Oreotalpa's Reviews > Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories

Steam-Powered 2 by JoSelle Vanderhooft
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's review
Nov 02, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011

** spoiler alert ** I received an eArc from Zen Cho ("The Terracotta Bride").

So...I like stories about women! I like stories about queer women! I'm ambivalent about steampunk, because I'm not so into Victorian England or colonialist nostalgia, both of which seem to abound.

Happily, this is an anthology about mostly working class queer woman, many of color, and not one story is set in Victorian England or drenched with the "romance" of colonization. Granted, I'm not sure all the stories are steampunk, which doesn't bother me at all but might bother someone with a narrow definition of steampunk hoping to find that and only that here.

"Journey's End," by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall - One of my favorite stories in the anthology, this drew a picture of an intriguing technology (sentient aetherium ships) and an engaging protagonist. It's also one of the best-plotted in terms of being a short story--it didn't feel rushed, stretched thin, or lacking in emotional "punch." I would happily read a novel set in this world.

"Amphitrite," by S.L. Knapp - Probably my least favorite story in the anthology. The characters left me cold, and I'm mildly squicked by "older person takes younger person under sexual wing and teaches them the way of the world" as a trope. The take on mermaids didn't feel original, and the whole thing left a kind of weird mental aftertaste.

"In the Heart of Yellow Mountain," by Jaymee Goh - This felt sort of like that ridiculous trap sequence in every action/adventure movie where the protagonists have to get through the mysterious booby-trapped maze/temple/palace/whathaveyou. I am not sure those work as well in print as in visual media, and this could have been a lightweight story, but Goh worked in some interesting themes of class. I liked it.

"Playing Chess in New Persepolis," by Sean Holland - I enjoyed this story, but it didn't really feel to me like it had enough "punch" to it for a solid short story. The romance also felt rushed (a common problem with short story romances, I think). I'm not sure why it was set in Persia. It would have made a fine set-up for a novel.

"A Thousand Mill Lofts Gray," by Jeannelle Ferreira - I wanted to like this story more than I did; the writing sometimes felt opaque, making it difficult to tell the order of events (there are two separate points in the story which could have been the beginning of the sexual/romantic relationship, and I'm not sure which was supposed to be the real beginning). It also raised a lot of questions about the role of mechanization that it never really resolved--and I'm not sure why it had to be steampunk. The steampunk elements could have been removed and the same story told about the real advent of mechanization (a fine story, to be sure, but not a speculative one). Overall I liked it, but I felt it ended too tidily and needed a bit more editing.

"Dark Horse," by A.M. Tuomala - A fun romp about Moroccan mercenaries and international espionage! I really enjoyed this one, and will have to look up the author's other work.

"The Return of Cherie," by Nisi Shawl - This is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress, not a short story, and it shows. I think novel excerpts rarely work as short stories, and this left me not really caring much about these people. Who were they? What were they doing? Why should they matter to the reader? I'm sure the novel answers these questions, but the story didn't.

"One Last Interruption before We Begin," by Stephanie Lai - Another favorite; I think this is the first story I've read where the protagonist is a shipping clerk. It did feel rather like a set-up for a novel in some ways, but I felt there was enough resolution for a short story. (I'd read a novel in this world, too.)

"Selin That Has Grown in the Desert," by Alex Dally MacFarlane - Loved the setting, loved the writing style, but I felt like this tried to cram way too much into a short story, rushing the emotional denouement and wrapping up loose ends too conveniently. I'd read the novel.

"Granada's Library," by Rebecca Fraimow - Cranky librarians observe the revolution. I'm...not sure how I felt about this story, to be honest. I think I am too much of an atheist and a humanist to come down on the side of there being a "role" for religious libraries that bar non-members from reading secular texts by members.

"The Canary of Candletown," by C.S.E. Cooney - This story dealt with serious historical topics, on a slant, but I just couldn't get into it. Not a fan of the author's writing style, and one of the main characters, although over 18, felt awfully young to me.

"Fruit Jar Drinkin', Cheatin' Heart Blues," by Patty Templeton - Another very stylistic story, which I guess a lot of people found funny. Left me cold.

"Deal," by Nicole Kornher-Stace - I didn't much like genuine tall tales as a kid, and I didn't much like this steampunk tall tale, either. Personal taste.

"Not the Moon but the Stars," by Shveta Thakrar - I think this is the story that frustrated me the most. I loved Thakrar's style, and I thought the setup was interesting, but I felt it raised the very real question of whether mechanization is good for the poor and then...never addressed it. The protagonists are for it, therefore the farmers must be wrong, I guess, but I wasn't convinced.

"The Terracotta Bride," by Zen Cho - Of all the stories in the anthology, I think this is the least steampunk. I am not actually sure it is steampunk at all! But this is okay with me, because it is a fantastic story with excellent worldbuilding, good plotting, and real-seeming characters with real feelings. I think it is one of my favorites of Zen's stories.

Overall a solid, fun anthology with no major clunkers. I'm definitely going to check out the first volume now.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Suna (last edited Dec 14, 2012 12:31PM) (new)

Suna Great, thorough review, really useful to me! I have been meaning to read both anthologies and am glad this one seems to deliver.

Oreotalpa I still haven't read the first one, but I thought this one was solid and worth reading (which I cannot say about all anthologies). And I admire the ambition, even if it didn't always work out....

A postcolonialist steampunk blog did a roundtable of author interviews before the book came out, which you might also find interesting:


message 3: by Suna (last edited Dec 14, 2012 01:09PM) (new)

Suna Thank you, i shall have a look at that!

You, in turn, might enjoy The Mammoth Book of Steampunk.

It's a bit of a gamble as I'm only about four stories in, but it's multiculturally interesting and much more diverse and inventive than I expected.
I'd been putting off reading it for ages and so far I'm pleasantly surprised.

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