Eric Mesa's Reviews > Altered America: Steampunk Stories

Altered America by Cat Rambo
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bookshelves: 2018-sword-challenge

A reminder that I use the Goodreads definitions of star values and, at the time of writing this, 3 stars is "liked it".

While I can enjoy a smorgasbord approach to a short story collection, I really appreciate that nearly all the stories in this collection take place in a shared universe. I think Ms. Rambo is a very talented crafter of environments and she creates great premises for her stories. I also like that the stories in this collection explore some characters that are somewhat rare in SFF (although getting more exposure with every passing day) like non-whites, trans folks, and others on the LGBT spectrum. Also, I know steampunk in America is definitely a thing, but I've been exposed to so much more British and European steampunk so it was fun to see some American stories.

My only criticism is that many of the stories end somewhat abruptly as though Ms. Rambo suddenly realized she had a character or page limit. After a lot of great build-up, it can just feel like the climax comes and is gone a little too fast. I'd like to read one of her long-form books to see if she fares better there or is afflicted by the same ailment that plagued many of Neal Stephenson's early work.

As I do with anthologies, here's a slightly edited version of my status updates:

"Clockwork Fairies" - While it's period-accurate, it's crazy that our main POV character (so far) is attracted to a tinkerer, but at the same time is scared of her holding sufragist and scientific thoughts! Also, bravo on Cat making the heroine mixed race. Ultimately, not just an introduction to Ms Rambo's steampunk fairy world, but also a great look at gender and race in the Victorian era. It's crazy how much autonomy single women gave up on marriage back then.

"Rare Pears and Greengages" - This one is much more fairy than Steampunk. I feel like, as usual, it's assumed that everyone understands how faerie stuff works. Over the past couple years I've picked up enough to know it's probably bad that people are eating fairy fruit and to understand about changelings. But I don't get the tears thing. I feel like I'm missing so much in this. In the end it's a story of mothers and how hard it can be to deal with tragedy when you're a mother.

"Memphis BBQ" - This is a REALLY fun story to read; my favorite story so far. Great tone and the suitor is awesome instead of a jerk. Love to read more from this universe.

"Laurel Laurel where do you roam?" - a tale of a train trip with the background of how Lincoln won the Civil War with necromancers"

"Snakes on a Train" - Another Baltimore to Seattle train trip with a necromancer. This time bodyguards are a Jewish mind-reader and an automaton. I surprised by the ending. Good job, Rambo

"Doctor Rapacini's Crow" - scary story about how the war injured are turned into cyborgs and sent back to war until their bodies or minds are too broken to go on. The trans reveal makes sense with the time period. One of my undergrad electives studied this phenomenon and it was actually quite common back before SSNs.

"Her Windowed Eyes, Her Windowed Heart" - back to Artemus the automaton and his partner, Elspeth the psychic. This time the story is from his point of view. Neat ending. I want a longform Pinkerton story.

"web of blood and iron" - very fun caper involving betting with vampires, but I'm not sure I enjoyed the ending

"Ticktock Girl" - a neat combo of steampunk and superhero genre during the suffragette era."

"Seven Angels...Pin" - the best retelling of Sleeping Beauty I've ever read."
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Reading Progress

July 18, 2017 – Shelved
July 18, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
August 10, 2018 – Started Reading
August 10, 2018 –
7.0% "While I'm fine with random collections of short stories, I'm excited to read i the introduction that these all (w/ 2 exceptions) take place in the same universe.

"Clockwork Fairies" - while it's period-accurate, it's crazy that our main POV character (so far) is attracted to a tinkerer, but at the same time is scared of her holding sufragist and scientific thoughts! Also, bravo on Cat making the heroine mixed race"
August 11, 2018 –
18.0% ""Clockwork Fairies" - not just an introduction to Ms Rambo's steampunk fairy world, but also a great look at gender and race in the Victorian era. It's crazy how much autonomy single women gave up on marriage back then."
August 13, 2018 –
22.0% ""Rare Pears and Greengages" - Still working my way through this one. This one is much more fairy than Steampunk. I feel like, as usual, it's assumed that everyone understands how faerie stuff works. Over the past couple years I've picked up enough to know it's probably bad that people are eating fairy fruit and to understand about changelings. But I don't get the tears thing. I feel like I'm missing so much in this."
August 13, 2018 –
28.0% ""Rare pears and greengages" - In the end it's a story of mothers and how hard it can be to deal with tragedy when you're a mother."
August 14, 2018 –
32.0% ""Memphis BBQ" - this is a REALLY fun story to read."
August 14, 2018 –
36.0% ""Memphis BBQ" - my favorite story so far. Great tone and the suitor is awesome instead of a jerk. Love to read more from this universe."
August 16, 2018 –
45.0% ""Laurel Laurel where do you roam?" - a tale of a train trip with the background of how Lincoln won the Civil War with necromancers"
August 16, 2018 –
49.0% ""Snakes on a Train" - Another Baltimore to Seattle train trip with a necromancer. This time bodyguards are a Jewish mind-reader and an automaton. I wonder how this one will proceed."
August 17, 2018 –
53.0% ""Snakes on a Train" - I've got a guess at the killer, but not sure."
August 17, 2018 –
57.0% ""Snakes on a Train" - surprised by the ending. Good job Rambo.

"Doctor Rapacini's Crow" - scary story about how the war injured are turned into cyborgs and sent back to war until their bodies or minds are too broken to go on."
August 20, 2018 –
76.0% ""Rapacini's Crow" - the trans reveal makes sense with the time period. One of my undergrad electives studied this phenomenon and it was actually quite common back before SSNs

"Her Windowed Eyes, Her Windowed Heart" - back to Artemus the automaton and his partner, Elspeth the psychic. This time the story is from his point of view."
August 20, 2018 –
83.0% ""Her Windowed Eyes, Her Windows Heart" - neat ending. I want a longform Pinkerton story."
August 20, 2018 –
91.0% ""web of blood and iron" - very fun caper involving betting work vampires, but I'm not sure I enjoyed the ending"
August 21, 2018 –
95.0% ""Ticktock Girl" - a neat combo of steampunk and superhero genre during the suffragette era."
August 21, 2018 –
99.0% ""Seven Angels...Pin" - the best retelling of Sleeping Beauty I've ever read."
August 21, 2018 – Finished Reading
August 22, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018-sword-challenge

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