The Machinery by Gerrard Cowan
For ten millennia, the leaders of the Overland have been Selected by the Machinery, an omnipotent machine gifted to their world in darker days.
The city has thrived in arts, science and war, crushing all enemies and expanding to encompass the entire Plateau.
But the Overland is not at ease, for the Machinery came with the Prophecy: it will break in the 10,000th year, Selecting just one leader who will bring Ruin to the world. And with the death of Strategist Kane, a Selection is set to occur…
For Apprentice Watcher Katrina Paprissi, the date has special significance. Life hasn’t been the same since she witnessed the kidnapping of her brother Alexander, the only person on the Plateau who knew the meaning of the Prophecy.
When the opportunity arises to find her brother, Katrina must travel into the depths of the Underland, the home of the Machinery, to confront the Operator himself and discover just what makes the world work…
With a name like The Machinery, I think I was expecting this novel to be straight science fiction, but I quickly realised we’re more in the realms of a fantasy. Gerrard Cowan has created a genuinely intriguing work of fiction that grabs you from page one. We jump straight into the midst of the story with a short prologue dealing with a boy called Alexander and his apparent abduction. Years later, his sister, Katrina, is still none the wiser to the reasons behind his disappearance. All she knows is that the event set off a chain reaction that has left her alone. Just how does her family figure into an ancient prophecy and what will it mean for her?
The thing I particularly enjoyed about this novel is how the Machinery and its labyrinthine workings are shrouded in mystery. The civilization that has developed around this enigmatic machine have created their own mythology for explaining their lot. The myriad rules and regulations are ingrained in every aspect of society and can be seen in everyone’s day to day lives. Different factions control different aspects of the Overland, and they are in turn ruled by a group known as the Strategists. The old axiom ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, is very much in evidence with these individuals. The Machinery has selected the Strategists for millennia, always working to its own obscure agenda, but what happens when the people in power decide they want more?
I had a minor epiphany about this novel about three quarters of the way through. The Overland represents everything that is comfortable, safe and secure and the Machinery is part of that constant. It might not be perfect but it is a known quantity. 10,000 years of the same thing have lulled the populace into a false sense of security. The question being asked is “What happens when it all ends?”. Eventually any society will collapse; a world will cease to be. How do you prepare for an inevitable change? Cowan’s novel is ultimately a fable about facing the fear of the unknown. Some will run the other way, or bury their heads in the sand, while others will face their fears and embrace whatever comes next.
Cowan’s debut successfully explores a plethora of different ideas while still maintaining a weirdly surreal edge. Characters are not often exactly who or what they first appear to be and it keeps a reader constantly on their toes. The story is part apocalypse, part mystery and entirely captivating. If you’re looking for a new voice in fantasy whose writing is going to get you thinking, then look no further.
The Machinery is published by Harper Voyager and is available as an ebook now. A sequel, The Strategist, is due to follow in the future.