The Clockwork Man

MIT. May 2022. 202p. ISBN 9780262543439. pap. $19.95. SF
Odle’s 1923 proto-cyborg novel starts off like a P. G. Wodehouse story gone bonkers. A cricket match at the village of Great Wymering devolves into mayhem owing to the sudden appearance on the pitch of a weirdly herky-jerky fellow, stammering and clicking and wagging his ears. This odd individual turns out to be a castaway from mankind’s multidimensional future, concealing under a red wig and bowler hat whirring dials whose malfunction has stranded him in our decidedly provincial three dimensions. The satiric misadventures that ensue often reflect two unsettling preoccupations of the era: Einsteinian relativity and women’s rights. Some are horrified by the Clockwork Man’s shocking metamorphic powers, while others excitedly anticipate the marriage of man and machine that we now term the Singularity. Readers ultimately discover a sobering aspect of life in the 59th century—and learn who winds up all those clocks—in a poignant finale that anticipates the technological anxieties at the heart of much speculative fiction to this day.
VERDICT Odd but no mere curiosity, this whimsical yet haunting novella reads like a missing link between Victorian and Golden Age science fiction, as befits the aim of MIT Press’s new “Radium Age” series to recover neglected classics of early 20th-century science fiction.
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