Clockwork machines abound in the Steampunk realm.
|As we delve deeper into the Steampunk genre, one of the great technological developments we find is clockwork machines. Now this might seem "out there" to some, but in all actuality clockwork mechanisms have been around for quite some time, and are remarkably useful. Many of the famous Faberge' eggs contained clockwork mechanisms that could be wound up and then triggered when the egg was opened. Modern music boxes still operate on a wound mechanism. Other timing mechanisms exist for everything from animal feeding machines to lighting displays in some of the mail-order catalogs of the late 19th century. There's even a clockwork device that could be wound up in preparation for stormy days. When the skies darkened and the thunder started to roll, the homeowner could simply pull a lever to release the stored energy of the wound spring and his lightning rods would rise up along the peak of the house to protect the home from lightning strikes without needing to worry about being electrocuted while cranking them up by hand.
In thinking about clockwork systems, there's no end to the devices that are possible. There are automatons of all types that are controlled by clockwork systems. Just a few years ago, we can look to the movie "Hugo" for an example of the fascination wrought by clockwork machines in the form of the automaton created by the title character's father.
While they are very complex, these mechanisms can be very rugged and dependable. Just look at Big Ben for an example of durability.
In thinking about these mechanisms, we just look at their basic needs: a spring, a winding device to tighten the spring, a triggering mechanism and, of course, a purpose for the machine to fulfill. But, there can be other things about the machine that might be interesting in themselves...the Sheik of Araby comes to mind.
In the 19th century, there was a life-size mannequin dressed in the garb of an Arab prince. It sat cross legged on a decorative box with a chessboard in front of it, and was touted as an unbeatable chess playing machine. Indeed, thousands of people had the opportunity to gaze upon the clockwork in his chest, ticking away like the heart of some mechanical beast. Many also ponied up the money to play the machine, only to have it beat them handily. It was a true marvel of its age. The mechanism could be viewed in the automaton's chest when it wasn't playing. There was another door on the bottom front of the chest that could be opened when the machine was operating for people to view the massive amount of clockwork the thing required to outthink its opponents. Of course, there was a catch. The real reason one couldn't view the mechanism in the chest when it was playing was that the automaton was actually a fraud. Inside the Sheik of Araby was a very excellent chess player who had lost his legs in a rail accident some years earlier. He would move the clockwork mechanism into position as needed, then slide up to take his seat inside the mannequin to actually manipulate the chess pieces when the "Sheik" was playing. The automaton fell into disuse after the player died, of course, and it became another oddity that was reportedly lost in a fire some years later.
So, a clockwork device can fulfill any purpose imagineable, even if it's to mislead or camouflage something else. And as for suspense and conflict in literature, just think of how many times we've all seen or read about that clock ticking down to.....what?
Until next time, keep your springs tight....