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Mainspring (Clockwork Earth #1)

3.21  ·  Rating details ·  2,078 Ratings  ·  275 Reviews
Jay Lake's first trade novel is an astounding work of creation. Lake has envisioned a clockwork solar system, where the planets move in a vast system of gears around the lamp of the Sun. It is a universe where the hand of the Creator is visible to anyone who simply looks up into the sky, and sees the track of the heavens, the wheels of the Moon, and the great Equatorial ge ...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published April 29th 2008 by Tor Books (first published 2007)
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Rating details
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Sep 03, 2007 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: hated-it
I bought this novel on the basis of Cory Doctorow's cover blurb, and man do I want to kick his ass. This book is horribly written. Character development is non-existent. Our hero, Hethor goes off on this quest to rewind the mainspring of his clockwork earth at the behest of the archangel Gabriel. Along the way he stops off in a sucession of thinly-imagined fantasy cities that all feel like they were cobbled together for a clockpunk D&D campaign and has sex with a tiny monkey lady. I know, I ...more
Richard Derus
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
UPDATE 6/1/2014: My blog about Jay Lake's death.

It's time for the next review in my Jay Wake Pre-Mortem Jay Lake Read-a-thon! And today, Lake does what so few others in my 53 years have done: Used the word "God" and not made me screechingly furiously attack-mode angry. MAINSPRING, reviewed at Shelf Inflicted, is a good book for many reasons. That one is mine. Others include elegant phrasemaking, deft plotting, and a re-imagining of the laws of the Universe that's breathtaking.

I'm very happy I've
May 03, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'll start it short: This is a terrible book.

The premise is excellent, as is the cover. The execution, however, is amateurish at best and laughable at worst. There were some 4 star moments, though - the journey, to be fair, proceeded as follows:

3 stars, 4 stars, 3, 4, 2, 2, 1...

The second half of this book is so unsatisfying, and the ending so trite and faux-didactic that I had trouble not throwing it across the room. As a massive sf/fantasy literary snob (China Mieville is my hero), I was ac
Ben Babcock
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 t
Ian Tregillis
Nov 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love cool ideas. Nothing excites me more than a really gonzo idea story. Jay Lake, a superb short-story writer, is the kind of guy who has a half dozen mind-blowing ideas before breakfast. (Which is one reason why I both admire and hate him. Also, he writes crazy fast, which is another reason for admiring and hating him.) The premise behind Mainspring is one of the coolest things I've encountered in a long time.

I've heard it claimed that Isaac Newton changed the way natural philosophers viewed
Sep 14, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: clockpunk
Profoundly underwhelming. The characters are undeveloped, the central conceit - though at first intriguing - isn't fully thought through, and does no one else see unfortunate implications in turning the entire Southern hemisphere (with especial attention to Africa) into a land of ~*savages and barbarism and strangeness*~ where no one is human, and they're all either leading pleasantly unsophisticated lives in harmony with the universe or HORRIBLE MONSTERS?

Moreover, there is no ambiguity whatsoev
Jun 02, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, christianity
The author would appear to be something of a fan of Gene Wolfe, and if you are going to pattern yourself after someone that's a pretty good choice. Unfortunately, Wolfe has a singularly unimitatable style and the author is quite unable to match his high ambitions. There are flashes of greatness in the story, but by and large it is peopled with flat uninteresting characters that do uninteresting things.

The principal conceit of the story is that the world of the story is truly the clockwork orrey
Ivan Lutz
Stajem na 17%! Neću dati ocjenu jer možda je ovo dobro do kraja... ali mene sav taj bog, anđel GAbrijel, itd... onako malo nervira i opterećuje cijelu radnju, ap ako nekoga zanimaju ovakve teme(nije tema religijska ali je sve optočeno religijom) vjerojatno će mu se ova knjiga svidjeti. Meni nije!
Brian Kristopher
Warning: Mild Spoilers

First, I liked this book. It's an entertaining read.

That said, I was disappointed with it. I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. That's not to say it's bad, because it's not. It's more a case of it's not anywhere near as good as it could be.

The main problem I had with it is that Hethor, the book's protagonist, never does much of anything. The book sort of happens to him.

In a way, instead of the Victorian Era flavor Lake was going for, he ends up invoking an e
Ross Lockhart
Jul 05, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The core conceit of Mainspring imagines that the solar system is actually a gigantic orrey, and that the movements of the stars, planets, and the earth itself are all controlled through a sort of deistic clockwork, giving physical form to the ages-old watchmaker analogy of creation. When the mainspring of the earth begins to run down, the archangel Gabriel engages young Hethor Jacques, a teenaged clockmaker’s apprentice, to find the “Key Perilous” and rewind creation. As this cunningly-plotted q ...more
Claire A
Jul 30, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm honestly disappointed that Goodreads doesn't allow me to give this 0 stars, because I would if I could. It's beyond me how anybody could genuinely enjoy this book, let alone barely tolerate it. The list of bad things I have to say about Jay Lake's "novel" is infinite, but I'll just give my main complaints.

The book starts off with a decent amount of potential, setting it up with a classic YA "chosen one" scenario. Then it spirals into what I can only describe as the ninth circle of hell. This
Colin McKay Miller
I have a long list of expectations when it comes to science fiction. There’s the good (creative concepts, detailed setting, the epic feel of an alternate universe), the bad (execution falling short of the creativity of the idea, dragging pace, botched social commentary) and the whatever (obscure names, interspecial love interests – oh, why does it never end awkwardly?). For Jay Lake’s Mainspring, he avoids many of the pitfalls of science fiction, but he doesn’t nail many of the positives either. ...more
Jul 14, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Mainspring begins with the archangel Gabriel appearing to Hethor, the novel's protagonist. It seems that the world will end very soon, and Gabriel sets Hethor on a journey to make things right. Jay Lake may not realize it, but he's rewriting Donnie Darko. (And I'm not just saying that because of the obvious Christ imagery in both stories.

The problem is that Hethor's world is like a clock, the Earth revolves around the sun on a giant brass track, and the Earth's mainspring is winding down. Hethor
Jun 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have just finished rereading this book for the first time. On second exposure it is even better than I had remembered. It is both subtle and outrageous. It is a marvelous chance to step out of our own familiar world filled with marvels, into a world strange and steeped in the elements of our own, but rendered in strange hues, as if seen through the distorted lens of a funhouse mirror.
It is more than Hethor's story, it is the story of the Brass Christ, and the mysterious sorcerer (or not) Wi
I don't know what to think about this. I read about halfway through this, and then by chance read the reviews here on goodreads, and my suspicions were confirmed. I was enjoying it in a way -- the world at least, the ideas -- but I couldn't enjoy the characters because there seemed to be very little to them. I never got an idea of what drove any particular character or why -- I didn't get enough of a sense of any of them to really like them.

Add to that the problems raised in other reviews, and I
Jan 21, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: specfic
While I enjoyed parts of this clockpunk work, overall I can't help but feel a little indifferent after finishing the tale.

The author did some excellent world-building. I really wanted to know more about the various cultures and climes that Hethor, the main character, came into contact with.

On the other hand, the originality of idea could not overcome for me the blandness of the main and side characters. I don't mind books where the main character is somewhat more of an Everyman so that the reade
Apr 29, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: steampunk
Jay Lake wrote one of my favourite short stories in the Steampunk anthology, so I was really expecting better from this book -- but unfortunately, it really didn't do it for me. Hethor is your standard intrepid boy hero with hardly any characterisation, there's no smooth character development, his love interest is preternaturally supportive and understanding and flawless, the ending left me unfulfilled, the writing felt stilted and overly-formal at times, and I had a really hard time just graspi ...more
I really wanted to like this more, but it fell kind of flat to me. I love the literal clockwork universe, but unfortunately the main character was pretty standard and shallow. Just another naive fantasy chosen one. The conflicting ideologies the plot set up never really culminated into anything satisfying, either, and the [spoiler:]furry take on the fantasy hero discovering the joys of true love didn't work for me either.
But I liked the world building. I just didn't get as much of what I really
I have to say, the opening chapter put me off. Especially the last page or so, I was like really? Really? Not only do the apprentice’s master’s sons hate him, but one happens to beat him up and steal the last of his father’s money on the way out of town? Ugh. Are we back here again? I get that this is probably a retelling of the classic poor/apprentice/beggar boy rises to the task of being a hero via steampunk BUT don’t overdo it. Please. There are other ways to stack the deck that aren’t so obv ...more
I enjoyed reading Mainspring but it had some flaws that detracted from my enjoyment.

Mainspring takes place in an alternate universe with a Clockwork Creator. The religion bears similarity to the Christian tradition but the actual differences are never explained to my satisfaction. Some of that may be due to trying to only reveal what is known to the main character but it leaves the reader's understanding of the world lacking. It was clear that there was some really interesting world-building bei
Nathan Hirstein
Jun 14, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 24, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I can't go any further and I'm stopping this around page 225. I really wanted to read a Jay Lake book, and this one just fell into my lap so I gave it a good try. The writing is just painful. The entire book is a list of sequential plot sentences, with events that are both poorly contextualized and have no set up or follow through. If I was listing my top 5 things I complain about in books I dislike, a big one is when things just seem to randomly happen, and the events between the chapters don't ...more
Mar 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, what if you had a literal clockwork universe in which the earth rotates on an immense brass track driven by gears on top of an equatorial wall?

Jay Lake takes this unlikely premise and makes it work, and what's more, makes it the setting for a journey of spiritual realisation by the extremely hapless main character. (Poor guy, he keeps getting falsely accused, cast out, beaten up, robbed, imprisoned, abducted, whipped, abducted, abandoned to die, starved, dropped off cliffs, beaten up, attack
2.5 stars

Why, why is it so hard to find good steampunk?

I had high hopes for this one. It certainly had potential--a great premise, a truly original world, a little theology, and a couple of surprising twists.
Unfortunately, none of those things can make up for the amateurish writing or the incredibly bland protagonist. Hethor lacked personality, conviction, and most of all, passion. Even during his not-infrequent emotional outbursts, I never got the impression that he truly cared about what he
May 14, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people I don't like
This fantasy has the bizarre and interesting premise of a literal clockwork universe. The Earth’s mainspring is winding down and young apprentice clockmaker Hethor Jacques is charged with finding the Key Perilous and winding it up again by a Brass Angel. The equator of the Earth is a giant gear that meshes with another for Earth’s journey around the Lamp of the Sun. Set in an alternate 19th-century Earth where Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria rules over England and Her American Possessions, t ...more
Apr 26, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
Imagine a world in which god is the ultimate clockmaker, the pre-Einsteinian world of Newtonian physics, but taken literally: the solar system really is on a series of gears, the Equator is a brass gear miles high with miraculously-machined teeth meshing with the cog of the world's orbit, and imagine that the Earth is winding down and must be rewound. That is the mission given to Hethor, a clockmaker's apprentice in Victorian New Haven, by the archangel Gabriel.
If you imagine this as a pocket u
Feb 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my opinion one sign of a good book are the strong reactions it evokes. Judging from the number of 5 star and 1 star ratings, I'd say Mainspring qualifies. As usual, I'll leave it to others to tell you what the story is about. I read waaaay too much fantasy and sci-fi so I'm always delighted when I discover a book thats unlike any other I've read. My only complaint would be the weak character development. Mr Lake tries and there is some back story but I never really found myself caring about o ...more
Mar 31, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Steampunk readers
Good Steampunk book, intresting feature in here are the religion which a brass christ who dies while rewinding the great gears who propells the world forword. Other strange thins is the sun who is a brasslamp shining and the ectorial wall which is here a gigantic brass wall seperating the south earth and the north earth with the gears that propells the world runns at the topp.

Good story about a boy eho get a call from the angel Gabriel that he must save the world, on his way he meet some strange
Apr 05, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
A genre blending mix of magic and steampunk, Jay Lake takes on the creation of the world myth in a very alternate version of a Victorian Era world. I like the world building, but the main character himself tended to be a bit lackluster for most of the novel, haplessly falling into progressive worse situations. While it does represent a coming of age story, very little of it is a direct result of the main character himself. Rather, he is propelled to increasing challenging circumstance that he hi ...more
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The Steampunk, Cy...: Reviews 2 8 Jun 02, 2013 07:51AM  
The Steampunk, Cy...: Disscusion 1 5 Mar 01, 2013 06:21PM  
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Jay Lake lived in Portland, Oregon, where he worked on multiple writing and editing projects. His 2007 book Mainspring received a starred review in Booklist. His short fiction appeared regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, Endeavour Award, and was a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards.
More about Jay Lake...

Other Books in the Series

Clockwork Earth (3 books)
  • Escapement (Clockwork Earth #2)
  • Pinion (Clockwork Earth #3)
“The fanged shadows boiled out behind them, howling for blood, their voices creaking with the sound of snapping bones. The fallen of Hethor's own party seemed to be swept up in the pursuit, dead correct people on their trail, keening, crying, blaming. Rivers of red flowed rapidly across the stone dock in the twilight, slippery sticky blood overtaking their flight to make them trip and slide headfirst into stone bollards or pitch screaming into the sea.” 5 likes
“We are not dead!"
He could hear the smile, even in her answering yell. "Certainly we are. It is only that our bodies have not yet learned the truth.”
More quotes…