Lord Kelvin’s Machine

The steampunk series continues.

Raw Feed (2002): Lord Kelvin’s Machine, James P. Blaylock, 1992.Lord Kelvin's Machine

I liked this sequel to Blaylock’s Homunculus better than that novel. (The Lord Kelvin of the title is, in fact, the famous physicist Lord Kelvin who makes an appearance as a character.)

Villains Ignacio Narbondo and Willis Pule are back from the first novel. Pule is now insane and forms a grotesque pair with his mother. The novel has an interesting structure and gets better as it goes along.

The opening chapter sets up Langdon St. Ives’ obsession with avenging himself on Narbondo for the death of St. Ives’ wife and his quest to resurrect her via time travel. (The Holmesian flavor of this novel is even stronger than the one in Homunculus. Narbondo is sort of a Moriarty figure to St. Ives and Parsons, the rather stuffy, socially connected member of the Royal Academy of Sciences who always keeps St. Ives out of it, comes off rather like Holmes’ Scotland Yard rival, LeStrande.) The opening third of the book involves St. Ives foiling a blackmail plot by Narbondo to pull a comet into the Earth via a powerful supermagnet. Blaylock provides an interesting story of how Narbondo is tracked down and how he ends up supposedly drowned in a frigid Nowegian lake. However, Blaylock never really explains why the opening chapter of Part I necessitates St. Ives being in Peru and how Narbondo’s earthquake generating scheme worked. The story follows St. Ives and ever competent servant Hasbro.

However, the novel’s story and humor really picks up with Part II which is narrated by a minor character from Homunculus, Jack Owlesby. Jack’s a pretty normal guy who chides himself for his fondness for good food and drink and naps and his wife and knows he’s not particular courageous. However, he’s competent and courageous enough to foil a renegade ichthyologist and his dangerous sidekick from Wyoming in their scheme to use the stolen supermagnet to down metal-bottomed ships and extort money from the Crown. He also has a run in with the weird Pules.

The third book is Blaylock’s witty takes on time travel rather reminiscent, in the changed memory of time traveler St. Ives, of William Tenn’s “The Brooklyn Project”. As in Homunculus, St. Ives can’t bring himself to cold-bloodedly kill Narbondo even though the later killed St. Ives’ wife. So, he goes back in time to, first, kill the infant Narbondo and then try to change his personality by giving him antibiotics (obtained from a twentieth century Fleming) to prevent his hunchback deformity and deformed personality. The obsessed St. Ives wears himself pretty thin trying to bring his wife back. Eventually, he does, and he feels his memory of the old timetrack with his dead wife fade away. I liked how St. Ives, after wearing himself out physically and mentally to affect the past, steps aside after preventing the death of his beloved Alice and realizes she deserves the younger, more vital version of himself. At novel’s end, the old timetracks have faded, and we see St. Ives enjoying domesticity with his wife and a child. I think the plot, finale, and humor of this novel worked better with the time travel plot more interesting than the reanimation plot of Homunculus.


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