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Newton's Cannon is a novel by J. Gregory Keyes, which was published by Del Rey in 1998. Drawing from both traditional historical fiction and relatively newfangled steampunk, it takes place in an 18th-century world radically changed by the inventions of the titular scientist.

Like all good historical fiction, the central conceit of the novel is based in reality. It's true, but not widely known, that aside from being a brilliant scientist and a jerk Newton was fascinated with the occult, especially alchemy. What if, posits Keyes, Newton's investigations in that field had borne fruit? What if he had been as successful and influential there as he had been in physics and optics? The book's prologue describes just such an occurrence- Newton cracks the riddle of practical alchemy in 1681 by discovering how to produce a substance he names the philosopher's mercury, blowing up his laboratory in the process and changing the course of history. This breakthrough enables the invention of all sorts of alchemy-based gadgets, ranging from simple conveniences like fuel-less lanterns and self-propelled boats to powerful weapons like guns that fire pure electricity, guided cannonballs, the fervefactum (a device which induces the enemy's blood to boil), and Newton's Cannon itself (the exact nature of which would of course constitute a major spoiler). Keyes spends a good deal of time expositing the inner workings of his new kind of science, and it remains believable through all the book's revelations.

Around these ideas Keyes creates a world populated largely by real people playing out somewhat familiar roles in this new history. The story centers around a fourteen-year-old Benjamin Franklin, who'd much prefer to be apprenticed to a great alchemist than working in his father's print shop (most of their business consists of publishing newspapers relayed from Europe via aetherschreiber- a sort of alchemical fax machine). Throughout the plot, which centers on a scheme to turn the tide of an interminable war between England and France, many other familiar faces pop up - Louis XIV, Halley, Voltaire, Blackbeard, Fahrenheit, and more.

As the book is just the beginning of a four-part series, many more conflicts and mysteries are uncovered than resolved by its end. Nevertheless, it stops at a satisfying point, and provides ample desire to read the following novels (for me at least).

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