Saturday, July 17, 2010
Posted by PeterWilliam at 7:00 AM
Devices and Desires, by K.J. Parker
Format: P.O.U.S's (Paperbacks of unusual size)
Publisher: Orbit, ©2005
Copy: out of pocket
From the back cover: When an engineer is sentenced to death for a petty transgression of guild law, he flees the city, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Forced into exile, he seeks a terrible vengeance -- one that will leave a trail of death and destruction in its wake. But he will not be able to achieve this by himself. He must draw up his plans using the blood of others...
This is the extraordinary tale of a man who engineers a war to be reunited with his family.
I have seen and read a great deal on K.J. Parker throughout the blogosphere. As a result, I became rather circumspect, due to the nature of the differing reactions. Regular readers/bloggers of sf&f liked Parker, while casual readers/forum posters seemed only mildly moved, at best. I jumped to the conclusion that it was "an elite thing," thus I wouldn't be interested. I was most definitely wrong.
This glorious find, for me, occurred one evening as I took my birthday gift card (Books-a-Million) to the closest store in town. I was there, primarily, looking for Ranger's Apprentice books I could hold onto for my son one day (I'm certainly hoping he'll become a reader). I found one such book and then, with plenty of gift card value remaining, began searching the sf&f section. I found the entire Engineer's trilogy sitting there -- staring at me. It was simply time for me to give Parker a try.
This story follows the actions of an engineer, and fugitive from justice, of an industrial, regional power as he lays a proactive strategy to bring about a war that will return him to his wife and daughter. The engineer, Ziani Vaatzes, uses his keen mechanical insight, and native intelligence, to pre-arrange a course of events that leaves the Guilds, as well as rivaling, next-door aristocracies reacting in a most flat-footed manner. The realization that there has been a set-up, or 'long game' if you will, usually comes after ruination, while a very few seem to know precisely what is taking place -- waiting for their proper moment to assert themselves, and achieve their own ends.
There are no heroes or villains in such a tale. The intrigue is non-stop and most of the characters involved are surprisingly unaware of the stakes involved. In the end, it felt like a combination of the character driven dramas of Tad Williams and the tantalizing and pivotal plot points dangled just beyond the reader's reach, common in works by R. Scott Bakker. There are no epic scale battles, no quest objects, no magic system, no mythical creatures and no dark overlord. There is a lot of engineering though. Parker takes the reader on an adventure that could be described as historical science fiction. Science fiction, traditionally, takes its reader into a futuristic setting, imagining what technology will be able to do one day. Parker takes science fiction, and the reader, retro. The reader follows learning how to improvise mills, lathes and cams and the author makes it all more interesting than I'm sure the topic truly is.
Parker writes in a third-person quasi-limited approach. That is to say that the author drops occasional subtle hints which leave the reader speculating about impending, foreshadowed and massive plot shifts upcoming in the tale. If all such Parker works are like this, I will have found another favorite author to watch.
There is simply no other way to say it, K.J. Parker, in Devices and Desires, hauls the reader through the pages.
Highly Recommended to Must Read