Friday, April 23, 2010
A Sampling of Steampunk
I recently finished an odd compilation of short stories in the genre called steampunk. Strangely enough, that was also the title of the book.
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book to anyone. Ann and Jeff Vandermeer nearly succeeded in eradicating any interest I ever had in the genre.
I'm going to break this down into individual stories to try and give you a better picture of what this book offers than what the back cover tells you. (spoiler alert: the word 'absurd' will be used a lot)
The first story is actually an excerpt from a novel called The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock. This short snippet of a story provided by the editors dumps you into the middle of the plot, shows a bit of dirigible action, and then. . . well, then it stops. There really isn't enough of a narrative here to show any potential and feels more like an incomplete sentence than anything else.
Next up is Lord Kelvin's Machine by James P. Blaylock. This story maintains much of the 'unfinished' feeling of the previous excerpt, jumping breathlessly from situation to situation without much explication. That said, it was probably the best story in the collection and probably the only one to preserve any connection to Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, the supposed progenitors of steampunk. Fortunately, this short story was later reworked into a full novel. I would suggest you look for that instead of this book.
Following that is The Giving Mouth by Ian R. MacLeod. How this story can be called steampunk is beyond me. With it's bleak and depressing tone and reliance on poorly defined magical forces, Dark Fantasy would be a better fit. Hardly worth the time it took to write these few sentences.
A Sun in the Attic by Mary Gentle is a decent story. I admit that the failing here may be mine as I simply find it hard to invest any interest in a story about an alien planet with pseudo Victorian themes that are themselves superseded by the odd juxtaposition of a matriarchal, polyandrous society.
The God Clown is Near by Jay Lake is a celebration of the perverse, yet it is otherwise pointless.
The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down: A Dime Novel by Joe R. Lansdale is not a novel, nor is it worth ten cents. Steampunk? Maybe. Splatterpunk (Gore Horror) / rape porn / snuff porn / bestiality porn? Certainly. This is the most disgusting thing I have ever encountered and I stopped reading less than 1/5th of the way through. This story sounds like it was written by a psychopathic teenager during a stint in Juvie. If I keep this book I will be removing these pages.
The Selene Gardening Society by Molly Brown is quite absurd but better than average for this collection.
Seventy-Two Letters by Ted Chiang is set in an alternate Victorian age in which steam power and clock work devices are replaced by Kabalistic magic. Is that still steampunk? Well written but absurd.
The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance by Michael Chabon is slow, overwritten, and pointless.
Victoria by Paul Di Filippo is absurd, perverted, and puerile all rolled into one.
Reflected Light by Rachel E. Pollock is boring and pointless.
Minutes of the Last Meeting by Stepan Chapman - Nuclear bombs, nanotechnology, a powerful artificial intelligence. . . why is the Tsar still riding around in a steam powered train and fighting with measly old guns? Must be Baba Yaga, or whatever. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to say that it's absurd.
Finally, the book ends with Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of 'Tribes of the Pacific Coast' by Neal Stephenson. This is a really good story, but it is post apocalyptic cyberpunk, not steampunk.
All in all - if this is what steampunk is, I'll have none of it.