Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mainspring by Jay Lake

Mainspring (2007) is Jay Lake's third novel, and his first offering to the Steampunk subgenre. Like Boneshaker, Soulless, and The Difference Engine, Lake's offering to the subgenre is an alternate history. However, unlike those stories, the point of divergence with our world occurs at the very moment of Creation.

God, called the Tetragrammation in Mainspring, created the world as a giant clockwork mechanism placed on brass tracks. There's an Equatorial Wall that splits the industrialized Northern hemisphere from the agrarian Southern hemisphere, and the tracks that lead the Earth around the lamp of the sun run along it. The Mainspring of the title is the mechanism at the center of the world, which needs to be rewound or disaster will strike.

The story opens with the archangel Gabriel's visit to one Hethor Jacques in New Haven, Connecticut. Gabriel informs Hethor that the mainspring of the Earth is winding down; he charges Hethor with finding the Key Perilous and rewinding the spring before disaster strikes. This is the same action that the Brass Christ (Jesus) performed centuries ago prior to his horofixion (crucifixion) on a wheel and gears. In fact, the wheel-and-gears and not the crucifix are the symbols of Christianity in the Mainspring universe.

The story itself is a classic example of the Hero's Journey blended into a Christ-like, messianic tale. That Hethor will succeed in rewinding the mainspring is never in doubt, and the message of the story seems to be that if God wants you to accomplish a task then by-gum you're going to accomplish that task.

There appears to be some token conflict from the Rational Humanists, a group that wants the mainspring to wind down so humanity can be free, but Hethor never gets into a situation where you think he might fail. There's not even a sense that the "DISASTER!" of the mainspring actually stopping is a real possibility.

The most interesting thing about this story, I find, is the Steampunking out of Christianity. Lake actually makes Intelligent Design theory interesting by making the gears of creation visible for everyone to see. There's no question in Lake's universe that God exists. I mean, look at the brass tracks the Earth runs along around the lamp of the sun. That there are still people who doubt the existence of God in that mechanistic world, even when the evidence is right in front of their faces, is absolutely fascinating.

Also, and this is kind of cool, Lake actually Steampunks the Lord's Prayer:

“Our Father, who art in Heaven
“Craftsman be thy name
“Thy Kingdom come
“Thy plan be done
“On Earth as it is in Heaven
“Forgive us this day our errors
“As we forgive those who err against us
“Lead us not into imperfection
“And deliver us from chaos
“For thine is the power, and the precision
“For ever and ever, amen. (102-03)" 
That is ten different kinds of awesome, that Lake decided to go full-tilt and Steampunk out a major world religion. Even if Hethor Jacques isn't that interesting of a character, or is in any real sort of danger at all, I'd suggest reading Mainspring purely to get a sense of the sheer scale inherent in wholesale alteration of a religion to fit your fictional universe's worldview.


L. T. Host said...

You know, my TBR list about reaches the ceiling thanks to you.

Someday, someday...

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Wow. That is fascinating. And highly inventive.

Adam Heine said...

That cover art is ten kinds of awesome too.

ggray said...

This book looks and sounds awesome and Jay Lake is such a cool guy. I must read this soon.