Mechanica by Lance Balchin is quite a unique book. The subtitle is ‘A Beginner’s Field Guide,’ and it has an intriguing story, information on new kinds of technology, beautiful illustrations and an important warning about protecting the planet.
Set at the end of the 22nd century, Mechanica imagines a world without wildlife. Humans have near destroyed their climate, and all of Earth’s species have been wiped out. In 2190, the people began to rebel, demanding back the animals they lost. Corporations came up with a unique solution – Mechanica. Created to resemble the species we had made extinct, various Mechanica were used for both entertainment (zoos sprung up again), but also for work, and the technological creatures became a part of everyday life.
Unfortunately, as time passed Mechanica became harder to control. Some were let loose in the wild and crossbred with damaged military drones to create strange new species, and before long, Mechanica posed a threat to humanity. They were outlawed, the Homo-Mechanica wars broke out (and raged for over 30 years), and Mechanica became a thing to be feared.
The book is an encyclopedia of sorts, a guide to the various Mechanica encountered by the main character, Liberty Crisp, as she ventured through the Orient in 2250. Each spread has a full sized, full colour image of the Mechanica, and the mix of photo-realism and steampunk style is breathtaking. For each Mechanica there are stats like weight, width and speed, as well as information on technical attributes like power source and sensors, and the history and origin.
We also get hints of Liberty Crisp’s own journey, as she occasionally mentions her personal experience with particular Mechanica – for example she kept Bert, a pet Vespertillo Automatismus, or bat, as a companion throughout her life.
This is the sort of book like-minded kids will pore over. It’s a great fit for inquisitive children aged about 7 to 12 – don’t let the picture book format fool you, it’s definitely for older readers. It’s a book for kids that ask why, that want to know how things work, as it weaves technology and science with a story set in a fictional, futuristic world.
The dystopian situation Balchin presents in Mechanicaseems scarily plausible, and so the book also functions as a dystopian warning. If we don’t adapt to live more sustainably, this could very well be our future.
It surprised us to find that the field guide practically ends on a cliffhanger! We asked author Lance Balchin, and he says there are indeed more Mechanica books to come – Liberty Crisp’s famed Mechanica Chronicles. We also asked Lance how he found the inspiration for such a unique idea – you can read our interview here.
Mechanica has a strange magic that will enrapture and entertain plenty of curious kids, while teaching them an important lesson – nothing quite compares to a living creature.
Lance Balchin studied photography at the University of Tasmania and went on to complete a Masters of Arts and Bachelor of Laws. Lance has worked as a head chef, co-owned a media production company, worked in fashion photography and fine art portraiture, and taught adult photography and film making. Lance was mentored by many of the original pioneers of the emerging Melbourne gonzo arts scene. The influences of Tom Waits, George Orwell, Patti Smith and Bukowski have always led his writing and image making.