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Andrew P. Mayer's The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam, vol. 1) - Elf M. Sternberg
Andrew P. Mayer's The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam, vol. 1)
Andrew Mayer's The Falling Machine is a strange and lovely book. It starts with a great idea: The Avengers, only steampunk, and now old and decrepit. The Paragons are a team of superheroes, and all of their equipment is driven by tiny energy sources only one man in the world knows how to make: Cells of Fortified Steam power The Submersible's suit, as well as Iron-Clads armor and The Industrialst's weapons. With one exception-- The Sleuth, who's a suave martial artist now in his mid-60s-- the Paragons depends upon various forms of Fortified Steam to operate specialized powered armor.

That one mad scientist is Dr. Darby, who is killed in chapter one. The Industrialist's daughter, Sarah, loved him as an uncle, and is determined to both free his greatest creation, a sentient robot known as The Automaton, and to figure out why he died. The Paragons are in disarray because, while they can operate the machine that makes Fortified Steam, they don't know if they can reproduce the secret it if and when it fails, and they know that someone else, The Eschaton, is after that very secret. And when things start to go very wrong, it looks like the Automaton may be a killer in their midst.

Only Sarah knows the truth.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, there is a Volume 2 out already, and I do intend to pick it up soon. It's brilliant in a special way, especially in its depictions of a 19th century New York with a very small handful of recently emerged super-powered crazies, both just and unjust. Mayer's writing style is revealed in a merging-plotlines way that I find off-putting. Chapters will end with characters suddenly showing up to save or complicate the day, followed by another chapter that explains how and why that character happened to be there.

Mayer does do a very good job of showing Sarah beating on the walls of the cage created by gender expectations in 19th century Americana, and how surprised Sarah is when she finds the walls are made of wet cardboard, and how uncomfortable she is walking through the hole she just punched through one, and for that he deserves a lot better attention.

A lot of the Steampunk milieu bows to the imperialist fetishism of 19th century eurofantasy steampunk by playing up London or Paris as a setting of choice, probably due to watching one too many Guy Ritchie films. The Falling Machine avoids that entirely, and is a welcome addition to the steampunk shelf if only for that reason alone.

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