Tic-Tok of Oz, or What Turned Me on to Robots
By Bonnie Dee
Mechanical people fire our imagination from I Robot to the Stepford Wives. The concept of what it means to be human and whether synthetic life forms can develop humanity was explored in great depth in Battlestar Galactica. Is the quality of humanity judged by the ability to reason or is it necessary to feel emotions? If a mechanical being develops emotions such as love, does it also require a certain spark—call it the soul—to be more than a replicant?
When I was a child, I avidly read whichever books from the Oz series I could get my hands on from the early Frank Baum books through the continuation of the series by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Sidenote: I still remembered her name without looking it up because it’s so unusual. I actually liked Thompson’s books better—The Hungry Tiger of Oz, Kabumpo in Oz and Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz in particular—probably because her stories always had a romance element which Baum’s books lacked.
Anyway, the character Tic-Tok of Oz was a mechanical man who was rather cold at the beginning of the story but developed personality through interaction with humans. What does this have to do with my new steampunk novella Like Clockwork? Not so much except that reading about Tic-Tok as a child started a lifelong fascination with synthetic life forms and the question of where humanity lies.
Like Clockwork, available as an e-book from Carina Press and at other online stores such as Amazon, B&N and Kobo, is a tale of murder, mayhem, espionage, inventions, romance and steam.
Victoria Waters is a woman ahead of her time, part of a team of scientists that created working automatons. She intended the machines to replace human laborers in dangerous occupations, but the original project idea mushroomed beyond her expectations. The mechanical people have replaced all types of workers, putting much of the lower class out of work.
Dash is a man who has lived a life of poverty in one of the worst slums in London. Only the intervention of a kindly mentor taught him to use his keen mind. He is part of a subversive group called the Brotherhood which speaks against the influx of automatons. To draw attention to their cause they plan to kidnap Victoria and hold her ransom until their demand for representation on the Commission for Animatronic Affairs is met.
Dash soon finds his captive is on the same page in her beliefs and willing to help the Brotherhood reach their goal. But when the Southwark Slasher strikes again, murdering a woman who was close to Dash, he and Victoria’s relationship abruptly changes. They become close very quickly, sharing personal history and discovering a mutual attraction.
Danger looms as Victoria learns more from a colleague about the Commission and their long term agenda for the automatons. Romance blooms as Dash and Victoria grow closer. And death threatens when Victoria comes face to face with the Southwark Slasher.
To whet your interest, here’s the prologue of Like Clockwork:
If he slit the body from sternum to groin and peeled back the flesh, he could see what made a woman tick. If he probed a little deeper into that steamy, sticky mess, he could remove her pulsing heart and examine it. Maybe at last he could understand what made him different.
Precision. That was the key. Each cut, each motion must be meticulous, following a careful order he’d designed for himself. It was akin to a schematic, an exquisite plan. Unfortunately the insides of a woman were so messy. There must be a way to suction off the blood. He should figure that out. It would make his work so much easier.
He watched the woman’s eyes as she beheld her beating heart in his hand and continued to gaze into them until they went from wide and horrified to blank and glassy. Then he knew her workings ticked no longer.
He positioned her body in his pre-arranged pattern, keeping her heart for himself. Removing his gloves, he packed them into his black satchel and clicked the latch closed. He rose, removed his smock and stowed it too in the case. Then he checked his overcoat for traces of blood—wouldn’t do to take the messiness away from the scene with him. After brushing away a spot of dirt from the broadcloth, he decided he was in as pristine a condition as when he’d arrived. He strode away from the sprawled body in the alley, swinging his satchel lightly and whistling a tune.
It was a pleasant night and he had accomplished much.