The Gears Of Madness by Iain Grant (book review).

February 25, 2016 | By | Reply More

Steampunk is a strange phenomenon. It is a combination of nostalgia and alternative science. Most of it hinges on the idea that mechanisms that were steam-powered were not superseded by the advent of electricity and the miniaturisation that has come with micro-processors. While some exponents of the sub-genre want to take science back to the Victorian Era, some use it as a jumping off place for another direction of development. A few turn it into a genuine alternative history along with a different physics. Iain Grant is one of the latter.

TheGearsOfMadness

This collection of seven stories, ‘The Gears Of Madness’, started life as a series of adventures only available on the Internet. This book brings them all together to form an on-going narrative. The sub-title is ‘The Collected Sedgewick Papers’. This is not quite an accurate description, even though there are links between them. Many, though not all, are purported to be from the memoires of Mr. J Cadwallander and mostly concern the situations he was dragged into by Professor Erskine Sedgewick at the start of the twentieth century. There is enough in the basic relationship between the two men to wonder if the initial inspiration was Conan Doyle’s ‘Professor Challenger’ stories.

In this world, as is consistent with some of the beliefs of Victorian natural philosophers, the space between planets is not a vacuum but stratified layers of aether. To get between the layers, there are a series of locks through which ships can travel. The first story in the book, set in 1902 is ‘The Angels Of The Abyss’. When something strange seems to have occurred in one of these space-locks, Sedgewick inveigles himself and Cadwallander onto the expedition to find out what is going on. They find that the cylindrical structure has been invaded by alien beings which manifest as angels but are deadly to whoever touches them. It is during the events here that Cadwallander loses an arm, which is replaced later by a very efficient mechanical one.

‘The Pearl Of Tharsis’, set a year later, introduces the adventuress, Mina Saxena, who has a place in several other of these stories. Sedgewick and Cadwallander are on Mars when a sandstorm downs their flying machine. They and the passengers and pilot take shelter in a labyrinth of caves. Mina has suffered the same fate, but sees an opportunity to hold the Professor to ransom. Music though lures them deeper into the caverns where they encounter Chioa Khan (an alias of Alastair Crowley). Here, a god-like being has summoned people by supernatural means to a perpetual party where no debauchery is forbidden.

Mina tells the next story. In ‘The Well Of Shambala’, she has attached herself to a British expeditionary force in Tibet, which sets out to investigate a temple in the mountains. They have a limited time as, by a certain date, the artillery on a space platform will shell the Russian forces in the area. What they find is literally, out of this world.

‘The Bridge To Lemuria’ uses several meanings of the word ‘bridge’ in its execution. There is an actual bridge across the North Sea that is being built to link Britain with Belgium. It is almost complete when a murder sends Sedgewick to Yarmouth to investigate Edward Klein, the architect of the project. Where the two halves join in the centre, he has constructed an arch of chthonic design. The finished construction is intended, not just as a bridge between countries but between eldritch worlds. It is worth noting that Mina Saxena is initially accused of the murder that sets the events on the train.

At first, ‘The Shadow Under London’ seems unconnected with rest of the stories other than the narrator, Inspector Wilmarth, was the arresting officer in ‘The Bridge To Lemuria’. He is called in when his cousin is accused of the murder of a doctor working in the tunnels that will become a deep underground railway. The only connection with Sedgewick is that the nurse working there is his niece. Like several other stories in this collection, the resolution involves eldritch gods.

‘The Herald Of The Ancients’ and the title story, ‘The Gears Of Madness’, are actually two parts of the same, longer story but written separately due to the original format. They bring together a number of characters from other stories, including Mina Saxena and Chioa Khan and rearrange the alliances seen earlier. It is a tale of gods and aliens.

While these stories belong to the steampunk genre, they also have a Lovecraftian influence as each contains monsters or monstrous beings masquerading as gods. Grant has obviously had a lot of fun creating this world and playing with history and historical characters. While not overtly humorous, the breakneck pace makes them highly enjoyable.

Pauline Morgan

February 2016

(pub: Pigeon Park Press, UK, 2015. 295 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-9930607-7-9. Kindle e-book £0.00 (free) ISBN: 978-0-9930607-6-2)

check out website: www.pigeonparkpress.com

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Category: Books, Steampunk

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