Rush drummer Neil Peart crafted such an epic story for the band's new LP, Clockwork Angels, a mere rock album can't tell the whole thing – so early in the process, he teamed with science fiction novelist Kevin J. Anderson to help him turn it into a book. "Kevin did the heavy lifting on the prose-writing," says Peart. "But I was involved all the way in review and suggestions and the general shape and mood of it."
The group will play a great deal of Clockwork Angels on their upcoming fall tour (check out a lyric video of their newest single, "The Wreckers"), but Peart hopes the story will continue to live. "I want to see it on Ice Capades," says Peart. "As they say, 'I'll be dining out on this for years.' Cirque Du Soleil would also be amazing. As the character in one of the songs says, 'I can't stop thinking big!'"
Peart would also love to see Clockwork Angels eventually make its way to Broadway. "[South Park co-creator] Matt Stone is a pretty good friend of ours," he says. "We just saw him in Ottawa. Those guys not only went from South Park to Broadway, but they had a huge hit on Broadway. I really admire that and I would be glad to take part in anything like that, too."
Tickets for the Broadway production of Clockwork Angels aren't quite ready to go on sale, but check out an exclusive except from the novel below. It hits stores on September 4th.
The best place to start an adventure is with a quiet, perfect life . . . and someone who realizes that it can't possibly be enough.
On the green orchard hill above a sinuous curve of the Winding Pinion River, Owen Hardy leaned against the trunk of an apple tree and stared into the distance. From here, he could see – or at least imagine – all of Albion. Crown City, the Watchmaker's capital, was far away (impossibly distant, as far as he was concerned). He doubted anyone else in the village of Barrel Arbor bothered to think about the distance, since only a few had ever made the journey to the city, and Owen was certainly not one of them.
"We should get going," said Lavinia, his true love and perfect match. She stood up and brushed her skirts. "Don't you need to get these apples to the cider house?" He would turn seventeen in a few weeks, but he was already the assistant manager of the orchard; even so, Lavinia was usually the one to remind him of his responsibility.
Still leaning against the apple tree, he fumbled out his pocket-watch, flipped open the lid. "It won't be long now. Eleven more minutes." He looked at the silver rails that threaded the gentle river valley below.
Lavinia had such an endearing pout. "Do we have to watch the steamliners go by every day?"
"Every day, like clockwork." Owen thumbed shut the pocket-watch, knowing she didn't feel the same excitement as he did. "Don't you find it comforting that everything is as it should be?" That, at least, was a reason she would understand.
"Yes. Thanks to our loving Watchmaker." She paused a moment in reverent silence, and Owen thought of the wise, dapper old man who governed the whole country from his tower in Crown City.
Lavinia had a rounded nose, gray eyes, and a saucy splash of freckles across her face. Sometimes Owen imagined he could hear music in her soft voice, though he had never heard her sing. When he thought of her hair, he compared it to the color of warm hickory wood, or fresh-pressed coffee with just a dollop of cream. Once, he had asked Lavinia what color she called her hair. She answered, "Brown," and he had laughed. Lavinia's pithy simplicity was adorable.
"We have to get back early today," she pointed out. "The almanac lists a rainstorm at 3:11."
"We have time."
"We'll have to run . . ."
"It'll be exciting."
He pointed up at the fluffy clouds that would soon turn into thunderheads, for the Watchmaker's weather alchemists were never wrong. "That one looks like a sheep."
"Which one?" She squinted at the sky.
He stood close, extended his arm. "Follow where I'm pointing . . . that one there, next to the long, flat one."
"No, I mean which one of the sheep does it look like?"
He blinked. "Any sheep."
"I don't think sheep all look the same."
"And that one looks like a dragon, if you think of the left part as its wings and that skinny extension its neck."
"I've never seen a dragon. I don't think they exist." Lavinia frowned at his crestfallen expression. "Why do you always see shapes in the clouds?"
He wondered just as much why she didn't see them. "Because there's so much out there to imagine. The whole world! And if I can't see everything for myself, then I have to imagine it all."
"But why not just think about your day? There's enough to do here in Barrel Arbor."
"That's too small. I can't stop thinking big."
In the distance, he heard the rhythmic clang of the passage bell, and he emerged from under the apple tree, shading his eyes, looking down to where the bright and razor-straight path of the steamliner track beckoned. The alchemically energized road led straight to the central jewel of Crown City. He caught his breath and fought back the impulse to wave, since the steamliner was too far away for anyone aboard to see him.
The line of floating dirigible cars came down from the sky and aligned with the rails – large gray sacks tethered to the energy of the path below. There were heavy, low-riding cargo cars full of iron and copper from the mountain mines or stacked lumber from the northern forests, as well as ornate passenger gondolas. Linked together, the steamliner cars lumbered along like a fantastical, bloated caravan.
Cruising above the rugged terrain, the linked airships descended at the distant end of the valley, touched the rails with a light kiss, and, upon contact, the steel wheels completed the circuit. Coldfire energy charged their steam boilers, which kept the motive pistons pumping.
Owen stared as the line of cars rolled by, carrying treasures and mysteries from near and far. How could it not fire the imagination? He longed to go with the caravan. Just once.
Was it too ambitious to want to see the whole world? To try everything, experience the sights, sounds, smells . . . to meet the Watchmaker, maybe work in his clocktower, hear the Angels, wave at ships steaming off across the Western Sea toward mysterious Atlantis, maybe even go aboard one of those ships and see those lands with his own eyes . . . ?
"Owen, you're daydreaming again." Lavinia picked up her basket of apples. "We have to go now or we'll get soaked."
Watching the steamliners roll off into the distance, he gathered his apples and hurried after her.
They made it back to the village with fourteen minutes to spare. At the end, he and Lavinia were running, even laughing. The unexpected rush of adrenalin delighted him; Lavinia's laughter sounded nervous, not that a little rain would be a disaster, but she did not like to get wet. As they passed the stone angel statue at the edge of town, Owen checked his watch, seeing the minute hand creep toward the scheduled 3:11 downpour.
The clouds overhead turned gray and ominous on schedule as the two skidded to a halt at Barrel Arbor's newsgraph office, which Lavinia's parents operated. The station received daily reports from Crown City and words of wisdom from the Watchmaker; her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Paquette, disseminated all news to the villagers.
Owen relieved Lavinia of her basket of apples. "You'd better get inside before the rain comes."
She looked flushed from exertion as she reached the door to the office. Grateful to be back on schedule, she pulled open the door with another worried glance, directed toward the town's clocktower rather than the rainclouds themselves.
With his birthday and official adulthood approaching like a fast-moving steamliner, Owen felt as if he were standing on the precarious edge of utter stability. He had already received a personal card from the Watchmaker, printed by an official stationer in Crown City, that wished him well and congratulated him on a happy, contented life to come. A wife, home, family, everything a person could want.
From the point he became an adult, though, Owen knew exactly what his life would be – not that he was dissatisfied about being the assistant manager of the town's apple orchard, just wistful about the lost possibilities. Lavinia was only a few months younger than him; surely she felt the same constraints and would want to join him for the tiniest break from the routine.
Before she ducked into the newsgraph office, Owen had an idea and called for her to wait. "Tonight, let's do something special, something exciting." Her frown showed she was already skeptical, but he gave her his most charming smile. "Don't worry, it's nothing frightening – just a kiss." He looked at his watch: 3:05, still six more minutes.
"I've kissed you before," she said. Chastely, once a week, with promises of more after they were officially betrothed, because that was expected. Very soon, she would receive her own printed card from the Watchmaker, wishing her happiness, a husband, home, family.
"I know," he continued in a rush, "but this time, it'll be romantic, special. Meet me at midnight, under the stars, back up on orchard hill. I'll point out the constellations to you."
"I can look up constellations in a guidebook," she said.
He frowned. "And how is that the same?"
"They're the same constellations."
"I'll be out there at midnight." He quickly glanced at the clouds, then down at his pocketwatch. Five more minutes. "This will be our special secret, Lavinia. Please?"
Quick and noncommittal, she said, "All right," then retreated into the newsgraph office without a further goodbye.
Cheerful, he swung the apple baskets in his hands and headed toward the cider mill next to the small cottage where he and his father lived.
More thunderheads rolled in. The day was dark. With the impending rainstorm, the town streets were empty, the windows shuttered. Every person in Barrel Arbor studied the almanac every day and planned their lives accordingly.
As Owen hurried off, sure he would be drenched in the initial cloudburst, he encountered a strange figure on the main street, an old pedlar dressed in a dark cloak. He had a gray beard and long, twisted locks of graying hair that protruded from under his stovepipe hat.
Clanging a handbell, the pedlar walked alongside a cart loaded with packets, trinkets, pots and pans, wind-up devices, and glass bubbles that glowed with pale blue coldfire. His steam-driven cart chugged along as well-oiled pistons pushed the wheels; alchemical fire heated a five-gallon boiler that looked barely adequate for the tiny engine.
The pedlar could not have picked a worse time to arrive. He walked through Barrel Arbor with his exotic wares for sale, but his potential customers were hiding inside their homes from the impending rain. He clanged his bell. No one came out to look at his wares.
As Owen hurried toward the cider house, he called out, "Sir, there's a thunderstorm at 3:11!" He wondered if the old man's pocket-watch failed to keep the proper time, or if he had lost his copy of the official weather almanac.
The stranger looked up, glad to see a potential customer. The pedlar's right eye was covered with a black patch, which Owen found disconcerting. In the Watchmaker's safe and benevolent Stability, people were rarely injured.
When the pedlar fixed him with his singular gaze, Owen felt as if the stranger had been looking for him all along. He stopped clanging the handbell. "Nothing to worry about, young man. All is for the best."
"All is for the best," Owen intoned. "But you're still going to get wet."
"I'm not concerned." The stranger halted his steam-engine cart and, without taking his gaze from Owen, fumbled with the packages and boxes, touching one then another, as if considering. "So, young man, what do you lack?"
The question startled Owen and made him forget about the impending downpour. He supposed pedlars commonly used such tempting phrases as they carried their wares from village to village. But still . . .
"What do I lack?" Owen had never considered this before. "That's an odd thing to ask."
"It is what I do." The pedlar's gaze was so intense it made up for his missing eye. "Think about it, young man. What do you lack? Or are you content?"
Owen sniffed. "I lack for nothing. The loving Watchmaker takes care of all our needs. We have food, we have homes, we have coldfire, and we have happiness. There's been no chaos in Albion in more than a century. What more could we want?"
The words tumbled out of his mouth before his dreams could get in the way. The answer felt automatic rather than heartfelt. His father had recited the same words again and again like an actor in a nightly play; Owen heard other people say the same words in the tavern, not having a conversation but simply reaffirming one another.
What do I lack?
Owen also knew that he was about to become a man, with commensurate responsibilities. He set down his apples, squared his shoulders, and said with all the conviction he could muster, "I lack for nothing, sir."
Owen got the strange impression that the pedlar was pleased rather than disappointed by his answer. "That is the best answer a person can make," said the old man. "Although such consistent prosperity certainly makes my profession a difficult one."
The old man rummaged in his packages, opened a flap, and paused. After turning to look at Owen, as if to be sure of his decision, he reached into a pouch and withdrew a book. "This is for you. You're an intelligent young man, someone who likes to think – I can tell."
Owen was surprised. "What do you mean?"
"It's in the eyes. Besides," he gestured to the empty village streets, "who else stayed out too long because he had more to do, other matters to think about?" He pushed the book into Owen's hands. "You're smart enough to understand the true gift of Stability and everything the Watchmaker has done for us. This book will help."
Owen looked at the volume, saw a honeybee imprinted on the spine, the Watchmaker's symbol. The book's title was printed in neat, even letters. Before the Stability. "Thank you, sir. I will read it."
The stranger turned a dial that increased the boiler's alchemical heat, and greater plumes of steam puffed out. The cart chugged forward, and the pedlar followed it out of town. Owen was intrigued by the book, and he opened to the title page. He wanted to stand there in the middle of the street and read, but he glanced at his pocketwatch – 3:13. He held out his hand, baffled that raindrops hadn't started falling. The rain was never two minutes late.
Nevertheless, he didn't want to risk letting the book get wet; he tucked it under his arm and rushed with his apples to the cider house. A few minutes later, when he reached the door of the cool fieldstone building where his father was working, he turned around to see that the old man and his automated cart had disappeared.
"You're late," his father called in a gruff voice.
Owen stood in the door's shadows, staring back down the village streets. "So is the rain" – a fact that he found far more troubling. A crack of thunder exploded across the sky and then, as if someone had torn open a waterskin, rain poured out of the clouds. Owen frowned and looked at the ticking clock just inside the cider house. 3:18 p.m.
Only later did he learn that the town's newsgraph office had received a special updated almanac page just that morning, which moved the scheduled downpour to precisely 3:18 p.m.
From the Book: Clockwork Angels: The Novel by Kevin J. Anderson from a story and lyrics by Neil Peart. Copyright 2012 by Core Music Publishing. Published by ECW Press.