The Clockwork Game is a novelization of the story of the Turk in the form of a webcomic/graphic novel by the artist Jane Irwin. The Turk was a automation “invented” in the 18th century by a Hungarian Wolfgang von Kempelen which could play chess with people. People all across Europe flocked to see the automaton. Of course such technology did not exist back. The Turk was actually a hoax and there was a hidden contraption where a human would play chess but it would appear as if the automaton is playing chess. The automaton was named the Turk because its appearance was like that of the Turk. Most themes in Clockpunk deal with what might have been but as the Turk demonstrates there is plenty of room for exploring the hoaxes, the half-truths and perhaps even Clockpunk conspiracy theories! Anyway here is Jane’s description of the webcomic/ graphic novel.
Clockwork Game is a mostly-true story, a dramtization of actual historical events, retold with as little conjecture as possible. Some characters, whose names and histories were lost to the predations of time, had to be created almost entirely from whole cloth. Strong—but not ironclad—proof exists for the actions depicted in certain scenes. And, of course, dialogue and personalities had to be invented, based on whatever writings were available.
I was drawn to the incredible story of The Turk because it seems far too fantastic to actually be true, and yet with each new book and article, the facts became much more captivating than any fiction I could have created.
Here is an excerpt from the wbecomic. The comic is updated every Thursday.
The reader should also check out Jane Irwin’s official website at this URL.
For people who are interested in the pre-history of automata here is a link to a fascinating article by Elly Truitt whose dissertation I have previously mentioned on this blog. Given below is an excerpt from the article.
What is more remarkable than the presence of these metal people in this romance is the fact that automata in human form were found frequently in the pages of twelfth-century French romances—copper knights and damsels, golden archers, children, and guardians of tombs. The early twelfth-century chanson de geste Le voyage de Charlemagne contains a description of the emperor of Constantinople’s palace, upon which two golden children blow ivory horns and laugh in a lifelike manner when the wind blows. In Le roman d’Eneas, written around 1160, a metal archer ensures that the sanctity of Camille’s mausoleum remains inviolate. Another midtwelfth-century romance, Le conte de Floire et Blancheflor, mentions the speaking, moving statues of the eponymous lovers erected on Blancheflor’s mock tomb. The Roman d’Alexandre, completed around 1180, features two golden youths, made by augury (par augure) and enchantment (enchantement), armed with maces, guarding a drawbridge. In addition, two copper boys, armed with shields and pikes and made by enchantment (enchant) guard the tomb of the emir of Babylon. The First Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval, completed in the first decade of the thirteenth century, has two figures guarding the tent of Alardin, an “Eastern” potentate, who can discern knight from churl and maiden from nonvirgin, and then bar the entrances of the latter to the tent.
Cabaret Mechanical Theatre is a collection of (humorous) contemporary automata. The site has a bunch of interesting things e.g., they also seem to hold competition for building automatas for school kids. Many of their automatas are part of a traveling exhibition in Britain, while others are at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Detroit, USA. Be sure to check out their virtual exhibition section which gives some ideas about their automatas. Coincidently these folks also have a book on making automatas titled Cabaret Mechanical Movement which can be bought from their website. And you can also buy a whole bunch of automatas from the site also.
Keep an eye on the news section of their site for their future exhibitions.
Ayhan Aytes, a student at UCSD seems to have a very interesting take on Al-Jazari’s Automata. Here is a description of his work and a talk that he will be giving at the University of Minnesota.
Ayhan Aytes’s research complicates the categorical distinctions between sacred and profane through a series of examples from al-Jazari’s book of mechanical devices. Aytes’s study addresses mainly the depiction of the concept of time in some devices as it originates from the symbolic domain but eventually contributes to a mechanical understanding of the universe, while in other automata time reveals a strange synthesis of a religious ritual with an artificial life form. Traditionally these works have been mainly presented as “Islamic automata” by history of science scholars but even this conception is problematic because of the syncretic elements of the symbolic system referred to by these machines. Ayhan Aytes is a graduate researcher in the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego.
Tangent, an online magazine that reviews short fiction has a review of Hal Duncan’s “The Whenever At The City’s Heart which appears to an awesome story and well placed in the Fantasy side of the Clockpunk genre. Here is the review from Tangent which should give people a good idea about the story.
The first story in the 25th anniversary issue of Interzone, Hal Duncan’s “The Whenever At The City’s Heart,” is a striking mix of “clockpunk” and fantasy, a sense of grand Baroque whimsy coming through in both the telling and the details. The kaleidoscopic structure of the story centers on the great clock tower, the titular “whenever” in the heart of his imagined, nameless city. All glittering glass and brass and mirrored cogs and grinding gears, the tower contains inside it a microcosm that keeps the streets around it following “their paths through time” in an apparently clockwork universe.
As the story begins, however, the watchtower’s bell is inexplicably out of synch, and the world around it grows chaotic, the city “adrift upon its rock, a myriad of singularities spiraling around it.” The narrative switches back and forth between those spiraling singularities, fanciful and surreal, and the tower’s watchman as he struggles desperately to get the universe back in order, but alas, order may be just something “tossed out by chaos as a glib aside.”
Duncan’s imagery is razor-sharp, and his prose playful and poetic, all but making verse out of the vocabulary of today’s physicists. Additionally, while it may initially seem impenetrable, the story holds together better than much of the High Modernist poetry it reminded me of stylistically (and happily, its tone is far removed from their overwrought aristocratic gloom). “Whenever”‘s complexity and sensibility will certainly not be to every taste, but even if you’re initially skeptical, you may find it growing on you with rereading, and even if you come away feeling the whole is less than the sum of its parts, there is much to enjoy in its richly imagined fragments: the sandminer listening to a blind boy’s song; the battle-scarred veteran soldier losing himself with a dreamwhore for a little while; the ruling angels and human rebels battling in the streets.
I came across this website not so long ago. They seem to be based in New Zealand and the woodencrafts that they have are not exactly automata since they require a person to move them but they are still pretty cool. If one were writing a Clockpunk story then one could use them as precursors to true automata. Check out their website at the following URL: http://www.allwaze.com/woodcraft-animated.htm