The Forever Engine by Frank Chadwick
Published January 7th, 2014 by Baen
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London 1888. His Majesty’s airships troll the sky powered by antigrav liftwood. Iron Lords tighten their hold on Britain choked by the fumes of industry. Mars has been colonized. Clockwork assassins stalk European corridors of power. Far to the east, the Old Man of the Mountains plots the end of the world with his Forever Engine.
2018 Jack Fargo, scholar, former American special forces agent in Afghanistan. Aided only by an elderly Scottish physicist, a young British officer of questionable courage, and a beautiful but mysterious spy for the French Commune, Fargo must save the future, the universe, from destruction.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Baen!
I wanted to like this book, really I did. I am far more often reading and liking steampunk, so when I hear the words time travel, steampunk, and Nikola Tesla I was all over this book. But in the end it was just boring.
Time travel is a tricky issue in any book. It can be done well and in certain aspects this was done well. It plays with the idea of infinite universes, that somewhere out there is a universe where the exact opposite of every decision and outcome in this world has taken place. However, time travel can also be used as a crutch to aid lazy writing and suspense building. To a larger extent this book did that too. Toward the end I felt like the time travel aspect was the go-to answer to creating drama and tension. That was annoying.
The characters were very thin and had no real life to them. I had a hard time keeping track of who everybody was because they were largely so interchangeable. Even when we started learning more about Fargo’s past I just felt……confused I guess because it was so out of the blue.And I HATED that the author kept trying to give everyone an Asperger’s diagnosis. First off, you’re a history professor and a former soldier, not a psychologist or psychiatrist so shut up. And second, I don’t get it. These two characters seemed more Obsessive Compulsive to me. And believe me, I am speaking from personal knowledge here. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and my brother is an Aspie. Yes, there are areas where the two things overlap but I didn’t see the Aspie in these two characters at all. I think the author just wanted to use it to force us to see the similarities between the two characters, which didn’t make the ultimate connection he gave them any more realistic.
If the blurb didn’t tell me this was steampunk, I probably wouldn’t have known. There was a few pages in London where we saw steam powered airships, and coal engines, and everyone having to wear goggles out in public. But after that the entire cast of characters were in the middle of the desert with weapons that actually existed in that time and so…..that’s it? That’s my steampunk? Cause that’s a pretty poor effort if it is.
The ending was stupid. I felt like the final climactic finale was very contrived. The most obvious and logical course was discarded as a trick and the most complicated and unlikely to succeed course was taken, more than once. And the ending didn’t seem realistic to me. After 300 pages of Fargo going on and on at length about missing his daughter and being willing to do anything to get back to her, he totally screws over any chance he has of seeing her again and just happily moves on in the other universe without even mentioning her again. Wait, what? And what about his theory that him and Thomson could recreate the device and get him back to his own time anyway? What happened to that? I didn’t like or understand this ending at all.
Overall it wasn’t terrible, there were some enjoyable moments. But I felt the book was much too flawed for me to enjoy it enough that I overlooked the problems.