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Narbondo #3

Lord Kelvin's Machine

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Determined to avert the doom of his beloved wife, scientist and detective Langdon St. Ives sees his only hope for doing so in Lord Kelvin's time machine, but the diabolical Dr. Ignacio Narbondo has other plans for the invention. Reprint. AB.

244 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 1992

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About the author

James P. Blaylock

87 books256 followers
James Paul Blaylock is an American fantasy author. He is noted for his distinctive style. He writes in a humorous way: His characters never walk, they clump along, or when someone complains (in a flying machine) that flight is impossible, the other characters agree and show him why he's right.

He was born in Long Beach, California; studied English at California State University, Fullerton, receiving an M.A. in 1974; and lives in Orange, California, teaching creative writing at Chapman University. Many of his books are set in Orange County, California, and can more specifically be termed "fabulism" — that is, fantastic things happen in our present-day world, rather than in traditional fantasy, where the setting is often some other world. His works have also been categorized as magic realism.

He and his friends Tim Powers and K.W. Jeter were mentored by Philip K. Dick. Along with Powers he invented the poet William Ashbless. Blaylock and Powers have often collaborated with each other on writing stories, including The Better Boy, On Pirates, and The William Ashbless Memorial Cookbook.

Blaylock is also currently director of the Creative Writing Conservatory at the Orange County High School of the Arts, where Powers is Writer in Residence.

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5 stars
63 (15%)
4 stars
149 (35%)
3 stars
148 (35%)
2 stars
39 (9%)
1 star
18 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews
Profile Image for Mir.
4,781 reviews4,987 followers
February 19, 2011
At first I tried to tell myself it was just me. I was reading under adverse conditions -- on a ferry, going to meet a friend I knew was upset, tired from work -- I probably just missed something. You know, that little explanation or aside that would make the action comprehensible. I went back and reread the first chapter. Nope, still didn't make sense. Well, you know, there are those authors who like to throw you into the story en medias res and then give you the backstory as they go along. That sometimes works very effectively. If the author actually gets around to filling you in, that is. And there is a backstory of sorts, it just wasn't enough to make me care about the characters or excuse the author from being totally unable to structure his book in a balanced, coherent fashion.

So there's this guy we don't know driving a carriage at night, and he gets a weird message, and then he falls asleep despite the fact that he is rushing to rescue his beloved wife from his nemesis, and they crash, and he doesn't save her. Because he is really hesitant about shooting even a very evil person who is about to kill his wife. But don't worry, you won't be upset about this poor lady getting shot in the head because there are no details and we never meet Alice or really learn anything about her, and her supposedly-brilliant-scientist husband doesn't have much more personality, either, he pretty much stumbles around being incoherent. Narbando, our villain, is even less explicable. Why does he hate our hero? Why do all the bad guys like vivisection? Why are hunchbacks so evil? We will never know, because the nemesis is hardly more present in the story than the dead wife. It pretty much is just St Ives -- oh, except that middle third of the book that is narrated by some other guy. Not the titular Lord Kelvin, he only has a walk-on. And there's a lot of staying in a bed-and-breakfast. Actually I think it was several inns, supposedly in different countries, but they all seem the same. And just when you think you are near the end of book, finally the time travel mentioned on the cover will happen. But by then you'll be sick of the bland characters and impossibly confused yet pointless events and not care.
Profile Image for Jayaprakash Satyamurthy.
Author 33 books457 followers
January 9, 2012
Episodic and disjointed. I'll give this novel some benefit of doubt because it's actually a sequel to a previous Blaylock novel, Homunculus. I hope the earlier novel does a better job of establishing the characters, because a sense of characterisation is entirely absent here. Instead we are thrown headlong into three loosely connected Victorian-era science fantasy/adventure tales written in a rather weak attempt at period prose, including a middle section that is narrated in first person by one of the participants, for no particular reason.

There are many elements of a good story here, but it all falls apart because the characters are so characterless and the narrative is so episodic and loth to reveal its own points of interest that the time travel angle doesn't even kick in until the final third of the novel. Even then, it's such a slapdash affair that I'd have been better served just viewing the Back To The Future trilogy once more. Still, I have Homunculus on my to-read list. But I will say that even if it throws this later work into sharper focus, Blaylock really should have worked harder to make this one stand on its own.
478 reviews1 follower
December 17, 2008
I found an old copy of this at a book sale. This is a sequel to another book I can never find called "Homunculus."

I can't put my finger on it, but for some reason I'm attracted by steampunk. I like the ideas of anachronistic technology, and Victorian romanticism, I guess. However, I've never found a good steampunk adventure story, ever. (Although Moorcock's "Nomad of Time Trilogy" isn't that bad).

There are interesting concepts in this book, but Blaylock's writing is so awful, I'm not sure how he got his work into print in the first place. But it probably explains why they don't stay in print.

Great ideas, dreadful execution.
Profile Image for Kat  Hooper.
1,582 reviews395 followers
March 20, 2015
3.5 stars. Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.

James P. Blaylock returns to Victorian England in another steampunk adventure with scientist Langdon St. Ives and his nemesis, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo. Lord Kelvin’s Machine contains three related stories which each feature a fictional infernal device created by inventor Lord Kelvin. I listened to the excellent audio version which was produced by Audible Studios, is just over 8 hours long, and is narrated by Nigel Carrington.

In the prologue of Lord Kelvin’s Machine, Dr. Narbondo murders Langdon St. Ives’ beloved wife Alice which throws St. Ives into a funk. Part 1, titled “In the Days of the Comet” begins a year later. St. Ives has been depressed since Alice died and wonders if he’s bound for the madhouse like his father. Then he hears that Narbondo has hatched another devious plan which involves a comet that is coming toward Earth. Narbondo thinks he has a way to propel the entire Earth so that it will intersect the comet’s path and be destroyed. To do this, he must use a device created by Lord Kelvin which will reverse the polarity of the Earth. (Obviously this is absurd, but that’s part of what makes Blaylock’s stories so much fun.) Using some clever manipulations and some biscuit crumbs, St. Ives and his friends are able to foil Narbondo’s dastardly plot. At the end, Narbondo dies … temporarily.

The second story, “The Downed Ships,” is narrated in first person by Jack Owlesby, a friend and great admirer of St. Ives, who witnesses the explosion of a paper company’s warehouse. It seems a little too coincidental that the paper company shares a wall with the Royal Academy museum which is currently housing one of Lord Kelvin’s machines. Something is afoot and it seems to involve a rubber elephant, an ice house, an American sailor, a sadistic boy, a fruit basket, a bomb, and a carp. There’s also alchemy, vivisection, and necromancy. In the end, it turns out that Narbondo wasn’t quite as dead as had been hoped.

Jack Owlesby is a charming character with a wonderful voice, and Nigel Carrington performs him perfectly, which is why I enjoyed this section so much:

"That was it — the difference between us. He was a man with destinations; it was that which confounded me. I rarely had one, unless it was some trivial momentary destination — the pub, say … At the moment, though, both of us slipped along through the fog, and suddenly I was a conspirator again. A destination had been provided for me. I wished that Dorothy could see me, bound on this dangerous mission, slouching through the shadowy fog to save St. Ives from the most desperate criminals imaginable. I tripped over a curb and sprawled on my face in the grass of the square, but was up immediately, giving the treacherous curb a hard look and glancing around like a fool to see if anyone had been a witness to my ignominious tumble."

In the final section of the book, “The Time Traveler,” Langdon has managed to steal Lord Kelvin’s machine from the Royal Academy. He plans to use it to travel back in time to prevent his wife’s death. What follows is another madcap steampunk adventure, but this one is full of time paradoxes. I thought it was amusing in a preposterous way, but readers who hate these types of stories (I understand there are some) will probably not enjoy it as much as I did. You’ve really got to suspend disbelief for this one.

Lord Kelvin’s Machine is one of the more entertaining LANGDON ST. IVES adventures and it’s a fine place for new readers to start. I recommend the audio version because Carrington’s upper crust British accent adds to the experience.
Profile Image for Raj.
1,359 reviews29 followers
March 10, 2010
The tagline for this book -- "do unto others before they do unto you... with a time machine!" -- should really have given me some warning as to the quality, but I was too excited by the title to notice. Langdon St. Ives is a scientist to wants to get hold of the titular machine before the dastardly Ignacio Narbondo to save his wife.

Written in a faux-Victorian style, and set in the 19th century, this book completely failed to interest me. It was okay, but the style wasn't authentic enough to feel like what it was trying to be and the writing wasn't strong enough to carry off the story. And the (American) author completely fails to understand cricket.

When there's so many better books in the world, I wouldn't bother wasting my time reading this one.
Profile Image for Liz.
266 reviews5 followers
May 8, 2010
I read a good third of this book before abandoning it - I'd thought it was a time travel book. Thought it was quite sluggish, and I didn't really care what happened to the characters. Definitely time to give up, if you're not involved that far in to a book.
Profile Image for David Schwan.
992 reviews32 followers
February 18, 2017
OK novel, but gets a bit tedious in places. This book gives a great deal of backstory to the villain Narbondo. The book is really three stories all connected by a common theme--Lord Kelvin's Machine. The machine was built to save the world from disaster and shows up in various guises throughout the three stories.
Profile Image for Roger.
1,042 reviews8 followers
May 28, 2021
Abysmal. Truly awful. I cannot believe James Blaylock wrote Lord Kelvin's Machine. It is devoid of almost any entertainment value whatsoever-in fact if I were not finishing it for a reading contest I probably would have quit. Avoid.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
35 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2021
I didn't fin d this quite as engaging as Homunculus, It's a fix-up, a patching together of stories that Blaylock has set in a steampunkish Britain starring his scientist/mystery solver character Langdon St. Ives. Reading the jacket copy -- as pointed out by another revewer--leads one to beleive that this is a time travel story. And the time travel does seem to start 2/3 of the way through the book. You have to get to the end of the story to find out it refers back to the beginning, which you probably have forgotten by now, because other non-timetravely things have have been done with Lord Kelvin's machine in the interim. Not ready to give up on Langdon St. Ives quite yet. But this won't be my favorite chapter of his adventures.
Profile Image for Bill.
141 reviews8 followers
June 30, 2008
Just the kind of time travel book I don't like. Took far too long to get to anything truly interesting, and then just confused and not-clever-enough-by-half about the inevitable paradox-foo.

I was warned that aside from those specifically recommended, this author's books were inconsistent at best. This one is not specifically recommended.
Profile Image for Tim.
772 reviews33 followers
April 4, 2011
Strangely disjoined but generally enjoyable, this is James Blaylock on cruise control. I suspect he wrote this one in a hurry.
Profile Image for Jeff Waltersdorf.
125 reviews2 followers
May 24, 2020
Rollicking steampunk adventure! Gentleman scientist and adventurer Langdon St. Ives and his stalwart companions attempt to foil the nefarious machinations of the evil Dr. Ignacio Narbondo. They must sabotage the fantastical machine of Lord Kelvin, who used the secret equations of James Clerk Maxwell to build a machine that could harness the powers of magnetism.

I'm not usually one to jump into the middle of a series, but I haven't been able to lay my hands on the first two volumes yet, and I keep hearing good things about Blaylock, and it was on the top of the stack of "to read" books. Probably because it's a slim volume. Still, I quite enjoyed it. The characters are all pulpy and don't need too much introduction or backstory. I'll be quite interested in hunting down the rest of the series.

Less gonzo than Mark Hodder's The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, which has a certain amount of overlap. Blaylock doesn't try to cram every historical figure into the novel, though the use of unknown Maxwell's equations as a sort of secret occult tome pleased me greatly.
Profile Image for Stephani.
274 reviews3 followers
May 15, 2021
I have always loved Blaylock's writing. Especially the characters who muddle through, who figure out what is going on at about the same time as the reader, who latch onto odd things to mentally help themselves (cottage pie!) and the language choices - absurd, rich, and often funny. The plot books do not always make sense until suddenly they do and you realize all those side plots and internal dialogue of the characters really have contributed to the whole and are a lot like how we all think as we go about doing things (like, doing something despite not wanting to be embarrassed and hoping for the best). These are normal people just trying their best and them fumble about like we do. Maybe, as I get older, that is what I like most - characters that aren't superheroes or with extra special powers, but ones who make a difference anyway.

I mean, how can you not love a genius scientist who tries to invent dried coffee pills? Or, exploding baskets of fruit? Or, the perfect accent by the narrator of a kindly farmer who doesn't like scientists, excepting his Lordship Kelvin? Plus, a sheep dog!

The narrator for this was particularly good. Made the book even better.
Profile Image for Nigel.
Author 12 books57 followers
February 20, 2021
A two-pronged story as Langdon St Ives tries to outwit the ferociously malevolent Narbondo's scheme threatening to move the planet into the path of a comet (fur fun and profit) while also fending off the bumbling effort of Lord Kelvin to neutralise the threat by switching off the Earth's magnetic field, then later tracking said machine down when it apparently starts sinking ships off the coast of England. A cracked steampunk romp, for fun and profit.
Profile Image for Marc Ruvolo.
14 reviews1 follower
May 10, 2017
Quick and entertaining read. Not as wonderful The Last Coin, or All the Bells on Earth, but still good fun.
Profile Image for Cobwebby Eldritch Reading Reindeer .
5,030 reviews260 followers
April 11, 2013
Reviewing for Hearts on Fire Reviews;

I found this entry in James Blaylock’s Langdon St. Eves series, set in Victorian London and throughout England, and seriously Steampunk, to be much more gritty than either “Homunculus” or “The Aylesford Skull.” Now granted, in the latter, the evil mastermind hunchback Ignatius Narbondo did kidnap St. Ives’ son; but still, St. Ives maintained his composure for much (if certainly not all) of the time, and so did the reader. In “Lord Kelvin’s Machine,” Narbondo (never satisfied with the evil he’s done, always wanting more) has abducted St. Ives’ beloved wife Alice, the light of his very life, and now St. Ives has no composure. In fact, he is bound and determined (and armed) to destroy Narbondo forever, if only he can reclaim Alice—and even if he can’t. The reader’s hook in this novel is incredibly taut and compelling, almost more than the reader can stand at a given moment (stand it I did, however) and there is no pause for contemplation here.

Another reason for what I term the unexpected grittiness in this novel is the understandable evolution of the character of our staunch protagonist, Langdon St. Ives, once the poet-physicist and explorer, man of intellectual and exploratory adventure, a man who despite the depredations wreaked upon him and upon the world in general by the evil Narbondo, could still find the glass to be “half full” rather than “half empty,” because he had sufficient love, light, and joy in his life to so ground him. Now, pursuant to a terrible tragedy, he is at the point of wondering why he even tries to save the world from Narbondo—certainly this world holds nothing for him, he is lost and a wandering soul. Only duty and honour keep him moving. This is not a state to which I’d ever wanted to see Mr. St. Ives reduced—but it is a state which makes for rousing and constant adventure, and will rivet readers just as much as it has this reviewer.
Profile Image for Monique Snyman.
Author 28 books121 followers
June 5, 2013
Lord Kelvin’s Machine by James P. Blaylock was originally published in 1992 and now republished by Titan Books, so let me just point out one thing… Look at that fantastic cover! Funny enough, even though it’s a modernised cover, it kind of fits the book perfectly. Okay, but enough about the look, let’s talk about the book. Once again we have Professor Langdon St. Ives battling against the bad doctor and this time there are a lot more at stake. Gripping, this book is a little different to Homunculus, but it still has its moments. Again, we are presented with the imaginative world of steampunk, but this time we have a little time travel included, which is kind of awesome if you think about it.

James P. Blaylock knows how to write and Lord Kelvin’s Machine is yet another testament to his capabilities as a writer. Well-crafted characters, intriguing sub-plots and characters that stay true to who they are, are all present in Lord Kelvin’s Machine and it will keep the reader intrigued in the series. Yes, you’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat more often than not. Yes, you’re going to enjoy the wonderful world that has been created and the adventure that Blaylock sends his hero on. Yes, you’ll definitely want more, even if you’re not keen on steampunk. However, if it’ll make you feel better, this particular book is slightly more sci-fi for me than steampunk (time travel falls into my sci-fi pile), so it’s a lot different to its predecessor.

All in all, I liked this book slightly less than Homunculus, but you can’t have one without the other… good thing they’re both awesome reads.

(Review originally posted on www.killeraphrodite.com )
Profile Image for Steve Chaput.
546 reviews21 followers
August 27, 2012
I have to admit that 'steam punk' is not my thing, but I have to acknowledge a good writer and a good book. This novel introduces James P. Blaylock's hero, Professor Langdon St. Ives, as well as his nemesis Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, in a literal race against time. Having lost his love at the hand of Narbondo, St. Ives and his companions seek to change the past to rescue her from her fate.

As is typical in this genre, we see here an alternate world where many of the technological and scientific discoveries that took place in the 20th century, have been achieved much earlier. Elaborate machines, powered by steam & coal have changed the face of the world and mighty airships prowl the skies.

Considered a classic in the genre, I recommend the book to fans and those, like myself, who are new to this type of fiction.
Profile Image for Fantasy Literature.
3,226 reviews159 followers
March 15, 2015
James P. Blaylock returns to Victorian England in another steampunk adventure with scientist Langdon St. Ives and his nemesis, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo. Lord Kelvin’s Machine contains three related stories which each feature a fictional infernal device created by inventor Lord Kelvin. I listened to the excellent audio version which was produced by Audible Studios, is just over 8 hours long, and is narrated by Nigel Carrington.

In the prologue of Lord Kelvin’s Machine, Dr. Narbondo murders Langdon St. Ives’ beloved wife Alice which throws St. Ives into a funk. Part 1, titled “In the Days of the Comet” begins a year later. St. Ives has been depressed since Alice di... Read More: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/revi...
Profile Image for Ben. Newland.
111 reviews4 followers
August 11, 2010
I read this as part of my immersion course in steampunk. It's really a collection of three novellas featuring the same main characters. I enjoyed them all, but particularly liked the middle one which is written in the first person of a servant of the main character. The third story has a neat time travel sketch, well done, and depicts the main character loosing his mind pretty convincingly. Solidly in the 19th century British mode of steampunk with only minor departures from history into odd science.
308 reviews2 followers
November 1, 2014
This is one of the first, if not the first Steampunk novel. The characters themselves are not terribly well-developed but the era, the situations, and the impact of the technology itself is.
Blaylock approaches time travel in a finally nuanced, layered approach that touches the heart of what it means to try to change the past.

Profile Image for Estott.
302 reviews3 followers
December 18, 2016
Somewhat entertaining, but I have no great desire to read further in the series. The characters are paper thin- the villains have a bit more substance but more from an accumulation of grotesque tics than any real character or motivation. When St Ives watches his wife Alice get shot in the head I can't say I care much because I've never met her and know nothing about her.
Profile Image for Wendy.
542 reviews
November 12, 2013
I liked this one but I got a little less emotionally attached to the hero, since it wasn't from his point of view this time. Therefore, it was a little more confusing but I think it was supposed to be. If it were from the hero's point of view, we wouldn't have as much suspense.
446 reviews
December 28, 2012
Boa leitura um pouco exagerada por vezes, sobre a busca incessante de um homem em descobrir o propósito de uma máquina e conseguir salvar a sua amada.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews

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