perpetual motion machine designed by Prospero. Harold was in love with Prospero's daughter, Miranda, and his only company aboard the zeppelin is her voice which he can hear but not find, as well as Prospero's frozen body. The Dream of Perpetual Motion is written in chapters alternating from Harold's memoirs of his life before the zeppelin as well as short chapters of what life is like in the air and how his daily routine goes.

When I first picked this up I didn't realize it drew on The Tempest by William Shakespeare, but about twenty pages in I learned that when I went to add the book on Goodreads, which is when I decided that I would put it down and pick up the play instead since I hadn't read it yet. Although I do not think knowledge of the play is necessary in order to enjoy The Dream of Perpetual Motion, it certainly enhanced my understanding of some of the themes involved in the novel as Palmer plays on the relationships between Miranda, Prospero and Caliban. That said, Palmer has developed a unique and rich story all on his own. The book itself belongs to the genre of steampunk, one I had not previously experienced, and which basically means science fiction taking place at a time when steam power was the dominant form. The world Palmer has created is both eerily familiar, and completely different, as Prospero's inventions often verge on the magical and include increasingly lifelike robots as technology continues to replace humans. Although this is my first experience with steam punk, I did not get the impression that Palmer's world was particularly unique or revelatory, but I did appreciate the way he made it come to life. 

The story of The Dream of Perpetual Motion begins when Harold ends up with an invitation to Miranda's birthday party. Prospero and Miranda never leave their tower, and he has decided to bring children to her so that she may become better socialized. At the end of the evening, Prospero tells the children that he be following their lives from now on and eventually they will receive their heart's desire. Harold doesn't take this offer seriously, but as the events of the novel unfold he realizes just how far Prospero will go to fulfill his promise.
“Oh, I promised you your heart’s desire all those years ago,” Prospero said. “I didn’t say I’d give you what you wanted.”
The Dream of Perpetual Motion is richly written novel, and I think it moves beyond the genre of steam punk into the realm of literary fiction because of its strong character development and language. It was also exceedingly strange at time, in a weird yet enjoyable way. The aspect of the novel I wished for more development of was the relationship between Harold and his father and sister, Astrid, who play an important role in the first half of the book but seem to mostly disappear from Harold's mind about half way through. There was also a few scenes that verged on silly, such as when Palmer included himself as a minor character in the novel, especially considering this is his debut, as well as an incident involving throwing acid

Despite some flaws, perhaps growing pains expected in a first novel, the most notable thing about The Dream of Perpetual Motion is the language, which results in a dream-like world at times as Palmer takes the reader strange and wonderful places. There is a dark tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that occasionally appears throughout the book, and although it didn't always work (see acid incident), when it did I loved it. The book also contained many vivid images that stuck with me after reading it, in particular the scene involving Astrid's artwork. There are also a lot of philosophical layers and illusions to the book, so that I think it will stand up well to repeated readings which is always something I appreciate, and I plan to pick it up again in the future...perhaps when I'm a bit smarter!

Ultimately, The Dream of Perpetual Motion was a well-rendered, richly creative novel and although it has some flaws, Palmer somehow manages to combine adventure and philosophy into one dark and intelligent book.

Release Date
: March 2nd, 2010 (February 1st, 2011 in Paperback)

Pages: 368
Overall: 4/5
Source: Publisher
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