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The Falling Machine: The Society of Steam: Book One
Andrew P. Mayer
Pyr, 285 pages

The Falling Machine
Andrew P. Mayer
Andrew P. Mayer is the author of a short comic story titled "Om Nom Nom" published by Dark Horse Comics. He is the chief creative officer for Mob Science games where he creates social games for Facebook. Previously he worked as a game designer and creative director for Sony Psygnosis, the Cartoon Network, and PlayFirst Games.

Andrew P. Mayer Website
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A review by Dave Truesdale

Steampunk is quite the sub-genre de jour of late, its popularity having grown to the point over the past number of years where it has even acquired its titular name. As its audience has grown so have the number of writers jumping on this proto-SF bandwagon in both the novel and short form. It thus becomes necessary for the author to distinguish himself from the crowd by coming up with some sort of fresh take, or variation, on what have already become steampunk tropes -- the basic cogs, gears, and wheels upon which this clockwork approach to retro-SF storytelling has been built.

As with any genre or sub-genre it is what the author does with the tropes, the standard tool kit, more than anything else. How does one make a time travel story interesting, or an alien invasion story fresh, when they've been done to death? How to come up with an idea so new and intriguing as to interest the most jaded, yet still eager for something new steampunk fan?

With The Falling Machine: The Society of Steam, Book One I believe Andrew P. Mayer has come up with a winning combination of seemingly disparate elements and woven them into an entertaining and ultimately successful narrative.

Set in prime steampunk territory -- Victorian-era New York in 1880, a mere three years prior to the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge -- Mayer introduces us to the Society of Paragons, a group of gentlemen adventurers devoted to fighting crime and whose motto is "To Protect Those Who Cannot Protect Themselves." Each has adopted an alter ego and dresses accordingly: the Turbine, Sleuth, Iron-Clad, Submersible, The Industrialist, and others. They acquire their "powers" through ingeniously constructed armor powered by the substance known as "fortified steam," the secret of which a group of villains led by one Lord Eschaton will do anything to get.

When the inventor genius and original founder of the Paragons is murdered, the group falls into disarray, for their fallen leader and mentor, Sir Dennis Darby, has left instructions that his greatest creation, the Automaton named Tom, be voted in as the society's new leader. In-fighting ensues, for there are those within the society who hold that Tom is not truly human and who seek the leadership position for themselves, who would shape the Paragons into something other than the altruistic organization Sir Darby envisioned. In the interim, Alexander Stanton, otherwise known as The Industrialist, becomes the new leader of the Society, a man whose long history and friendship with the late Sir Darby is more than a little checkered, and whose beautiful, headstrong, 20-year-old daughter Sarah takes it upon herself to investigate Sir Darby's death -- a man she has adored since early childhood.

Thus are the plot wheels set in motion, for it is learned there is strong evidence of a traitor among the Paragons. When one of the members attempts to investigate Sir Darby's assassination he is thwarted, and evidence seems to indicate that the loyal and highly intelligent Automaton Tom is at the center of all the foul play, though Sarah believes otherwise and that her friend Tom has been framed.

Mayer constructs an engaging mystery in time-honored fashion here, with plenty of the trappings of such Victorian era mysteries: large, many-roomed and corridored mansions, heavily wood-paneled libraries with plush furniture, secret sliding wall panels, a large workshop cum laboratory deep in the bowels of Professor Darby's home; an assassination, a murder, a possible traitor, and our young Sarah Stanton and the Automation Tom at the center of it all as Sarah aligns herself with Tom in his flight from the Paragons and the local authorities while trying to clear himself. And if that isn't enough, the evil Lord Eschaton and his minions are out to find Tom as well, for in his metallic heart he holds the secret to the powerful treasure known as "fortified steam."

The reader can expect equal measures of action, suspense, and intrigue in The Falling Machine, but Mayer also adds a layer of semi-gritty realism to the overall narrative that makes the front story -- steampunk superheroes battling their evil counterparts -- an even more satisfying read. Mind you, however, that as the first part of a trilogy, there are a few loose ends and character histories yet to be filled in, and while the exciting cliff-hanger ending might not work for some, I found it a perfect way for the author to ensure that readers will return for the second installment, for we just have to know what happens next.

If you're a fan of George R.R. Martin's long-running, popular Wild Cards series and just can't get enough of the steampunk phenomenon and need a fresh fix, then The Falling Machine is for you. It's a lot of good, clean fun and I welcomed it as a much-needed respite from so much other fiction that takes itself far too seriously.

Copyright © 2011 by Dave Truesdale

Dave Truesdale has edited Tangent and now Tangent Online since 1993. It has been nominated for the Hugo Award four times, and the World Fantasy Award once. A former editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he also served as a World Fantasy Award judge in 1998, and for several years wrote an original online column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

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