Fiction Review

Extraordinary Engines

(2008) Nick Gevers (Ed.), Solaris, 7.99, pbk, 441pp, ISBN 978-1-84416-634-1

Subtitled 'The Definitive Steampunk Anthology', this book contains a dozen new stories by James Lovegrove, Marly Youmans, Kage Baker, Ian R MacLeod, Margo Lanagan, James Morrow, Keith Brooke, Adam Roberts, Robert Reed, Jeff Vandermeer, Jay Lake and Jeffrey Ford. Not that Steampunk is anything new, or course; though I would not go so far as to claim that Victorian era SF was Steampunk. Back then, that was contemporary SF. However, the editor, Nick Gevers, in his introduction does give a succinct history of the form, starting with a couple of Michael Moorcock trilogies from the seventies, and noting some work by Brian Aldiss and Howard Waldrop before moving onto what I consider to be the beginning(s) of Steampunk, in works by KW Jeter, Tim Powers and James Blaylock, after which the floodgates opened. Brian Stableford, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, Paul DiFilippo, Philip Pullman, Colin Greenland, and so on, up to more recent works by the likes of Ian R MacLeod, Adam Roberts, Jonathan Barnes and Stephen Hunt. The introduction also mentions another anthology, Steampunk, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, which recently came out from Tachyon Publications.

The stories, as with all anthologies, are of variable quality, and whether you like them or not will, as ever, depend on your personal taste. But the authors between them cover a lot of territory, so there should be something here for everyone (except people who hate Steampunk, obviously). Lovegrove's story, 'Steampunch', features a new hand on the penal colony of Mars being told the intricacies of steam-powered robot boxing matches; Youman's tells of a continuum where electricity is unrestrained; Baker revisits the universe of his 'Company' time-travel books in 'Speed, Speed the Cable'; MacLeod looks at an invasion by elementals, and Lanagan at the fate of a robot maid in Australia; Morrow writes a satire on feminism, 'Lady Witherspoon's Solution'; Brooke looks at forensic science while accidentally inventing cloning; Roberts' story, 'Petrolhead', details another invasion (this time by a distributed intelligence) responsible for a Victorian edict not to drill into the Earth; Reed looks at a robotic Abraham Lincoln turned Sheriff in the wild West; while the last three stories, by Vandermeer, Lake and Ford, seem to me to be less Steampunk than straightforward fantasy. On the whole I enjoyed the book and, insofar as you can use anthologies as 'samplers' of various authors' works, I've definitely warmed to Kage Baker, though that now means I have some ten titles by the author to look out for! Damn.

Tony Chester

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