Candlewick Press, $22.99, 420 pages
One of the most intriguing sub-genres of science fiction to emerge in the last 10-15 years has been Steampunk, the retro-technical futurism of clockwork automata and impossible science. It’s generally set within the Victorian era, usually, but not always in Mother England, it’s romantic, exciting, and burns with gaslamp intensity. These days, science fiction readers can’t swing Schrödinger’s Cat, without hitting some steampunk fiction, (unless they’ve connected with sparkly vampires first). If they’re very, very lucky, they’ll hit the former rather than the latter. Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, is a collection of 14 remarkable short stories. As with all good science fiction, the stories excite and entertain, while simultaneously they illuminate.
The seperate works that Kelly Link, and Gavin J. Grant have assembled works very well together. They all seem to feature protagonists that come from the underclass, ordinary people who become extraordinary, whether they are Pinkerton agents of the Wild Wild West in Libby Bray’s excellent The Last Ride of the Glory Girls, or Canadian orphans who manage to build a mechanical overseer for their orphanage in Cory Doctorow’s Dickensian Clockwork Fagin. I was particularly touched by Dylan Horrocks Steam Girl a tale of a desperate, lonely girl who tells wonderful Barsoomian tales of derring-do to an awkward, bullied boy, and how they fall in love. The Ghost of Cwemlech Manor by Delia Sherman, features an engaging heroine, a servant in a haunted Welsh manor who saves her master, an impoverished inventor. There’s real magic here, it’s filled to bursting with tales of impossible technology, it works because the authors remind us that it’s nothing but baubles and brass fittings, without a human touch.
Reviewed by Brad Wright