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Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
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Mar 21, 12

Read in March, 2012

Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker: Steampunk, Spies, and a Doomsday Device

Slate recently compared Joe Spork, the protagonist of Nick Harkaway’s ripping spy novel Angelmaker, to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s Arthur Dent and Neverwhere’s Richard Mayhew. Accurate comparisons, both. Like its spiritual predecessors, Angelmaker is a breezy read in spite of its intricate plot, which concerns a mild-mannered clockmaker (the son of one of London’s most infamous gentleman gangsters) who unwittingly triggers a doomsday device. (“Whoops” doesn’t quite cover the gravity of the situation.) It features a terrifying, Bond-esque villain, heaps of humor, and a moody steampunk atmosphere, not to mention some of the sharpest writing to come out of the sci-fi genre in a while.

What really sold me, however, was a relatively small moment not too long into the book. As a horror-movie aficionado, nothing grates more than seeing characters so willingly stepping up like lambs to the inevitable slaughter. “There’s a horrible killer on the loose! Wait, what was that sound?” “I don’t know but I’M GOING TO CHECK IT OUT!” Kids, you’re going to die either way, at least let me pretend the monster is outwitting a worthy adversary. I can’t root for your survival if you’re not making a go of it yourself. So it was a great comfort to see the following exchange:

“You have it? Here? Now? How long do we have? Come on, man, they won’t be far behind!”
“Who won’t?” but Joe Spork is already moving, old instinct demands it: when someone says ‘they’re coming’ you go out the back first and get details later.

Indeed, from that moment on I knew I was in the hands of an author who gets it, who knows how to tweak the genre with one hand and pay homage to it with the other. And really, genre in the singular isn’t even a fair word to apply to Angelmaker — sci-fi, steampunk, and spycraft are all at play in this engrossing work of fiction.

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Ralph I also saw some similarities to Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide, though the plot is stronger in this book.


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