(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
By Ian Tregillis
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
So to be clear, what makes Ian Tregillis' The Mechanical such a dazzling success as a genre novel is primarily his world-building and other "what if" skills; predicated on a fairly standard premise from steampunk literature ("What if physicist Christiaan Huygens had actually invented robots in the 1600s?"), what makes the novel so compelling is what Tregillis guesses would happen to world history as a result, presenting us with a retro-futuristic 1929 in which an all-ascendant Dutch Empire rules the planet (due to being the sole possessors of robots for the last 250 years), steam power was never developed (who needs steamships when you can just have 10,000 robot rowers in the bilge of your luxury cruise liner?), and a defeated French aristocratic diaspora live in exile in Montreal (along with a defeated Vatican), where Catholic rebels have formed a robot "underground canal system" (remember, no railroads) in order to save the "souls" of these artificial creatures, and whose main weapon in their no-tech society is petroleum-based epoxies that gum up a robot's intricate mechanics when hurled against one in battle. But that said, as all us genre fans have learned the hard way over the years, even the greatest premise in the world can't be saved without competent skills in dialogue, character development and the other building blocks of a decent novel; and so while Tregillis' skills in such aren't particularly spectacular, it should be noted that they're good enough to do the job, mainly getting out of the way so we can enjoy the heady theoretical 20th century so unlike our own that the author has posited here. Volume one of a coming trilogy (volume 2 is already out, in fact), this was a thrilling enough and philosophically challenging enough start to make me excited about continuing the series; and it comes strongly recommended to steampunk fans, although you might want to skip it if you're not.
Out of 10: 8.8, or 9.8 for steampunk fans