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Steampunk'd Anthology, edited by Jean Rabe, Martin H. Greenberg
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: DAW
Published: 2010
Review Posted: 7/11/2013
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated

Steampunk'd Anthology, edited by Jean Rabe, Martin H. Greenberg

Book Review by Joshua Palmatier

Have you read this book?

I don't read steampunk in general, so can't really say whether or not this anthology has strong ties to the tropes of that subgenre. My guess would be that it takes a nod in that direction, but doesn't adhere to it precisely, simply because if you've "punk'd" something, you've given it your own twist. Overall, this anthology is rather good, with some interesting stories and takes on the idea of steam tech taking over the world. I've indicated my favorites with bold titles below-stories by Michael A. Stackpole, William c. Dietz, and Paul Genesse. All three had a character story interwoven through the main plot, and all three had interesting alternate worlds. Stackpole's probably had the more interesting use to steam tech, or what I think of as steampunk. Here are the individual story reviews:

Chance Corrigan and the Tick-tock King of the Nile by Michael A. Stackpole: A fun story with some cool steampunk elements woven into a plot involving building a dam on the Nile to control the flooding. A good mix of science and elements on the edge of being fantasy. And the main character was interesting. I can see this being developed into something bigger.

Foggy Goggles by Donald J. Bingle: Here, the main character is the science/technology and travel writer for the NYT, sent to interview the inventor of a steam-powered blimp which makes travel across the continent easy and practical. The story is heavy on the "technical" aspects of how the blimp works, apropos, since the character is a scientist, but when he meets the inventor the story steers away from the blimp and toward the responsibilities of a scientist regarding inventions and the consequences of their uses. This made the story somewhat unbalanced for me, although it was still enjoyable.

The Battle of Cumberland Gap by William C. Dietz: In this story, George Washington failed and so the British and French are battling over-of all places-Kentucky, because of the coal. The steampunk aspect is that the French have invented a steam-powered land battle cruiser, which wreaks havoc on the British lines as it heads toward Cumberland Gap. What makes this story work for me is that the man who's been inexplicably left in charge of the defense of Cumberland Gap has his own personal story interwoven into the main attack, so it isn't all about the cool of the steampunk. There's a human story here as well.

Portrait of a Lady in a Monocle by Jody Lynn Nye: A story about a scientist whose work is stolen by another scientist and her attempts to get the credit she deserves for her work. Lots of steampunk setting in this one, with the main piece being the lady's monocle. A good story, overall, with an emphasis on the disparity between how men and women are treated in the scientific community.

Foretold by Bradley P. Beaulieu: An interesting setting for this one, the main character a seer in the mountains of Russia, helping miners locate the landfalls of meteorites so they can be mined for their metals. But it's more about the character and his apprentice, and accepting change in his own life and seeing others for what they truly are.

The Echoer by Dean Leggett: Another story with an interesting setting, this time Texas, where an adventurer/inventor is searching for the woman he left behind because she didn't have enough faith in their dreams. He's come back to prove that what they imagined could come to pass.

Of a Feather by Stephen D. Sullivan: Continuing the strange setting trend, this story takes place on the Amazon River, with a group of intrepid explorers searching for the prehistoric ranodon creatures. It had the feel Doyle's Lost World mixed with steampunk elements. Lots of action and adventure in this one.

Scourge of the Spoils by Matthew P. Mayo: Steampunk set in a western setting again here, with mechanical horses, an underground mining machine, and a plot centered around that age-old sin, greed. Everyone in this story wants something, mostly money, but fame and revenge don't hurt either. And it culminates in a stand-off, although not the kind you'd find in a standard western. A surprise ending as well.

Edison Kinetic Light & Steam Power by C.A. Verstraete: The main character here is Edison's sister, who's trying to keep Edison safe without stifling his inventiveness too much . . . until she gets the inventor's itch as well. The ending kind of comes out of nowhere, and I think the characters forgot to hook up the charging cell they said the machine needed. An interesting story, but it didn't feel as focused or formed as some of the others.

The Nubian Queen by Paul Genesse: This is steampunk set in an alternate history universe, where a mini ice age has destroyed Europe's hold on the world and brought about the African Age. This is a full-fledged story (one of the longer ones in the anthology), with a complete beginning, middle, and end. The Nubian Queen is fighting for her people both politically, through marriage and alliances, as well as with her armies. This story isn't as dependent on the steampunk as some of the others though, it's more background setting.

Opals from Sydney by Mary Louise Eklund: Two entrepreneurs bargain to join forces to produce multitomatons, machines that can perform more than one simple function, using slivers of a magical opal that brings the inanimate to life. Long set up for a quick finale here, although the end brings in some much-needed action.

The Whisperer by Marc Tassin: The title kind of tells you what this story is about, a man who can whisper to machines (or the world) like some people are said to be able to whisper to dogs or horses, etc. This talent is interwoven through a love story. The story itself takes some very interesting turns that raise some questions that aren't answered (like exactly what's up with how he whispers to his love when he finds her), however I felt that perhaps the whispering went a little too far and became TOO powerful.

Imperial Changeling by Skip & Penny Williams: This story takes off on the alternate Europe where the fae have incorporated themselves into the royal lines of royalty in order to survive. However, the new science infringes on the magic of the faery, with someone attempting to use it to wipe out all traces of the fae in the royal lineages. It's a complicated story in some sense, with lots going on (gates and watches and traitors and . . . well, you get the idea), which made me think that it should be expanded into something longer than the short story it is now. There's enough here for a novella at least. Because of this, it kind of felt more like an outline of the story. I wanted to know the characters more deeply, although the story was great.

The Transmogrification Ray by Robert E. Vardeman: The final story in the anthology has a scientist attempting that age-old alchemical trick of turning lead into gold . . . using steampunk tech of course. He thinks he's nearly got it, except for that pesky second-order term in the equation that he can't explain away. That term ends up causing some rather spectacular effects. I left the story wondering about exactly what the characters were thinking. They abandoned the . . . effect and I have no idea whether it still exists and is doing what it does (trying not to spoil the story here). They don't seem to be concerned about it at all, focused on the alchemical goal still, but I'd think they?d be more interested in what actually happened instead.
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