When you die, you simply wake up in another world, possibly in another universe. It’s not reincarnation in the classic sense, since you usually arrive at the age you were at, at “death,” and your memories are intact. Earth is an original-born world, not one of the steps along the way. Eventually, when it’s time to really die — if you’ve “earned it” — you wind up on a strange, squalid world known as the City Unspoken. That’s the premise of The Waking Engine, by David Edison. This big book is a heady mixture of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror, with an ambitious plot: Something has gone wrong with the machine that actually allows the mix of creatures from various worlds to finally rest in peace. The City Unspoken is becoming overcrowded, out of control, and various forms of ennui, or insanity, are rising.
There are numerous subplots, and a remarkable array of characters; some human, some not so much. As a world builder, the author has excelled in The Waking Engine.
The main protagonist of the story — a young, gay man from New York named Cooper — awakes in this strange world and quickly becomes enmeshed as a pawn in the machinations of numerous different factions. He begins to develop some powers that aid his survival. He’s a smart aleck, but not so smart in other ways as he often ignores what precious little, good advice is given him.
Okay, a book review is supposed to be more than a plot summary. I wanted to like the book, but there are a few flaws in it that make that difficult. Firstly, other than Cooper, nobody in The Waking Engine is remotely likable. There’s a huge cast of characters whose only concerns are for themselves. There’s also a tremendous amount of cruelty in the story between characters — even those few that purport to be “good” and helpful. It’s not easy to read page-after-page about people you simply don’t care for. Even the two beings that initially find Cooper and take him in exhibit their worst selves when Sesstri kicks Cooper and calls him a turd, and Asher abandons him in the City. Later, they’ll regret that.
There are so many subplots that even scenes that should have moved along quickly get bogged-down in the details and keeping track of all the players is a full time task.
There are some good points. The descriptions of the various parts of the city are excellent and you find yourself in total immersion to this strange universe. The courtship scenes between Cooper and his poorly chosen, brief lover, Marvin, are nicely erotic without being pornographic (sex is at a very bare minimum in the story). Much of the book’s dialogue is well crafted.
In the end, I believe The Waking Machine would benefit if it went through another edit, and also if David Edison would inject a little more humanity into a few of the minor protagonists — regardless if they’re human or not. Three stars out of 5.
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