Thursday, 30 September 2010

Extraordinary Engines

edited by Nick Gevers
Solaris Books

Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology brings together original stories by the foremost writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Edited by Nick Gevers, this collection includes Jeffrey Ford James Morrow, Robert Reed, James Lovegrove, Marly Youmans, Kage Baker, Ian R. MacLeod, Margo Lanagan, Keith Brooke, Adam Roberts, Jeff VanderMeer and Jay Lake.

Hmmm. 'Definitive' is a big word to live up to but we all know it was put there for marketing purposes only. You'd have to be a particularly arrogant sort of chap to label your own work as such (whether you're the writer or the editor). Let's be straight here, it isn't 'definitive' by a long way. It has it's moments certainly but on the whole it's a fairly mundane read. What follows is a story by story instant reaction review.

Steampunch - James Lovegrove
Short tale about the rise and fall of robot boxing. It's got a nice sense of time and place and rolls along nicely but is a little too concerned with getting the taste of the place and as such is lacking an edge. It's written as a monologue delivered (complete with asides) direct to the reader which has never been my favourite - no idea why but it's always struck me as a clunky format. A reasonably enjoyable start though.

Static - Marly Youmans
Not really sure what to make of this one. It reminded me strongly of Dianne Wynn Jones (she of Howl's Moving Castle fame) with a touch of Neil Gaiman in there too. It is essentially a wicked stepmother story, even to the point that the girl protagonist's (the princesses) room is called 'the tower'. It's got some nice characterisation (the old fella in the attic is terrific) and some real wit but for me the static riddled world created was just too awkward and unwieldy to settle.

Speed, Speed the Cable - Kage Baker
Baker is, according to the accompanying blurb, the author of the Company novels of a time travelling corporation and this tale fits into that universe. I like her writing style, it's easy and fluid but really her story about the laying of a trans-Atlantic communications cable and an attempt to sabotage it is fairly weak. I'm intrigued by the writer though and may well invest in some of her longer works at some point in the future.

Elementals - Ian R. Macleod
I didn't dig his one at all really. It had a kind of charm to it and Macleod has an easy style but his tale of science and elemental spirits seemed at odds with itself and I felt I was reading a story that was simultaneously striving to go in two directions of once and succeeded only in going nowhere particularly interesting.

Machine Maid - Margo Lanagan
A fun little jaunt into the dubious worlds of Australian mining towns, new marriage, loneliness, murder and robotic sex dolls. The end is a little loose but the rest of the tale had me smiling.

Lady Witherspoon's Solution - James Morrow
One of the more recognisable names in the anthology, Morrow is a writer of some note and this is shown in the style, panache and sheer gonzo humour that runs through his piece. I'm not even going to attempt to describe it but it's the definite high point so far.

Hannah - Keith BrookeA tiny little excursion into Frankenstein science. Too short and too unsophisticated to be truly satisfying but certainly not awful.

PetrolPunk - Adam Roberts
I've had a copy of Roberts' 'Swiftly' novel sat on my bookshelf for a year or so now. It does look like a fun read but I've not had chance to give it a go so this tale is a bit of a dry run for me.
Petrolpunk is a nifty, light-hearted affair with a novel little alternative reality story at it's heart. It's told with an innovative and engaging voice but is too brief for it's scope and suffers a little for it. That said though, i did thoroughly enjoy it.

American Cheetah - Robert Read
A strange little tale of a robotic Abe Lincoln and an equally metallic James / Younger gang. It had promise which it squandered in a muddled ending subsequently improved with an nice little coda.

Fixing Hanover - Jeff Vandermeer
Lots of style but very little substance.

The Lollygang Save The World On Accident - Jay Lake
Jay Lake is another author I have sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be be read (his Mainspring novel) so I've read this one with anticipation. To be perfectly honest it was way too obliquely sci-fi for my tastes. I prefer my sci-fi to be near or twisted future rather than the exoticism of pure sci-fi so not really my cup of tea this one.

The Dream of Reason - Jeffrey Ford
Not really quite sure what the point of this one was. It didn't particularly go anywhere and didn't even particularly fill the brief by being of a steampunk bent. A poor ending to a fairly slapdash book.

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