Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology
edited by Nick Gevers
I discovered the steampunk subculture through fashion; as I worked on Gothic designs with lolita and aristocrat elements, the steampunk aesthetic of Victorian synthesized with mechanical detritus was a good fit for my projects. I never really ventured beyond the clothing; I was vaguely aware that there were some people who modified computers to look like typewriters and designers were incorporating elements of this into furniture and household appliances, but it never occurred to me that this visual culture had its genesis in science fiction.
So I was rather surprised when I read about Nick Gevers’ Extraordinary Engines. How extraordinary! I thought. Someone’s taken this visual thing and made a book of it!
Of course, a few minutes with Google and I realized I’d got the whole history of steampunk turned inside-out, but that made me all the more curious about Extraordinary Engines, so I requested a copy right away.
Extraordinary Engines is an anthology of steampunk-themed stories from a dozen writers. Like most anthologies, some stories are good while others leave you wondering how they got included. The stories tend to follow a certain set of rules: most take place in London, most take place in the 19th century (or Victorian-influenced alternate worlds), steam-powered contraptions and/or robots figure prominently, and most are heavily influenced by the classics of the gothic, horror, and science fiction genres. Famous historical and literary figures like Queen Victoria, Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes often appear.
If one tries to power through the collection in one go, the stories gets repetitive. But if read individually, the unique elements of each story are given a chance to shine. In American Cheetah, robot Abraham Lincoln dukes it out with the mechanical reincarnation of the James-Younger gang. Lady Witherspoon’s Solution is a satire of the early feminist movement. James Lovegrove captures the crusty working-class iron-worker perfectly in Steampunch’s narrator, Chas Starkey.
I have to admit that none of the stories blew me away, but they were entertaining. ‘Definitive Anthology’ is a bit of a stretch, but as an introductory anthology Extraordinary Engines did quite well. My curiosity about the steampunk subgenre of literature was sufficiently aroused that I may try to hunt down more books in the future.