Showing posts with label Kevin J. Anderson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kevin J. Anderson. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart

When I first heard Neil Peart would collaborate with author Kevin J. Anderson on a fiction project connected to the latest Rush album, I was intrigued. For about two years, since the release of the band's single "Caravan," we waited for something - anything - resembling a larger project that might necessitate a tour for support. The hardcore fan base saw that wish realized with the release of Clockwork Angels the album (which I do enjoy) and the corresponding novel of the same name, which crafts the various themes of Peart's songs into a story that blends steampunk and fantastic imagery with the humanist ideals for which the band is known.

If you follow Rush religiously (sorry), you may find the former elements curious, since steampunk isn't something one would associate with them. Having browsed Anderson's bibliography, steampunk doesn't appear to be a major genre for him, and I would hesitate to place Clockwork Angels the novel solely in this category. As I read the story I didn't get a true sense of time to go with the settings - odd considering time is a primary theme. One could see this as a fantasy or dystopian adventure as well.

Anderson and Peart's clockwork world is comprised of a few major continents and cities with names drawn from mythology and ancient tradition: Posiedon City, Atlantis, and ancient name for the island of Great Britain. Here the people seem more apt to pursue manual labor, save for those who study at the Alchemy College. We are told that the country of Albion had suffered turmoil and crime before the appearance of the benevolent and enigmatic Watchmaker. For the following two hundred years through the present day, Owen's bucolic home of Barrel Arbor, the more cosmopolitan Crown City, and surrounding villages live in peace and punctuality. You can literally set your watch by everything that happens, from the distribution of national news to changes in the weather. All is for the best, as the Watchmaker is known to proclaim, and few people argue with those words.

The two who do challenge this order have different motives. Owen seeks adventure and the opportunity to live out a story he can tell his grandchildren one day; the legendary Clockwork Angels who parrot the Watchmaker's maxims draw him to Crown City, and the wonder of a traveling carnival entices him to extend his journey. The story's antagonist, the Anarchist, creates havoc in hopes of waking people to the realization that the Watchmaker doesn't exactly have Albion's best interests at heart. The way he carries on, of course, makes one wonder if the Anarchist's view of the world is any better.

In keeping with the story's connection to Clockwork Angels the album, an assortment of song lyrics and characters provide ample references, perhaps a bit much. A reader more familiar with Anderson's work than Rush's may be able to breeze through the book without making many connections, but I have to admit I found the Easter egg-style lines distracting at times. Anderson doesn't limit himself to the recent album, either, in this respect. A character shouts, "Presto!" and I know there's more to it than the parlor trick he's performing.

What disappoints me more about this book, however, is the overall style. Between the many instances of telling instead of showing (and this is not another song reference) and repetitiveness of narrative and dialogue (more than once the author has Owen recapping his adventures and echoing lines) made it difficult for me to appreciate the story. I get the impression, too, that maybe the author hoped to attract the YA reading audience in addition to Rush's older fan base. Owen's young age and the dialogue may imply that, but I think of other books I've read in the dystopian YA genre (most notably The Hunger Games) and find them more sophisticated in style and dialogue.

Clockwork Angels had the potential to deliver a thought-provoking adventure, but the writing just didn't grab me. When I think of the other Anderson/Peart collaboration, the story "Drumbeats" (reviewed on this blog), I find I enjoyed that more. For its length, "Drumbeats" is a tighter story with better dialogue - it is also in first person, which makes me wonder if Anderson had attempted Clockwork Angels in that POV would the story be improved.

Will you like this book more if you're a Rush fan? You certainly don't have to be one to read it. The book hasn't changed my perception of the album, but I do know I'll revisit the songs more than the story.

Rating: C-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and a book blogger.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Drumbeats by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart

Buy DRUMBEATS on Amazon.

If you know me in real life, you know I follow news on the band Rush. Look at the sidebar, I've written a novel starring a tribute band musician named Lerxst. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I would include a review of this short, co-authored by the band's drummer and chief lyricist. In truth, I hadn't actively sought out this story because I didn't know it existed until recently.

What happened was that I was researching release information on Peart's latest travelogue, the upcoming Far and Away, when this title appeared in search. Asking around my circle of Internet friends and fellow Rush fans yielded little opinion on the story, but I did learn that this story had first appeared in an anthology of rock-themed horror called Shock Rock II, now out of print. I had not heard of the book, or it's aptly-named predecessor, but as far as I know this is the only story resurrected via digital publishing. The current buzz on Barry Eisler embracing the self-publishing bug comes as news to some people thinking he is one of the first big names to go rogue, but if you check the revised edition publishing dates on this story you'll know Anderson has him beat.

I'd heard it suggested, too, that Peart is or was embarrassed by this story. I cannot tell you if that's true, nor could I discern while reading Drumbeats how actively he participated in the writing. The short numbers about twenty-one pages, just enough to shape the story of a world-weary and renowned drummer for a popular band. When he isn't touring with his fellow musicians, he finds solace and inspiration traveling through remote area where the indigenous people aren't likely to bug him for autographs. Anybody who has read Peart's previous travel books, or at the very least reads his website journals, can plainly see the autobiographical tone of the story. The fatigue in Danny Imbro's narrative, coupled with a descriptive sense of place, sets the stage for some truly creepy juju.

No matter where he is, or what he's doing, Danny isn't far from his craft. In a village, while haggling over the price of tepid water, he hears a native beating on a drum. The sound mesmerizes, as does the drummer's rapt devotion to his instrument. When attempts to buy the drum off the skittish African fail, Danny manages to get directions to the drum's maker in another village.

What Danny finds there, aside from a crafty youngster named Anatole who seems protective of the stranger, is a chilling secret regarding the drums' true nature. Bargaining with the village chief and drum's maker lead Danny to learn the true meaning behind the term caveat emptor.

Drumbeats is short, and aptly priced at $1.99 for the eBook edition. As a horror story it does the trick in evoking discomfort and squeamishness in the reader. Some readers may argue whether or not Danny is a sympathetic enough character to deserve his fate - as the story is written in first person you don't feel as though Danny thinks he's entitled to a drum because of who he is in another society. He's just a guy in the wrong diaspora at the wrong time.

For a story written more than a decade ago, too, Drumbeats looks to have aged well. I cannot say if Anderson or Peart had revised any of the story before the re-release, but for what it is the story will appeal to fans of the music and genre. You may not look at a pair of bongos the same way again, just to warn you.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author who doesn't play the drums.