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Happy Bookday to Me: THE MECHANICAL

March 11, 2015 at 12:46 am

Well, gosh.  It's been a while coming, but today I finally get to say, "Congratulations, you plucky little manuscript.  Today you become a real book!"

Today marks the US publication of THE MECHANICAL, the first volume in my new Alchemy Wars trilogy.  Thursday will mark the UK publication.

THE MECHANICAL, and in fact the entire Alchemy Wars trilogy, grew out of a short story that I dashed off for the Human For a Day anthology several years ago.  When editor Jenn Brozek was pulling her team of writers together, she asked us to throw our hats into the ring for particular concepts or settings, to ensure the anthology would cover a variety of approaches to the concept.  I'd been noodling with a very vague concept for a story about a mechanical man, so I called dibs on the clockpunk slot. 

The world of the story was a blank slate.  I needed a toehold, something that would orient me in this imaginary setting.  I needed names and language.  I needed slang.  If I knew what the mechanical men of this world were called —both the official term for them, and how people referred to them informally—then I'd have a starting point. 

A clockpunk robot would be a cacophonous thing, a source of endless tocking, ticking, clicking, clanking, clattering, buzzing, rattling, and creaking.  It seemed reasonable that the slang term for these beings would be onomatopoeic in nature.  So I started doodling at the keyboard.  Literally just typing words at random to see if anything clicked (heh) with me.  Tockers?  Clickers?  Clacks?  Clackers?  Clakkers?


And just like that, the entire backstory of a fictional world poured into my head faster than I could write it down.  A 20th century world where The Netherlands are the sole global superpower.   A world where, centuries earlier, the Dutch astronomer/lens grinder/pendulum clock inventor Christiaan Huygens had stolen the alchemical notebooks of his contemporary, Isaac Newton.  A world where the marriage of clockmaking and dark alchemy gave rise to walking, talking, thinking mechanical beings made of brass and glass.  A world where the Dutch never relinquished their colonies in North America, where New York has ever been called New Amsterdam.

I wrote the anthology story fully aware that the world was far too big for a single story.  I knew right away it was large enough to support a novel.  It practically demanded its own novel.  Or so I thought.

Much later, as I was finishing Something More Than Night, my agents asked me for thoughts on my next project.  I sent them a description of the Clakkers world and a brief rundown of a novel in that setting.  And off they went.  But when the great folks at Orbit heard the idea, they immediately recognized something that I hadn't.  The idea was still too big: a single book wouldn't cut it.  So they suggested that instead we make the project a trilogy.  I, of course, said yes.

And I'm glad I did.  Because once I had the freedom (and, in a sense, a mandate) to fully explore the world of the Clakkers and their makers, the full scope of the idea became… daunting.  THE MECHANICAL and its sequels has involved the most challenging world building of any of my projects, even Something More Than Night.  In the Milkweed books, the break with our history took place within the 20th century—relatively recently.  But in the Alchemy Wars series, the historical divergence takes place 250 years before the opening scene.  That's a lot of time for the world to change.  Plenty of time for it to morph into something strange and unrecognizable.

Conveniently for the backstory (if not for the Dutch at the time), the Netherlands were embroiled in a series of wars in the late 17th century.  So I deliberately set Huygens's invention of the Clakker in 1676—aka Het Wonderjaar: the Miracle Year—not long after the French king Louis XIV, a Catholic, invaded the largely Calvinist Protestant Netherlands, and roughly a dozen years before William of Orange brought the Glorious Revolution to England.  This ensured the very nature of the mechanical men would become a point of contentious religious and philosophical debate for centuries to come.  This was, after all, the Dutch Golden Age, a time of philosophers like Baruch Spinoza.

So my task was to try to envision 1926 in a world where the Dutch Golden Age had been going strong for 250 years, thanks to an army of magical clockpunk terminators.  A world where steam power is considered nothing but a parlor trick or folly, because after all it's so much easier to tell your immortal slave, "Hey, you, go turn that crank 24 hours per day 7 days per week for the next 99 years," than it is to, you know, invent a viable steam engine.

I'm deep into the third and final book of the Alchemy Wars trilogy right now, and my mind is still reeling at the implications.  Perhaps quailing might be more honest.  It's been a true challenge to build this world, to populate it with interesting characters, and to make their lives as difficult as possible.  But I've done my best.  If you choose to pick up the story, I hope you enjoy it.

Physical and electronic copies of THE MECHANICAL are now available from many fine booksellers thanks to the great folks at Orbit Books, and the audiobook is now available from my friends at Audible.  You can read an excerpt here.


Steven Halter March 10, 2015 at 10:06 am

Excellent! I have it on my Nook now and the hardcopy is supposed to be winging its way towards me. I've been looking forward to this for a long time.

(Also psyched at the Acknowledgements.) :-)

Ian March 10, 2015 at 10:26 am
I hope you enjoy it.  There are many people who would consider finding themselves listed in the acks for one of my books something considerably less than an honor...
Steven Halter March 10, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Hanging out with unsavory types like you and other writers and scientists seems to be my thing now. I should probably start wearing sunglasses at night.

Chris Meadows March 17, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Delighted to hear it's now out in general release!

Ian March 17, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Thanks, Chris!  I'm happy, too.  Hope you enjoy it!

Kate March 21, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Absolutely loved it, bloody brilliant! May I ask when the next one will be available please. 

Ian March 21, 2015 at 2:07 pm
Thanks, Kate!  So glad you enjoyed it.  I don't know the most up-to-date publication date for the sequel, but I can tell you it's already written and I'm about halfway through editorial revisions right now.  I expect to finish those soon, and it should move on to copyediting soon after that.
Fenrox April 11, 2015 at 5:41 am

Ugh, i just decided to check if you had done anything else i haven't read and found this wonderful book. Now i desperately need to read the other two. I lucked out to pick up your amazing milkweed after it was finished. I'll be vibrating here while you finish them...

Ian April 11, 2015 at 9:26 am
Well, gosh, thank you!  And thanks for the kind words about Milkweed, too.  I'm happy that you've enjoyed the books.

I know how you feel.  When I'm really enjoying a story, I hate having to wait for the next installment.  Been there many, many times.  So I consider it a true compliment if a reader has a similar experience waiting for my next book :-)
Denne Wesolowski April 16, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Excellent! I just spotted this and ordered a hard copy, and will read immediately upon receipt. Greatly enjoy your writing, Ian!

Ian April 16, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Thanks, Denne.  Much appreciated.  I hope you enjoy the new book -- thanks for picking it up.

Ricou April 18, 2015 at 6:27 am

I picked up a copy last week at the bookstore and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for the sequels! 

Ian April 18, 2015 at 8:43 am
Hey, you've just made my morning.  So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for taking a chance on my book.  I hope you enjoy the sequels.
Taryn May 4, 2015 at 10:35 am

I've nearly finished reading this monument and I can't wait for the next one. I started with Bitter Seeds and the Milkweed Triptych and I've had to wait for every one of your book releases. Rest assured that as soon as a date is posted for the next one, I will have it on preorder. 
I'd also like to offer some praise to your style of Jax's inner voice. It's so....human! I love it! The similarities between Jax and Andrew of Asimov's The Positronic Man are uncanny and it makes me love Jax even more.

Ian May 4, 2015 at 10:40 am

Thank you, Taryn!  I really appreciate that.  I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it.

I grew up reading Asimov's robot stories/books, so they were definitely an influence.  I hadn't consciously intended that when I started the project, but very quickly I ran up against the problem of how exactly the Clakkers' behavior is controlled and prioritized.  Trying to think that through put me in the shadow of the Three Laws almost immediately...

Anouk October 16, 2015 at 11:45 am

I heard about your book on the radio, and bought it right away... I loved it so much that I started reading it again, but better and slower this time, because I'm having a try at translating it so that fellow francophones might one day enjoy it too...

Ian October 16, 2015 at 12:39 pm

I'm so glad you enjoyed it!  Thanks so much.  I hope I didn't mangle the French *too* terribly.  (I studied Spanish as a foreign language, after realizing that French would be too difficult for me...)

Martin Studer December 7, 2015 at 2:10 am

I just closed the cover on 'the rising'. Extraordinary. 
I'm busy pushing The Mechanical onto my friends under the auspices of 'This guy knows his world-building'. It's a rare experience to be gripped by the characters, to be taken to that world so you may visualise it, and to know that all the characters are not just two-bit players, but each has their own faults. It makes them human, or (in the case of Jax/Daniel) 'human'. 
Already looking forward to the next one. 

Ian December 7, 2015 at 7:40 am
Wow, you read much much faster than I write ;-)  Thank you very much for the kind and encouraging words about the world of the Clakkers and the people who live there. It's been a very difficult and challenging series to write -- all along, the worldbuilding burden has felt like trying to do push-ups with my tongue.

I'm glad you're enjoying the series.  I'll do my best not to let you down with the conclusion to the trilogy... 
Noah December 8, 2016 at 6:19 pm
Loved the series! Wish the third was on the Camarillo Public Library Overdrive place, so I could check it out! I wish there were more books like this! Disappointed that there's no FanFictions on it though... so much potential! 😀
Ian December 8, 2016 at 7:01 pm

Thank you very much! I'm so glad you've enjoyed the series. I'm happy to hear it. Thanks for taking the time to let me know!

I hope to squeeze out some time (I don't know when, exactly, but 'some time') to write a short story or two in the Alchemy Wars universe.

Noah May 7, 2017 at 4:20 pm

That would be cool! 

Noah December 8, 2016 at 6:19 pm
Loved the series! Wish the third was on the Camarillo Public Library Overdrive place, so I could check it out! I wish there were more books like this! Disappointed that there's no FanFictions on it though... so much potential!
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