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Steampunk'd edited by Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg

1/04/2011. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy Steampunk'd edited in the USA - or Buy Steampunk'd edited in the UK

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pub: DAW. 311 page paperback. Price: GBP 6.99 (UK), $ 7.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7564-0643-1.

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I’ve read a fair amount of steampunk recently, so an anthology entitled ‘Steampunk’d’ was rather tempting. The stories in this anthology are mostly set in alternative Victorian settings, but there are even more alternate histories where the era is not named after the British monarch at all. The book features a fine selection of everything you might want from the genre – steam trains, dirigibles, goggles, inventors and gadgets. One author makes the classic mistake of explaining that a dirigible is a rigid airship, whereas in fact the word means ‘stearable’ not rigid, although it could just be the character that was wrong. It’s an enjoyable collection of fourteen tales from a varied selection of authors working in several genres.

First up is ‘Chance Corrigan And The Tick-Tock King Of The Nile’ by Michael A. Stackpole, a fabulous story of secret societies, massive steam-powered construction machines and fob watches. It’s a nicely convoluted plot with several interesting characters and a great start to the collection.

Jody Lynn Nye’s ‘Portrait Of A Lady In A Monocle’ is one of several stories in the collection featuring a female scientist, showing how Victorian society may have developed as well as its technology. The lady in question is portrayed in a realistic manner, not imbued too much with modern manners and the rest of society is left authentically chauvinistic. Numerous ingenious inventions make it a fun little tale.

We head off to Russia, with Bradley P. Beaulieu in ‘Foretold’, aboard a steam-powered mining machine looking for meteorite strikes to collect. It’s a rugged life, well described with good characterisation, conflict and world-building and makes a refreshing contrast to the more usual settings.

One of the most alternate historical settings is in Paul Genesse’s ‘The Nubian Queen’, in which the Egyptian empire has remained ascendant and the steam revolution occurs in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Part adventure, part romance, part conspiracy, this is a satisfyingly complex tale that weaves in lots of interesting historical references to show how different the world might have been.

In ‘The Whisperer’, Mark Tassin develops a particularly interesting concept, in which whisperers have the ability to animate and control clockwork devices by whispering to them. As with many unexplained abilities, whisperers are feared as well as needed, locked up in sanatoriums and put to work for profit. It’s a touching portrait of exploitation and desperation.

Finally, Robert E. Vardeman presents ‘The Transmogrification Ray’ in which an even more advanced version of most of the Victorian technology on display throughout the novel is being used in an attempt to fulfil the ancient dream of turning lead to gold. Along with a robot dog, it exemplifies the steampunk dream of creating retro-technology in an age of manners and style.

I found several example of inexplicable and unexplained technology, which is dissatisfying from an SF point of view, but many of the stories are written more as adventure and romance, rather than something where the technology has to make sense. But this same reason left me disappointed at the conclusions of several of the stories where the point of the plot seems to suddenly become irrelevant in light of the chance to live happily ever after. I guess this just goes to show the range of styles and genres that can be encompassed into steampunk. It’s an enjoyable collection that begs for you to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the anachronisms and flights of fancy.

Gareth D. Jones

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