The Forever Engine, by Frank Chadwick

I hear you like adventures.  How about books that come complete with steam, airships, weird science, and doomsday devices?  Frank Chadwick’s new book The Forever Engine delivers action and adventure with all of those things, and good characters too.  Even better, the story follows an active style very similar to what I’ve come to expect from John Ringo, but without the moments that make you want to yell “Oh John Ringo, no!”  The main characters are competent, sometimes preposterously so, but they generally feel like whole people in a way that happens less often in action/adventure stories.  Already sold?  Go read the book!  If you’re not quite convinced, try reading a little more…

First off, if you haven’t read any Ringo my earlier comment probably made no sense.  Suffice to say that Ringo does a very good job of writing military and action stories with driving plots and plenty of tension, but also sometimes makes you cringe in horror and disgust at his main characters (and their viewpoints).  If you want the original context for the phrase “Oh John Ringo, no!” you can read it here (caution, triggers in the block quotes).

Chadwick’s Forever Engine manages to keep the action, tension, and driving plot, while doing away with the occasionally repulsive narration and behavior.  That’s not to say that there aren’t moments when you’ll wonder about or dislike the choices of the main character, Jack Fargo, but that seems more like good story material to me.

In keeping with many Ringo stories, our protagonist is a military man.  In this case, he’s ex-military, and has retired and gotten work as a history professor in an effort to distance himself from his previous life and to make sure that he’ll be around to support his daughter.    There’s plenty of interesting story there that comes out over the course of the book, and I have no desire to spoil any of it for you.  Unless, of course, you want to be spoiled, in which case you should read on past the big sign somewhere below.

The story kicks off with a bang, and though there are several lulls to let you better consider just how totally screwed our heroes are, the pacing doesn’t really let up from there.  There’s a wonderful time-travel element to the story, one which complicates everything that the main character does (no, I won’t tell you more, you should read and enjoy it for yourself).  Thus, while the tension shifts from place to place throughout the story, I never found a point at which I wanted to put down the book.  Case in point, I first picked it up as part of the same bundle that had 1636: Seas of Fortune and rushed through the first half in one sitting.  I waited patiently, and forced myself (with some frustration) to wait for all of the rest to come out before reading through that in another sitting.  I only managed to restrain myself because I knew I would gnash my teeth if I hit more climactic bits of the story and then had to stop.

My more critical thoughts?  Jack Fargo clearly exhibits qualities only attributable to what I would call a wish-fulfillment character.  This is perhaps too bad, but I gave up on being overly negative about wish-fulfillment characters a while ago.  They’re usually fun, and they can still be quite interesting to follow (as Jack is).  There was only one moment where I felt like Jack pulled a rabbit out of his hat that he hadn’t quite deserved to find, and otherwise I was pretty happy; all of his capabilities fell within my established circle of belief, rather than making me wonder how the hell he was able to do something that he’d clearly just done.

So, if you like steampunk, or time-travel, or action and adventure, or any number of things, I strongly suggest that you check out this book.  It should be worth your time.

Now then, about those *SPOILERS*

I really quite enjoyed finding out what the main character would do to get back to his daughter, and what he would refuse to sacrifice to return to her.  Putting a very determined person in a hard place with a set of unenviable choices to make is a great recipe for interesting stories, and Chadwick shows its worth here.  Jack Fargo shows off some qualities which are very clearly only his due to his existence as a wish-fulfillment character, but like I said above, I’m pretty much okay with that.  The one time that I felt like things were perhaps pushing it was when he (seriously, this will ruin the climax of the story, don’t read it) detonated the impromptu hydrogen fuel-air bomb.  And even with that, I suppose his ability to recognize that such a thing was a possibility had been established in his character description earlier in the book.  Ah well.

I’m also not sure how well Chadwick manages to portray people with Aspergers’ syndrome.  I know several people with it myself, but given that they all have their own idiosyncrasies (and manage their interactions with others with varying levels of competence and confidence) I suppose I’m willing to allow his depictions their flair by virtue of his writer’s privilege.  I don’t think he did anything especially egregious with them, and some of them might even be somewhat flattering.  I’d have to ask someone with Aspergers what they thought.

In conclusion?  I quite liked this book, and as I mentioned above I would strongly recommend that you read it.  I thought it was a lot of fun, and I suspect that you’ll enjoy it too.

I didn’t know it while I was reading it, but this is actually part of a larger setting called Space:1889.  I’m definitely going to check it out.

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