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Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology Mass Market Paperback – September 30, 2008
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About the Author
Nick Gevers is a South African science fiction editor and critic, whose work has appeared in The Washington Post Book World, Interzone, Scifi.com, SF Site, The New York Review of Science Fiction and Nova Express. He writes two monthly review columns for Locus magazine, and is editor at the British independent press, PS Publishing; he also edits the quarterly genre fiction magazine, Postscripts.
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Personally, I wouldn't have labelled some of them "Steampunk" at all on first look as they were so subtly executed that the Steampunk elements were unobtrusive, while others featured bog-standard outrageous Steampunk tropes tangled in stories of exquisite cleverness.
Yes, folks, the Steampunk trappings aren't the point in most of these, rather what the Steampunk trappings mean to the people living with them (with the possible exception of one story in which the point-of-view character *is* what would usually be a Steampunk trapping).
I am, however, a life-long SF short story consuming reader of some fiftymumble years and I found a number of the offerings between these covers startling or refreshing, and all of them were entertaining.
Did I need to suspend my disbelief just a bit more precariously than I care to usually? Yes, very much so in one case. Was it worth the trouble? Always.
All the stories are excellent, and make me wish I was back in my native England so I could easily find these fine authors on bookshop shelves. I can't recommend them highly enough.
Buy and read this book if you can find a copy.
Truth is, that the stories, being short, have no meat on the bones, and no time to develop anything. it is basically authors going, 5000 words and gears? Got it.
It felt like most of these were written over the weekend to make it into the anthology, and did not have the feel that it was a story of passion for the writers.
As I said, a few were good, but most were a disappointment, and I fell into the trap of the public on this one.
I mean, it's easy for the steampunk label to become simply goggles, brass lamps, a zeppelin in the background, and Edwardian lingerie. And maybe that's what folks are looking for, but the best of science fiction truly merits the title speculative fiction. Not all of the pieces are excellent, but that's also par for a themed collection. You get a feel for the writing of a batch of authors and can pursue their individual works if you're interested.
`Engines' contains 13 Steampunk and steam-fantasy entries; the authors are all well-published. Some, such as Ian MacLeod and Jay Lake, also are contributors to the VanderMeer's book.
The best stories are:
`Machine Maid', by Margo Lanagan, is at once amusing, and quietly vicious. The nameless first person narrator is a newlywed prim Victorian housewife, who joins her husband at his ranch in the Australian Outback. She discovers (to her shock and dismay) that the house's resident robotic maid `Clarissa' has been programmed to perform...rather Unique duties. Her loathing for her husband is redoubled, and this may have consequences for Clarissa's new domestic chores...
`Hannah', by Keith Brooke, provides a gaslight-inspired mix of murder mystery and horror. At the scene of a murder, a scientist embarks on a nascent Victorian version of C.S.I. by conducting forensic examinations on traces of blood and tissue. Will his findings bring him closer to the identity of the murderer, or will they tell him more than he wants to know about the identity of the victim ? Featuring some surprising plot twists and an offbeat ending, this is a gem of a Steampunk tale.
`Petrolpunk', by Adam Roberts, takes alternate worlds, eccentric Victorian regents, and conspiracies centered on oil, and churns them into an engaging story with a healthy leavening of humor.
Jay Lake's `The Lollygang Save the World on Accident' borrows a tried and true SF trope from John Crowley's 1975 novel `The Deep': a race of humans is ensconced in an enormous iron tube, the `Big Pipe', a mile in width and stuffed with all manner of decks, alcoves, speaking-tubes, and mysterious passageways. Much like Crowley's world, The Big Pipe, constructed ages ago by a race of Builders so advanced as to seem God-like, is suspended in a formless Void. The urchin Per is member of the Lollygang, one of many gangs infesting the lower levels of the Big Pipe. When he grows mistrustful of a technology left over by the Pipe's Builders, the rest of the gang are displeased, and that means trouble for Per...
Some of the other stories in `Extraordinary Engines' stay true to the Steampunk ethos; James Lovegrove's `Steampunch', MacLeod's `Elementals', Robert Reed's `American Cheetah', and Kage Baker's `Speed, Speed the Cable' are all worked around themes that devotees of the genre will find familiar and well-placed.
For me, the other entries in the anthology are less Steampunk and more `magic realism' or steam-fantasy. `Static' by Marly Youmans, `Fixing Hanover' by Jeff VanderMeer, and `The Dream of Reason' by Jeffrey Ford, are all prettily-written tales that sacrifice narrative momentum for atmosphere and a more poetic style of writing. The denouements of these stories are restrained, and as a consequence they seem rather insipid compared to the other entries in `Engines'.
All in all, `Engines' is a worthwhile collection for Steampunk fans and editor Gevers demonstrates he knows his stuff.
It's the first book I've read under the Solaris label, a new SF and fantasy imprint from the UK publisher The Black Library. US readers may recognize The Black Library as the very successful producer of the `Warhammer 40,000' novels that take up significant shelf space in the SF sections of many bookstores. With the considerable financial coffers of the Warhammer franchise providing needed financial underpinning, Solaris looks to be a real player in the SF publishing field, and I think SF fans will want to keep an eye out for this imprint, as well as other anthologies helmed by Nick Gevers.