The much-anticipated Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded picks up right where the original anthology left off, with 19 stellar steampunk-powered stories, most of which were published in the last five years. Featured authors include Cherie Priest, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Stephen Baxter, William Gibson, Margo Lanagan, and Catherynne M. Valente, to name a few.
But this isn’t just a collection of stories. The VanderMeers offer up an insightful introduction entitled “What is Steampunk?” and the end of the anthology not only includes two outstanding nonfiction works – “Which Is Mightier, the Pen or the Parasol?” by Gail Carriger and “At the Intersection of Technology and Romance” by Jake von Slatt – but also a gloriously twisted secret history of steampunk (All hail the Mecha-Ostrich!) and a short roundtable discussion on the future of steampunk that includes some of the subculture’s most recognized names, like Diana M. Pho (aka Ay-leen the Peacemaker), Evelyn Kriete, Margaret “Magpie” Killjoy, and Jess Nevins.
Priest’s “Tanglefoot” takes place in her Clockwork Century universe and revolves around Edwin, an ingenious 10-year old boy who is the assistant of a demented scientist who lives in the basement of a sanitarium. As Dr. Archibald Smeeks is busy with his own inventions, the young boy builds himself an automaton – “a clockwork boy” – from the scraps of the scientist’s work. Little does he realize the danger of creating a soulless body in a place full of restless ghosts…
Ford’s “Dr. Lash Remembers” chronicles the spread of a plague that was sparked when airborne spores landed in steam engines and released their seeds. Inhaling the microscopic seeds inevitably destroys a person’s ability to decipher between imagination and memory. “…even though you survive the fevers you can no longer distinguish between what has happened and what you have dreamed has happened or could have happened or should have. The Republic is going insane...”
The long and short of it is this: steampunk aficionados are going to absolutely cherish Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded. The exceptional fiction is noteworthy in its own right but it’s the expert commentary and speculation that makes this an invaluable reference for nascent steampunkers everywhere. Here are just a few memorable excerpts:
• “Steampunk is about taking a breath, starting at the beginning, and understanding the building blocks of technology from the nineteenth century upon which all of today’s gadgets are based and realizing that we are the ones in control… Steampunk is about falling in love again.” – Jake von Slatt, “At the Intersection of Technology and Romance”
• “Steampunk is not a narrative structure, but an array of aesthetic elements. It is a visual style that can be imposed upon a genre, as well as multimedia: art, music, fashion, décor… if steampunk is only a genre, then we can continue rehashing the themes of imaginary voyages and scientific romances. If it is an aesthetic, then the sky in which the airships fly isn’t even a limit.” – Mike Perschon, “The Future of Steampunk: A Roundtable Interview”
• “Steampunk, as a subculture and as an aesthetic, is at its best when it is a way of radically re-addressing the ways that we interact with technology. A way of challenging the assumptions of the industrial revolution.” – Margaret “Magpie” Killjoy, “The Future of Steampunk: A Roundtable Interview”
• “As with any burgeoning social movement, whether we like it or not, the style and the literature have become linked. Whether we are making it, or hearing it, or writing it, or wearing it, we are all steampunk.” – Gail Carriger, “Which Is Mightier, the Pen or the Parasol?”
But perhaps my favorite excerpt is from Ford’s “Dr. Lash Remembers:”
• “Steam’s the new dream... Right now I’m inventing a steam-powered space submarine to travel to the stars, a radiator brain whose exhaust is laughing gas, a steam pig that feeds a family of four for two weeks.” She slipped a hand behind my head, and after taking a toke from the tip of the tortoise shell, she leaned over, put her mouth to mine, and showed me the new reality.
The new reality is that steampunk, as Perschon speculated, is no longer confined to one genre (science fiction). It's transcendent – and if the novels mentioned at the beginning of this blog are any indication, this literary aesthetic will continue its breathtaking expansion and evolution.
Those of you who are already hardcore steampunk fans will want to read Steampunk II – and for those of you who are just dipping their toes into the steampunk stream, this anthology is a perfect sampler. All hail the Mecha-Ostrich!
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.