This article is also available in: Italiano
“The Peace Machine” by Özgür Mumcu is the first Ottoman steampunk novel, an absolutely new genre but which, potentially, is destined to become one of the most popular in the Middle East
The peace machine
What if a machine could end violence in the world once and for all? It is the dawn of the twentieth century and humanity is on the brink of war. Conflict seems inevitable, but modern discoveries on electromagnetism suggest unexpected prospects. Celal, a young writer of erotic novels, discovers the existence of the peace machine thanks to a comedy written by Sahir Bey, an old friend of his father. Attracted by Sahir and the talented Céline, the illustrator of his controversial novels, in a complex and utterly absurd plan to overthrow incumbent governments and eliminate violence from the earth, Celal will travel between Istanbul, Paris and Belgrade as an officer Serbian and then a circus performer, only to find himself involved in the Serbian uprising of 1903. Does the peace machine really exist? Is it capable of delivering what Sahir and Céline promise? Amidst misunderstandings and shaky staging, as history becomes legend, Celal must decide which side to take sides in a race for power that threatens to destroy the world. Reality, science and fantasy are intertwined in a maze novel that embraces the reader, asks him to have faith in the impossible and to enjoy the journey.
The first steampunk-Ottoman novel
I have been intrigued by this novel since its very first appearance on the pages of Internazionale, in which it was presented with extreme enthusiasm in its English translation, bringing in my mind such a great hype that it prompted me to buy it as soon as it came out in Italian; the problem is that I did not fully understand its place in this new trend. Let me be clear: the novel reads well and is extremely pleasant in terms of location, writing and history; the error here is absolutely linked to my perception and to a lack of sensitivity to the term “first”. In “The Peace Machine”, in fact, steampunk elements exist and are well present, but they are single elements, although essential, it is not a narrative universe.
The steampunk style is inspired by the Victorian era and its technology linked above all to steam, “steam”, and mechanics, often taking it to an era closer to the present and / or even to the future; to give perhaps a more immediate example, Disney’s “Treasure Planet” is the steampunk version of Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. Returning to the novel, in this text it is the Peace Machine and most of Celal and Sahir Bey’s arguments to be steampunk, but the narrative universe, although very interesting, does not de facto bring other elements of the genre. This means that the novel is identifiable as a real milestone and that the potential for the future is endless and exciting.
An extraordinary combination
Due to its characteristic atmospheres, steampunk is undoubtedly one of the styles that most of all would adapt to the Ottoman Empire, giving it, in a certain sense, that technological progress that history has not given it, thus opening the doors to the imagination more varied and pure. Observing the riots of the Janissaries, for example, it would be impossible not to imagine replacing them with similar and similar automata in everything, thus re-proposing a similar and similar story to the real one but which fits perfectly with that cultural and narrative universe. One of my obsessions, then, are the coffee houses, places where steam was already the undisputed protagonist and which, with some steampunk additions, could really represent something as harmonious as ever.
Moving a little from the Istanbul context, there are areas already filled with magic that would find here a new and extraordinary imaginative lifeblood. Just think of areas such as Iraq, where the use of oil could be contrasted with that of coal, or rural areas rich in different peoples such as the Caucasus, on which quite little has been done and where one could really indulge oneself. . Moving on to the European part of the Empire, it would be absurd not to imagine (as happens in the book) at least one stage in Serbia, Bosnia and Albania, places full of tradition and culture, able to provide even the same steampunk genre with sensational outlets and variants. and never seen before. Summing up, Özgür Mumcu’s “The Peace Machine” was certainly a great starting point, but now it would be madness not to dare more and create something that many are waiting with so much anxiety and curiosity.
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