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 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 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 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.
I have always liked clocks. Pocket watches, necklace watches, the old mantelpiece clocks that once were so fashionable in days gone by. I love to study 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 be clocks everywhere, but practicality won out and in their place are stacks of books.
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 the world to observe 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 and 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. Originally based on Victorian England sensibilities and technology, steampunk looks to the past for a new vision of the future in a variety of cultures. For the uninitiated, you will see steam-based technology augmented with modern devices in 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 comic 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 was making sure my time line made sense and the reward was when it all worked out.
The theme of clockworks in steampunk not only suggests the inner workings of the human heart as I mentioned before, but also 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 comic, 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 from the future.
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.
Holly-Rosing is the writer/creator of the comic BOSTON METAPHYSICAL SOCIETY which is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to print the trade paperback of the six issue mini-series. The trade also contains a brand new Boston Metaphysical ten page short story, Hunter-Killer. The campaign runs from February 1- March 3.
Kickstarter Link: http://kck.st/2kT8SqU