The Lost Machine (by Richard Kirk)

Lumsden Moss escapes confinement after an outbreak of disease wreaks havoc in Brickscold Prison. He moves across a landscape outside its walls that seems infected with the decayed remains of magic. Along his journey he meets characters who are possessed by strange compulsions, and sometimes even stranger desires. Undeterred he moves onward on his own quest.

Somewhere out there in the broken world is a man Moss seeks. A man Moss blames for the disappearance of children. A man that requires justice to be dealt upon him.

Richard A. Kirk creates an adult fairy tale with The Lost Machine. He weaves a series of strange encounters together as his lead character travels the alien world in his search for his foe. The landscape is littered with peculiar characters, and offbeat encounters. The almost abstract world is eloquently described, but becomes bogged down in its desire to be lyrical. As the story unfolds Lumsden Moss develops no real character, and he doesn’t evolve beyond being an avatar for the audience. In itself this isn’t a problem, but the strange encounters he faces begin to blur and when this happens there’s nothing to anchor the reader and keep the momentum moving.

The Lost Machine is well written, but the overall structure becomes muddled and this weakens the denouement. Ultimately I felt The Lost Machine to be an empty experience despite all the pretty prose. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, though this seems a contradiction, but my enjoyment was more academic than entertainment. It was an enjoyment of the moments the novelette presented rather than the story as a whole. I felt an underlying disconnection in The Lost Machine, as if the book was written by a hermit who only had vague impressions concerning social interaction. This does add sadness to the work, a bleak kind of beauty. It also adds a perpetual feeling of disquiet. Unfortunately it also adds the disconnection, and allows the prose to act as much a barrier as a carrier of the story.

It’s an interesting piece, this is certain, and a certain type of reader will probably get a lot out of the tale, but whether this is “entertainment” is questionable to me. But then, entertainment is merely a matter of taste, and your taste probably varies considerably from my own.

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