Newton’s Cannon

Posted by : atcampbell | On : November 2, 1999

Newton’s Cannon by J. Gregory Keyes

Nine people turned up for the discussion of Newton’s Cannon. Among the attendees were two first-time visitors who had recently moved to town and were interested in meeting local fans.

Newton’s Cannon is an “alternate science” novel that deviates from our own history when Sir Isaac Newton makes a breakthrough in alchemy in the late 1600s. This discovery yields rapid advances in tchnology and many social changes. The main story takes place mostly in the early 1700s, with interweaving plot threads involving young Benjamin Franklin, Louis XIV, Blackbeard the pirate, a great war between England and France, strange devices, angels, powerful weapons, a secret society of women, and lots of swashbuckling action.

We thought this book was loads of fun. We liked the mix of science and magic. The historical detail was accurate and interesting, and the story played with archetypes. We liked the alchemical device called the aetherschreiber (similar to a telegraph), and appreciated how Keyes extrapolated its effects on society.

The intricate story was beautifully told. We always felt that the author was in control. The scene always changed just as a character was at a point of extreme peril, so we kept eagerly turning the pages to see what happened next.

We could not decide whether this book’s genre was SF or fantasy. Some argued that the existence of natural laws unknown in our world makes it fantasy. Others felt that the rigorous scientific treatment of alchemy made it SF. Whatever its genre, we agreed that this is an excellent book.

While the end of Newton’s Cannon resolves many plot points, the cover clearly states that is the first of a planned trilogy. Many of us in the group liked Newton’s Cannon so much that we’ve already purchased the recently published second volume, A Calculus of Angels.

We liked this book, and we think you will too. Keyes is a writer to watch.

— A. T. Campbell, III