Clockwork Game

By | Thursday, July 03, 2008 Leave a Comment
For as much as I enjoy science fiction and fantasy stories, for as much as my life has been shaped by the Fantastic Four and the Rebel Alliance, for as much I like to escape from the problems of day-to-day living into the worlds of the impossible, there's just no beating stories told from real life. Drama happens every single day, all over the planet. There are millions of interesting characters wandering around the planet, and only require a good storyteller to make their tales known. Some of the best comics I've read in the past few years, in fact, were based largely on actual events. Now I can add a web comic to that list in Jane Irwin's Clockwork Game.

The story follows the "life" of Wolfgang von Kempelein's chess-playing automaton. The Turk -- as the real one was known colloquially -- entertained and mystified audiences from its creation in 1770 until it was destroyed by a fire in 1854. The machine, after a thorough inspection from the audience, would then proceed to play any opponent in a game of chess, often winning regardless of the opponent's ability. It was able to decipher and respond to any move, including illegal ones, and it unnerved adversaries who took too long by tapping it's hand and rolling its eyes. It was truly a remarkable piece, and was thought by many to be possessed by evil spirits.

The story thus far (it only debuted in March) has mainly focused on introducing a few of the principle players and showcasing just how awe-inspiring such a contraption would have been in the 18th century. There is a bit of tedium in the initial chess game with each move being noted individually, but Irwin assures readers in her comments that A) it will be the only extended sequence like that in the story and B) "You can pretty safely skip all the technical moves and just pay attention to the characters' reactions -- you won't lose much if you do."

Generally, the danger in creating a story like this is that the author can get wrapped up in the minutia of actual events and barter good storytelling for historical accuracy. I don't think that will be a problem here, though, as Irwin has noted on a few occasions already that she's taken some artistic license for the sake of readability. Coupled with a fascinating prologue detailing a much later point in The Turk's life, I think it's pretty safe to assume that Irwin knows what it takes to spin a good yarn. And while she's CLEARLY done plenty of research to tell the story accurately, that doesn't seem to be over-riding her artistic sensibilities.

I've really enjoyed Clockwork Game so far, and I'm really looking forward to see how the story plays out. Even knowing something of the history and the ultimate ending of the contraption, I think Irwin's got a great handle on the tale and I'm anticipating watching it unfold in her hands.
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