Editors: Kelly Link & Gavin Grant
Genre: steampunk, young adult, fantasy, romance
My Rating: ★★★★ (3.5 stars)
The steampunk genre snagged my interest when I realized it can pass as some kind of a magical blend between the past and the future. I really get a kick out of tales about Victorian retro-futurism. But to tell you the truth, I haven’t read tons of books in the genre, so the image I can concoct in my head is pretty run-of-the-mill: a world that basks perpetually on vintage vogue, mixed with loads of gears, clockworks, and cogwheels of steam-powered gadgetries. My latest exposure to steampunk is Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. I haven’t picked up the last book yet but it was good—too good that it made me want to pick up more works from the genre.
Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories is what I chose to satiate this lit-hunger. I didn’t expect much since I know that collections are always a mixed bag, but I’d say I really enjoyed this. The 14 tales here—written by a gamut of talented sci-fi authors—range from raunchy to majestic, from commonplace to dreamlike, and from droll to poignant. There are duds as expected, but there are a bunch that is nothing short of amazing, containing stories that continue to haunt me up to now (in a good way).
Libba Bray’s “The Last Ride of the Glory Girls” tops my list. The tale takes place in some Old Western town where a gang of girl robbers raids trains with the help of a time-freezing gun. Bray’s style made the whole story pop out of the pages; each phrase seemed to create an extra layer of atmosphere, and the narrator’s thick country accent made me feel as if a true-blue daughter of a wild-west colony is really relaying the story to me. Also hard to ignore are the glimpses about religious fanaticism there. If the whole thing doesn’t summon a busload of questions about beliefs, decisions, and life as a whole in the readers’ minds, I don’t know what does.
Cory Doctorow’s “Clockwork Fagin” also left a deep dent in my memory. It’s a Dickensian account about decapitated orphans and how they snatch authority from their ruthless benefactor. For some weird reason, I think the story has a very Burton-esque feel to it, in a Sweeney Todd kind of way. It has a lasting grimness, occasional morbid humor, and overall filthiness that are enmeshed together by good writing. When I reached the last page of the tale, I sort of wish that Doctorow expands it into something longer. I will definitely check out more of his works.
“Steam Girl” by Dylan Horrocks is also pretty memorable. It’s about a girl who may or may not be an inhabitant of another planet, churning out out-of-this-world stories (no pun intended) to her misfit friend. Aside from her quirky gadgets, she has this Reality Gun that stuns everyone when she pulls it out. The beauty is that the reader may feel like he’s taken a bullet from this incredible weapon—you would be left guessing which events are real and which are not.
Other stories that I loved include Christopher Rowe’s “Nowhere Fast,” a post-apocalyptic account where America has run out of oil; Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “Hand in Glove,” a quasi-detective story centering on a petulant femme constable and a rogue killing hand; “Seven Days Beset by Demons” by Shawn Cheng, a comic strip-style tale where a man commits all seven deadly sins when he falls in love; Cassandra Clare’s “Some Fortunate Future Day,” where it is shown that innocence can instantly be transformed into something beastly by mere infatuation; and Garth Nix’s “Peace in Our Time,” a dystopian anecdote of revenge by a representative of an almost extinct race.
The others are unfortunately forgettable. Some of them don’t even appear to have a touch of steampunk (as I know it) in them. Be that as it may, I really had a ball reading this anthology, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I started getting thirsty for more steampunk. I’m giving this book 3.5 stars. :)