Monday, May 18, 2009

A new ?

? because I don't know how long it's going to be. Probably not novel-length, but long for a short story.

It falls into the genre Todd and I have been referring to as "clockpunk", which is a variant of steampunk but tends to be organized around the image of a clock, or clockwork. Good recent examples are The Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti and The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia. Also the ongoing series by Jay Lake which began with Mainspring and continued in Escapement.

Clockpunk has interesting antecedents. Steampunk began as a spin-off from cyberpunk, via books like Gibson and Sterling's Difference Engine and Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age. Cyberpunk itself was born out of what was then called the "New Wave", which included authors like Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison. (Dick, by the way, may bear the distinction of having appeared as an important character in more novels written after his own death than any other writer: for the most recent example see Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory.)

Ellison, of course, was the author of "'Repent, Harlequin' said the Ticktockman", one of the classic anti-authoritarian works of the genre. But the imagery of the clock as enemy, the clock symbolizing the devouring, dehumanizing nature of industrial totalitarianism, goes back further than that: cf. Metropolis, both the novel by Thea von Harbou and the silent movie version by Fritz Lang, and Chaplin's immortal Modern Times.

The story I'm working on right now was mostly inspired by The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson's fascinating account of the construction of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, and of the life and times of America's first documented serial killer, known in Chicago as H. H. Holmes. If you haven't read it, you should: each of his narratives is fascinating in itself. I wrote about it on KFI some time back.

Addendum: Jay Lake kindly points out Zelazny's Jack of Shadows as a clockpunk precursor. An inexcusable omission on my part.


jaylake said...


Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

jay, good point! I can't believe I forgot that one.