I happen to believe in a divine creator. I readily admit, however, that it's not always easy to maintain such a belief, particularly in the light of suffering or injustice. So my faith waivers from time to time. I am forced to reevaluate my beliefs in light of what I see around me and elsewhere in the world. Sometimes I come back to my roots and sometimes I am compelled to alter my faith to conform to reality.
Yet the question of a divine creator’s existence is only one among many, and it’s all too easy to get hung up on that question without considering others that are just as important. Indeed, it’s all too easy to confuse the “existence question” with questions about the nature of the creator, the nature of human beings, and the nature of our relationship with our creator and with the world around us. Our biases, preconceptions, and prejudices lead us to assume that, if a creator exists, he/she/it must be a certain way. He/she/it would look, think, and behave in the way we expect a creator would. And so when we do not see in this world the influence of the kind of creator we expect, we reason that there is no creator at all. For it may be much more simple to believe in no creator than to believe in a creator who is different from the one we want.
In Mainspring, the author takes a unique approach to help the characters (and, by extension, the readers) sort through our philosophical and spiritual uncertainties: he resolves the “existence question” conclusively and, thereby, removes that question from consideration. In the Mainspring universe, a great wall topped by gear teeth encircles the world and moves the Earth along its vast orbital track around the sun. The other planets and satellites in our solar system move along like mechanisms. The Hand of God in creating the universe is, therefore, apparent and undeniable to any who are willing to simply raise their eyes to the sky. The “existence question” is no question at all.
Jay Lake tells us, “Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that God exists and He created the Heavens and the Earth.” If the reader is willing to make that assumption, at least temporarily, then the reader is free to ask the other, often sticker and more difficult spiritual and philosophical questions without getting hung up on the question of whether God exists in the first place. The reader can cast off prejudices about what God ought to be like and instead concentrate on what God is like. Forget about how humans would interact with their creator and think about how humans should interact with their creator. Those are the questions with which the characters in Mainspring must wrestle.
Not the best book I’ve read by a long shot, but it’s unique, fun, and thought-provoking. I also think the author’s inexperience shows through in the writing in some places. I’m willing to give him a pass on that for now, though I will expect some mild improvements in his future works.
As a post script, let me answer three objections to Mainspring I’ve seen on various comment boards. The first is that Mainspring isn’t “real” Steampunk. My answer to that is: who gives a shit? If you like the book, you like it. If you don’t like the book, you don’t like it. I don’t understand why it’s so important to some folks to categorize everything they read. The second objections is that Jay Lake’s metaphor for creation is too obvious. My answer is that the metaphor is supposed to be obvious in order to remove the question of whether God exists. Finally, the third objection is that the first half of Mainspring is a wild, exciting ride but the second half puts on the breaks and slows to a crawl. My answer is that the first half is more about the protagonist’s physical journey, while the second half is more about his spiritual journey.