Who out there read The Princess Bride the NOVEL? Well if you’re interested in stories about stories and storytelling, then check out All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park
What did I possess so far? A deluded vision of a fine clean world, with hard work and cold winters. Demons, rapid transformations, and the diluted pleasures of fatherhood. Almost against my will, a pattern was beginning to materialize.All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park
Part 1: Who’s going to love it?
If you’re a fan of atmosphere, many writing styles mixed together, meta-narratives, and, frankly, short stories, then you’ll love this book. It is a novel, but it reminded me of the sorts of boundary-pushing and non-traditional short stories I read in Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine.
If the idea of a poetic exploration of the interplay between memory, reality, and imagination appeals to you, then what are you waiting for? You need to read All Those Vanished Engines.
Part 2: Who’s going to hate it?
If you like traditional stories with a hero with an overarching goal and a flaw to be overcome, then this is not the book for you.
If the idea of inter-weaving narratives and stories within stories sounds like a lot of confusing hoo-ha.
And numerous intermingled writing styles from pulpy fantasy, to courtroom, to in-universe characters writing their own stories in broken English, to autobiography, to alternate history simply sounds exhausting, then don’t read Vanished Engines.
Some one-star reviews on Goodreads:
Exhibit A: I am left with one question after reading Paul Park’s tripartite novella, All Those Vanished Engines. That question is “What the fuck?”
Exhibit B: There was very little science fiction in this book.
I’ve already established that I’m a fan of weird books. I write and read science fiction for the same reason some people read poetry, because of the freedom of expression that cannot be found elsewhere. Though it’s certainly fair that there’s not much science fiction here if the emphasis is on science.
But here’s a five star review worth considering:
…expectations [about science fiction] tend to be quite rigid so that someone like Paul Park, who is writing in a way that could expand the genre, tends to be dismissed…
…This is a work of brilliance. Take your time, it’s a short book. When something sounds familiar, skim back through the book to find it. Luxuriate in the negative space where the engines once thrummed.
And that, I believe, gives you a clear sense of whether or not you’ll like this book.
Part 3: What did I like it?
Did I like it? I don’t know, but maybe that’s the wrong question. I’m enriched by having read it.
Despite its complexity I found it to be a very smooth and engaging book.
The sensory details were rich and the writing hit me with some poignant observations.
I can’t help but compare this to Valis by Phillip K Dick. Minor spoiler for Valis here, but partway through that book, the protagonist is revealed to have the author’s name. Valis blurs the line between science fiction and autobiography, of all things. Vanished Engines is not Valis. They are quite distinct, but there is that same blurring of lines and author insertion.
I was fascinated by Valis and I am fascinated by Vanished Engines. There are many passages worth revisiting and I’m glad that I have read it and that I can exist with the story sloshing around in my brain.
All Those Vanished Engines feels like a love letter to storytelling in some respects. It is certainly grappling with the limitations of the written word.
I connected with the investigation into how the telling of a thing cannot be like the experience. Not all at once as the experience is, but one word at a time.
I was drawn in to questions of how memory, reality, and imagination interact.
How those three things embody an interaction between past, present, and future.
How the narrative semi-magically showed different layers of the stories being told influence each other to illustrate the influence between that same trio of concepts.
It was fascinating, but I also must admit to a whooshing noise as I scrambled to connect the pieces and still the significance of some of it flew over my head.
Part 4: What can writers learn from it?
Any writer who wants to embed a metaphor in the structure of their story. Such a writer should read this book to see an example of how it’s done, because I’m still thinking about how the stories within stories in Vanished Engines bubbled up, spilled over, and refused to be constrained to the limits of their devices, or, one might say, engines. How the stories instead oozed and stained and affected beyond their pages. That’s what we all hope for our stories, isn’t it?
2 thoughts on “Book Review: All Those Vanished Engines”
Hey Neal. I’m intrigued and heartened that a book so far outside the standards of conventional narrative got published. If I get a chance I’ll check it out.
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Glad to hear it. It is certainly out there. I must acknowledge though, the author is well established, he was never a huge name, but certainly has been publishing with well-known publishers for decades before this came out.