Violet's Reviews > Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Sto... by Kelly Link
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's review
Feb 29, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, dystopia-utopia, illustrated, historical-fiction, sci-fi, steampunk, collection

** spoiler alert ** When I first laid eyes on this in my school library, I knew I just had to read it. Steampunk short stories by young adult authors? Man just sign me up! These is my kind of stories.

Lately, I've been fascinated with the steampunk genre (as if you couldn't already tell). There's just so much imagination that could be applied to this fantastic section of creativity, that I just I'm gravitated towards it. But it’s more than that; it’s the combination of the past and the future that fascinates me to no end. History combined with fantasy/sci-fi, what more can I ask for? Normally steampunk has been characterized as a futuristic Victorian London with steam-powered clockwork and the occasional mythical/paranormal creature. But there's so much more to steampunk than that. Just like there's more to fantasy than fairies and witches, there's more to steampunk than English tea and gears. Steampunk doesn't have take place in London, or even in the Victorian era to be placed in the genre. That's the beauty of it. It can take place in the future or anytime in the past, somewhere on Earth or even another planet. All it needs to be considered steampunk is that magic combination of the past's virtues and ingenuity and the future's technology. That's the basic formula with that you can craft amazing and awe-inspiring stories, such as the people in this anthology did.

But before I start pointing out the highlights I have one thing to say about the subject of anthologies in general. I've always been a fan of anthologies because it’s easier to keep track of the events of the plot and you are able to get that sense of completion much sooner. It's especially beneficial when there is so much going on in real life and a long complicated novel is hard to keep track of, sometimes so much so that the impact of the book is lost in the trivialities of everyday life. That's why anthologies are always good to gain a quick but satisfactory escape from the mundane without having to commit to the story. And, as was expected, I found exactly that in this anthology.

Okay, now on to the meat of the review. It's time to talk about the stories themselves:

“The Last Ride of the Glory Girls” –Libba Bray: This one was well crafted. After going through the process of writing a short story myself, I know how a good one is supposed to read like, and this one was an example of it. It went a little too fast for my taste but the way that she built up the characters was well done. It was nice how she portrayed the Believers like the religious fanatics in the Wild West, even though it’s in the future and on another planet. It’s a brilliant example of how the combination of the past and future is what steampunk is all about.

“Clockwork Fagin” –Cory Doctorow: As the title suggests, this story’s about a band of disfigured misfits, similar to those in Oliver Twist and about how one of them kills their ward and then they end up using taxidermy on his head to create a clockwork automaton to pose as him. The main reason why this one stuck with me was the grotesque nature of the automaton as well as the way it combined workhouses with futuristic clockwork computing factories. Overall wonderfully imaginative, even if the ending seem a bit forced.

“Seven Days Beset by Demons” –Shawn Cheng: This was one of the two graphic novel/comic stories in here (the other being “Finishing School” –Kathleen Jennings). While at times simplistically drawn with a fairly sort and minimal plot, it was still brilliantly done. Symbolic and captivating it follows a pitiful stall owner on his trip through the seven deadly sins all centered on his ‘love.’ Very well done. An inspired display of how simplicity can be used to say so much.

“Hand in Glove” –Ysabeau S. Wilce: While having a cool and original set up, this story’s ending was very…frustrating. It takes place in an alternate California where gut instinct and tough love are the lay of the land and modern forensics techniques are considered unreliable because everyone think that there’s no way everyone can have different fingerprints. Brilliant concept right? Well, when it got to the ending where the murderer turned out to be a zombie hand thing from a Frankenstein style monster, I was very upset. They said specifically stated that the monster is comatose and basically brain dead, and yet its hand has enough brains to go around and kill people for their jewelry. That’s just plain stupid if you ask me. It’s bad story writing and is something that can be greatly improved. And that’s what was frustrating about it all. It had such promise and then it had to go and do something like that. It was truly infuriating.

“The Summer People” –Kelly Link: One of my favorite out of all of them. It was just plain ingenious to create a steampunk story in the modern day of all times and places. I haven’t read anything like it and was deeply intrigued. The steampunk aspect comes from these ‘Summer People,’ who are never really explained and are left expertly mysterious. It was one of if not the most original story in this book in my opinion, and having already read (and loved) another of her stories in The Starry Rift, I’m definitely going to read more of her stuff in the future.

“Peace in Our Time” –Garth Nix: Yet another story skillfully crafted and wonderfully original. Taking place in the indeterminable future on another planet, it centers on the interrogation of a retired human world leader by a young alien assassin. Nix was able to brilliantly shift the center of the reader’s sympathy away from the leader and construct plausible motivation for his dastardly deed. It was captivating and extremely well done. I expected nothing less from the fantastic Garth Nix.

“Nowhere Fast” –Christopher Rowe: I enjoyed this one because of the fact that it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the Federals are the only ones with coal/gas powered things and the common folk aren’t allowed even a private car because that’s what destroyed the Earth and made the sky gray. It’s brilliant because it not only shows a plausible version of our future, but also that it shows how steampunk can transcend normal boundaries. More sci-fi than fantasy, this story explores a new side to the genre and not only does it well, it also is able to add in wonderful character development that I would love to see expanded into a whole novel.

“Steam Girl” –Dylan Horrocks: Probably my favorite out of all the stories. Magnificently blending the teenage outcast/weirdo, the need to escape, and fantastic, steampunk tales of ‘Steam Girl’ and her adventures with her father aboard the ‘Martian Rose.’ Horrock really played to his audience because I mean what teenager reading this wouldn’t connect to Shanaia and the narrator with their need to escape their lonely existence and the gray mundane world around them. But Horrock goes one step farther than just having them run away in the tales of Steam Girl. He makes Steam Girl real and hopelessly trapped in this world. And it’s these feelings of being powerless and lost and lonely that every teenager feels at one point or another in their life. And in that way, this story’s less about the wonderful concept of Steam Girl and more about the teenage psyche, which is the reason why I love it so much.

“The Oracle Engine” –M. T. Anderson: I’ve found it hard not to be disappointed in Anderson. He is truly a brilliant storyteller and this story is no different. He is able to make Ancient Rome into an amazing world of flying machines, computing engines, and even electricity drawing on the many inventions of Archimedes and other historically brilliant men. He even was able to shape the Greek/Roman myths into ones of fantastic technological feats. It’s plain creative virtuosity. A steampunk Ancient Rome is something not everyone thinks of. The plot is also well crafted, obviously drawing from the classic Greek/Roman tragedies that we’re forced to read in school. Overall, it’s pure imaginative genius.

Alright-y I think I’ve said enough. I didn’t comment on all the stories because that would’ve taken me too long and I don’t really feel like spending more time than I’ve already have. Anyway, in general this was a satisfactory and excellent anthology. Unlike some others I’ve read, there are no stories that are just plain terrible, and there were actually a surprising number that were very well done. So with that, I’ll bid you a very steampunk-y adieu.

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