Thursday, 25 April 2013

Rush - Clockwork Angels and a Literary Trilogy

Well, that might be pushing the description of the three books in question too far. But it was still part of a worthwhile holiday reading experience from the not too distant past, mainly inspired by the aim of digging more deeply into the background story behind Clockwork Angels, the best Rush album in many years.

First up, Dead Barchetta (aka Rock Deadly), a mystery thriller by Kathryn Lively, starring a guitar teacher and tribute band guitarist called Lerxst Johnson who has the misfortune narrowly to escape being murdered – the misfortune of course being his attempted murder and not his escape – only to discover the body of his would be killer in his music studio the next day. It triggers off his ever more complicated chase for reasons and explanations, with a wholly unpredictable conclusion. Would this have been any less enjoyable a beach read if Rush had not been the recipient of Lerxst’s tribute? Not at all.

Onto the Clockwork Angels novel, where Kevin J.Anderson collaborates with Neil Peart to put a considerable amount of flesh on the bones of the album track links and of course the lyrics. Let’s say straight away that it helped make an already first class album truly outstanding. Let’s also not forget to add that “steampunk”, a word that might sound notably jarring in any sense associated with Rush, is evidently a brand of science fiction featuring steam powered machinery – introduced early on here in the form of the steamliners from “Caravan” that ferry passengers and much needed commodities to the land of Crown City, far from the mundane orchards of Barrel Arbor where undermanager Owen Hardy dreams of adventure, never knowing he is about to find it.

What about this mysterious Watchmaker, then? Evidently an all powerful dictator reaching out to oversee the whole of Albion from his headquarters in Crown City, but an apparently benevolent one, who proves to his subjects that he “loves them all to death” by bestowing Stability (with a capital S), tranquillity, a reliable way of life where even the rainstorms happen on time, an apparently prosperous economy founded on alchemy (sounds like debauching the currency with a real long term crash inevitable, but that’s another story), and of course the regular Clockwork Angels shows in Chronos Square. And who, in parallel, cracks down ruthlessly on dissent via the all powerful Regulators.

Any real world comparison? Brunei, maybe, a nation of vast wealth where the population will in all probability lack nothing, but where dissent against the Sultan’s rule will meet with zero tolerance? Possibly. It’s perhaps not surprising that Crown City proves not to Owen Hardy’s liking, even if the manner of his leaving was not voluntary, and that he goes on to seek adventure of a more rewarding nature. No spoilers, save to confirm the majestic closure of the album with “The Garden” is cleverly echoed.

So what about the third book in the trilogy? Stepping back to the seventies, we find that two Rush songs – to be exact, “Anthem” from Fly By Night and the entire first side of 2112 – owe their inspiration to Ayn Rand’s Anthem, the story of another man on a mission.

But this is no tale of an Owen Hardy, bored of contentment and finding that he can’t stop thinking big. This is the horrific diary of a street sweeper called Equality 7-2521, trapped in a bleak, oppressive nightmare world of the future where its wretched inhabitants are allocated lifelong mundane jobs upon reaching adulthood regardless of their intellect, where every waking moment of their lives is strictly controlled for the sake of the supposed common good, and where the greatest source of power and light is the candle, electricity being long forgotten. Not forgetting the fact that a powerful elite lords it over the brainwashed masses. Echoes of Cambodia under Pol Pot. Or modern day North Korea. Or the kind of nation that the most extreme climate change zealots would have us inhabit once the entire world has been decarbonised.

So Equality 7-2521 goes on an illicit voyage of discovery, first winning the affection of farm worker Liberty 5-3000 and vowing to save her from the compulsion of the Palace of Mating. Then he rediscovers a mysterious force, in a long neglected underground chamber where brick surrounds metal rails, that can make a wire glow in a glass box – only to face no option other than headlong flight when the World Council of Scholars denounce his invention as a curse. But his greatest discovery, having fled his oppressors for once and for all, is a word…

Any Rush fan will enjoy all of these. And they all stand up in their own right. Five stars for each of them.

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