This is my second large dollop of steampunk in recent weeks, having polished off ‘The Mammoth Book Of Steampunk’ in short order. I’m optimistic about this volume, simply due to the addition of the word ‘Adventures’. I like steampunk but I find many of the stories in anthologies I’ve read are more fantasy or romance stories than the Science Fiction or adventure-type steampunk that I particularly enjoy. It’s another 500 pages and twenty-five stories, including several by authors I’m already familiar with. It should be enough to keep any steampunk fan happy.
Although Tobias S. Buckell’s ‘Love Comes To Abyssal City’ sound like it might by a romance, it’s actually much more of an adventure. In the eponymous city, advanced technology has been eschewed in favour of steam power and clockwork for reasons unclear to the inhabitants. On the eve of her betrothal to her perfect match, as computed by punch card, Tia is assigned to meet an incoming train and escort its passengers. With her eyes opened to other possibilities, we follow Tia as she fights her own doubts and compunctions on a journey that allows us to marvel at the complex and enclosed world Buckell has created.
The next two stories share certain similarities: clockwork creatures that may or may not have a life of their own, characters tinkering away in virtual captivity. Cherie Priest’s ‘Tanglefoot’ is set in her marvellous ‘Clockwork Century’ alternative American civil war setting, while A.C. Wise takes us to a Nazi-era ghetto for ‘A Mouse Ran Up The Clock’. Both stories give us detailed and sympathetic characters, moral ambiguity and slowly-built tension, both leading to conclusions from which several parallels can be drawn.
‘Five Hundred And Ninety-Nine’ by Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a marvellous post-apocalyptic kind of tale where technology has failed and rather more esoteric means have been found to provide power. Not steam, though. I didn’t really see much of a steampunk connection in this story, but its Thai setting and fanciful technology make it very enjoyable.
Jonathan Wood’s ‘Anna In The Moonlight’ is a powerful tale set in what at first appears to be WW1, but is soon revealed to be a war between man and mutants with steam-powered machines and realistically futile reasons. Young Frank’s journey into the horrors of war and then redemption is vivid and captivating but I couldn’t help feeling that the interjections to explain the war were unnecessary and detracting.
Catherine Tobler gives us ‘Green-Eyed Monsters In The Valley Of Sky, An Opera’, a wonderfully inventive story of South American opera, dinosaurs, automata, dinosaur automata, floating theatres and moustaches. It was great fun with the adventurous and yet down-to-earth Muriel, who also appeared in ‘The Mammoth Book Of Steampunk’ making a fine and totally believable narrator.
Of course, I do like Gord Sellar’s ‘The Clockworks Of Hanyang’, which originally appeared in ‘The Immersion Book Of Steampunk’ edited by my very own self. This just goes to prove that editor Sean Wallace has very good taste. Likewise, Aliette de Bodard’s Aztec story ‘Memories In Bronze, Feathers And Blood’ was first reprinted in that same fine anthology. These two add to the multitudinous variety of settings in both time and space that the stories in this volume inhabit, showcasing the diversity to which steampunk is now attaining.
It’s interesting that historical accuracy is important in steampunk. After all, the author is changing history, but to make this story plausible, the details that haven’t been changed need to stay realistic. Take, for example, ‘On The Lot And In The Air’ by Lisa L. Hannett. It’s a fun story of carnival life, inhabited by automata and sentient animals written in a poetic style, but the currency isn’t right. Two guineas for the entrance fee is a massive amount. And pennies weren’t called pence in pre-decimal times and they didn’t have five pence pieces. Admittedly, it’s an odd thing for me to think unrealistic among the talking animals and mechanical men, but there we are.
Unchrononlogical snippets of the life of the ‘Ticktock Girl’ build up to a powerful tale of self-determination, morality and destiny in Cat Rambo’s contribution to the anthology. It’s a relatively short story but, in the kind of non-standard format I enjoy, it was a real highlight for me.
Steampunk veteran K.W. Jeter gives us ‘La Valse’ in which a steam-powered orchestra provides entertainment for the aristocrats whilst lesser mortals labour at the mechanics and other more arduous tasks. It’s the kind of story where you can see where it’s probably going and you’re rooting for the hero because you just want those rich spoilt brats to get their just desserts. It’s excellently written, too.
The final one I’ll mention out of the numerous tales collected together is Margaret Ronald’s epistolic ‘The Governess And The Lobster’, the fabulous tale of a governess sent to teach a family of recalcitrant orphans who finds herself in a strange society of mechanical creatures and outlandish customs. It’s a very touching account as she struggles with her assignment, full of amusing anecdotes and pithy replies from the matron of the school who sent her.
There are several other stories, of course, and as a whole the sense of adventure comes across much more strongly than in the original ‘Mammoth Book Of Steampunk’, meaning that I enjoyed far more of the stories over all. It’s a great volume to feed your steampunk addiction or introduce you to a wide variety of authors and styles.
Gareth D. Jones
(pub: Constable Robinson, 2014. 518 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4721-1051-9)
check out website: www.constablerobinson.com