Edition 17: Book Review: Engines of Empathy by Paul Mannering
Reviewed by Damien Smith
My absolute favourite author in the world is Sir Terry Pratchett. So often I read a book with the promise that it’s by “the next Terry Pratchett” because it’s funny, only to be disappointed by a series of cheap puns and unlikely slapstick circumstances. I wasn’t attracted to Paul’s book with the promise of the next Pratchett—nor is he (but then, is anyone?)—but in my eternal search for some decent humourous fiction I found a book that finally pulled me in.
“One of the many advantages of being a single, professional woman who lives alone, is there is no one around to judge you on your relationships with household appliances.” This is how we’re introduced to primary protagonist Charlotte Pudding and how the tone of the book is set in an instant. Charlotte is a computer psychology counsellor who assists people in connecting with their appliances on an emotional level. She lives in a world where all primitive non-renewable forms of energy have been replaced with the clean, unlimited empathic energy supplied by the Godden Energy Corporation (GEC).
Her world is turned upside down by the arrival of Vole Drakeforth, a mysterious individual claiming to know details of a global conspiracy being perpetrated by the GEC. What follows is a hilarious but also frequently serious rollercoaster adventure to uncover the scope of the conspiracy and to ascertain exactly what it has to do with Charlotte’s antique wooden desk.
I really enjoyed the concept of empathic energy. The notion that if you get shirty with your car it might just refuse to go, or that your refrigerator might get snippy if you ignore it, was a nice contrast to our current disposable society. The eclectic cast of sarcastic burglars, evil doctors, quantum monks and the obligatory faceless corporate cronies create a bizarre yet entertaining read with some subtle moral messages.
In a world where emotion is king and verbal nuance can control behaviour, I did find the constant withering sarcasm and cynicism of Drakeforth to be a bit much. Although having said that, one of the more climactic battles in a lift had me fondly reminiscing about battles of wit in the Monkey Island series.
The humour here is not for everyone, but in a comic fantasy niche where so many books rely on a series of cheap one-liners this was a breath of fresh giggles wrapped around a thought-provoking concept.
Wellington-based Paul Mannering’s voracious reading and writing habit began at age 8 after his family’s black and white TV set blew up during the opening credits of an episode of Space 1999. This personal trauma and some odd reading material (forensic medicine textbooks and years of Reader’s Digest) has shaped much of his writing since. Engines of Empathy will be Paul’s fourth book, following The Man Who Could Not Climb Stairs and Other Strange Stories (2011), Tankbread (Permuted Press 2013) and Tankbread 2: Immortal (Permuted Press, 2013).
Engines of Empathy by Paul Mannering
Publisher: Paper Road Press, 2014
Being a writer requires dedication, commitment, devotion, diligence, a skin like an armadillo and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. By this definition, Damien is most definitely not a writer, although he does occasionally put pen to paper. More accurately, Damien is a lover of the written word in nearly all its forms (you can keep vampire romances) and always feels a little down if he can see over his To Read pile.