The Clockworks of Hanyang

An amazing cover, in my opinion.

“The Clockworks of Hanyang” appeared in The Immersion Book of Steampunk, edited by Gareth D Jones and Carmelo Rafala (Immersion Press, September 2011). It was reprinted in Sean Wallace’s anthology The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures in the fall of 2014.

This story was my response to the discussion I ran across in 2010 of the revisionist historiography that seemed inherent to a lot of steampunk writing and fandom. (As discussed in like this one by Charles Stross and this one by Nisi Shawl, along with this critique by Tobias Buckell and the post that brought the discussion to my attention — this one by Catherynne M. Valente.) A discussion of this debate with some writer friends culminated in me, er, accepting the “challenge” inherent in these criticisms, namely, to write a steampunk story that actually reflected the nastiness of imperial and hegemonic politics and culture and “normal life” for “normal people” in the Victorian/Edwardian era, including all the stuff we moderns aren’t really so comfortable with.

9781472110619 (1)So, ha, I decided to set it outside of the British Empire, though in another empire — the Joseon Dynasty, which was the last dynasty in Korea, and  which was snuffed out at the beginning of the 20th century. The story ended up set in Seoul, which in the 19th century was still called by its Joseon Dynasty-era name,  Hanyang. I was drafting and revising the story during the beginning of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in early 2011, and reverberations of got into the tale, as did my reassessment of Korean SF films (including Natural City, the failed Korean remake of Blade Runner). This story, indeed, is a big swirling mixture of things that had caught my attention in the months previous: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Phildickian questions about memory and identity, the question of cultural traditions (like Confucianism) take on the force of law and shape us (as the Confucian five relationships forming an analogue to Asimov’s laws of robotics), and the racism inherent in European imperialism.

A secondary inspiration was the Korean Robo-Taekwon V franchise:


More about Robo-Taekwon V here. I couldn’t resist the idea of a Japanese robopocalypse, in the context of Japan being an early (late 19th century) adopter of “Western” technologies in our own world. The Korean Robo-Taekwon V cartoons were a reaction to the popularity of Japanese battle-bot type cartoons, now often called Gundam. There’s no Steampunk Gundam in this story, but the fighter-mechanika, and especially the massive bridge-supports mechanika, are sort of a gesture to the concept.

“The Clockworks of Hanyang” was to prove only the first story in this world: the second, “Trois morceaux en forme d’un mechanika,” explored many of the scenes alluded to in “Clockworks” while focusing on a very different element of historical imperialism and conquest.  You can read more about that story here.

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