Jess Nevin s introduction clarifies Steampunk s development as a punk reaction to the science forward, lone inventor stories littering dime novels and later influences, and the original use of the Victorian era as a one step removed stand in for the modern day, for the purposes of social commentary Like with the Cyberpunk movement, Nevin asserts that his social commentary has been consumed by the trappings, in this case the Victoriana of brass goggles and, for some reason, impractical airships This collection shows the breadth of possibilities, not all of which fall into the conventional Exquisite Corpse of alt history Victorian Era, but Stephenson s Excerpt , set in his Diamond Age, features technologies of the highest sort, but the New Atlanteans affect Victorian styles and modes of behavior for their own purposes Chapman s astonishing Minutes of the Last Meeting , off balance and paradoxical, is set in Tsarist Russia 1917, but the non Russian world unaccountably possesses nanotechnology The Giving Mouth is alt history but deeply, weirdly so, and I want to read The Light Ages The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider is a weird amalgamation of broken time space that emulates the episodic dime novel but vulgar and graphic, a young adult adventure ripped inside out and graphically violated Jay Lake s Dark Town stories, which includes The God Clown is Near , is sadly uncollected.
I keep thinking of Ted Chiang s Seventy two Letters , which replaces pretty much the entirety of physical science with a combination of alchemy, preformationism, and Hebrew Shemhamphorasch view spoiler I m going with about five minutes of Google and Wikipedia for reference, here Bear with me Essentially a 72 character name used within golem or amulets hide spoiler Steampunk is an anthology of, well, Steampunk stories, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer If you hurry, you can still get to this first anthology before the second one, Steampunk II Steampunk Reloaded, appears in mid November Based on the quality of the stories in this collection, I heartily recommend checking it out, especially if you ve been a bit bemused or possibly amused by all the people wearing odd Victorian costumes at SFF conventions nowadays, or if you have at best a vague idea of what Steampunk exactly entails If you re one of those people who s interested in, but not entirely sure about, the new hot subgenre du jour like me, prior to reading Steampunk , this anthology is here to take you by the hand and give you a quick, entertaining education And oh, it also contains some truly excellent short stories.
After the preface by editors Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, Steampunk starts off with an excellent essay by Jess Nevins about the origins and history of Steampunk, including interesting details about the American Edisonades, references to other predecessors such as H.
G Wells and Jules Verne and to proto Steampunk like Michael Moorcock s The Warlord of the Air, an excerpt of which is used as the Benediction for the anthology Most interestingly, the essay gives a partial explanation for the punk suffix Steampunk, like all good punk, rebels against the system it portrays Victorian London or something quite like it , critiquing its treatment of the underclass, its validation of the privileged at the cost of everyone else, its lack of mercy, its cutthroat capitalism Like the punks, Steampunk rarely offers a solution to the problems it decries for Steampunk, there is no solution but for both punk and Steampunk the criticism must be made before the change can come Nevins then goes on to explain that this may only apply to first generation Steampunk, and that the politics have mostly disappeared from the current wave which might explain why some have complained that there isn t anything punk about Steampunk and that it s about mannerisms and nostalgia While that may apply to much of the recent output in the subgenre, reading some of the older stories in this collection will definitely show that the punk part of the subgenre s name wasn t just put there to make it sound like cyberpunk.
Be all of that as it may, after you re done with all the scholarly debate, Steampunk is like any other genre or subgenre or whatever you want to call it some of it is seminal, some of it is excellent, some it is derivative but still good, and some of it is just people hitching their wagon to the latest fad Whether you like Steampunk or not, it s hard to argue with the fact that The Vandermeers have done an outstanding job with this collection most of these stories are simply excellent pieces of short form speculative fiction.
The anthology starts off with a bang with Lord Kelvin s Machine by James P Blaylock, a wild and surreal story that displays Steampunk working on the grandest of scales It s entertaining, wild and a bit silly and a great way to kick off the collection The Giving Mouth by Ian R MacLeod, slows things down considerably I enjoyed and admired the author s Steampunk ish novels The Light Ages and The House of Storms ish because they re set in a version of Victorian England in which the economy is powered by magic rather than steam This story is set in a different universe but shares the same melancholy atmosphere However, it doesn t work as well here and feels a bit out of place.
The collection then picks up steam sorry with the wonderful A Sun in the Attic by Mary Gentle, set in a matriarchal alternate universe that vaguely resembles the Victorian era This little gem is one of those stories that make you wish for material set in the same world.
Jay Lake s The God Clown is Near is the first story in the anthology working on the Golem myth It s a fun, dark, surreal story that, as I ve come to expect from this author, is simply delightful.
Things get much darker with Joe R Lansdale s The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down A DIME NOVEL, which puts a brusque twist on the Traveler from H.
G Wells The Time Machine This story is dark and violent, full of rape and torture, and while its concept is unique, it may be a bit much for some readers The Selene Gardening Society by Molly Brown also builds on a Steampunk predecessor this time From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne but in a much whimsical and funny way.
Next up is Ted Chiang s Seventy Two Letters, which picks up the golem theme again and ties in a few other ideas, resulting in a memorable story not that you d expect anything less from Ted Chiang.
Michael Chabon s The Martian Agent features some of the most gorgeous prose in the anthology, and thanks to its title, feels like the first chapter in a larger tale Reading this story bumped the author much closer to the top of my endless must read by list.
Paul Di Filippo s Victoria is one of the funniest and most inventive stories in the collection, featuring newt based human life and a hilarious uber villain This irreverent story which manages to call the entire royal succession into question is so over the top that it s sure to make you grin a few times.
The biggest surprise for me was Reflected Light by Rachel E Pollock, an elegant and intricate short tale that implies much than it states outright and almost begs to be reread This story about illegal underground manufacturing hints at upcoming social changes in a fascinating society that hopefully will host stories It also displays the political side of Steampunk in a very succinct way.
Another surprise is Stepan Chapman s Minutes of the Last Meeting , set in Tzarist Russia This brilliant story switches viewpoints frequently and somehow manages to introduce a new mind bending layer of innovation every time, right up to the stunning ending.
Last but not least, the editors throw in a treat a short story by Neal Stephenson set in the same universe as his post cyberpunk neo Victorian novel The Diamond Age Calling this Steampunk is probably a bit of a stretch, but who cares it s a fun read that also reminds you, again, how unique Stephenson is as an author.
Closing out the collection are two non fiction pieces, including a look at Steampunk in pop culture at large by Geek Curmudgeon Rick Claw, and a look at Steampunk in the comic book medium by Bill Baker.
Unless you like your speculative fiction sans airships and steam engines, check out this excellent Steampunk anthology In addition to offering a quick shot education in the history and development of the genre, it also contains some truly excellent short fiction Recommended This review was also published on 11 11 2010 at www.
com This is my first foray into the genre, and after the first three stories I can call it a moderate success I ve entertained a somewhat romanticized idea of what Steampunk should be since first becoming aware of it, and while quite different from each other, these stories haven t strayed too far afield from that idea.
Update retraction The above has to be one of the most fluffy, pointless and banal sentences I ve written since high school It takes up space, yet says nothing I apologize to any who have suffered because of its existence I d blame drugs, but other than my long time love affair with rum a competition level sangria habit, I haven t done any lately.
This anthology was just what I wanted for summer reading Now I probably should preface this by saying I have never read any Verne or Wells, so perhaps there were references to past stories and characters of which I was am unaware.
I found The Selene Gardening Society by Molly Brown delightful The Giving Mouth by Ian R MacLeod was riveting but the end was a thrown together disappointment Victoria by Paul Di Filippo was probably my favourite Reflected Light Rachel E Pollack was intriging and made me want to read of her vision of the society she created The Steam Man of the Prairie Joe R Lansdale I have never read a dime novel but this story made me simultaneously laugh and cringe at the same time and because I have seen two versions of The Time Machine , characters were a bit familiar though I don t think Lansdale had to explain so much Lansdale seems very pleased with his audacity and is laughing along with us I can picture it Seventy Two Letters by Ted Chiang was another of my favourites And The Sun in the Attic by Mary Gentle was another little delight.
Although not all the stories would be awarded 4 stars, I m giving this anthology 4 because I m truly glad I was exposed to some of these stories and writers.
Oh and I topped it off by watching the movie Steamboy yesterday Now where are my goggles I m hoping to incorporate literary Steampunk into my next book, and this book has been quite helpful in that regard.
Very disappointed to discover that Joe Lansdale s story was one of the clunkers.
Victoria was fun and walked a fine line between amusing adventure and satire, the Selene Gardening society was a great mini sequel to the Jules Verne novel, the first story had a decent adventerous feel to it and the one featuring the woman with two husbands created an interesting alternate world.
Racheal Pollack s fell pretty flat The one set in Russia had some interesting ideas, but was a dreary read and jumped around too much.
Liked the historical notes and suggestions for other Steampunk reads.
The VanderMeers have assembled a fine anthology It surveys the Steampunk world through multiple approaches, genres, and voices Short stories work through alternate history, American tall tale, mad science satire, Victorian labor politics, detective story, and New Weird, ranging tonally from whimsy to melancholy and horror.
Let me note a few standouts.
Mary Gentle s A Sun in the Attic offers splendidly economical world building without sacrificing characterization and story arc It sets up an intriguingly alternative gender politics, then upends its semi medieval setting with a lunge towards technology critique all in under 19 pages.
James Blaylock s Lord Kelvin s Machine takes me back to the 1980s, when I first encountered this writer and his friends, Tim Powers and KW Jeter, the latter who coined the Steampunk term Machine has all the signature Blaylock traits gentle whimsy, a love of food, improbable science, and an ambling plot.
Rachel Pollock s Reflected Light casts itself as a historical document, transcribed wax cylinder recordings of a worker talking about her friend and activists It s fragmentary, allusive, and nearly heartbreaking.
Joe Lansdale s Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider is a crazed remix of The Time Machine, 19th century steam robot stories, the American tall tale tradition, flying saucers, Dracula, and a looping space shuttle plot It s quite disgusting and funny.
Ted Chiang s Seventy Two Letters offers a welcome Steampunk turn to labor, using golems to get at a left politics all too often absent from this subgenre.
Paul Di Filippo s Victoria is a slightly insane riff on the Steampunk monarch, working in newts a la Capek , sex obsessions, and mad science.
Stepan Chapman s Minutes of the Last Meeting takes us away from the English speaking world, imagining an alternative Russian empire Michael Chabon s The Martian Agent is a full tilt adventure, a boy s own ripping yarn set in an alternate, British dominated former America Huge sentences string together leaps of time and description, always thundering forward Naturally it leaves us wanting.
So why Steampunk This collection gives us some clues.
First, it s a playground for alternate history Like Gibson and Sterling s Difference Engine, these stories often assume a nineteenth century past tweaked or otherwise strongly marked by scientific and technological advances Like alternative WWIIs, Steampunk provides the prebuilt concept, which authors can dive into.
Second, the Victorian period is at a fine remove It s far away enough that mocking or using it risks offending nobody, but close enough that the cultural resonances still work.
Third, building on the second, Steampunk s authors can poke at contemporary issues through that not so distant mirror Unlike other Steampunk works, this collection doesn t obsess over style We get enough description of goggles, brass, long dresses, dirigibles, etc to make the point, but without taking over tales The anthology complements Steampunk clothes makers.
Also different is the way these authors don t seem to be fleeing from their present Their imagined alt.
pasts are not refuges from the past couple of decades.
I haven t mentioned the collection s nonfiction essays, which are generally serviceable Kudos for celebrating Luther Awkwright One useful thought comes from Jess Nevin s introduction The Edisonade is American Steampunk, though written by writers of many nationalities, is English 9 I m enjoying rethinking Steampunk through that lens.
Overall, a solid collection for the topic, well worth reading for anyone with a Steampunk interest.
I don t want to discourage others from reading this book It was hit and miss, but that s just how anthologies are In my case there was a little too much miss, and I ve lost all enthusiasm for finishing the thing Some of the stories, like Ted Chiang s Seventy Two Letters, I loved, and some, like The Martian Agent and Sun in the Attic, I liked quite a bit, but others were boring and one the worst was painful to finish The latter being The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider, which was gratuitously and extremely crude, in addition to containing a rather unwelcome take on one of my favorite books.
I d recommend at least borrowing this from the library, as there are several good stories to be had.