BOOK REVIEW: Kevin J. Anderson – Clockwork Angels

KEVIN J. ANDERSON – Clockwork Angels  (2012 ECW)

From a story and lyrics by Neil Peart

It was bound to happen eventually.  Somebody had to write a Rush concept album into book form.  I’m sure a lot of highschool kids in the 1970’s wrote their own short story versions of 2112.  Now in 2012, Kevin J. Anderson (the Dune spinoffs) has teamed up with Neil Peart to novelize Rush’s latest album, Clockwork Angels. The end result, according to Aaron, is a near total ripoff of Harlan Ellison’s Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman, but Rushified.  I’m sure both Peart and Anderson are familiar with the previous work, so their plaigarism is not forgiveable.

I found Clockwork Angels, the album, to have a sparse story that begged to be opened up in more detail.  There’s text in the CD packaging to help illustrate the story a bit more, but that only scratches the surface.  I had a hard time visualizing the world that these characters inhabited.

Like many novels of this ilk, the world of Clockwork Angels is Earth-like in some respects.  There’s a massive, unexplored eastern sea, a far away land called Atlantis, and a vast deserted land of wonders unimagined beyond that, all waiting for our hero Owen Hardy to explore.

Owen Hardy, an apple orchard manager from Barrel Arbor, Albion, is a dreamer.  (Hmmm…ever heard that setup before, in Rush songs past?)  He dreams of the faraway lands that he’s only read about in his mother’s books.  Their world is run by their loving Watchmaker, an ancient old man who has mastered the power of “coldfire” and alchemy.  Using his mastery of these arts, he has created a clockwork society:  everything has its place, and every place has its thing.  Everything runs precisely, on time, and every person fulfills his or her role in society.  It is a place where everyone is content.  Everyone but the dreamer.

One night Owen Hardy suddenly departs Barrel Arbor for the wonders of the capitol Crown City, home of the Watchmaker and his Clockwork Angels.  The Angels are glowing coldfire-powered mechanical beings that inspire awe in the citizens lucky enough to have a ticket to see them.  Owen wishes to see them for himself, but the Angels would never be enough for this young dreamer.  Along the way Hardy meets colourful characters from airship pilots to carnies to the notorious pirates, the Wreckers.

Owen gets tangled up with a character called the Anarchist.  The Anarchist lies at the opposite extreme from the Watchmaker.  Where the Watchmaker believes in rigid order to achieve happiness (called “The Stability”), the Anarchist believes that true happiness can only come with the freedom to do whatever you want and go wherever you please.  But both the Anarchist and Watchmaker have designs on young Mr. Hardy, an exceptional man because dreamers are rare.

Through it all, Hardy journeys to lands far away, glimpses parallel universes and discovered his own inner strength.  All the while, Kevin J. Anderson sprinkles his journey with Rush references.  “Tough times demand tough hearts”.  Lyrics from songs past and present find their way into the text, and unfortunately I found this touch to be distracting.  I get it – a nod and a wink to the Rush fans who will buy the novel – but as a Rush fan, these references stick out like a glowing beacon of coldfire.  (Coldfire’s another one, by the way.)  This is a minor complaint; the novel soon took on a life of its own and was impossible to put down.

One of the best features of Clockwork Angels are the glorious illustrations by Rush cover artists Hugh Syme.  From steampunk airships to the glowing Seven Cities of Gold, Syme’s art helps the reader visualize this fascinating world that Peart and Anderson have created.  Clearly, Syme was in sync with the authors when he created these paintings.

While I enjoyed Clockwork Angels thoroughly, and this enjoyment only enhanced my appreciation of the album, its template is far from original.  The archetypes are familiar, as was the plot.  Having said that, Anderson and Peart successfully conjured up a vivid landscape, interesting characters, and a rollicking good story.

3.5/5 stars

Under piercing stars
I stand watching the steam-liners roll by

17 comments

  1. I’ll take your word on this Mike. I’ve got a bit of a book backlog at the moment (I’ve been on the Internet too much! Haha) so I don’t need to add to it.

    Sounds like a good read though and reading your post definitely put me in mind to stick the album on again. Regardless of the nature of the story I’m just glad it’s got Neil writing about the more fantastical stuff again. I think his lyrics on this album are his best in quite a while.

    I might be inclined to look into the Harlan Ellison story though. He’s been on my to-read list for a while!

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    1. Harlan’s cool, especially if you’re already familiar with some of his ideas. Definitely different though.

      I enjoyed Clockwork Angels, and I hope this came across in the review, but I enjoyed it despite its connection to the music. Any book that gets my imagination soaring and wishing there was more does the job.

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      1. People in my family are afraid buy me stuff like that because 50% of the time, it turns out I had it already. Even this last Christmas, my mom gave me a Star Trek book…that she also gave me in 1994! But that’s OK. One can go to the cottage as part of the permanent cottage library.

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        1. Ha! Yes, I’ve not been immune to that. I seemed to remember my mum getting me at least two copies of a VHS rock magazine from 1990 at one point. It’s all good :)

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      1. This one:

        I do have a copy of the first edition of Sherman’s book. That’s got a lot of info in it! The missus found me a copy along with the Michael Bruce autobiog back in the book shop days and asked if they were any use to me… errr, YES!

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