Mainspring by Jay LakeIt would seem Jay Lake has created a wonderful alternate universe. No, not in his book Mainspring but in our ordinary world.

Lake has been praised by many notable sf and fantasy scholars – Locus, SFReviews, Hal Duncan and Paul Di Filippo to name a few.

Lake has been compared to Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip Jose Farmer and China Mieville. Even, some say, to Gene Wolfe.

This is all wonderful fantasy and would not matter, except. Except that Mainspring is a very minor work. The central conceits are, perhaps, grand, but the writing is overblown. The writing is scriptural and, often, thinly disguised.

Lake writes from the perspective of a young puppy who has just been introduced to a new ‘playground’ and so bounces around, enthusiastically and energetically. Like his central character Hethor, Lake sniffs in the corners and gallops across the expanses. It is delightful to watch on occasion, but not for a whole book.

By two-thirds of the way through Mainspring this reader was tired. The dei ex machina had worn my interest waaaay down, sorely. I no long cared if the puppy – sorry, Hethor – was saved by another opportunistic (and implausible) plot device. I no longer cared about the sniffing around the corners of the internal philosophy of the book.

There are a couple of elements to the book that could make a worthy short story or two. But then the seriousness of the situation grabbed me. Tor Books decided to publish another book in the same vein, Escapement, also by Lake.

Where are the editors to harness this rogue alternate universe? Who will save this ‘correct’ person from the Lake-Tor steamroller? Where is there anything like the depth of Our Lady of Darkness by Leiber or the scope of Riverworld by Farmer to save me? Please ….

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