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Souls in the Great Machine

(Greatwinter #1)

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  778 ratings  ·  60 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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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  778 ratings  ·  60 reviews

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Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: given-up-on
Just couldn't go on. My first dnf in ages.
At about page 300 I started to get embarrassed at how awful the interaction between characters was. Especially the female characters, who by the way, started out as strong and resourceful and ended up standing in front of a mirror naked and scoring themselves out of 10. At some stage, it felt like the author stopped writing and his 15 year old son took over and suddenly all the powerful nation leading women suddenly needed to compare breasts and work ou
Daniel Roy
Jul 08, 2012 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
Jun 15, 2009 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 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book was a test of patience for me, I have to say. I feel bad saying that since the book was well-reviewed and a lot of effort obviously went into it but for whatever reason, I kept think "Well, this is certainly a list of events. And the characters certainly do have names. I guess it technically qualifies as a book ." Some really neat concepts (I loved the idea of The Call) but the book was so dry. I spite-read the home stretch. Just when I though it was winding down to a conclusion, it'd ...more
Nov 24, 2016 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
Iain Coggins
Feb 14, 2011 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
Apr 24, 2013 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.
Nov 10, 2012 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
Oct 24, 2007 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.
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
I came into this serious with a hopeful positive outlook. The description of the novel got me hooked and I was looking forward to reading it. Out of the other reviews I had read the book seemed worth the read. Sadly, I was very disappointed. Right away the book throws a bunch of in terms and I was very confused. The book did not spend enough time explaining the many terms in its universe. I could not keep track. To add to that the names of all the lingo, characters, and positions were very hard ...more
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Liu,Cixin may have gotten the idea for a computer made up of human components from this author.

This book had the potential to be a lot better, especially because women were the Overlords. But the dude just could not resist his breast-envy, and thus turned this fairly awesome imaginative sci-fi into a teenage boy's book.

Aug 26, 2013 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. ...more
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi
"Souls" is a mix of interesting ideas, imaginative societies/cultures, war/battles, and unlikable characters. I quickly tired of the wars/battles, which I don't generally like anyhow and, in this case, found inexplicable. Why were two key female leads going to war at all? I never did understand. Moreover, there was not a single character about whom I gave a damn. ...more
Gary Reger
Jan 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Another SF novel set in a post-apocalyptic Australian future, Souls in the Great Machine tells a complex tale of warfare, violence, betrayal, and sex in a continent divided up into multiple independent "mayoralities." Religious strictures forbid steam power; a mysterious ring orbiting the Earth attacks any electricity-powered machinery. McMullen has invented plenty of clever devices, like trains run by wind power and the central device of the novel, a "Calculor" that solves mathematical problems ...more
John Loyd
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Remnant satellites from two thousand years ago are still orbiting the Earth and destroying any attempts at using electricity. Near the moon is a band of nano machines that was built to combat global warming but may now bring another Great Winter. Humanity also has to deal with the Call. Every few days the Call will come and every mammal medium sized dog and bigger is put into a state of vegetative rapture and walks towards the source. Nearer the source the Call is constant, creating the Calldeat ...more
Ann Tonks
How to you score a book that deserves 5 stars for some sections and 1 star for others. How do you balance strong, bold, smart women in lead roles against one to many references to women's breasts? How do you balance fascinating ideas (the calculator, the call, the mirrorsun) with the sense that there are just too many of them to do justice to all? In the end, I loved some of the whimsy of some of the relationships, the genius of the women, the Australian-ness of the landscape, and that was enoug ...more
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, 2018-reads
Rather over written story it could have been have the length a lot of the time seemed to repeat itself or jump forward just because, most of the characters were rather wooden they all seemed to be defined by the function they served to the plot not as characters and individuals themselves.
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Neat concepts, great language, and who doesn't love a good post-apocalyptic story? ...more
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, raven
A weird sci fi sort of steampunk story. The characters were interesting and complex. I will keep an eye open for more from this author.
Apr 26, 2021 rated it it was ok
I'm DNFing this. Started out great and then just kind of dissolved. ...more
Jens Rushing
May 05, 2021 rated it liked it
Entertaining, good ideas, weird plotting
Sep 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: sci-fi
Fine worldbuilding. Nope, that's all I can think of that I liked about it.
I got about 2/3rds of the way through and discovered I not only didn't care about any of the characters, I couldn't remember which Dragon was which and why one of them was fighting on the other side. When the origin story of one of them is as the Abbess of an odd desert religion who eats grilled mice and has a crazily overprotective brother, and the other started as a dueling math genius, it shouldn't be hard to remember w
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
Nov 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is wonderful.
Kirk Johnson
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing style is more passable than most science fiction but still not literary. The last thirty or so pages form an awkward hodgepodge of a denouement, tying together strings that weren't there before and giving a general bad impression of the author: Maybe the publication deadline came too soon. That said, the concepts are ingenious and addicting, and the characters start out better than the usual scifi breed. Four stars for standing out from the dreary genre horde. ...more
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 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 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 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,
Jamie Wesson
Oct 10, 2007 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
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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

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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