Book Review: Boilerplate : history’s mechanical marvel by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennet

Author: Paul Guinan and Anina Bennet
Title: Boilerplate : history’s mechanical marvel
Publication Info: New York : Abrams Image, 2009.
ISBN: 9780810989504

Boilerplate reads like a textbook or maybe one of those Time-Life history books from the 1980’s covering the period 1893-1918 when Professor Archie Campion’s Mechanical Marvel walked the Earth.  In hopes of eliminating the loss of life in war, Campion invented the automaton Boilerplate to be a robot soldier.  This book covers the life and times of Professor Campion, his remarkable sister Lily, and the mechanical marvel itself, Boilerplate.  A noble automaton, Boilerplate served in the Spanish-American War in Cuba and the Phillipines, is on hand for the Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War, and finally serves as a doughboy in The Great War where he vanishes while searching for the Lost Battalion.  Along thew way he becomes acquainted with Theodore Roosevelt, Nikola Tesla, Jack London, Mark Twain, Frank Reade, Alice Roosevelt, Jack Johnson, Lewis Hine, T.E. Lawrence, Jeanette Rankin, Pancho Villa, and Black Jack Pershing.  It shouldn’t be too big a spoiler to reveal that this robot never existed.  The beauty of this book is in its historical detail.  Sidebars cover historical events in accurate detail without mentioning the fictional centerpiece of this book.  I could see this could be an interesting teaching tool for children, because there’s so much history here as long as you keep in mind that the robot is fake.  This is a unique and entertaining take on alternate history.

Recommended books: The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle by Erez Yakin and Five Fists Of Science by Matt Fraction.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen

Author: Rivka Galchen
Title: Atmospheric Disturbances
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2008)
ISBN: 9781433214455

This is an odd little novel in which a man becomes convinced that his wife has been replaced by a simulacrum and heads off on a wild-goose chase to her home in Argentina to find her.  Along the way he gets caught up in what he calls a “meteorological conspiracy” and ruminates on things philosophical and psychological (as well as meteorological).  I’m pretty certain that the unreliable narrator has a mental problem that makes him believe his wife has been replaced rather than that happening in actuality but the novel is never too clear on the subject.   I need to take better notes of why certain books make it on my reading list.  This almost reads like a fictional version of one of Oliver Sacks’ case studies.

Recommended books: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks and Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem.
Rating: **