Flash review: The Sisters of Saint Nicola of The Almost Perpetual Motion vs the Lurch by Garth Nix

Highly energetic, outrageously ridiculous, and compellingly weird. This novelette, whose full name I will not repeat lest be accused of padding the word count of this review, hit me in all the right spots. It is easy flowing, features very fascinating worldbuilding, has set pieces that are exciting and funny at once, and leaves me longing for more. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such a fun-filled half an hour of reading.

Let’s start with some introductions. The Lurch are invading Martians, who come in seed ships, spitting out spores with their troops. Saint Nicola was a woman who managed to defeat them in one of the largest battles, about two centuries ago. And the Sisters are warrior/science nuns who augment their bodies, weapons and armor with clockwork technology, drive enormous battle tanks and maintain order, which occasionally means defending against new Lurch invasions.

So, when a Lurch ship is spotted as it lands in some fields, the race is on between the Sisters and a running forest of druids riding oak trees, to reach the landing site first, defeat the Lurch and claim the ship, full of a mysterious substance that serves as the world’s ultimate fuel. The Sisters arrive first but are only able to send out a four-person team before the first oak tree reaches the scene of the battle. At the nick of time, the surviving nun gets assistance from the first druid to arrive, and together they defeat the Lurch.

Martian invaders, battle nuns, druids riding oak trees. If that sounds like a lot, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nix managed to cram into fewer than 8000 words a world with rich history, culture, and references to loads of even weirder things. That’s what makes this story so much fun: each paragraph brings something new, further sparking the reader’s imagination. Since reading this story, I’ve been torn between wanting more and dreading a full novel from this universe. True, the ideas presented here deserve a much longer narrative. On the other hand, the second ingredient that makes the story so much fun is the never-ending action, as well as the emotional investment into the fate of the novice Maralinda. A full book written in the same style would be incredibly exhausting, eventually dulling the reader to the action (the fate of books like David Wong’s John Dies at the End). A book where the action was toned down would inevitably expose inconsistencies in the worldbuilding, which are already visible in the current story, but are kept to a minimum thanks to the length of the narrative.

So, let’s leave it as it is: a nearly perfect example of a short, fun romp that unashamedly mixes genres and tropes. The Sisters of Saint Nicola of The Almost Perpetual Motion vs the Lurch is one of the better ways to spend half an hour of the rest of your life.

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