Review: The Mechanical
This was one of those great moments as a reader when a novel comes to you as a total surprise. (I actually had the pleasure to meet Daniel Jose Older from last week before I read his novel so it wasn't a total surprise that his book was awesome)I'm a fan of Ian Tregillis. The Milkweed Triptych, his first fantasy/scifi series, has a great ending and it forged Tregillis' name into my list of favorite authors. In "The Mechanical" we see Tregillis transcend his previous work and create something that I think stands on the same ground as all the greats of the fantasy world.
It presents an alternate era of colonial Europe and America that is thoroughly and terrifyingly possible. Obviously it stretches far out into the fantastic, but the motivations and characters all ring true. It's one of the things I love about fantasy, is the interweaving of theme, world, character and voice. In this book there is no object or action or person that is put there without consideration for the context of the world and the story.
So this book is about slavery. Glaringly, blindingly, obscenely about slavery.
And the author does something that has been done to death. The slaves are mechanical. The difference being in this case is that the machines have souls. Specifically I mean the true spirtual nature of the soul. Not the scientific addition of sentience, but the spiritual reality of the human soul. That intrinsic thing that exists in all of us, that makes us more then the sum of our biological machines.
At the heart of this novel is the juxtaposition of having slaves that are most certainly "things", and yet are without a doubt human. That's the one thing that I think most people like me (read as lefty white guy) have trouble wrapping our head's around when conversations of slavery happen. How can the horrors we're told about really take place. Slaves are people. How can humans treat other humans that way? It's because some of us don't see those humans. They see free labor. They don't feel that resonance of soul. Having that callousness of spirit written about from the POV of both slave and master was astonishing.
Even those people working toward freedom for the Mechanicals, do so in the scope of their own interests and not out of the sense that the machines are people, but instead they are weapons and the pivot point of power in the bounds of their civilization. They are victory in the war between nations and not between good and evil. It's that spiritual battle that makes this book special.
It's not a perfect metaphor in the novel, without a doubt there is no way to cover the scope of the human tragedy that is slavery and human trafficking. But it's another way to look at the perspectives of the victims and perpetrators. Something that we need to do continually both in our hearts and the communities we live in. That's a heavy thing to lay on a fun book. But I think that "The Mechanical" handles it. The Mechanical receives five stars out of five.