HiLo Books has just reissued a long-forgotten science fiction classic, E.V. Odle's 1923 novel The Clockwork Man. It may be the first cyborg story ever published. It's also the first book to explore the idea of uploads, and the technological Singularity. Plus, it's also about liberated 1920s women!
Cover design is by Tony Leone, cover illustration is by Michael Lewy
Everybody remembers R.U.R., the play about a robot uprising that was released the same year as Clockwork Man. But in many ways, Clockwork Man was a more subtle and futuristic story than R.U.R. — it deals with what happens to humanity when they merge with machines, and want nothing more than to live inside a vast cyberspace-like world that offers them infinite plenitude.
HiLo Books' fine new edition of Clockwork Man is digital (though you can order a physical book if you like), with an introduction written by yours truly. I won't give you too many spoilers, but suffice to say the novel is about a cyborg (the Clockwork Man) who suffers from a glitch that causes "fall into" our time, 1923, from the distant future. He accidentally lands pretty much directly in the middle of a cricket match, which gives you a sense of the weird satirical tone that Odle employs throughout.
The locals, including two doctors and a young couple, try to figure out what the Clockwork Man is — and the answer is incredible. This novel is a smart, often-satirical look at 1920s British society, written by a man who was part of the Bloomsbury group. Odle would have been brushing shoulders with the great literary and genre writers of his day, and his novel is an odd mashup of Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells. It deals with a far future that isn't too different from what today's post-cyberpunk science fiction writers dream of — as well as dealing with war, 1920s feminism, and the scientific method.
Here's some praise (past and present) for the book:
“Edwin Vincent Odle’s ominous, droll, and unforgettable The Clockwork Man is a missing link between Lewis Carroll and John Sladek or Philip K. Dick,” says Jonathan Lethem in a 2013 blurb for HiLoBooks. “Considered with them, it suggests an alternate lineage for SF, springing as much from G.K. Chesterton’s sensibility as from H.G. Wells’s.”
“This is still one of the most eloquent pleas for the rejection of the ‘rational’ future and the conservation of the humanity of man,” writes Brian Stableford in Scientific Romance in Britain, 1890-1950. “Of the many works of scientific romance that have fallen into utter obscurity, this is perhaps the one which most deserves rescue.”
“Perhaps the outstanding scientific romance of the 1920s,” agrees the sci-fi reference book Anatomy of Wonder.
Buy the book!!! And check out the other HiLo Books Radium Age science fiction reissues. Collect them all!