The Space Machine

September 25, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

spaceThe Space Machine by Christopher Priest

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I was pretty stoked to read this book after having read The Prestige, and as the story began, I found it to be engaging, despite its slow beginning. It reminded me a bit of reading Aickman, in that the book opens with inconsequential scenes that have no real bearing on the plot, other than to lead the reader to it. He captures the characters of Edward and Amelia well, and that was enough to keep me reading through the beginning. Oddly, once the plot began to pick up speed, the story lost its steam.

Part of it, I think, is the fact that it starts off as a straightforward time travel story. These have been done to death, enough so that it makes me question why Priest chose to use this as the central plot of his novel. From what I understand, Priest is an author who challenges the reader with new ideas, or new takes on old ideas, so it was doubly surprising to find a story that was so banal.

As I reached the sixty percent mark of the book, though, it finally clicked: This book is a mash-up of Wells’s The Time Machine and War of the Worlds. Not being that familiar with both books, it took me a while to make the connection, but realizing what Priest was doing with the story didn’t make it that much more enjoyable. It plods along in places, and winds up being boring when it’s supposed to be reaching its pivotal point.

Priest captures the tone and style of an early-20th century book, in both language and theme. It’s odd, though, the things he chooses to focus on to center us in his setting. At around the forty percent point of the book, he pays an inordinate amount of attention to Amelia’s corset, which didn’t seem relevant to me. Was it intended to place us there and remind us of the tenets of that time in society? If so, he has accomplished that in other ways, and I didn’t understand the need to make such a big deal over it.

I did like how Priest characterized his two main characters. Edward is, to be honest, fairly useless. He narrates the story, but he’s less a man of action and more one of reaction. On the flip side, Amelia is a strong woman who can hold her own, despite the restrictions of women during this era. It’s a progressive point in favor of the novel, but not so much that I would recommend people read it to experience it.

As strong as Priest’s reputation is, I can see people wanting to read The Space Machine, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Maybe it would have been different had I read this one before The Prestige (The Space Machine was his fourth novel), but my guess is if I had read it first, I might not have bothered to read anything else. I’m hoping this book is just a fluke in an otherwise remarkable career, especially since I already own other books of his I want to read.

Started: August 30, 2018
Finished: September 21, 2018

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