Tuesday, 4 October 2011

'The Falling Machine' - Andrew P Mayer

The Falling Machine is the debut novel by Andrew P Mayer. It's the first part in the Society of Steam trilogy set in a alternative version of New York. I really like the blurb for this book. It's about a 19-year old socialite Sarah Stanton and her desire to join the Paragons, the foremost group of super heroes in New York. Their current leader is murdered and with the help of an automaton she has to find his killers. Thank you Pyr Books for sending me a review copy of The Falling Machine.

Sarah Stanton is accompanying Professor Darby, the leader of the Paragons, and her childhood friend Nathaniel, to the construction site of the Brooklyn Bridge. With them is the Automaton, the Professors greatest invention, who is a mechanical man with the ability to think. Their guide, one of the Irish construction workers, takes them to the top of the tower. The two young socialites are both trying to discuss science with the Professor, but he is having none of it. He wants them to enjoy the view while the Automaton conducts some scientific measurements. Sarah Stanton calls out a warning to the Professor. Their guide has tricked them. He is now wearing a mechanical harness with several evil looking harpoons aimed at the Professor. The Bomb Lance is here to kill them all except Sarah, who must bring a message to the remaining Paragons, "The Eschaton is coming".

To the utter shock and disappointment of Sarah Stanton, the remaining Paragons do not throw themselves at the task of avenging their leader. Instead they bicker and fight over who will succeed the Professor. This leaves Sarah Stanton with the responsibility of finding the killer, and also why they wanted the Professor dead.

I like the setting for The Falling Machine. New York rivals London when it comes to awesomeness for a setting. Not sure how many, but a lot of the books I read are set in either of the two cities, and I have to remember to make an effort to find a couple of books set elsewhere. Andrew P Mayer's New York makes a sharp contrast between the different social classes. We have are socialites who live in wealth and splendour, with servants to take care of their needs. All is very nice and dandy, but then we have the slums where the poor and forgotten lives. Their realities are very different. Andrew P Mayer's New York feels like a living and breathing city.

The idea of a steampunk superheroes is terrific I think. There is something romantic and novel about the vision of a steam driven Iron Man suit, or a dashing caped crusader sporting a steam powered gatling cannon. The Paragons are all, with the exception of the Automaton, normal humans with a talent for something that has been trained to perfection. Their best days are behind them, and their intentions are not always noble. They have fallen for the allure of their own myth and are more interested in looking good than doing good. Their flaws make them feel very human, and the Falling Machine in this reminds of Astro City, which was the first comic book I read where the superheroes felt like real people.

Sarah Stanton faces a lot of obstacles on her way to finding the Professor's killer. The people she has looked up to all her life are suddenly not as noble and perfect as she thought. The divide between classes in New York and her own gender are other obstacles, but perhaps the greatest obstacle of all is the fear of an actual living and thinking machine. In a world which such class problems, there is certainly no such things as right for non-humans.

There are some really cool and interesting characters featuring in the Falling Machine, and I almost wish that Andrew P Mayer had given us more about them than Sarah Stanton. It's quite comical to start with how she can barely navigate through a furnished room without stumbling and injuring herself. She struggles to be efficient and comes across as too meek at times, and it's difficult to imagine her as a member of the Paragons. It's easier to sympathise with her in her struggles to overcome the restriction and protocols her gender imposes on her. She does at least have the determination required.

My favorite characters is The Sleuth, basically Sherlock Holmes, who is a lot of fun. We are fed scraps of stories from his long life as an adventurer, which would probably make a pretty fun book on its own. Trained in ancient martial arts and with a logical mind who is constantly analysing his surroundings, and armed with gadgets that would make James Bond green with envy. I do like his black leather featureless mask that he is wearing to strike fear into his enemies, a bit like Rorschach.

Andrew P Mayer should be pleased with his first book. I found it entertaining and will certainly pick up the next part. The mix of steampunk and superheroes work very well and you don't really have to be a fan of both to enjoy this book.

The Falling Machine weighs in at 285 pages and is published by Pyr.

Recommendation: read


  1. You should play the MMORPG "City of Heroes" It has clockwork superheroes (and baddies) and is set in Paragon city! How weird a co-incidence is that? The book sounds fun, especially the steampunk Sherlock character. Thanks for the review!:)

  2. I did play City of Heroes when it was first released :) Pretty sure I played a controller of some kind. Had no real attacks so could not solo. Gave it up for WOW. Having said that now that you mentioned it I would like to try it again :)

  3. I played it for quite a while, we had a group called Project Twilight (I think) we had a blast. I play Rift now, when I get the chance. You could make a clockwork hero, base it on the character from the book:)

  4. Looks like it's free to play now. Might give it a try if there is a Mac client nowadays. Rift any good?