Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

July 6, 2013

Review – The Mammoth Book of SteamPunk

Very quick review of something I bought on a whim a few weeks ago, because I don’t have much of a sense of what counts as steampunk. I figured that something called The Mammoth Book of Steampunk (edited by Sean Wallace), ought to give me a good feel for it. The short answer is: anything goes, pretty much. If you think it’s steampunk, then it probably is… (I got a hardcopy, but the kindle version is a surprisingly good bargain)

As the name implies, this is a massive volume showcasing the broad possibilities encompassed by the term ‘steampunk’. There are dirigibles as far as the eye can see, certainly, as well as mad inventors, clockwork animals and steam-powered limbs, as you might expect.

There are also supernatural horrors, gear-filled monsters, spring-driven thieves and a couple of surprise castrations. There’s derring-do, whimsy, and drama; there’s alternate history, historical fantasy, provocative science fiction and angry political thrillers. I doubt it would qualify as a particularly accessible introduction to the core conceits of steampunk, but it certainly serves as an excellent overview of a popular subgenre.

Of particular note are N.K. Jemisin’s outstanding “The Effluent Engine”, about the machinations of a Haitian spy trying to preserve her country’s newfound freedom; Aliette de Bodard’s “Prayers of Forges and Furnaces”, depicting an advanced Aztec empire; Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “The Steam Dancer (1896)”, a drama concerning a unique performance artist; and Nick Mamatas’ “Arbeitskraft”, in which a wealthy revolutionary builds an artificial Karl Marx with which to inspire the proletariat. That last one’s a bit horrific, by the way.

As with most large anthologies, there are a few stories here which are not to my tastes. But considering the size of it – thirty stories in all – that’s an impressive hit rate. However, in answer to Doctor Clam’s excited enquiry I must report with the heaviest of hearts that this particular volume contains no mammoths whatsoever, steam-powered or otherwise.

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