BY DAVID ERIK NELSON
Ars Architeuthis Press; 2 edition
reviewed by William H. Rose, III
[Cover image and illustrations for Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate by Chad Sell]
I’ve written previously regarding the flexibility of Steampunk in genre fiction and how its themes can appear in almost any type of literature. Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate by David Erik Nelson is a superb example of how Steampunk can be written, and skillfully crafted, I might add, into any category of speculative fiction. It’s not often I’m introduced to a work of fiction that is remarkable in style and content, is exceptionally engrossing, and contains a message. Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate is such a story. In this case, Mr. Nelson has incorporated clock-work men, the American Civil War, sex, alcoholism, humor, an ex-Confederate Soldier, exclusionism, and racism into a condensed novella about mechanical men that have outlived their usefulness as soldiers and make efforts to fit into society. It is Steampunk, to be sure, but above all it is a story that brings to the forefront the principles of equality and the human condition, even if only in emulation. Don’t be fooled by the title, either. While there are elements of the ribald scattered throughout the story, what Mr. Nelson shows us is a displaced group of “people,” albeit mechanical, that simply wish to “become” as human as possible. What they’ll do to meet those ends, while comical in execution, is often moving and surprisingly tragic.
Although Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate contains elements of post-Civil War era living, it centers on the displaced nation of mechanical men, known as clockies, residing near a small, frontier town in Utah. Mr. Kawazoe, the narrator, a Japanese veterinarian (or perhaps, a medical doctor, his profession somewhat ambiguous), is a respected member of the community but still considered untrustworthy and an outsider because of his nationality. He is motivated to spy on Dickie Tucker and his ill-conceived methods of teaching the clockies the fundamentals of frontier life more in the name of science than voyeurism. The story is poignant, human-driven, and well-crafted but the antics of the clockwork men really steal the show. Dickie Tucker teaching clockies to climb a ladder, dance, or make stew is guaranteed to make you chuckle but teaching them farm-related chores has to be the funniest scene I’ve read in a very long time. So much so that I’m obligated to share an excerpt of it.
“Dickie’s attempts to teach the mechanoman to shoe horses had led to one shod horse, three-quarters of a shod horse (the fourth leg having been broken entirely off; this was swiftly tourniqueted by Sy Everett’s boy, Seth, who happened to be in his father’s neighbors’ barn for purposes never fully explained, and heard the injured animal’s unearthly screeching), four shod cows, a shod sow, and three shod ducks. A similar training session on milking led to 16 gallons of milk (which spoiled well before it was discovered that the clockies had taken the notion to warehouse the milk in the chicken coop), one calloused cow, and one clockie kicked to bits by a bull uninterested in the clockies ministrations to his “single udder.””
While teaching the clockies to learn mundane farming skills is fun for the reader, it’s when Dickie Tucker teaches the clockies to copulate that the real story begins and we learn a lesson or two about what it means to be human. Some folks will do almost anything to fit in and the clockies are no exception.
It’s not surprising then that Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate was a Nebula Award nominee in 2008 and although he didn’t win or make the finalists list, he certainly could have. In my opinion, what the world could use more of is additional entertainment like this. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I feel this story needs to be expanded into an entire world of many Clockie books; the more the better. I hope Mr. Nelson is listening.
Recommended for Steampunk fanatics, western lovers, those interested in the human endeavor, anyone seeking a story with humor, fans of clock-work men, and those looking to get lost in a compelling story.
5 out of 5 stars
William H. Rose, III