Several thousand years from now, advanced humanoids known as the Makers will implant clockwork devices into our heads.
I was granted complimentary eARC access to the 2022 edition of The Clockwork Man by E. V. Odle by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the access approval! My thoughts are my own and my review is honest.
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About the Book
The Clockwork Man
by E.V. Odle
Publishing 3 May 2022
The MIT Press
Genre: Science Fiction
Page Count: 202
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In the first-ever novel about a cyborg, a machine-enhanced man from a multiverse of the far future visits 1920s England.
In 1920s England, a strange being crashes a village cricket game. After some glitchy, jerky attempts to communicate, this creature reveals that he is a machine-enhanced human from a multiverse thousands of years in the future. The mechanism implanted in his skull has malfunctioned, sending him tumbling through time onto the green grass of the cricket field. Apparently in the future, at the behest of fed-up women, all men will be controlled by an embedded “clockwork,” camouflaged with hats and wigs. Published in 1923, The Clockwork Man–the first cyborg novel–tells the story of this odd time traveler’s visit.
Spending time with two village couples about to embark upon married life, the Clockwork Man warns that because men of the twentieth century are so violent, sexist, and selfish, in the not-too-distant future they will be banned from physical reality. They will inhabit instead a virtual world–what we’d now call the Singularity–in which their every need is met, but love is absent. Will the Clockwork Man’s tale lead his new friends to reconsider technology, gender roles, sex, and free will?
Overshadowed in its own time by Karel Čapek’s sensational 1923 play R.U.R., about a robot uprising, The Clockwork Man is overdue for rediscovery.
My Rating: 4 Stars
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I requested this book to review because I read an excerpt from it in robotics class back in high school and I thought it was high time that I read the whole book! The Clockwork Man is a brilliantly imaginative piece of early steampunk science fiction that was undoubtedly revolutionary in its time. I did read some of the other reviews before requesting it and I’ve seen the criticisms that this novella doesn’t have a plot. It does. It’s just not as high stakes and face-paced as we’re used to now. Remember, this book is fast approaching its 100th birthday! The social speculation and futuristic ideas in this book would have been even more fascinating a century ago when these were new ideas.
I’ve seen this book called “the first transgender story” and I was questioning that for most of the book up until the point where the clockwork man’s body is closely examined and the human characters consider what has been changed and removed in this man’s anatomy compared to what they expected to see. The Clockwork man does discuss what it’s like to live in a future where certain anatomical parts and activities and social experiences have become obsolete in a society of immortal mechanical people. I can see using this character as a vehicle to discuss the non-binary identity umbrella and agender in particular, but he doesn’t feel like a representation of transgender identities to me in the typical use “gender and sex at birth are opposite” sense of the word transgender. The clockwork man in this book, and his contemporaries in his time, haven’t transitioned in a sense of outwardly matching their true gender identity, they’ve been desexed.
What I was thinking while reading this book instead of the first transgender story thing was that this feels like the inspiration and predecessor for scifi icons Data from Star Trek, and I wonder if Roddenberry and his team had read this book.
As for the introduction and essays included in this edition, I think they’re interesting from an academic standpoint as someone who has formally studied both literature and history, but I do feel like it spoils the experience of the book to read all of that first if you’re reading The Clockwork Man for the first time. It explains and spoils everything, and it takes up a hefty 11% of the text before the story itself even begins (and then some after it ends.) I think I would prefer to see a brief intro, read the original story, then read 10+% more text in essays about the story.
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