Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded
Ed. by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Tachyon Publications, 2010

In the introduction to this collection the VanderMeers do not give a clear definition of what is steampunk. In the last paragraph of the introduction the editors, however, notice that «steampunk is alive and well and manifesting in a myriad of different ways». This is where the editors are right. After reading «Steampunk II» you are unlikely to become clear what steampunk is, but the diversity of the stories will give an idea how wide the scope of this subgenre.

Steampunk’s grandparents had sci-fi roots, but it does not mean that the whole steampunk is definitely SF. There are stories here that in spirit and entourage tend toward fantasy, there are those that can be called science fiction, and there are simply examples of "weird fiction."

The strongest stories here «Dr. Lash Remembers» by Jeffrey Ford, where an unknown virus that causes disease blur the line between reality and fantasy, «O One» by Chris Roberson, a fantasy in which the action takes place on Chinese soil. Among the representatives of the weird fiction stands out David Erik Nelson’s «The Bold Explorer in the Place Beyond», where the first-person narrator tells of the clash of two worlds. «Tanglefoot» by Cherie Priest is a bit lightweight, but Priest puts the best from Victorian prose in her story of a mad scientist.

Three more stories related to the theme of the South. In «The Steam Dancer (1896)" Caitleen R. Kiernan tells unusually touching story that could happen in our world in the Wild West, but the presence of elements of science fiction helps to better describe the character of the heroine of the story, a dancer from the title. Wild West is the entourage of another story, pure western, but with robots, «The Cast-Iron Kid» by Andrew Knighton. Steampunk-western is even better than Spaghetti Western! «Machine Maid» by Margo Lanagan takes place not the Wild West, but it could happen there. Noirish elements are heard in this tense tale of the maid and her master.

This is not an ideal anthology, there are some mediocre stories. But «Steampunk II» by its very existence proves that if a genre has borders, they are very fragile.

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