Friday, February 3, 2012

Original and Genre-Defying: Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker

This Christmas I received a Nokia N900, which in my humble opinion, is the most badass phone ever manufactured (we’re talking slide-out keyboard, Cortex A8, Debian based OS). His name is Spork, not after the half-spoon, half-fork type of spork, but after the protagonist of Angelmaker, Joshua Joseph Spork. He has replaced my previous cell phone, Raz (Anathem, Neal Stephenson) and joined the ranks of my other anthropomorphized computing devices including Norby (The Norby Chronicles, Asimov), Thorby and Rudbeck (Citizen of the Galaxy, Heinlein), Beowulf (Tales of Known Space, Niven), and Severian (Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe). The point of this list is not to illustrate my odd tendency to think of computers as humans (or sentient robots), but rather to drive home how much I enjoyed reading Nick Harkaway’s newly released Angelmaker.

When I tried to sit down and describe Angelmaker the first idea that came to mind was Angelmaker is Cryptonomicon with a heavy portion of Neverwhere and some subtle flavoring from Discworld. But this does Angelmaker a disservice, because while on the surface it might bear a superficial resemblance to the three books I just listed, it is nothing like them and is in its own right a completely original, genre-defying piece of fiction. I think not being able to adequately describe any of Nick’s books in a coherent fashion is just something that we will all have to get used to, and that’s a good thing.

When I first had the honor of meeting Nick Harkaway, I had not yet had the chance to read his first novel, The Gone-Away World, but distinctly remember aching from laughter after he read an excerpt regarding landmine-hardened uber-sheep. The second time around the passage was just as funny, and Angelmaker has the same odd, but completely hilarious type of humor. Oftentimes, Nick’s humor reminds me of Terry Pratchett, and hence the Discworld comparison, but while Pratchett’s humor sometimes consists of non-sequiturs, Nick manages to use his humor in a way that drives the story, and is always relevant, although sometimes it might take the entirety of the book to understand why.

Angelmaker, however, is not a comedy; it just happens to make you laugh while telling a compelling story that is full of love, loss, action, history, and elephants, among other things. Caught in the middle of this whirlwind of a story is Joshua Joseph Spork, son of a notorious gangster, clock repairer extraordinaire, and a general, all-around good guy. As a reluctant hero he embarks on a journey through the underworld of London that evokes imagery similar to Neverwhere, but with Nick’s own special twists. The same style of memories intertwined with a present day story, as used in The Gone-Away World and similar to Cryptonomicon, is also used in Angelmaker to great effect, and always switches from past-to-present or present-to-past at the most inopportune times, making it very difficult to set the book down.

But the most riveting part of Angelmaker for me was the character and development of Joshua Joseph Spork. I had never thought of a clockmaker having a character so honorable, yet Spork does, which is very good because I needed a name befitting the epic awesomeness of my new phone.