Booklicious: Booklicious Reviews: The Dream of Perpetual Motion

April 20, 2010



The Dream of Perpetual Motion (St. Martin’s Press), Dexter Palmer's literary debut, is a novel of the dystopian, steampunk persuasion. It begins abnormally enough, with a focus on the current situation of our central character, Harold Winslow. Told through flashbacks, Harold lays out a good portion of his life, all in the vain hope that someone will eventually find his manuscripts and read them to gain understanding about the decisions he has made. In his memoirs, he describes how as a child he met the reclusive yet powerful Prospero Taligent and his adopted daughter, Miranda, both of whom will have a powerful connection to him throughout his life. He also recounts his childhood, and family relationships with his father, Allen, and his artistic sister, Astrid. His father regales him with the tales of his past, what he refers to as the Age of Miracles, offering a tantalizing taste of nostalgia to a boy who seems to dispassionately hate the society he was born into.

It seems that the Age of Miracles has passed, though, and Harry now is placed in the Age of Machines. Hand in hand with the Age of Machines, a few of the novel’s characters argue, goes the death the language, of storytelling, of writing. Ironic, it would then seem, that Harry works for a greeting card company. He had earlier aspirations of being a writer, a storyteller, even as he’s told, “Storytelling – that’s not the future. The future, I’m afraid, is flashes and impulses. It’s made up of moments and fragments, and stories won’t survive.” Because of the society he lives in, Harold settles for less and suffers through a mediocre job.

As Harold continues on with his somewhat disjointed memoir, the reader is shown a rather weak individual who, among other things, is always looking for a way to avoid the noise made by machines. As heroes go, Harold certainly doesn’t seem to be one to hold in high esteem. Although his thoughts concerning language, the lack of learning in schools, and the past Age of Miracles are captivating (go figure, an English major getting her geek on concerning the power of language!), he’s not really a character you can rally behind or acknowledge will succeed in a mighty way. These are really intriguing discussions, especially when presented as a contrast to the character of Prospero Taligent, who’s spearheading the Age of Machines. All of this is really fun to consider and play with on a literary level, considering the origins of his and his daughter’s names. As Prospero continues to permeate society with his machines and inventions, though, I was often left wondering if Harold would ever have the gumption to press back, and offer a yin to Prospero’s yang.

Most dystopian novels have a level of social commentary to follow, and this novel doesn’t disappoint. It’s certainly no action or adventure story, even as you arrive at the climax of the tale. Since it’s told in flashbacks, you really could piece the story together yourself, and the ending is not that much of a surprise. That being said, the relatively short epilogue felt like a trip down Terry Gilham’s Brazil. If that reference escapes you, just know – it gets weird. Really weird. For me, weird enough that it trumped most of the story and left a slightly sour taste in my mouth. If you have a creative imagination, you might have seen it coming – I did not. If this is a genre you prefer and easily get into, I’d highly recommend this novel. If this isn’t a genre you know you dig, I’d pass. 


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