Summary and book reviews of The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

The Dream of Perpetual Motion

A Novel

By Dexter Palmer

The Dream of Perpetual Motion
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2010,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2011,
    368 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Cindy Anderson

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Book Summary

Imprisoned for life aboard a zeppelin that floats high above a fantastic metropolis, the greeting-card writer Harold Winslow pens his memoirs. His only companions are the disembodied voice of Miranda Taligent, the only woman he has ever loved, and the cryogenically frozen body of her father Prospero, the genius and industrial magnate who drove her insane.

The tale of Harold’s life is also one of an alternate reality, a lucid waking dream in which the well-heeled have mechanical men for servants, where the realms of fairy tales can be built from scratch, where replicas of deserted islands exist within skyscrapers. As Harold’s childhood infatuation with Miranda changes over twenty years to love and then to obsession, the visionary inventions of her father also change Harold’s entire world, transforming it from a place of music and miracles to one of machines and noise. And as Harold heads toward a last desperate confrontation with Prospero to save Miranda’s life, he finds himself an unwitting participant in the creation of the greatest invention of them all: the perpetual motion machine.

Beautifully written, stunningly imagined, and wickedly funny, The Dream of Perpetual Motion is a heartfelt meditation on the place of love in a world dominated by technology.

View an art gallery of works inspired by The Dream of Perpetual Motion

PROLOGUE

aboard the good ship chrysalis

sssss
sp
spiraling
spiraling down
Into. The. Sea?
spiraling slowly down and crashing into the open sea?

Morning, and the voice has already begun. It was speaking even before I awoke. It has never stopped.

If my reckoning of time is still accurate, the day on which I begin to write this journal marks the one-year anniversary of my incarceration aboard the good ship Chrysalis, a high-altitude zeppelin designed by that most prodigious and talented of twentieth-century inventors, Prospero Taligent. It has also been a year since I last opened my mouth to speak. To anyone. especially my captor. I refuse to speak to my captor precisely because it is the one thing that she desires, and my silence is the only form of protest that remains to me.

Writing, however, is a different thing altogether from speaking. The written word has different properties, and different powers. If I learned anything in the world before my ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Although it has steampunk trappings and a focus on mechanical inventions, I found [this novel] to be, at heart, a book about communication, particularly the dichotomy of language and silence... Palmer has said that one of the joys of writing a novel (as opposed to an academic paper), is that it allows the reader to interact with the text and bring to it his or her own interpretation. As an English Ph.D. myself, I enjoyed analyzing and interpreting the book as much as reading it, but that will not be everyone's cup of tea. If you like many-layered, literary novels you'll find much to enjoy in The Dream of Perpetual Motion, even if you're not usually a reader of science fiction or steampunk. In spite of a few flaws, the novel indicates that Palmer is a very promising writer.   (Reviewed by Cindy Anderson).

Full Review Members Only (1147 words).

Media Reviews
Time Out Chicago

Palmer... can’t quite get the world-building down: rather than evoking a 20th century dominated by mechanical men and clicking or ominously silent machines, we’re simply told of it over and over. It’s particularly problematic in the beginning of the book, when we don’t feel Harold’s immersion in that world, but it persists throughout.

Library Journal

The emotional core of the story, metaphysical philosophy, visual splendor, and quirky humor are all strong, but, unfortunately, these elements aren't always blended gracefully.

Booklist

Offering pointed commentary on language, art, technology, and alienation, this debut novel can be heavy going. But Palmer’s eloquent prose, vivid scene setting, and wacky tin-men villains ... make for strangely compelling reading.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This book will immediately connect with fans of Neal Stephenson and Alfred Bester, and will surely win over readers who'd ordinarily pass on anything remotely sci-fi.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A novel of ideas that holds together like a dream.

Bookforum

[A] gorgeously surreal first novel… part farce, part act of willed convergence - an attempt to blur the lines between our reality and the fantastic imagined world.

Author Blurb Rivka Galchen, critically acclaimed author of Atmospheric Disturbances
Dexter Palmer has given us a novel that's magnificent and strange and maybe a little harrowing too; I don't know quite how he did it, but it seems to have something to do with his figuring out how to let words get out about and mean what they feel like meaning that day and yet at the same time be in a tempest too. Bravo for this beautiful book!

Author Blurb James Morrow, author of The Last Witchfinder and The Philosopher's Apprentice
Like the majority of contemporary novelists, I have often fantasized about Jules Verne, Nathanael West, and Thomas Pynchon meeting up in some netherworld saloon and, upon discovering they have absolutely nothing in common save a mutual affection for The Tempest, agreeing to reify their enthusiasm via a three-way collaboration filled with zeppelins, androids, monsters, virtual islands, linguistic felicity, and state-of-the-art weirdness. And now I must thank Dexter Palmer for making my dream come true.

Author Blurb Lauren Groff, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Monsters of Templeton
The Dream of Perpetual Motion is plangent, tender and sui generis: a steampunk The Tempest with the grim and rippling beauty of a fairy tale.  Dexter Palmer is an ambitious writer, with vast reach toward the exploration of big ideas, among them what it means to create, the limits of the human body, and the uses and inadequacies of language. The marvelous kicker being, of course, that he has the moxie to do so in prose that sings.

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Beyond the Book

Is Perpetual Motion Just a "Dream?"
In The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Prospero claims to have created a perpetual motion engine that can run his Zeppelin indefinitely; supposedly, it will never run out of energy, and will never need a new influx of energy. Is that possible in the real world? According to scientists, no. That doesn't mean that mankind hasn't tried to produce such a machine; in fact we have evidence of attempts going back to the Renaissance.

In order for anything to be a "perpetual motion" device, it must be a closed system (one that, once started, does not need to be "fed" any kind of fuel, or acted upon by anything outside of itself). If you have ever seen one of those "drinking birds" with the red liquid at ...

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