Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Review: "Clockwork Angels" by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart

This is not a typical book review for the book actually began with an album, so one finds it difficult to talk about one to the exclusion of the other.

“Clockwork Angels” began as the concept album (released June 12, 2012) by the band Rush. Lyricist and drummer Neil Peart teamed with novelist Kevin Anderson to produced this thought-provoking adventure based on lyrics from the band’s 19th album. The cover art (below) is shared between album and book and displays layers of intrigue. Fans of the band will understand without explanation the meaning of “2112,” noting the time indicated on the clock-face (in military time). The symbols on the cover refer to the chemicals of alchemy, but not alchemy in the classical sense. This alchemy is the powersource for a steam-punk world.

Musically, the band surprises the listener with some bold adventures into genre not often associated with Rush. They are loud with style in all the right places. The contrasting softer passages demonstrate the mastery of a gentler side not often attributed to their performances.

The story of the album is the story of the novel, and the reader who is also an avid listener will be rewarded by discovering the sprinkling gems of lyrics from many albums spread throughout, as has already been suggested by the cover.

One might consider this book to be “2112, part 2.” Classical readers may appreciate Neil Peart’s following Voltaire’s lead with “Candide.” A young man living in a world of Stability as provided by the Watchmaker contemplates the question, “is it enough?” His adventures in love and life find him torn between the influences of the Watchmaker and the Anarchist. The theological tones of the novel are as strong as the humanistic elements as well as the philosophical questions to be entertained. The story is not at all complicated by these elements and may (perhaps) make an exciting movie; however, the outcome of the story (a la Voltaire) would be a great conversation piece in any coffee shop.

A summary of the book may be suggested in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 22: “A man could lose his past in a country like this--and that was exactly what Owen wanted. Parts of his past anyway. Heading toward the west and out of the mountains, he followed his dreams and ran from his nightmares. He chose his own path and consulted the dreamline compass sparingly.” (p. 223).

Both book and album are excellent for discussion, bursting with symbolism; however, these can be dangerous if taken alone. While many readers/listeners may identify with the struggles of “our hero” and wonder how they got there, there is no doubt concerning the message being communicated. Now is a good time to ask questions like, “is there a middle ground?” Perhaps the answer lies in the accuracy of one's understanding of The Watchmaker and The Anarchist.

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