Friday, April 30, 2010

Steampunk Short Stories

edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

This anthology of steampunk writers from over twenty years begins with the essay "The 19th-Century Roots of Steampunk" by Jess Nevins, which gives the reader a lot of background about the genre and its roots in the novels of Jules Verne, dime novels, and authors' political responses to science fiction. The stories included then go on to show just how broad this genre can be, from diabolical inventors to a really creepy character who created rifts in time to a sort of comedy-of-manners in which a wife tries to distract her husband from gardening.

You may not love every story here - in fact, considering the range of stories, I would be surprised if you did - but you will surely come away with an appreciation of the breadth of subjects and styles that steampunk can encompass. My personal favorite was "Seventy-Two Letters" by Ted Chiang, an intricate short story involving the power of naming, kabbalistic ideas, and automata. On the other hand, I skimmed rather than read "The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down: A Dime Novel" by Joe R. Lansdale. Though an interesting premise, that the main character from H.G. Wells' Time Machine created rifts in time and becomes insane, the story involved such a large amount of violence that only those with a very strong stomach should read it.

Finally, if you enjoy some of the stories, you will come away with a list of further books to read. I want to look for more by Ted Chiang, as well as James Blaylock and Michael Chabon. Besides the authors included, the final two essays give you even more to look into. Rick Klaw surveys steampunk books, movies, and games in his essay "The Steam-Driven Time Machine: A Pop Culture Survey," in which he includes a list of his top-ten steampunk books and movies. The final essay, "The Essential Sequential Steampunk" by Bill Baker gives readers a brief sketch of steampunk stories in comic book format.

If you're interested in learning about the steampunk subgenre, this collection of short stories is an excellent place to start. Though the editors admit in the introduction that the best of steampunk is novel-length, the essays and stories included in this anthology are an excellent source of information, authors, and title suggestions for a newbie like me and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick introduction to the genre.

No comments: