I must confess that when I heard that sci-fi author Kevin J Anderson was going to be producing a book based around the lyrics of the latest Rush album ‘Clockwork Angels’ I was rather sceptical. It seemed like a bit of a random idea to me, something of a gimmick and likely to be a bit rubbish, so it was with some preconceptions that I picked up the book to start reading.
Before I get started on what I found within the pages of the book I must pause to comment on the book itself because it really is a lovely thing. The slip cover isn’t anything special and from the outside of the hardback you get no hints but it is the pages of the book themselves that are of interest.
The paper used feels nice, expensive and as if someone had put real thought and care into the choice. The page numbers are half-way up the outside of the page rather than at the bottom and the start of each chapter has a parchment style background which adds to the plush feel.
The book also has a number of delightful colour illustrations dotted throughout the pages by artist Hugh Syme who has worked with Rush since 1975 and is responsible for all of their iconic album covers as well as numerous other artists over the years; Iron Maiden, Megadeth, and Whitesnake to mention but a few. All of these little touches make the whole reading experience more pleasurable and act as a reminder to what a beautiful thing a physical, printed book can be.
I found the book a bit slow to start with, the process of getting acquainted with the main character, Owen Hardy, and the world in which he inhabits taking a while to bed down into my head. This isn’t uncommon when reading a science fiction book though, you have to adjust to the different reality, to get in tune with it before you can settle into the story. The tale soon picked up pace though and I found myself being sucked in page by page and before long was unable to put the book down.
This concept is something that would only work with Rush as the band behind it all, as Neil Peart, long time drummer, lyricist and close collaborator with the author comments in the notes at the back of the book:
“….for something like twenty years, Kevin and I had discussed working on a project together that would marry music, lyrics, and prose fiction. The right idea and timing eluded us for a long time, but at last, both converged perfectly.”
In order to write a book like this you need a healthy back catalogue on which to draw from. You also need a catalogue of albums that have a strong enough recurring theme that can be picked out and that will be recognised by readers. The theme on which this book is based is that of a young man who dares to challenge, a hero that goes against the grain, that believes there must be more to life, something better than the lot he has been dealt.
The times this crops up in Rush’s albums is numerous, the best example being the epic song 2112 ,in which a boy discovers a guitar from a past age and with it is able to threaten the establishment through the joy and beauty he can bring to an organised world though the sounds it creates. There are also numerous references to luck and chance, the main focus of the bands Presto album.
You could read this book without being a Rush fan but you won’t be able to glean quite the same level of enjoyment from it as the book is littered with references to lyrics from their songs, to the extent that Neil Peart joked they should run a competition to see who can notice the most. That being said it doesn’t feel forced when you come across them, the way they have been woven into the fabric of the story is a credit to the writing talents of Kevin Anderson.
So, to the story itself…. for more than two centuries, the land of Albion has been ruled by the supposedly benevolent Watchmaker, who imposes precision on every aspect of life. Our hero, Owen Hardy from the village of Barrel Arbor dreams of seeing the big city and the breathtaking Clockwork Angels that dispense wisdom to the people. Along his voyage of discovery he travels aboard airships, journeys far into the Redrock Desert to seek lost cities, passes through storms at sea, encounters pirates, joins the circus and there is even a love interest thrown in for good measure.
While I question the value of this book to those unfamiliar with Rush if are a fan of the band and their work then I highly recommend you add this to your Christmas list as it really is something special.