Short Story Review: “Through the Ocular, Darkly” by Martin Clark

3 of 5 stars.

An alternate history rich with steampunk flavor enriches this character-establishing vignette. There is also a bit of plot with an ounce of tension. However, it is the protagonist that matters and where the tale leaves him. One gets the impression that this vignette provides the backstory for a character that we’ll see again.

Dr. Leon Prinz, European ex-pat to re-Christianized Constantinople, has just finished his commission to construct a neo-golem automaton. He accomplishes the task with steampunk flair by creating an assassin-ballerina powered by a flash-steam boiler–naturally.

His situation gets sticky when he’s volunteered under armed guard to figure out the workings to a large mysterious device that seems to be counting down to zero while also recording latitude, longitude, altitude and the date. He has about 20 hours to figure it out. The best guess is that it’s some sort of bomb with a radium core:

My hand quivered so. Rutherford-Curie generators were notoriously fickle, requiring near-constant adjustment by a team of expert technicians. Failure to adequately regulate the radium surges could prove catastrophic, as the world had learned to its cost. The complexity of an automated system which could accomplish such a task filled me with awe and dread in equal measure. Repairing to my study I took a pinch or two of cocaine, and, thus fortified, returned to the mental fray.

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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