It’s been around since the 1980s, when the Generic Universal RolePlaying System (GURPS) first coined the term. Clockpunk is an off-shoot of Fantasy and Science Fiction that’s most similar to Steampunk. This subgenre takes its name from its technology– springs and clockwork– based on Renaissance and Victorian-era designs. Many stories, therefore, are set within these time periods or alternate versions of those histories.
As in most speculative fiction, the themes and social commentary within Clockpunk stories are driven by the technology, such as Jay Lake’s novel, Mainspring and Whitechapel Gods by S M Peters, the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, and Heather Massey’s The Watchmaker’s Lady.
I recently had the pleasure to read The Watchmaker’s Lady and discuss Clockpunk with the book’s creator Heather Massey, owner of The Galaxy Express blog.
In The Watchmaker’s Lady, a watchmaker falls in love with a beautiful clockwork automaton of his own creation. But instead of marble, Matthew creates Isabel the automaton from gears, mainsprings, and other clockwork parts. This story falls under the genre category known as Clockpunk.
Given Isabel’s clockwork nature, The Watchmaker’s Lady is an exploration of the “Other.” She is a highly unusual lover/soul mate in terms of the story’s time period of 1840, New England, because she begins her life as a porcelain bisque head. If any of the townspeople were to discover her presence in the watchmaker’s home, they’d be horrified by her voluptuous brass body and vacant stare. In their minds, she’d be bizarre, kinky, and totally unlike them. With that kind of fear brewing, they’d probably want to destroy her.
But would they have the right to do that simply because she’s different?
Like other speculative stories of its nature, The Watchmaker’s Lady invites readers to contemplate the following elements:
* Issues of race, gender, and sexuality
* The nature of being human
* The dangers of one-sided, exploitative relationships
* The evolution of women’s independence
The idea of forging a relationship with one’s own artificial creation is the basic premise of stories that are based on the Pygmalion myth. Remember Pygmalion from your high school history classes? He was the sculptor who fell in love with a beautiful female sculpture he had carved.
What are some of the other themes?
One of the core themes in the romance genre is the idea of a soul mate. The fantasy of finding the perfect mate in order to meet one’s needs of love and belonging has a timeless allure. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds (e.g., time itself, distance, population density), romance stories promise that two people who are meant to be together will find each other.
The Watchmaker’s Lady invites readers to question their previously held beliefs about soul mates. What defines a soul mate? Who has the right to define the nature of a soul mate? What if your soul mate didn’t exist until you created him or her? Would that constitute a valid relationship? Would it be real? What if your soul mate wasn’t even…alive?
THE POWER OF IMAGINATION IN LOVE
Through the heroine’s evolution, readers witness the transforming power of love. The hero’s vivid and fertile imagination is the means by which Isabel becomes alive. She is as alive to Matthew as any other human. Their relationship provides commentary on the role that imagination plays in love and romance.
On the surface, this erotic clockpunk romance story is about a man in love with a Victorian sex doll. But digging a little deeper beneath the kink reveals another layer: A romance between two soul mates who manage to find each other— and stay together— despite overwhelming odds.
The Watchmaker’s Lady also subverts the idea of such a Pygmalion-type relationship being one-sided. Because of Matthew’s progressive attitude and imagination, Isabel is no passive object of her creator’s lust. Her level of agency makes her an active participant in the relationship, sexual and otherwise. So even though the story is told entirely from the hero’s point of view, it has a distinct feminine tone.
Clockpunk– not your great, great, great grandmother’s cup of tea!