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Steampunk Paperback – May 1, 2008

3.6 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Steampunk Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The VanderMeers (The New Weird) have assembled another outstanding theme anthology, this one featuring stories set in alternate Victorian eras. Michael Moorcock, the godfather of steampunk, is represented by an excerpt from his classic novel The Warlord of the Air. In Lord Kelvin's Machine, a fine tale from prolific steampunk author James P. Blaylock, mad scientists plot to throw the Earth into the path of a passing comet, declaring that science will save us this time, gentlemen, if it doesn't kill us first. Michael Chabon's vivid and moving The Martian Agent, a Planetary Romance recounts the lives of two young brothers in the aftermath of George Custer's mutiny against Queen Victoria, while historical fantasist Mary Gentle describes a classic struggle between safety and progress in A Sun in the Attic. This is a superb introduction to one of the most popular and inventive subgenres in science fiction. (June)
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From Booklist

The VanderMeers, ardent steampunkers themselves, historically sample that fantasy genre, in which the Victorian era is reimagined to include Martian technology, steam-powered robots, airships, alchemy, and various anachronistic technologies. First, an excerpt from Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air (1971), considered the first fruit of the movement, though its real origins can be traced back to the work of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells and, according to Jess Nevins’ introduction, to the dime-novel Edisonades of the late nineteenth century. Steampunk wasn’t considered a genre until the 1980s and early 1990s, when such innovators as Tim Powers, James Blaylock, Paul Di Filippo, and Joe R. Lansdale began writing stories in this vein, some of which are included here. A standout is Ted Chiang’s “Seventy-Two Letters,” in which the theory of preformation and homunculi as well as the biblically inspired figure of the golem are real science. Others, by mainstream-recognized authors, are Michael Chabon’s “The Martian Agent” and Neal Stephenson’s “Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast.” --Ben Segedin

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 373 pages
  • Publisher: Tachyon Publications; 1st edition (May 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1892391759
  • ISBN-13: 978-1892391759
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
For those who aren't familiar with steampunk, it's sort of hard to define. I would loosely describe it as people running around a retro-futuristic, usually Victorian society employing improbable weapons and machinery powered by steam and clockwork. The back cover claims "Steampunk is Victorian elegance and modern technology: steam-driven robots, souped-up stagecoaches, and space-faring dirigibles fueled by gaslight romance, mad scientists, and very trim waistcoats," which does give a pretty good idea of the sort of things you're likely to find in the anthology. To break it down:

Introduction: The 19th Century Roots of Steampunk (Jess Nevins) - This essay covered a lot of things regarding steampunk's relationship with and reaction against dime novels that I hadn't heard before, making several of the stories in the anthology make a lot more sense. I think most of Nevins's arguments primarily apply to steampunk literature and don't necessarily cover its other aspects, but it's very interesting and useful information.

Benediction: Excerpt from The Warlord of the Air (Michael Moorcock) - I don't really approve of including excerpts from novels in an anthology, using the reasoning that if I've just bought a book, I would rather have an entire story than an extended advertisement for another book. This is a good introduction to the steampunk feel, though, as it's basically one extended airship battle.

Lord Kelvin's Machine (James P. Blaylock) - This is one of those that is helped by the explanations in Nevins's essay; it's heavily based on the dime novel tradition, although with a wink and a nod. An inventor must use his ingenuity to save the world both from a villain and from his well-meaning but foolish compatriots in the face of a deadly comet.
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Format: Paperback
Every anthology tends to offer some hits and misses in terms of story selection, and `Steampunk' is no different. Along with three essays on the genre, the book provides 13 tales dealing with "Victorian elegance and modern technology". With the exception of an excerpt from Michael Moorcock's "The Warlord of the Air", all entries have previously appeared in print within the past 25 years.

Reviewer `Redon' gives a good overview of the book's contents. I'll just add my thoughts on some of the material:

For the essays, Jess Nevins provides a concise history of steampunk in literature, focusing on the role of the "Edisonade" genre of 19th century dime novels in setting the major themes and tropes of the genre. Rick Klaw's essay deals with steampunk in television and film, and Bill Baker provides a history of steampunk comics and graphic novels.

My selections for the best stories in the book, with capsule summaries:

"The Giving Mouth" by Ian R. McLeod: more steam-fantasy than steampunk, McLeod's story takes a page from Michael Swanwick's seminal novel the "Iron Dragon's Daughter" and juxtaposes slag heaps, industrial decay, and magic in a coming -of-age tale with a melancholy, but effective, tone.

"The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider" by Joe R. Lansdale: mixing steampunk with splatterpunk, Lansdale relates a violent encounter between the steam-driven robot from the popular 19th century boy's novels, and H. G. Wells's time traveler, made mutated and vampiric by too much travel in the 4th dimension. Readers will be laughing out loud at one paragraph, and squirming at the next.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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