Thursday, January 25, 2007

8. The Space Machine by Christopher Priest

The Space Machine cover pictureFound this one in a used bookstore in Berkeley. I really enjoyed Fugue for a Darkening Island and always keep my eyes open for anything by Christopher Priest. The Space Machine is a "re-creation of the Victorian scientific romance" (from the back blurb) and Priest's hommage to H.G. Wells. It's about a young salesman in Victorian england who, when trying to sell driving goggles to the female assistant of a well-known inventor, ends up becoming romantically entangled with the woman. This all happens in the very beginning of the book.

The real story starts when they decide to take the inventor's time machine out for a spin. 10 years in the future, the hero sees the woman he has just fallen in love with being burned to death by a flame-ray coming from the sky. In his shock and horror, he tries to prevent them from returning to the past in order to avoid her fate. He messes with the controls on the machine and sends them spinning out of control.

Where they end up totally surprised me. I am not going to get into any spoilers beyond saying this book expertly fits its narrative between The Time Machine and the War of the Worlds. The two protagonists are not the most efficient and sometimes do some really stupid things, but it seems appropriate for their age and upbringing. Christopher Priest is a very talented writer, capturing the late-nineteenth century language with sentences like "The enormity of my situation was without parallel" (referring to being in a woman's room in a traveller's hotel!). The concept and backstory that he comes up with is also really cool. It's interesting because I never considered the War of the Worlds beyond its original presentation but in the last couple of years I re-read the original book and now two novels that go a long ways towards positing explanations for the martian invasions. Good stuff.

Fugue was great, but for some reason it didn't start me on a real interest in Priest's works. I see now that he is capable of a wide range of good writing. Seeing blurbs for some of his other books, with equally intriguing plots, furthers my interest to really start reading his stuff. And then check out this picture here. That's a good look for a British sci-fi author.Christopher Priest picture

1 comment:

chris priest said...

bloody wonderful!