Genevieve Valentine
Mechanique Cover



The Circus Tresaulti tours a country still at war after at least a century. The bombings and the radiation were the easy part of the war. War is now carried on between cities that have struggled to become once again livable, whether as military-controlled compounds or cultures existing on a medieval level of civilization. But when Little George straps on false brass legs and hangs posters in a city, he knows the circus will draw a crowd.

The circus, overseen by a woman known only as Boss, includes aerialists, gymnasts, a strong man, dancing girls, and a one-man band. Of that troupe only the dancing girls have not spent their time in Boss's trailer and undergone the operations that replace their bones with metal tubing, operations that give them amazing abilities and possibly near eternal life barring accidents. I read once that in science fiction writers are allowed one miracle, while in fantasy there is no limit. If you read Mechanique as sf, then that one miracle is a whopper. Why or how Boss, an ex opera alto, has mastered these procedures is never explored. Exactly what the procedures involves is left largely behind the closed door of her wagon. We know from the equipment Boss has on hand that the procedure is low tech, and the Government Man, the villain of the piece, makes the grisly comment, "I was surprised at the amount of blood," when he investigates a captive performer.

I've read reviewers describe this as a "tone poem," a judgment that seems to forego judgment and suggest readers should float along with the words which are, I agree, at times magical. Little George tells portions of the story in first person, while other chapters may be in either third or the always for me awkward second person. Past and present flow seamlessly together as we learn the histories of the various performers and follow their current tour. Valentine can be a seductive writer, but after awhile her prose threatened to turn into a pea soup of effects. I was ready for something to happen.

Which it did, on schedule, about midway through the novel. The Government Man, old enough to remember having seen the circus as a child, comes into the story determined to learn the secret of gravity-defying acts by performers apparently impervious to pain. Arrests are made, as are escapes. The circus, on the verge of splitting into factions, must fight to retrieve their comrades. When the time comes, Valentine can tell a story as well as paint a complex picture of magic and human relationships.