Today we welcome M. Holly-Rosing.
M. Holly-Rosing is the writer/creator of the webcomic BOSTON METAPHYSICAL SOCIETY. You can read the comic as well as buy the companion novellas (Kindle, Nook and Smashwords) and the print edition through the website.
Her short story THE CLOCKWORK MAN (A Boston Metaphysical Society Story) was published in eSteampunk Magazine (February). Another short story THE WAY HOME (A Boston Metaphysical Society Story) will be published in September as part of a comic anthology with Atomeka Press.
Steampunk and Clocks
By M. Holly-Rosing
What is it about steampunk and clocks? Where ever you look you see time pieces and their requisite gears churning away reminding us of the inevitable march of time. It is a curious thing really, to be able to see seconds slip away on a mechanical device.
The astrolabium is a wonderful example of literally watching seconds, days and months pass by. Pre-dating this gorgeous mechanism, ancient Greek astronomers had developed a device to determine the position of the sun and stars. However, the astrolabium does more than simply count off hours, minutes, months, and dates. It gives time beauty and substance in an existential kind of way. Designed by the famous clockmaker Philipp Matthaus Hahn (1739-1790), its origins and/or inspiration can be attributed to the tellurium clock, the Antikythera Mechanism of the 2nd century B.C. and possibly many others. (Creativity and inspiration often seep across national boundaries and flourish in unexpected ways.) Whatever its origins, the astrolabium uniquely reminds us of the passage of time with a miniature globe of the earth that rotates and revolves around a solid brass sun in this particular model.
Though it is beautiful, I find it rather annoying. I mean the part about watching your life slip away. But you see I have always liked clocks. Pocket watches, necklace watches, the old mantel piece clocks that once were so fashionable in days gone by. I love to see the inner workings of clocks and watches for the simple reason I find the craftsmanship to be extraordinary. And it’s just so damned pretty. If I had enough room in our house there would probably be clocks everywhere, but practicality won out and in their place are stacks of books.
One of my fondest memories as a child was to hear my grandparents’ grandfather clock chime in the early morning hours in their home in Oregon. I knew my grandfather would be up soon, but I didn’t have to get up yet. So I’d snuggle in until the smell of coffee would waft up the stairs. By the time I dragged myself out of bed, I knew my grandfather would have decided what needed to be fixed that day. For a child it brought stability, love and all the good things one hopes for in life. And it all started with a clock.
So, what is it about steampunk which finds clocks so enticing and engaging? And not just any type of clock, but ones where their inner workings are exposed for all the world to see and dissect. It is my belief that in steampunk clockworks are a representation of the human heart.
Its ticking is the equivalent of a heartbeat. Its exposure a symbol of human frailty. Gears can falter, skip and even grind to a halt. The human condition all wrapped up in a mechanical device.
Steampunk has imbued clockworks with soul and a sense of purpose beyond the intention of their original makers. You know the old saying, “you wear your heart on your sleeve?” In this case, it’s on the wall, in your pocket or in the palm of your hand. And it can be crushed at a whim.
Clocks and time play a very large role in steampunk. Loosely based on Victorian England sensibilities and technology, steampunk looks to the past for a new vision of the future. For the uninitiated, you will see steam-based technology augmented with modern devices in steampunk fiction as well as fashion and home-built gadgets. Some make sense, others not so much. But that’s part of the fun. Fashion is often ripped straight from Victorian styles, though more often than not the person wearing it has given it their own individual flair.
As the writer/creator of the webcomic and companion novellas for BOSTON METAPHYSICAL SOCIETY, I worked within the framework of a specific time and place, but since I was working in fiction I had the opportunity to take a more modern point-of-view towards science and social mores. It was challenging and rewarding. The challenge being making sure my time line made sense. The reward was when it all worked out.
Though I do not have any visible clocks in the webcomic, there is however, a “ticking clock” which lurks in the background. A “ticking clock” in the writer’s world means your protagonist must accomplish something in a specific amount of time or something bad will happen. In this panel from the second chapter, Samuel has met with B.E.T.H. to discuss what to do about “The Shifter,” a trans- dimensional being who has been killing people at an ever growing rate. Their job is to stop it before it kills again.
The theme of clockworks in steampunk not only suggests the inner workings of the human heart but as I mentioned before evokes another time and place. And in some cases, those times and places cross over in the most unusual way. In this panel from the first chapter of the webcomic, Duncan, who is a ghost, had hidden a camera from Caitlin’s vengeful mother. He has crossed over from another time and place to help someone he cares for.
Since clockworks and time are inexorably linked, steampunk does what it does best in demonstrating another vision of the past with influences of the future. In this panel from chapter two, the men of B.E.T.H. are on a hill overlooking Boston Harbor. It is an image of an alternate history where dirigibles are common place along with a modern looking steamship which cruises into harbor.
I have been a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy since I was a kid, but I was not introduced to steampunk until a few years ago by a dear friend. (I owe him one.) BOSTON METAPHYSICAL SOCIETY has been my first venture into steampunk as a writer, but I have funny feeling I may have found my home. It allows me to explore the issues and themes which are important to me in a way that appeals to my own personal aesthetic. For when you strip away the gadgets and the fancy clothes you discover that in steampunk, time is always at the heart.