Anna's Reviews > Steampunk

Steampunk by Jeff VanderMeer
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's review
May 11, 12

bookshelves: to-read, the-unfortunately-unrelished, science-fiction, fantasy, steampunk
Read in May, 2012

When I see the word ‘steampunk’ in the title of a work, I do expect it to be a representative of the genre. Now, I was let down by the Steampunk’d anthology (very badly so), and I find myself disappointed in Steampunk as well.

Where to start? I suppose I should say that not every one of these stories made me further disappointed in the literary form of the genre. “Seventy-Two Letters” is a personal favorite of mine from this bunch. “Lord Kelvin’s Machine” was a bit dull, but representative of most steampunk ‘tropes’ (if one will allow me to use that term) and not wholly unentertaining. There was a third, but I can’t quite remember which one. Oh well—you’re supposed to be reading this for yourself, after all. I can’t pick everything apart. Either way, out of the numerous works in this book, only a few are actually worth reading—and actually represent well-written, imaginative steampunk.
At the beginning of this anthology, I should mention, is a short essay describing Steampunk, its origins (in America, at least), and how it supposedly overcame the stereotypes and overall negativity that marked its dime-novel predecessors. I want to know where this idea came from, because almost all of these stories involve a single white male, usually British, usually upper class, and not always sympathetic toward those different to him. Most of this book is a parade of stereotypes (rather, how we perceive 19th Century stereotypes)—and is largely boring, if not downright disgusting. Not to mention the story that I can’t figure out is a brilliant parody, or a shamelessly bad fanfiction for H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine.” Oh, and did I mention the villain of that story is introduced as violating (since I won’t say what I normally do—cursing doesn’t seem appropriate here) a dead dog for lack of sheep or women, and then promptly gets himself caught in his fly zipper? And, before I forget, he always has an erection. How these details fit into the plot, I have no idea, but that particular story is probably the worst out of all the collection—and I hold it up as an example of both bad writing and low editorial expectations since I'm more inclined to see it as bad writing rather than brilliant parody.

Well, there’s my rant. And I really wish Goodreads would find a way to fit half-star ratings into their programming (I don’t know how difficult this is to do), because this one isn’t quite a three-star, but isn’t a two-star, either. It’s definitely a readable selection if you can slog through bogs of horrid writing to reach small islands of amusing prose, but it’s not worth the $15 you have to pay for it up front. However, if one wants to see the most stereotypical (and not in a good way) steampunk work, this might be worthwhile—though I hope the genre isn’t defined by the overwhelmingly, and alarmingly, bad writing found within.

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