Panverse 3, edited by Dario Ciriello
(Panverse Publishing, September 2011)
“Orion Rising” by Jason Stoddard
“Junction 5” by Gavin Salisbury
“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu
“Martyrs” by Don D’Ammassa
“Dust to Dust” Tochi Onyebuchi
Eclipse 4: New Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Jonathan Strahan
(Night Shade Books, May 2011)
“Slow as a Bullet” by Andy Duncan
“Tidal Forces” by Caitlan R. Kiernan
“The Beancounter's Cat” by Damien Broderick
“Story Kit” by Kij Johnson
“The Man in Grey” Michael Swanwick
“Old Habits” by Nalo Hopkinson
“The Vicar of Mars” by Gwyneth Jones
“Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky
“Thought Experiment” by Eileen Gunn
“The Double of My Double is Not My Double” by Jeffrey Ford
“Nine Oracles” by Emma Bull
“Dying Young” by Peter M. Ball
“The Panda Coin” by Jo Walton
“Tourists” by James Patrick Kelly
Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier
Edited by Jonathan Strahan
(Viking, April 2011)
“Attlee and the Long Walk” by Kage Baker
“The Old Man and the Martian Sea” by Alastair Reynolds
“Wahala” by Nnedi Okorafor
“On Chryse Plain” by Stephen Baxter
“First Principle” by Nancy Kress
“Martian Chronicles” by Cory Doctorow
“Goodnight Moons” by Ellen Klages
“The Taste of Promises” by Rachel Swirsky
“Digging” by Ian McDonald
“Larp on Mars” by Chris Roberson
“Martian Heart” by John Barnes
“Discovering Life” by Kim Stanley Robinson
After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar
Edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray
(DAW, March 2011)
“An Alewife in Kish” by Benjamin Tate
“Why The Vikings Had No Bars” by S.C. Butler
“The Emperor’s New God” by Jennifer Dunne
“The Tale That Wagged The Dog” by Barbara Ashford
“The Fortune-Teller Makes Her Will” by Kari Sperring
“Sake and Other Spirits” by Maria V. Snyder
“The Tavern Fire” by D.B. Jackson
“Last Call” by Patricia Bray
“The Alchemy of Alcohol” by Seanan McGuire
“The Grand Tour” by Juliet E. McKenna
“Paris 24” by Laura Anne Gilman
“Steady Hands And A Heart of Oak by Ian Tregillis
“Forbidden” by Avery Shade
“Where We Are Is Hell” by Jackie Kessler
“Idzu-Bar” by Anton Strout
Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories
Edited by John Joseph Adams
"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson
"Red Card" by S.L. Gilbow
"Ten With a Flag" by Joseph Paul Haines
"The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" by Ursula K, Le Guin
"Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment" by M. Rickert
"The Funeral" by Kate Wilhelm
"O Happy Day!" by Geoff Ryan
"Pervert" by Charles Coleman Finlay
"From Homogenous to Honey" by Neil Gaiman & Bryan Talbot
"Billennium" by J.G. Ballard
"Amaryllis" by Carrie Vaughn
"Pop Squad" by Paolo Bacigalupi
"Auspicious Eggs" by James Morrow
"Peter Skilling" by Alex Irvine
"The Pedestrian" by Ray Bradbury
"The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away" by Cory Doctorow
"The Pearl Diver" by Caitlin R. Kiernan
"Dead Space for the Unexpected" by Geoff Ryman
""Repent Harlequin!" Said the Ticktock Man" by Harlan Ellison
"Is This Your Day to Join the Revolution?" by Genevieve Valentine
"Independence Day" by Sarah Langan
"The Lunatics" by Kim Stanley Robinson
"Sacrament" by Matt Williams
"The Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick
Just Do It" by Heather Lindsley
"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
"Caught in the Organ Draft" by Robert Silverberg
"Geriatric Ward" by Orson Scott Card
"Arties Aren't Stupid" by Jeremiah Tolbert
"Jordan's Waterhammer" by Joe Mastroianni
"Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs" by Adam-Troy Castro
"Resistance" by Tobias S. Bucknell
"Civilization" by Vylar Kaftan
Reviewed by Rena Hawkins
When Brave New Worlds, a new reprint anthology of dystopian fiction from editor John Joseph Adams, landed in my mailbox, I expected to be impressed. After all, I had previously read other collections from Adams, including Wastelands, The Living Dead, and The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and I agree with the popular consensus that Adams is the current king of the anthology. Not only was I impressed by Brave New Worlds, I feel it's Adams' best anthology to date.
Most people are familiar with the idea of dystopian societies from novels, the best known being Brave New World (from which the anthology gets its name), The Handmaid's Tale, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Children of Men, or Lord of the Flies. Readers tend to forget that dystopias have been a subject of speculative short fiction since the very beginning, as Adams reminds us by opening his anthology with "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, first published in 1948. The story is still as disturbing to me today as it was the first time I read it as a pre-teen. I think "The Lottery" best illustrates an idea Adams offers us in his introduction: “That’s part of what is so compelling about dystopian fiction: the idea that you could be living in a dystopia and not even know it.” Do the citizens of Shirley Jackson's imagined small town think they live in a dystopia? I doubt it. They would likely defend their horrifying tradition as necessary and right. Another story I first read as a teenager is "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., set in a world where citizens are literally weighed down by their government. This story will forever change your outlook on the idea "all men are created equal." Adams fearlessly mixes the classics, such as "‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktock Man" by Harlan Ellison and "The Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick with recent works like "Arties Aren't Stupid" by Jeremiah Tolbert and "The Pearl Diver" by Caitlin R. Kiernan. The stories support each other. The classics demonstrate the foundations of dystopian short fiction from which the others developed, while the new fiction offers fresh insight and ideas about what makes a dystopian society.
Several stories in the collection deal with reproductive freedom or the idea of population growth being strictly controlled such as "Amaryllis" by Carrie Vaughn, "Billenium" by J.G. Ballard, "The Funeral" by Kate Wilhelm, and “Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment” by M. Rickert. "Pop Squad" by Paolo Bacigalupi, a story where children are murdered as a method of population control, is often reviewed as being too dark and too disturbing. These reviews generally begin with, "As a parent…." These critics are missing the point. The reason "Pop Squad" disturbs us so much is because through the thoughts of his main character, Bacigalupi taps into the dark truth of parenting, the truth you're never supposed to admit to yourself or to anyone else; children are often loud, dirty, annoying, and inconvenient.
Some stories explore the idea that to live in a utopia, one must pay an awful price. "Of a Sweet, Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs" by Adam-Troy Castro was a new story for me and the horror of that tenth, awful day stayed on my mind long after my reading ended. "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin asks if people can ignore a glaring atrocity in order to live in perfection.
"Jordan's Waterhammer" by was another new story for me. In it, men are used as mining tools, easily discarded and replaced if they break down. When you consider today's endless news accounts of child labor and people working in deplorable conditions for pennies a day in many third world countries, this story is uncomfortably, unexpectedly realistic.
The anthology closes with "Civilization" by Vylar Kaftan. While the story seems funny on the surface, underneath is the dark, unsettling idea that given any number of choices, humans will still manage to screw things up. And really, isn't that the essence of dystopian fiction?
Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories
Edited by John Joseph Adams
Night Shade Books (2011, $15.99)
Welcome to the Greenhouse: New Science Fiction on Climate Change
Edited by Gordon Van Gelder
(OR Books, February 2011)
"Benkoelen" by Brian W. Aldiss
"Damned When You Do" by Jeff Carlson
"The Middle of Somewhere" by Judith Moffett
"Not a Problem" by Matthew Hughes
"Eagle" by Gregory Benford
"Come Again Some Other Day" by Michael Alexander
"The Master of the Aviary" by Bruce Sterling
"Turtle Love" by Joseph Green
"The California Queen Comes A-Calling" by Pat MacEwen
"That Creeping Sensation" by Alan Dean Foster
"The Men of Summer" by David Prill
"The Bridge" by George Guthridge
"FarmEarth" by Paul Di Filippo
"Sundown" by Chris Lawson
"Fish Cakes" by Ray Vukcevich
"True North" by M. J. Locke
Reviewed by Nader Elhefnawy
Engineering Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan
“Malak” by Peter Watts
“Watching the Music Dance” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“Laika’s Ghost” by Karl Schroeder
“The Invasion of Venus” by Stephen Baxter
“The Server and the Dragon” by Hannu Rajaniemi
“Bit Rot” by Charles Stross
“Creatures with Wings” by Kathleen Ann Goonan
“Walls of Flesh, Bars of Bone” By Damien Broderick and Barbara Lamar
“Mantis” by Robert Reed
“Judgement Eve” by John C. Wright
“A Soldier of the City” by David Moles
“Mercies” by Gregory Benford
“The Ki-anna” by Gwyneth Jones
“The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees” by John Barnes
Reviewed by Robert E. Waters
Blind Swimmer, edited by David Rix
“Bellony” by Nina Allan
“The Flea Market” by Gerald Houarner
“The Talkative Star” by Rhys Hughes
“The Man Who Saw Grey” by Brendan Connell
“The Book of Tides” by David Rix
“Flights of Fancy” by Allen Ashley
“Pigs Eyes” by Jet McDonald
“The Flowers of Uncertainty” by Douglas Thompson
“The Higgins Technique” by Terry Grimwood
“Far Beneath Incomplete Constellations” by Alexander Zelenyj
“Lussi Natt” by Andrew Coulthard
Reviewed by Rena Hawkins
In his new anthology, Blind Swimmer, editor David Rix poses the question, “What effect does isolation have on creativity?” In the eleven stories that make up the anthology, many of the main characters willingly choose to isolate themselves, while others have isolation forced upon them.
The anthology opens with “Bellony” by Nina Allan, by far the best story in the collection. Terri Goodall is a newly single freelance writer who sets out to write an article about her favorite childhood author, a reclusive woman named Allis Bennett who disappeared without a trace from the small seaside town of Walmer many years earlier. Terri immerses herself in Allis Bennett’s strange world, going so far as traveling to Walmer and renting the author’s former home. The truth she uncovers about Allis Bennett is stranger than any fiction.
Allan does a masterful job of slowly, skillfully drawing the reader into her mystery. I believed in Allis Bennett as an author and could easily envision the peculiar children’s books she wrote—I imagined her as a sort of female C.S. Lewis. My minor complaints are that Allan sometimes forgets the “show, don’t tell” rule, narrating heavily on what Terri thinks, sees, and feels. Also, the senior Mr. Cahill seems to pop up out of nowhere with a huge amount of pertinent information. However, due to the success of the story as a whole, I overlooked these small flaws.
“The Flea Market” by Gerald Hourarner, introduces Derrick, a Vietnam vet who is alone not because he chooses to be, but because his entire family is dead. Derrick fills his lonely hours by searching through flea markets and second hand stores looking for rare albums. Derrick discovers what appear to be handmade album covers in a flea market stall and is startled and confused when the artwork on the albums awakens memories of the people and dreams he thought he’d lost.
An odd story, but I found the portrayal of Derrick’s loneliness to be the most realistic of the whole collection. Derrick reacts to his loss and loneliness the way many people do—he ignores his feelings and fills his days with endless, meaningless tasks so he doesn’t have time to think too much about what’s missing in his life. There’s a truth in this story I didn’t find in many of the others.
“The Talkative Star” by Rhys Hughes is a series of vignettes or flash fiction about what the sun might say in various humorous situations.
There is a sentence in the next to last vignette that reads, “Yes, it’s me! I’m tired of your whimsical nonsense and I want to shut you up.” The author’s own words precisely sum up my feelings about this story.
In “The Man Who Saw Grey” by Brendan Connell, Greg Schwegler, a man who yearns to be an artist, hits his head in a fall and loses his ability to see colors. His whole world becomes shades of gray.
I was bothered by the dialogue between husband and wife, which throughout the story is oddly formal, as if they don’t know each other very well. In fact, the wife, Cassie, has a sort of Stepford Wife complacency about her husband’s condition that I found extremely strange.
Although a great deal is made of Schwengler desperately wanting to be a painter at the beginning of the story, he seems more upset about the appearance of his wife’s naked body, animals, trees, and parks than he does about his inability to create art. In fact, the story could be written without any mention of his being a painter at all, so why focus on it? I never became emotionally involved in this story and I wasn’t particularly shocked by the ending.
Editor David Rix is also a contributor with his story “The Book of Tides.” A man (he never has a name) lives a solitary life on a beach, spending his days collecting debris from high and low tides and writing stories about what he finds, giving the items imagined histories. When a young woman, Feather, lands on his beach, he eventually brings her home as well. Feather, however, proves to be a troubling presence and threatens the peace of his solitary existence.
I found this a very confusing story full of stilted, stammering dialogue. There’s no consistency in the reactions of the characters; when the man initially finds Feather and thinks her dead: “He shuddered at the implications of a death on his doorstep. People would come—wanting to talk to him. The police would have to clear the mess up and his isolation would be shattered.”
Yet, later in the story, neither he nor Feather is particularly troubled when five corpses wash up on the beach. No big deal, right? In fact, Feather searches the dead teenagers’ pockets, saying: “If there is anything interesting on them, you can put it in your novel.”
I understand the man and Feather are supposed to be “disassociated” from the outside world, but this just comes off as ghoulish.
The main characters in “Flights of Fancy” by Allen Ashley are Kris and Josh, two men isolated in a prison on a small, Scottish island. Kris fills the long hours by writing a story about a wizard and a knight trying to escape the castle of an evil king. As “Flights of Fancy” unfolds, we learn through the prison guards and the warden that there is a growing crisis in London and surrounding cities involving a strain of bird flu and of the frightening changes the flu vaccine has brought about in the local bird populations. Kris, Josh and the other inmates are increasingly cut off from what little information they receive from the outside world. As the bird crisis worsens, conditions in the prison grow more and more deplorable.
This is my second favorite story of the collection, a complex tale of reality, fantasy, conjecture, and isolation within isolation. Is the construction of the story perfect? No. But Ashley’s forethought and planning are obvious.
“Pigs Eyes” by Jet McDonald is the story of a woman who sells fried pig eyes for a living and falls in love with an overweight, agoraphobic, would-be writer who disappears into a coconut.
If you think my synopsis sounds ludicrous, you’re right. I have utterly no idea what to make of this story and I refuse to pretend I do. The emperor has no clothes.
“The Flowers of Uncertainty” by Douglas Thompson introduces Harold Swimmer, a brilliant writer whose first book was so successful, both critically and financially, that he has decided to isolate himself on a lone stretch of beach for thirty years so as not to be poisoned or influenced by the outside world while he writes new books. The only person Harold comes in contact with is Sharon, a woman who provides for his needs and delivers his finished manuscripts to his publisher. She never speaks, as Harold has instructed. When Sharon disappears, Harold’s imagination goes into overdrive.
All I will say about the action which unfolds is, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, I’ll stop reading your story.
Life attempts to imitate art in “The Higgins Technique” by Terry Grimwood. In order to write a story about internet rape porn and hopefully restart her flagging career, Emma answers a “model call” and becomes internet porn’s newest face. Geoff, the porn director, hates what he does for a living and dreams of making “real” films, but hey, the money’s good. Tony, the porn customer, requires a plot with his violent images in order to get off. Lilly, Emma’s dead baby daughter, hovers over the story unseen, but very much present.
Although many people would question the “creativity” of porn, the isolation of the characters is clear. Emma is isolated from her emotions, from the pain and guilt she feels over Lilly’s death. Geoff, the director, is isolated more and more from the hopes and dreams of his youth. Tony, the customer, is physically isolated from real women and actual relationships, choosing to masturbate alone in front of his computer while imagining his ex-wife.
I found myself wishing the author had left the dead baby out of this story and gone in a more unpredictable direction with Emma. It’s tiring to always read about women portrayed as the tragic victim. The best part of the story is the end, where the reader is left to wonder if Emma has gotten involved in a situation way over her head and if she actually makes it out alive.
“Far Beneath Incomplete Constellations” by Alexander Zelenyj is a tale of a much older academic who is sexually obsessed with his Japanese student, a young woman named Michi. The man doesn’t want to be seen with Michi or interact with her in any way other than to have controlling, violent sex with her. He views Michi as an empty shell, existing only to entrance him and provide him pleasure.
I will say that the core idea of this story, of a man isolated from feeling any real emotion even in the face of overwhelming desire and of a woman cruelly isolated from the love and affection she desperately craves, is a good one. That makes it even more of a shame that the idea is utterly buried under the author’s overwrought, often laughable, imagery and descriptions. Here’s an example: “Then, a great thunder roared in his dream, swallowing his peace entirely; smiting them down from their lofty ecstasy with its mighty bellowing, two frenzied fuck animals plummeting earthwards within a resounding dirge of agony.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a story more desperately in need of editing. To call the author’s word choices “purple prose” is an understatement. This stuff is Technicolor neon. The result is a writing style that is simply exhausting to read.
The last story in the collection is “Lussi Natt” by Andrew Coulthard. Tom has isolated himself in his family’s cabin, located in the Nordic wilderness, hoping the location’s previously soothing effect will help him overcome a severe case of writer’s block.
All the elements of a very scary tale are here; a desolate location shrouded in snow and ice, a writer who may or may not be mentally unbalanced, and plenty of supernatural characters. Unfortunately, the story never seems to pull all the elements together into a cohesive whole. Tom bounces from scary happening to scary happening and I was never sure what one character or set of characters had to do with the others. “Lussi Natt” is another story that would benefit from judicious editing; it runs needlessly long, mainly because the author feels compelled to spell everything out for his reader. For example: “From his nose, he felt the telltale pinching that told him his mucus membranes were freezing. At least twenty-five below, perhaps colder, he reckoned.”
Apparently, unless the freezing membranes are described, the silly reader might not realize twenty-five below zero is dangerously cold. The author also tortures us with numerous word-for-word phone conversations between Tom and his wife, much of which is meaningless banter. There are many ways to convey information to the reader and this is definitely not one of my favorites.
All in all, a story with some genuinely creepy moments, but it misses the mark.
When all is said and done, would I recommend Blind Swimmer? That depends on who you are and what you’re looking for as a reader. If you’re a science fiction or fantasy fan and that’s what you’re hoping to find here, you’ll be disappointed. Much of the fiction in this anthology defies a specific genre category. If you’re a reader open to experimental fiction, which is how I would define most of these stories, you might enjoy the collection. I found a definition for experimental fiction, which reads:
[Experimental fiction] “is fiction that sets up its own rules for itself [...] while subverting the conventions according to which readers have understood what constitutes a proper work of literature.”
Fair enough. I applaud anyone willing to try something new, to take a risk. But anyone who engages in experimentation—be they writer, artist, scientist, musician, inventor—must be willing to accept that sometimes experiments fail. Sometimes they fail spectacularly.
In the introduction, editor David Rix, writes: “Creativity is not inevitably about isolation, but most people involved with writing will know the subject one way or another, as we sit quietly in our rooms writing our tales and fancies—maybe to be read by the tempestuous and (we are told) sheeplike public, or maybe not. As so-called slipstream writers—writers on the fringes who, either deliberately or not, have steered away from the ’mainstream’ and recognised genres into more individual areas of exploration—maybe it seems even more close to home.”
There’s a subtle (actually, not so subtle) inference here that the sheeplike public isn’t sophisticated enough to appreciate experimental fiction. As a writer of such fiction, this has to be a very comforting idea, especially if your stories aren’t getting published. But, blaming your audience for not appreciating your sometimes failed writing experiments isn’t just self-indulgence—it borders on self-delusion.
Blind Swimmer, edited by David Rix, Eibonvale Press, August 2010, tpb, 360 pp., £10
Triangulation: End of the Rainbow
Edited by Bill Moran
“The Rainbow Vendor” by David Sklar
“Making Friends” by Kylie Bullivant
“Tourist Trap” by Mark Onspaugh
“A Test of Spirit” by Brenta Blevins
“David is Six” by Amanda C. Davis
“The Stickball Witch” by Peter S. Beagle (reprint)
“Messiah: The Promised One” by M. Z. Hoosen
“The House at the End of the Rainbow” by Amy Treadwell
“A Womb of My Own” by Tinatsu Wallace
“The Meaning of Yellow” by Cate Gardner
“Talking Blues” by Matthew Johnson
“Spirit House” by Ron Sering
“A Patch of Jewels in the Sky” by Eugie Foster (reprint)
“Haole” by D. K. Thompson
“The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable” by Aaron Polson (reprint)
“The New Elementals” by Marshall Payne
“Commander Perry’s Mystic Wonders Show” by Jamie Lee Moyer
“In Lixus, Close to Walking” by Erin Hoffman (reprint)
“In Order to Conserve” by Cat Rambo (reprint)
Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded
Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
(Tachyon Publications, October 2010)
“The Gernsback Continuum” by William Gibson
“Great Breakthroughs in Darkness” by Marc Laidlaw
“Dr. Lash Remembers” by Jeffrey Ford
“The Unblinking Eye” by Stephen Baxter
“The Steam Dancer (1896)” by Caitlin R. Kiernan
“The Cast Iron Kid” by Andrew Knighton
“Machine Maid” by Margo Lanagan
“The Unbecoming of Virgil Smythe” by Ramset Shehadeh
“The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar” by Shweta Narayan
“O One” by Chris Roberson
“Wild Copper” by Samantha Henderson
“The Bold Explorer in the Place Beyond” by David Erik Nelson
“Lost Pages from the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana” by Jess Nevins
“Tanglefoot” by Cherie Priest
“A Serpent in the Gears” by Margaret Ronald
“The Strange Case of Mr. Salad Monday” by G.D. Falksen
“The Persecution Machine” by Tanith Lee
“Balfour and Meriwether in the Adventure of the Emperor’s Vengeance” by Daniel Abraham
“As Recorded on Brass Cylinders: Adagio for Two Dancers” by Lisa Mantchev & James L. Grant
“Lovelace and Babbage: Origins with Salamander” by Sydney Padua
“Flying Fish (Prometheus)” by Vilhelm Bergsoe (translated from Danish)
“The Anachronist's Cookbook” by Catherynne M. Valente
“The Mecha-Ostrich, 'A Secret History of Steampunk'” by The Mecha-Ostrich
Reviewed by Joseph Giddings
On the heels of the successful Steampunk anthology published in 2008, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer return with yet another volume of great tales, artwork, and curiosities that fill the genre known as steampunk. A beautiful tome with a “ray gun” on the cover beckons you closer, and upon opening the pages you find yourself engrossed in goggles, top hats, dusters, and airships.
Inside of this book you will encounter not only great stories from well-known authors of steampunk and speculative fiction, but also artwork, and in one case, a comic. All serve to draw you into the genre and the time frame, immersing you in Victorian, Edwardian, or just plain fantastical realms of fiction.
Mostly a reprint collection, there are a few new pieces of fiction contained in these pages that warrant a close examination.
The first new story encountered is “Dr. Lash Remembers,” by Jeffrey Ford. A chilling tale about a doctor who must administer to the people of London as a strange new plague overruns the city. Stories of fanciful visions meet his ears, and he runs into someone who finally reveals to him what the new plague comes from. The pages melt away as you read this story, racing through it as you wonder how the doctor will help administer to the people who have fallen to the dementia that comes along with it.
Overall, a good story, though the narrative does lose you from time to time and forces you to reread a few passages here and there. This does not detract from the overall experience, though, and at the end you are wide-eyed in shock as you realize that the doctor walked right into what he hoped to avoid.
The next piece of new fiction is “The Unbecoming of Virgil Smythe,” by Ramset Shehadeh. We are immediately thrust into a world that seems like the nineteenth century, but we quickly find that it’s a strange alternate reality where cities exist in bubbles and steam trains travel between them through causalities and rifts in the space-time continuum. Told from the perspective of several different people, we find that the protagonist is here only to live in someone else's shoes for a while, hoping to gain his own goal in this strange and violent world.
Definitely a story for any steampunk fan. Though be warned that its strangeness may turn off those who prefer a more standard Victorian setting. The story itself is well told and lacked anything to distract the reader from the story. The protagonist, in his unusual state, can be a bit confusing, since it’s two people inside of one, but it comes across well and I feel adds to the strangeness of the story. Also a good read for a general science-fiction fan, as the setting would work for any speculative fiction genre, not just steampunk.
Another new work enclosed in these pages is “Lost Pages from the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana” by Jess Nevins. An interesting read in that it’s an excerpt of lost pages from her book. The topic of interest here is “Steam Engines,” and the story goes into great detail about the creation, use, successes, and failures of many steam driven devices over the years. All of it pertains to their function in war, and the bloody and brutal consequences of their usage.
Despite it being interesting and filled with a lot of technological goodness, I found it hard to keep my attention focused on it for too long. If you are looking for a story with characters and a plot, then you will be disappointed. Instead, you get exactly what it is, an encyclopedia entry.
The last piece of new fiction work in this book is the piece entitled “The Mecha-Ostrich, 'A Secret History of Steampunk,'” penned by The Mecha-Ostrich. A collection of copies, leaflets, and other varieties of pieces of text from various sources, all collected together and sent to Steampunk Magazine, all put together in narrative format, detailing first the creation of the first steam powered ostrich, along with its confiscation by the mysterious person known simply as S. Despite its destruction, proof that it was made is contained herein, and despite its destruction, has been remade in today's world, and it tells it own tale. In addition, snippets of stories and press releases confirm or deny this story in great detail. A portion of this collection of information relates back to Ford's tale “Dr. Lash Remembers,” with references to “Dr. Lash” and the “Prisoner Queen.”
A brilliant piece of work, fascinating in its construction and its link to steampunk and the stories we have come to know in these pages. A bit hard to follow in places and a bit disjointed at times, though. I enjoyed this a great deal, but I had to stop reading through the collected items a few times to get my head clear enough to continue. I consider this to be a fun ending to the stories in this book, not something to miss.
Pieces of this story were contributed by Matthew Cheney, John Coulthart, Rikki Ducornet, Fabio Fernandes, Felix Gilman, L.L. Hannett, Albert Robida, Ekaterina Sedia, Angela Slatter, Brian Stableford, Ivica Stevanovic, and others.
The other works within this book deserve mention as well, and many of them are fine pieces of steampunk fiction that excite the imagination and stir the senses.
“The Gernsback Continuum” by William Gibson starts this book off with a taste of his unique style, showing us where the style of 'ray-gun gothic' originated from.
“Great Breakthroughs in Darkness” by Marc Laidlaw. A strange tale told like a section from a glossary of terms used in photography, but the author interjects a tale within its lines, following the mad quest of a scientist to capture pictures of that which hides in the dark.
“The Unblinking Eye” by Stephen Baxter. I found this story to be one of the ones that really stuck with me, as even days after reading it, I could recall it from memory. What if the earlier explorers on Earth had no stars to navigate by? What would have happened to the world as we know it today?
“The Steam Dancer (1896)” by Caitlin R. Kiernan. A topic of interest to me, the replacement of human limbs with those made of metal, clockworks, and steam, I was fascinated by the story, but felt rather unsatisfied with its ending.
“The Cast Iron Kid” by Andrew Knighton. Old west style steampunk at its finest. A gunfighter made from metal and clockworks, designed never to lose, may finally meet his match. This story is a quick read and a fun tale to boot.
“Machine Maid” by Margo Lanagan. Reaching into the realms of the disturbing, we find this story. A woman, disgusted with her husband, discovers a secret about the robotic maid in her home. After careful study, she makes some modifications, and we get to see its results. Dark, macabre, and well worth reading.
“The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar” by Shweta Narayan. This story is based on a South Indian tale, and tells us that greed can outshine form and function, and ruin that which we desire most. A great story.
“O One” by Chris Roberson. Not all stories are about people who welcome their new clockwork replacements. In Roberson's Chinese story, the head mathematician for the Emperor sees his possible future-being replaced by a machine. How he deals with this challenge is a page turner, keeping the reader aching to know how he fares against a large, steam-driven calculator.
“Wild Copper” by Samantha Henderson. An unexpected treasure. Set in the displaced faerie court of Oberon and Tatiana, we follow a human girl as she attempts to barter her freedom, and then learns the awful truth about time in the realms of the fae.
“The Bold Explorer in the Place Beyond” by David Erik Nelson. This story didn't appeal to me as much, since it involved some undersea creature in a land crawling shell being on land. It is told by a drunk as he staggers the streets, and is heard by a boy hiding in the bushes. Not really a story I could get into.
“Tanglefoot” by Cherie Priest. True to her style, Ms. Priest brings us a tale of clockworks and terror, with the idea that even a machine can possess a soul, even a displaced one. One of the better stories in the book, worth a read by fans of horror and steampunk.
“A Serpent in the Gears” by Margaret Ronald. Fantasy steampunk, telling us of the journey of an airship to an isolated land, where people and animals are merged with machines, and the grim realization that industrialization, in all forms, will spread despite efforts to stop it.
“The Strange Case of Mr. Salad Monday” by G.D. Falksen. A fun story that pokes fun at our dependance on the internet, and introduces us to a new form of communication, called tit-tatting, which smacks highly of Twitter. Except this is in print form. Who is behind some of these anarchy-supporting messages, and can you handle the truth?
“The Persecution Machine” by Tanith Lee. Dark, unusual, and interesting. People only see what they want to believe, and if you tell your story to enough people, eventually someone else will see that large machine, too, and will understand why you are so twisted in your mind.
“Balfour and Meriwether in the Adventure of the Emperor’s Vengeance” by Daniel Abraham. A grand adventure story, Balfour and Meriwether are employed to find out what happened to a Lord who opened a sarcophagus in a locked room in the British Museum. We were the first mechanized society? Far from it, they learn, as they must face a monster of clockwork proportions.
“As Recorded on Brass Cylinders: Adagio for Two Dancers” by Lisa Mantchev & James L. Grant. This is a moving story about two people, one having given up their heart, the other still in possession of it, and the fateful day when they meet again, a hundred or more years later. Can human emotion overcome clockwork parts and brass cylinders?
“Lovelace and Babbage: Origins with Salamander” by Sydney Padua. An excerpt from the webcomic Lovelace and Babbage, it shows the creator's intent and humor in turning Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage into crime fighters. You can see more at www.2dgoggles.com.
“Flying Fish (Prometheus)” by Vilhelm Bergsoe (translated from Danish). The oldest story in the book, this comes from Danish author Vilhelm Bergsoe, translated into English for possibly the first time ever. In this early example of steampunk (although when originally published in 1870, it was a clear piece of science-fiction, maybe even science-fantasy), we explore the concept of flight in a large airship modeled after a flying fish. Hard to read in places, but well worth the time spent at the end.
“The Anachronist's Cookbook” by Catherynne M. Valente. Despite the author's distaste for the genre, Ms. Valente manages to capture the spirit of steampunk, and turns it on its ear, following the tale of a Jane Sallow, someone who rails against the Machine and Steam and Men who Run the World. A strange tale with a hint of space-faring to the Moon and Mars. Hard to follow in places, but worth a read, nonetheless.
In addition to all of these fine fiction offerings are also two articles, one from Gail Carriger, titled “Which is Mightier, the Pen or the Parasol,” and another from Jake von Slatt, titled “At the Intersection of Technology and Romance.”
All in all, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded is a great collection of stories, art, and non-fiction. The VanderMeers have, once again, captured the essence of the genre and cast it into a book that is well worth the price paid at the bookstore. This book is a must have collection for fans of steampunk and those who love a dark, rousing tale of what could have been.
Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded
edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
Tachyon Publications, October 2010, $14.95