David Edison’s ‘The Waking Engine': Book Review


Death is not the end. Or, at least, not until you've died a lot. In the world of author David Edison's debut novel The Waking Engine, when a person dies the "soul" shifts to another world in another reality with memories and personality intact to begin another life anew, again and again.

The Waking Engine coverEventually they shift to a place called 'The City Unspoken' where a lasting 'True Death' – that is, a permant rest and an end to shifting from world to world – can be found for the lucky few who earn it. This was one of the first things that native New Yorker Cooper learned after waking up on the hill of Displacement outside The City Unspoken. However, something has stopped the True Death. What's more, some can't even simply die normally and shift worlds, inexplicibly cursed to a sort of unlife and left stranded in their present world.

Meanwhile, the aristocratic denizens under the sealed Dome within The City Unspoken are suffering from an inverse crisis. Though they are bodybound – when they die they simply regenerate after a short amount of time, neither experiencing True Death nor shifting to another world – someone amongst them has found a weapon capable of administering True Death and is using it to pick them off, one by one, for reasons unknown.

Edison does an excellent job of imparting the confusion of Cooper as he experiences the sheer alien-ness of The City Unspoken and its multi-dimensional denizens onto the reader, and precious little handholding is given to usher the reader from one improbable event to the next, trusting the reader to make sense of it all. And it does start making sense, eventually. Events that at first seem to be scattered and unconnected, a few of which border on non-sequitur, become intricately woven as greater plots are revealed and schemes within schemes come to light.

Because of this, the reader should be prepared to pay attention as The Waking Engine is not a breezy read; by that same token Edison has quite the expanded vocabulary and isn't afraid to use $20 SAT words.

David EdisonOne of the standout features of the book is the treatment of Cooper as an openly-gay character. As a gay man himself, Edison didn't hesitate to make him the main protagonist. There are no subtle hints about his orientation nor is he "coded", Cooper is just flat-out gay, and his sexuality is treated the same way that the sexuality of heterosexual characters usually is: as a part of the character. It is neither Cooper's defining characteristic, nor is it some unimportant incidental like his shoe size. He's simply gay. This is a lesson that so many writers, both in and outside of genre fiction, could take note of when trying to figure out how to write gay characters, and it's encouraging to see one so well-represented.

The Waking Engine isn't without its flaws, however. For such an imaginative world, Cooper takes it all in remarkable stride, and his clueless befuddlement sometimes comes across as a blasé going-with-the-flow. Some of the supporting cast, such as Cooper's two companions Sesstri and Asher, feel very flat at times and would have benefitted from some further fleshing out. Also, despite most events coming together by the end, some of the sequences of events are just a bit too jumbled or obscure and there were a few instances where I felt like I had missed reading some connecting event.

Even with the few flaws, The Waking Engine is garnering favorable reviews, and it's a book I would recommend for anyone who wants to read something with a strong gay protagonist, and whose story and setting break molds and defy conventions. Just be sure to have a thesaurus handy.


  1. Andrew says

    Thank you for a book review! I enjoy a good read – especially queer fiction which can be difficult to find. Please post more on books.

    Two of my favourites are –

    – Vanity Fierce by Graeme Aitken
    – Where You Are by J.H Trumble.

    If you still love hard copies of books, go for the Australian edition of Vanity Fierce – great OTT cover of the main character.

  2. Steve Berman says

    Nice review. But the fellow who thinks there is not enough queer science-fiction (and this book sounds like fantasy not SF) is utterly wrong. Just look how many books where finalists for the Lammy awards this year, last year, the year before…. We’re in a Golden Age of gay speculative fiction.

  3. Kieran says

    This sounds really similar to the amazing book, “Hell’s Pawn,” by out gay author Jay Bell. I want to read this one and see if it’s as good. Thanks for the review! :)

  4. crispy says

    Of course, the Lammy Awards! How could I forget their magnificent ceremony last year hosted by Ellen, and all the celebrities who came out this year? Jennifer Lawrence looked gorgeous as always.

    ::rolls eyes::

    WTF are the Lammy Awards?

    Like the vast majority of readers, I browse new books at Amazon and Goodreads trying to find something interesting to read. The G&L sections of those sites are sad collections of trashy erotic novels full of cover images of bare-chested men. I’ve had zero luck finding this illustrious Golden Age of gay speculation fiction you speak of.

    How about instead of being a condescending prick you actually recommend some titles?

    PS: I think you meant “were finalists,” not “where finalists.”

  5. OrliJoe In Fla says

    OK, so I just went to Amazon and bought it, rather pricey for a Kindle edition, but… it sounds really good. For those of you who can’t seem to find any good SF gay fiction, I might recommend Riptide Books, there’ some on there, but good quality gay SF is still hard to find.

  6. Mike says

    Surprised there’s no Kindle edition of this book.

    For a compelling gay main character in a SF/fantasy blend, try Richard K. Morgan’s “The Steel Remains”, first of a trilogy concluding this year.

    I think Morgan took quite a hit from his rather hardcore male-dominated fanbase for doing this (rather than writing more in his Takeshi Kovacs series), but he has stuck to his guns in completing the story.

  7. emjayay says

    Where You Are by J.H Trumble recommended above is a YA novel as are that author’s other gay oriented novels. Apparently pretty good, and certainly there are YA novels an adult can enjoy reading. Just so you know.

    The short and simple (not gay) YA novel I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier is for example an amazing read.

  8. Steve Berman says


    You’re not very good at your searches. Or mockery.

    Try Lee Thomas’s The German. Thomas has won several awards. Richard Bowes’s Dust Devil on a Quiet Street. Another multi-award winning author. Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. The Wilde Stories series showcases the best gay spec fic every year.


  9. Mike says

    @Jack: That’s interesting, neither the book’s hardback page nor author page on Amazon link to the Kindle edition.

    However it does appear it’s only available to US subscribers. On other Amazon stores there’s only the “request on Kindle” option.

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