Friday, December 14, 2012

Science Fiction: Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

My selection for this week is yet another nominee for the 2012 Goodreads Choice Awards. Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker was nominated for the category of Best Science Fiction, but was beat out by Terri Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth. Even so, after reading the synopsis and the reviews, my interest was sufficiently piqued.

The Situation: Joe Spork is a clockworker attempting to live a quiet life in Britain, repairing clocks in his failing business and trying unsuccessfully to carry through assassination attempts on a local menacing cat. I say that Joe is "attempting" to live the quiet life, because his father was a well-known and notorious gangster. And a gangsters life is exactly the kind of life Joe wishes to avoid. He wishes to follow more closely in the footsteps of his grandfather rather than his father. It is his grandfather who taught him about clockworking, and he shares his grandfather's view concerning his father's life, and wants nothing to do with it.

The Problem: Another reason why I say that Joe is "attemtping" to live the quiet life is because it is his very trade of clockworking that gets him into trouble. One particular machine that a client has entrusted him with turns out to be a very important piece to a doomsday device. Joe eventually figures this out, but unfortunately, some other very interested parties, that are also very dangerous, have figured this out as well. Soon it appears Joe's father's way of life has found him after all, and only by embracing his family's history will he be able to save the world as we know it.

Genre, Themes, History: Angelmaker is science fiction with a fabulous amount of dry British humor. There is just the right amount of the absolutely ridiculous to make it funny without causing it to lean too much outside of the realm of believability. This book also approaches the idea of an apocalypse in a new and originial least to me. The doomsday device that is supposed to bring humanity to its knees is like nothing I would ever have imagined, causing me to see Harkaway as an incredibly creative and inventive writer. Also, there are zombies at one point. They may not be the focus and only have a brief appearance, but they are there. Another theme that comes up is something that always makes an excellent, but also incredibly tiresome, supervillain: the desire to want to be equal to God, and to also live forever. These two desires in an inheritantly evil person never manifest themselves for the goodwill of mankind. And these villains are also the hardest to kill because they will literally do anything to make their dream com true, despite the fact that it is impossible.

My Verdict: I am always pretty wary of science fiction, but this was absolutely delightful. It was refreshing and not too confusing (there were a few paragraphs I had to reread because I would realize a few pages avterwards that I clearly missed something very important), and as I mentioned before, pretty funny. And the story has a little bit of everything: there are spies, gangsters, complicated doomsday devices, a complicated family history unveiled in a wonderfully creative way, scary monks, zombies, a heinous supervillain, a viscous but still incredibly loveable pug, and bees. Yep, bees. There isn't as much science as I was expecting for a science fiction novel, but I still think science fiction lovers will enjoy it.

Favorite Moment: When all of the pieces of Joe's family history, and the truth about his grandparents, all comes together for him. The way Harkaway reveals it all just blew me away.

Favorite Character: I really want to pick Joe. He is a bit boring in the beginning, but steadily picks up steam and becomes a serious force by the end of the book. But I also appreciate Polly, the sister to Joe's ganster lawyer friend, Mercer. She may be a pretty face, but she isn't one to be messed with either.

Recommended Reading: Due to my limited knowledge and exposure to science fiction, I don't feel like I can adequately recommend another science fiction novel, but I would like to recommend George Orwell's 1984. Certain parts of Joe's interactions with the creepy monks remind me of Orwell's thought police and their methods of torture. I know...creepy.

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