I was surprised that so many people who saw me with Steampunk, a collection of short stories by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, have no idea what it’s about. The genre is that buried beneath the broader field of scifi, I suppose.
For those in that number, originally there was ‘Cyberpunk’ (scifi stories set in a gritty neoworld where half the tale takes place online). For movie goers, think The Matrix. Then came the retromovement, to take this gritty new-age world and shift it back a century or more, back to Dickens’ Victorian London, with cog gadgets and steam powered things and airships, lots and lots of airships. Everything old is cool again.
I’ve read several collections of Steampunk shorts but I have to say that this is one of the best (I see that there are several followup books in this series so I’ll have to check them out too). A culmination of at least (from the front jacket) twelve authors, we have a lot of good work (and maybe one or two lukewarm efforts). I’ll mention some of the storylines I really enjoyed…
There was one about a world that is nothing but coal-mining, every horror, every nasty pollution, the sky always gray and the world bleak. And into this comes the Blight, a creature that sucks the life out of its victims. Ugh.
I enjoyed the one about a world run by women, which is backdropped by a huge moon that circles their world. And what happens when they develop optics capable of permitting minute examination of its surface.
And a biologist who is commissioned to build a living bio-weapon that looks, to all practical purposes, like a big clown. One that will bring death and misery to millions.
There was one, with warnings, that takes the characters from the old dime novels with their giant steam-powered robot man and pit them against Well’s time traveler, who is now some sort of sadistically insane immortal, all within a pan-dimensional universe that it ripping apart. Squeamish readers beware, the lead-in cautions. Yes, like no shit. One very tough read.
There was even a good one about the children of a traitor in the lost American Revolution who are turned over to a “boy’s home” for safekeeping, and the strange uncle who flies in from England on his trading airship to claim them.
And these are only some of the great stories between these covers. But the part that really surprised me was the forward. I usually skip forwards – I want to get to the stories. But here, the forward actually tells the precursors of Steampunk, where it came from, the writing styles it represents. In that, it was a real eye-opener for me, since I’ve read some of the origins for this genre (specifically Frank Reade). It’s an amazing collection, and one that I suggest those who like the idea, or even those who’ve never heard of it, to try. It’s on the shelves, folks!