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Friday, November 24, 2017

"P. P. Bellman, author of atheistic pop-up books for the trendy toddler?"


I came across this extremely thoughtful review or consideration of Mortal Engines by Max at What Conspiracy? and felt I should share part of it.

After taking us thorough a quick tour of academic snobism (is that a word?), a pass over of Harry Potter and an examination of Phillip Pullman of Northern Lights fame, he solves the meaning of a line that amused me no end:

"Philip Bellman with his series of atheistic pop-up books for the underfives"

That's what Max wrote anyway.

The correct quote from Infernal Devices is "..and wasn’t that the great P. P. Bellman, author of atheistic pop- up books for the trendy toddler??"


Which itself is a reference to the novels of Pullman. His trilogy can been described as the antidote to the Christian beat that C.S. Lewis framed the Chronicles of Narnia with - hence the reference to atheism in Infernal Devices.

Indeed, Reeve has included many cultural references in his novels.

This paragraph is possibly the best description of Mortal Engines as a series that I've ever come across:

"Reeve is still a damn fine writer. Mortal Engines is set in a future where thousands of years of squabbling over the ruins of a war shattered earth has culminated in a stand off between mobile cities and stationary communities. 

Now the physics and logistics of such a vision don't bear serious examination for a second, but Reeve is able to write fast enough that a reader doesn't quibble. 

He's also able to write characters with enough appeal that you're far busier wondering what's going to happen to them than you are picking away at the sustainability of "Municipal Darwinism", the bonkers post-thatcherite philosophy which drives the traction cities in their quest to scavenge smaller cities and fight with bigger ones. 

A few weeks after I've finished reading the books, I'm coming around to the notion that once you dig into the logic of his books, he's essentially marketing the same dumb notion of sustainable pastoral nirvana as Tolkien did, but that doesn't stop me from admiring the books he's written while smoking that weed."

I'm pleased someone else had picked up on the notion that municipal darwinism was indeed bonkers as the environment in which Mortal Engines is set would have meant that every city would have been eaten up a thousand years ago. But why quibble when it's a great device on which to propel the story?

Max also captures the character and fan favourite Hester Shaw quite well and fully appreciates the role reversal that Reeve puts on her and Katherine Valentine:

"In conventional fiction, Hester would die early, delivering a plot lesson along the way and be replaced by someone cute. In Reeve's world, Hester lasts all the way through four books, and gets meaner and unhappier the further she goes. Her one saving grace is her love for Tom. Meanwhile the cute girl who he's been lined up with in conventional narrative terms gets shot to bits in the first book."

He also makes a key point about character death:

"Reeve is cavalier with characters. If they get in harm's way, they get killed. If Reeve has spent huge energy bringing them to life, that's just too bad. The third book begins with a perfect case in point. 

A character who's been painstakingly nursed through the second book returns in the third as a key mover and shaker. Just when you've decided that he's going to be the villain of the piece, he takes a bullet through the head in the course of a theft turned hostage taking which is so elegantly set up as a plausible bungle that I was rapt with admiration as a focal character is dragged off in a submarine with nothing to be done about it.

Snatching her was the last thing anyone wanted to do, and by a simple set of bad calls (the most important of which was Hester's entirely in-character decision to kill everyone in sight) becomes the only possible outcome. Marvellous stuff."

A very insightful review indeed!

Concept design of Airhaven from Mortal Engines book series by Eleth89


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