Excerpt from The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Dream of Perpetual Motion

A Novel

by Dexter Palmer

The Dream of Perpetual Motion
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 352 pages
    Feb 2011, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Cindy Anderson

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Print Excerpt


aboard the good ship chrysalis

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 imprisonment here, it was certainly that.

The only person aboard this ship besides myself is Prospero Taligent’s adopted daughter, Miranda. For this past year I have been unable to escape from the sound of Miranda’s voice. It follows me relentlessly through the corridors of this zeppelin’s immense gondola as I continue to seek out her hiding place, where I hope to confront her, face-to-face. Her voice never stops: even when I sleep, it is a shining silver thread running through most of my dreams and all my nightmares, whispering, beseeching, threatening: One word from you is all I want. Just speak one word, and we’ll begin. Name, rank, and serial number, perhaps the misquoted lyrics from a popular song: anything will do. From there we’ll move with slow cautious steps to gentle verbal sparring, twice-told tales, descriptions of the scarred and darkest places of our old and worn-out souls. I’ll love you back; I’ll tell you secrets—

Miranda’s father was kind to me when he built the place that would become my prison. This craft is what one might call a miracle of engineering, fully staffed by a crew of mechanical men who wordlessly go about the hundreds of tasks necessary to keep the Chrysalis in the sky: tending to the small garden whose fruits keep me alive; interpreting the readouts of the dozens of instruments that continue to claim that this ship will never crash, despite my growing fears that they’re wrong; repairing each other, sometimes even harvesting their own limbs to replace the malfunctioning arms and legs of their metal colleagues. And somehow through Prospero’s craftsmanship the sounds of all the machines in the ship have been muffled to silence, a sharp contrast to the world beneath me where mechanical noises fill the air, day and night, never ceasing. So the only sounds that I have heard for the past year are the echoes of my footsteps as I drift down the gondola’s walkways, and the bell-clear voice of Miranda emanating from what may well be thousands of speakers scattered throughout the ship, inset in the floors, hidden behind paintings and secret panels, swinging on wires hanging from the ceilings, so that not one place here goes untouched by her endless lunatic stream of words: Soon our culture’s oldest dreams will be made real. Even the thought of sending a kind of flying craft to the moon is no longer nothing more than a child’s fantasy. At this moment in the cities below us, the first mechanical men are being constructed that will have the capability to pilot the ship on its maiden voyage. But no one has asked if this dream we’ve had for so long will lose its value once it is realized. What will happen when those mechanical men step out of their ship and onto the surface

Excerpted from The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer. Copyright © 2010 by Dexter Palmer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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