Genre: Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
Hardback: 272 Pages
Publication: July 1, 2014
by Tor Books
In All Those Vanished Engines, Paul Park returns to science fiction after a decade spent on the impressive four-volume A Princess of Roumania fantasy, with an extraordinary, intense, compressed SF novel in three parts, each set in its own alternate-history universe. The sections are all rooted in Virginia and the Battle of the Crater, and are also grounded in the real history of the Park family, from differing points of view. They are all gorgeously imaginative and carefully constructed, and reverberate richly with one another.
◆ A copy was provided by Tor Books for review ◆
To summarize what I think was going on in part one: the protagonist of an alternative historical South, where a matriarchic Confederacy has won the American Civil War, is writing/thinking about an alternative steam punk-esq America in another war against invaders. The protagonist of this alternate world, who is a mirror of the first protagonist, is also telling a story, which is actually the first protagonist’s life. Sounds completely mind boggling right? That summarizes a small part of my experience reading All Those Vanished Engines.
This book uses the concept of “Braiding” is used to weave multiple plots together to form a whole story. This in itself is not uncommon, see Game of Thrones for a proper demonstration. All Those Vanished Engines differs, however, in that it uses multiple dimensions of inception so that the stories simultaneously weave in and out of each other. The concept in and of itself is incredibly interesting and innovative, but the execution is handled so poorly that I had a hard time following even a few pages. I had to step away from the book and re-approach to get the full picture.
I like the idea behind the three-part narrative. It is balanced on key locations and artifacts, which keeps the reader more or less focused during the narrative progression. In many ways, it reminds me of tag words used in Norse poetry and prose that date before Latin comes to Scandinavia. In these forms, like the “Lay of Rig,” certain key elements are repeated in order to help the listener keep track of the story’s progression. The protagonists themselves aren’t particularly interesting but serve their purpose as part of the overall plot movement.
That said, parts two and three are far, far better in terms of readability. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say that the overall book is worth the read, as the poor narrative framing of part one ruined for me what could have been at least a moderately decent book.
I give this 1 out of 5 K. W. Jeter’s