[personal profile] grimsqueaker
Steampunch by James Lovegrove
This is a fun story, with a nice punch left to the very last page – really well done. Pathos and interesting elements combine to create a tale that is very Victorian in flavour and in all its elements, drawing on passions of the time and the facts of reality in London. It also is reminiscent, in some ways, of Dickens without the dryness or length; and the first-person narration gives it a good, forceful character. A strong opening story.

by Marly Youmans
An interesting whodunit set in a sort of alternate-world which has a different climate and history. Perhaps not massively steampunk, it’s got elements of the genre. Characterisations aren’t terribly subtle here – Youmans hasn’t really gone beyond the basics of good/evil – and there’s a certain Pullman element, in some nebulous way, to the whole story. Not brilliant, sadly.

Speed, Speed the Cable by Kage Baker
An interesting story, with a combination steampunk/science-fiction setting; Victorian London, we’re seeing a trans-Atlantic cable funded by a secret group of philanthropists opposed by, essentially, semi-Luddites. A well-written tale with elements of thriller about it, the story’s paced fast and keeps itself moving with strong characters, each individual, and with a plot that is interesting and unexpected. Great stuff.

Elementals by Ian R. MacLeod
How far this story is classifiable as steampunk is perhaps an open question. Whilst making use of Victoriana – and indeed Victorian London – MacLeod is also using a strong fantasy element in the story, in amongst the contraptions. As a story it’s good, with perhaps a more obvious plot than it could be, but well-written with strong interesting characters. Good work.

Machine Maid by Margo Lanagan
This is an interesting story. American-set, it’s got a very different feel to the stories set in England; far cruder, far more sexual, it’s on the seedier side of life whilst still focused on the semi-nobility. It’s an interesting story, with some nice developments, but so much of it’s just slow and failing to add much except raciness. I’m not a great fan.

Lady Witherspoon’s Solution by James Morrow
I suspect Morrow’s concept would work better without the Nietzschean philosophy and the misandry (not all men are evil, and not even the most radical feminists believe we are… implying otherwise really does hurt the cause of feminism and of rational debate!). Minus those elements, however, it’s junk science, flawed ideas of evolution, strange concepts about progress, and an odd first-person style that really doesn’t differentiate between characters despite their supposed differences. A seriously problematic tale, and a duff note.

Hannah by Keith Brooke
This is a sort of Frankenstein-style short story, with the gothic horror and the strangeness incorporated; it also includes a Holmes-like mystery element, although that’s played down towards the end. Not the most steampunk of tales, and tied into modern science pretty strongly, it does have a nice Victorian setting in London, drawn well and with a high fidelity to realism. The good setting’s let down by the story itself, though – mediocre, perhaps.

Petrolpunk by Adam Roberts
This is an interesting story, relatively well written. More designed as a comedy than anything, and only tangentially steampunk, it’s a sort of thrilling adventure-fantasy with added weirdness and perhaps a touch of David Icke conspiracy lunacy. The self-inserts are annoying rather than beneficial, and elements of the story are simply bland or badly written. In the end, disappointing.

American Cheetah by Robert Reed
Steampunk Abe Lincoln – yes, that’s right, this takes one of the ultimate popular images of Lincoln and uses it in a short story. The concepts behind the story – identity and personality – are used well, and the history is incorporated excellently into the fiction; characterisations are tentative but well-written based on common beliefs about the people involved, and all in all, this is a really good read.

Fixing Hanover by Jeff VanderMeer
This story slowly builds to its conclusion - a man bringing himself down by his own cleverness - and it reveals, again slowly, the fictional steampunk world of its setting and the identity of its main character. VanderMeer's strengths as a short-story author are on show here, as everything adds to the tale, the disjointed timeline, the speed building up over the course of the tale; a great piece, well-written and well done.

The Lollygang Save the World on Accident by Jay Lake
This story's got the punk as well as the steam of steampunk, though its nothing like the general Victorian milieu of the standard steampunk genre. Its strengths are its characterisation and its plot, which reads well and is rather amusing; the writing style also works decently, with diversions and mannerisms that aren't to my knowledge in use in the world of today. However, the long expository sections are problematic and slow, and would be better off re-written slightly to better incorporate them into the story, I think... a little bit of a let down from such a good steampunk writer as Lake.

The Dream of Reason by Jeffrey Ford
This story's an odd one; not so much steampunk, really, but not not-steampunk.  It's a sort of anti-science, Enlightenment tale that would work better if Ford better understood scientific process; equally, some of the moments in it are rather strange.  On the other hand, the joke at the end of the story's reasonably amusing, and it's a fun piece of character-development; on that front it works very well.

Nick Gevers' anthology is a sort of companion to the VanderMeer's Steampunk anthology.  However, the original fiction it comprises of is variable in quality - some really good, some mediocre, and a couple of really duff notes.  Overall, then, not the best steampunk anthology, but it does showcase a wide variety of pieces and authors as well as a wide variety of understandings of the genre.


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February 2012

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