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Souls in the Great Machine (Greatwinter #1)

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  627 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
The great Calculor of Libris was forced to watch as Overmayor Zarvora had four of its components lined up against a wall and shot for negligence. Thereafter, its calculations were free from errors, and that was just as well-for only this strangest of calculating machines and its two thousand enslaved components could save the world from a new ice age.

And all the while a f
Paperback, 608 pages
Published December 15th 2002 by Tor Books (first published 1999)
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Daniel Roy
Nov 09, 2012 Daniel Roy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Daniel by: Ryandake
Shelves: sf
Stop me if you've heard this one before: in Australia in the distant, post-apocalyptic future, a continent-wide Siren-like Call wreaks havoc on society, and electricity is banned by EMP orbital platforms. But an ingenious and ruthless librarian reinvents computers by using prisoners as components. With it, she...

I'll stop here, not because anything in Souls in the Great Machine has been done before, but because discovering all the crazy and ingenious ideas put forth in this book are part of the
Jul 07, 2009 Zach rated it it was ok
Pros: McMullen has a lot of really great ideas. This is a book set 200 years after the apocalypse, caused by a mysterious siren call that started luring people into the sea, leading to nuclear war and the placement of satellites that sweep the earth with electromagnetic pulses from time to time, prohibiting the use of electronics. The story, then, concerns the southern part of Australia (I think-the geography is hazy at best), where they have a produced a new calculating machine that uses people ...more
Nov 24, 2016 Benjamin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book starts out so spectacularly strong that the end can't match the promise. You have a post-apocalyptic, Australian, steam-punk novel set in a well-crafted world. The characters and narrative just can't keep up with the setting.

Spoilers follow.

One of the more unfortunate is on the book's cover. Knowing Lemorel Milderellen and Zarvora Cybeline will end up at odds with each other prevents the reader from fully committing to empathizing with Lemorel (although, to McMullen's credit, I came cl
Roddy Williams
'A Brilliant and Stunning Saga Begins…
Two millennia from now, there is no more electricity, wind-engines are leading-edge technology, librarians fight duels to settle disputes, steam power is banned by every major religion, and a mysterious siren ‘Call’ lures people to their watery graves. Nevertheless a brilliant and ruthless leader intends to start an improbable war: a war against inconceivably ancient nuclear battlestations orbiting Earth.
However, the greatest threat to humanity is not these
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in August 2004.

There are plenty of post-apocalyptic novels, and plenty of science fiction about computers, but Souls in the Great Machine is the first story I have read which combines the two. Set about seventeen hundred years from now, following a nuclear winter, Souls in the Great Machine is about the effects of the development of a new form of a religiously proscribed machine, the computer. Because electronic equipment has become unusable (due to still fun
Juliet Wilson
Oct 05, 2012 Juliet Wilson rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
My partner recommended this book to me. We rarely read the same books, even when we choose science fiction, we read different types of science fiction. But he thought that I would be interested in the alternative technologies in this book. He was right too.

Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen is set in Australia about two millenia into the future. The continent is ruled by war-like librarians. Nuclear winter is long in the past and the world has developed new technologies since then, but
Nov 19, 2011 Wealhtheow marked it as to-read
Someone recommended this to me as:
"If you like unusual SF, you should definitely pick up Sean McMullen's Greatwinter trilogy of novels, starting with the first book Souls in the Great Machine. It's set in Australia (the middle book is set in North America) and it revolves around a post-apocalyptic society built slowly and realistically from the ashes of our own. You've got a kind of clock-punk level of technology in which fueled engines are religiously proscribed, yet society gets on at a pretty
Tim Hicks
Jan 05, 2016 Tim Hicks rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Let's remember that this book was written in 1998, about when we'd have been using Netscape 2 as our browser if we even HAD a computer yet.

This book is full of grand ideas, but not very well executed. It felt as if the ideas overwhelmed the book, and perhaps there was no great need for it all to be solidly built. The story rips along at a great pace, I'll admit. The first part, with people advancing through the hierarchy and building something grand, was just fine. Then suddenly we're at war, n
Oct 28, 2007 Smallerdemon rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: scifi fans, rand fans, steampunk fans
Overall this would be best classified as a fun book to read. Lots of action and lots of fun characters. The characters remind me quite a bit of characters from Ayn Rand's books, which means they seem to be slightly one dimensional in the behavior, but that does get toned down some later in the book. It loosely qualifies as steampunk. The post-apocalyptic nature of it sets it in a different era than a lot of steampunk. The setting for most of the book is Australia (in later books it seems that No ...more
Iain Coggins
Oct 22, 2013 Iain Coggins rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Lovers of timely and original speculative fiction.
Somewhat foolishly, I read a number of reviews on this book before starting it. I did so despite knowing that I already wanted to read it, and that it had been on my reading list for a number of years. Reviewers give a lot of fours, primarily because of weak character development. Having read such reviews, I found myself looking for this problem as I read (hence the aforementioned foolishness). Truth be told, McMullen does have some weaknesses in this regard, but I would say his real weakness is ...more
Rich Rennicks
Nov 03, 2015 Rich Rennicks rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy-sci-fi
This was at least my third read of this excellent novel since it came out, and it holds up and gets better with time. Great ideas, a cracking story, and well-drawn characters make this a very enjoyable read. Sure there are a few minor irritations -- it is an omnibus edition of the first two novels McMullen wrote after all -- but those are easily overlooked as the story carries you along.

I used to handsell this book like crazy when I was a bookseller. Post-apocalypse Australia, quasi-feudal socie
Jun 26, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Post-apocalyptic; world-building; strong female characters; steampunk; windpunk; Fable III
I almost gave up on this book. It just started slow for me and then, somewhere around 150 or 200 pages in, what a blast! Don't know why; maybe I took a while to get used to the world McMullen has created. Good post-apocalyptic sci-fi without the depressing edge that seems to pervade that genre. \

I always loved the idea about a society governed by a library, or rather, a Library and fancied some day writing a story about that myself. McMullen beat me to it and did a better job than I ever could.
Apr 16, 2015 Ryandake rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-good-shit
Daniel wrote a great review of it here:

as for me, this is my sixth or seventh time to read this trilogy, and it is as awesome this time as it has been for all the previous.

if your idea of great sf is of sf with truly innovative ideas, wonderful plotting and characterization, and thoroughly memorable characters, you have come to the right place: Souls in the Great Machine has all of these. and this is only the on-ramp to a far more complex and involving fu
Nov 30, 2016 Shannon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-library
The first half of this book was fantastic. McMullen created a rich & immersive world with detailed & interesting characters. I loved the concept of a post apocalyptic world run run by dueling librarians (less ridiculous than in sounds when you start reading).

However about halfway through the speed shifted abruptly and both plot and characters seemed thin and rushed. While the first half presented a society that was somewhat plausible (or at least believable), the second started making s
Feb 17, 2013 Beverly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I give it a 4 star instead of a 5 star rating, because for me, the plot got too bogged down in some parts, slowing down the action too much. But, it was a fascinating piece of SF, and thanks to another reviewer, I found out that it was released as two separate books in Australia, explaining the sudden 5-year gap in the story.
I would have liked to have known more about what happened to Lemorel during those 5 years, because it may have explained better her motivations for what she did later.
The s
Errr... I guess I'll give it a three. Started off great, but by the time we got to the end I was incredibly bored and annoyed by all the characters. There are many of them, and their motivations are not always clear. Occasionally they just take off on some grand adventure for no apparent reason. Also, it seemed like the author occasionally just wanted to speed things up, to show more stuff about the world, so he would sort of 'fast-forward' the action, making me feel like I'm missing something.
Oct 24, 2007 korty rated it it was amazing
A unique and wonderful read. The worldbuilding in this book is stunning. The author creates a world and the cultures that populate it with such vividness that you feel like you have actually been there. There is one awkward aspect where a character we had gotten to know well in the first half disappointingly gets pushed to the background in the latter half, but it is not enough to lower my rating.
Mar 24, 2010 John rated it really liked it
Yowza! Big, big ideas, delivered through the actions of well-realized characters. This is the first book in a long time that has given me the feeling I got from those first Heinlein and Asimov books in my teens.

My only beef with this was the "small world" cast. After the Nth time one of the characters crosses paths with another character we've met before, it started feeling strained to me. Necessary to the plot, but irritating.
Feb 09, 2010 Aneel rated it it was ok
Recommended to Aneel by: Mom
Quite good for the first hundred pages, then abandons its focus on interactions between characters and switches over into Big Picture mode. The book starts rapidly switching between characters and destroys their verisimilitude. Characters swap allegiances and opinions for the sole purpose of making the giant Tech plot work out, and everything starts feeling heavily scripted. Interesting ideas, but, in the final analysis, an unsatisfying read.
I decided to read this book with my fiance after reading some awesome reviews. We gave it 100 pages but it wasn't doing anything for either one of us. None of the characters stuck out and the ideas were strange but not necessarily interesting. It's a huge book and I think there's another book after it so we didn't want to waste months reading it and then be left with a cliffhanger.
Chris Reznor
Feb 17, 2013 Chris Reznor rated it it was amazing
A sci-fi story set in a post apocalypic where computers don't technically exist. Instead, giant calculation machines are staffed by human slaves doing the math. The use of 'lo-tech' in the story is particularly interesting. Flintlock pistols, pedal trains and communication networks of 'beamflash towers'? Not a typical sci-fi read but still very much worth a read.
Sep 06, 2013 Renata rated it did not like it
Shelves: fantasy
This book has a fascinating, seeable, steampunk world and interesting characters, but they are not developed enough to keep me hooked, and the writing absolutely plods. I couldn't get past the first 5 chaps because the writing put me to sleep! Two more volumes?! Please, not unless the writer improves on his craft.
I'm having a hard time reading this book--it's confusing with all the characters coming in and I'm not really sure what the hell is going on. My boyfriend got me the trilogy from the library, but I'm not sure at this point if I will even get through the first book.

ETA: I gave it the 50 pages, but couldn't read it any further.
May 29, 2015 Chris rated it liked it
Interesting book. I thought the characters could have been better developed; I kept asking myself, When did she turn into a nutball? Since when is he not a nutball? Are we supposed to like any of these people? et cetera. The humans as switches in a living digital computer thing was cool, though I have seen it before, and more believably. Overall, not bad, but not good either.
Miki Habryn
Nov 24, 2015 Miki Habryn rated it liked it
I really like this book—dueling librarians, human computation, etc—but the second half is, in fairness, a bit of a mess. Characters go various flavors of insane in lieu of actual development, the timeline starts leaping ahead Dune-style, and things generally get eyebrow-raisingly weird. It's at its best on first read, particularly if you're a teenager.
Dec 30, 2009 Joe rated it liked it
The storytelling is passable, but the ideas are so good that this rates at least a 3/5; I don't regret reading it at all, and I'm looking forward to the next books. Hopefully, the dialog gets a little less stilted (but at least it's not cliched), and the characters a little more fully-realized, but even if that doesn't happen, I think I'd still enjoy them.
Jun 13, 2012 Chip rated it really liked it
If you like post-apocalyptic stories, you should read this book. Definitely some great ideas - computer made from humans, wind trains, the Call, sentient Mirror-Sun, etc. Could have been a 5-star if he had explained why one of the main characters decides to go to war with everyone and made the second half of the book a bit more even.
Mar 08, 2008 Danjo rated it really liked it
Shelves: scifi
I absolutely love the angles this book brings to bear on an advanced low tech society. The concept of a post-apocalypic, librarian run civilation is very fertile ground to hit upon the nature of progress confined.
May 15, 2012 Robert added it
Shelves: sci-fi
I'm on page 100 or so... only giving it another few pages before I put it down for good. There is something really interesting here, but I'm not sure the author is ever going to get me to care about it. We'll see.


Apr 17, 2011 Wren rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
This book has such a great concept I tore through 100 pages out of curiosity about this world and its wonderful mechanical technology. Nevertheless, I found the writing choppy and inconsistent, and gave up because of the feeling that such an amazing dystopia deserved better.
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Dr. Sean McMullen, author of the acclaimed cyberpunk/steampunk Greatwinter Trilogy, is one of Australia's top Science Fiction and Fantasy authors.

Winning over a dozen awards (including multiple Analog Readers Awarda and a Hugo Award finalist), his work is a mixture of romance, invention and adventure, populated by strange and dynamic characters. The settings for Sean's work range from the Roman E
More about Sean McMullen...

Other Books in the Series

Greatwinter (3 books)
  • The Miocene Arrow (Greatwinter Trilogy #2)
  • Eyes of the Calculor (Greatwinter Trilogy #3)

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