Canada is big. It’s really big. Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia and before China. According to Dominik Parisien in his introduction to Clockwork Canada, it’s an absurdly large mass that one can easily compare to a lumbering automaton, or a large construct.
There are many different cogs and gears that make up the component parts of Canada. Sometimes they work well together. Sometimes they don’t (I’m looking at you Quebec). These parts are “physically connected by the railroad – one of the great embodiments of the power, ingenuity, and crushing ruthlessness of the steam age.”
Canada is the perfect setting for steampunk, and Parisien does an excellent job of explaining why. In this collection of short stories, fifteen authors reimagine Queen Victoria’s former domain as a steam-powered sci-fi/fantasy setting. There will be airships, automatons, clockwork, goggles, and trains. Some of the stories are magical. Others are science fiction. They’re all steampunk though, and they’re all Canada – for better and for worse.
A Handful of Gems
“If anyone could navigate these lands without permission, guide, nor running party, we’d be overwhelmed with uninvited guests before next season, even as half the fools were eaten by Mandimanidoo.” (“La Clochemar”, Charlotte Ashley)
It is rare that every single story in a collection will be excellent. Usually, you get a handful of gems, a few duds, and all the rest are okay. I’m going to talk about the gems.
“La Clochemar” by Charlotte Ashley reimagines Canada infested by Mandimanidoo, Kaiju like creatures that make travel difficult. In order to traverse the wilds safely you need to be a runner, or you need to have a device that can detect them safely from a distance. Suzette is a runner who nearly loses her life to Mishiginebig, the horned serpent only to be saved by Dibaabishk, an inventor who dreams of a Canada where everyone has a detector. All dreams come with a price though, and this one is no different.
“East Wind in Carral Street” by Holly Schofield is the coming of age story of Wong Shin a Chinese immigrant who desires to prove himself to his father, his friend, and himself. His family imagines him in the role of the child who operates the clockwork lion. He would like to become the inventor he believes he can be and change his family’s destiny.
“The Seven O’Clock Man” by Kate Heartfeld is a classic children’s horror story. Every night like clockwork, Jacques, a Mohawk winds the clock that releases an automaton and its dog to roam the town of Lagarenne seeking children out of bed. Any child caught out of bed is stolen and transformed into a wooden clockwork statue, part of the clock at the center of town. This is necessary to maintain order in the town because “children who act like savages will be treated like savages.” Winding the clock is the only way Jacques can reunite with his son. Failure to comply will result in the wooden child’s death – so every night Jacques winds the clock.
“Let Slip the Sluicegates of War, Hydro Girl” by Terri Favro tells the story of war hero Lady Laura Filomena De Marco, and her decisive role in the battle that resulted in the USA rejoining the British Crown. It’s not what you’d expect, Lady Laura began her life as a camp follower, no different than any other girl drafted into Her Majesty’s army. She got lucky though and attracted the attention of men in power, and this enabled her to change her fate. Also this story gets extra points for some very creative uses of steam-power.
Amazing Steampunk and Disappointing Canada
“Combining the White Man’s cylinder technology with traditional clockwork meant that the shameful deception of the lion could stop. And equally importantly, his father saw him as a man.” (“East wind in Carral Street”, Holly Schofield)
There are two lenses through which I want to examine Clockwork Canada: steampunk and Canada. The steampunk was absolutely amazing and I loved every bit of it. Canada though was a disappointment, and I am fully aware of the irony of this statement considering my US passport.
Pretty much every single story in this collection shows off the authors’ creative genius when it comes to imagining steam-powered technologies – whether as a premise (child-hunting automaton), background setting (airship, train), or ingenious prop (vibrator). My jaw dropped on the last one, but why not? Steam can be used to create super-powerful weapons of war. No reason the destructiveness can’t be replaced with pleasure. The Victorian era was not a fun era to live through, especially if you were a woman of society.
Canada is a very progressive country, and pretty much all the stories in this collection reflect the sentiments of its people. There were many historical wrongs and social issues addressed in these stories, all from a steampunk angle. The ways these were handled though irritated me. It was crude. It felt as though these steampunk authors constructed their stories using a hammer and never taking their goggles off. Most of the stories could have benefited with some tightening with a wrench, and a little more patience when it came to monitoring that steam gauge. Fortunately for the reader, none of the stories explodes (more than intended).
Another criticism has to do with how many stories were critical of something in Canada’s past or present. Individually, there is nothing wrong with this. Collectively, it surprised me in a collection that I thought was going to be more celebratory towards the Great White North. I felt as though it kind of defeated the purpose of the book.
I felt that I didn’t learn much about Canada from this collection, but I think this may also be ignorance on my part talking. Many of the stories have universal themes (racism, women’s rights), and it felt like these stories could have easily been taken out of Canada and transplanted into the United States where problems are much worse. At the same time these issues did also plague Canada. It just didn’t feel Canadian enough to my outsider’s perspective.
Overall, I received from this collection a very fun steampunk experience which provided me with an enjoyable read, and it will definitely appeal to anyone with progressive leanings. The Canadian core, in my opinion, is lacking. However, it is up to you the readers, to decide how much weight you want to give to each component.
The Omer today is eternity in foundation. The nice thing about steampunk is that it is not eternal. It is a new way to reimagine scientific and fantastic principles to reinvent and reinvigorate stories at a time when the world was already rapidly changing. Nothing is static. We are constantly evolving and changing, and that means that we can improve no matter what issues lie at our foundation.
Canada like every other country has its fair share of historical wrongs. They are also part of the founding story of this country. The nice thing about this collection, is that it faces these wrongs and tries to address and reimagine how they could be corrected, and it does it using steampunk.
“No one can go back and make a brand new start. Anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”
About The Editor
Dominik Parisien of Toronto is a poet and writer. He is the co-editor with Navah Wolfe, of the Starlit Wood and several other anthologies forthcoming from Simon & Schusters Saga Press. He has worked on anthologies with Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, including The Time Travelr’s Almanac, Sisers of the Revolution, and The Bestiary. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, Shock Totem, Lackingtons, Imaginatium 2013, Exile: The Literary Quarterly, the anthology Playground of Lost Toys, and other venues.
You can follow him at www.domininkparisien.wordpress.com and www.twitter.com/domparisien