Thursday, June 13, 2013

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

This week I decided to review another anthology which contains several short stories and two short comics which all contain various steampunk elements, as you might have guessed from the title. To be entirely fair, a lot of these stories have much stronger steampunk elements than some of the other ones, but as the editors mention in the introduction to this volume, steampunk has evolved into a multifaceted genre united only by the presence of things such as airships and clockwork automatons and the absence of the internal combustion engine. Overall I don't regret reading this anthology, but I have some issues with the relative brevity of some of the stories, and one story kind of bothers me because of the presence of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but more on that later.

As I mentioned, my biggest issue was the relative brevity of some stories and the fact that they set up a large world with interesting comics, but provide only the barest glimpse of these fantastic worlds. A really good example is the story Finishing School g(actually one of the two comics) which gives the origin story of Gwendoline Byrne, which was a really fun adventure and made me want to learn more about Gwen Byrne and her fantastic adventures in her flying machine because it sounds like a really cool story. The problem is that this story happens well after Gwen has become famous and an old schoolmate of hers is telling Gwen's origin story to us, the audience, assuming we know who Gwen Byrne is. While it's a really great origin story for what I think might be a really cool character, it's just an origin story and we don't get to see all the stuff that comes afterwards. Other stories like Some Fortunate Future Day and Nowhere Fast set up a much larger conflict and a very deep backstory to the world that, unfortunately, are much more interesting than the much smaller conflict contained within the story. It just leaves me wishing for more knowledge about the world and the larger conflicts.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl which I mentioned was in the story Steam Girl, which I enjoyed but at the same time it bothered me. It's set in our "normal" world but is about two high schoolers who bond over stories that the female lead makes up about Steam Girl, a sort of alter ego that goes on fantastic adventures across space. The issue I had with this story was that the female really hit all the checklists for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, in that she is an oddball who meets a plain, unassuming guy and through her awkward differences from us normals she teaches him to have a more optimistic outlook on life. The problem with this trope is as cute as it is, and I admit that I'm a sucker for it, the trope isn't real and it provides an unrealistic expectation regarding human relationships. Hopefully I can explain this topic further in a lecture, but there are people much more eloquent than I who have tackled this trope before.

As with other anthologies I've read I don't want to give too much away because there are some pretty good stories in here, despite my issues. If you're looking to explore the genre of steampunk and its modern, multifaceted nature, this would definitely be a good place to start.

- Kalpar

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