Pros: Steampunk is such a fun genre, and there’s a wide variety of takes on it in here
Cons: This book definitely highlights that it’s a relatively young genre that could use some maturing
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
As the back of the book tells us, “Science fiction is the literature of what if, and steampunk takes the what if along a particular time stream. What if steam power was combined with future tech in the Victorian era? How would that era change, and how would it change our present and future?”
In some ways, steampunk is still in the toddler phase as a genre. It’s like old SF back from the early days of the genre as a whole, when the idea was everything. Certain things were normal then that we wouldn’t be fond of as readers now: characters and plots tended to be sacrificed in the name of exploring technologies and notions. Exposition was considered acceptable because ideas were primary to pacing and action. To some extent steampunk has bypassed much of this infancy because writers learned many lessons from other genre beginnings, but this book does reflect some of these deficiencies. Mind you, if you’re in the mood to explore steampunk as an idea and aren’t simply looking for some fun short stories in the genre, this might not be a negative for you.
Michael Stackpole is always an enjoyable writer, and his is one of my favorite stories in Steampunk’d. Excellent, then, that “Chance Corrigan and the Tick-Tock King” starts off the book. It definitely doesn’t suffer from any of the aforementioned issues—it’s got action and adventure, an exotic setting along the Nile, and plenty of interesting characters. This tale showcases the best side of steampunk.
While Donald J. Bingle’s “Foggy Goggles” (fascinating how steampunk seems to be obsessed with goggles) captures the textual flavor of steampunk, as the second story in this anthology it does display some of those characteristics I mentioned earlier. As much as I enjoy reading about the nifty devices and technologies of steampunk, I’m not three pages of description interested in how a device works, especially out of a 13 page story.
The book swings back and forth between these types of stories: William C. Dietz’s “The Battle of Cumberland Gap” returns to the land of interesting characters, great pacing, and a fascinating story, as well as a look at quite an unusual possible alternate history. Bradley P. Beaulieu’s “Foretold” is a highly original and unusual take on the steampunk genre, involving auguries, meteorites, pirates, and Russians. Dean Leggett’s “The Echoer” succeeds in skillfully hiding its ideas wrapped up in plenty of character content, so you never feel like you’re being faced with a technical manual.
On the other hand, as is often common in the younger years of a genre, there are some stereotypes and thinly-disguised archetypes that could use some sprucing up. In particular, thanks to the original Victorian setting of the genre, the roles and personalities of female characters often fall into somewhat narrow ranges. Some authors, such as Jody Lynn Nye, do surprisingly well while attempting to remain within these confines, but others allow themselves to be overly constrained by them. A few, such as Paul Genesse with his “The Nubian Queen”, break beautifully free of this mold.
Overall, Steampunk’d isn’t quite as bold a foray into new territory as I would have liked, but it’s definitely an enjoyable read for fans of the genre.