Book Log

Book Log #79: Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft

Note: This is a late review from my 2010 book log, posting as I’m trying to get caught up. The 2011 book log will commence once the 2010 reviews are up to date!

Steam-Powered:  Lesbian Steampunk Stories

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Say you’re a big fan of steampunk. Say also that you think the world needs more queer short fiction–and in particular, F/F. If both of these apply to you, you absolutely need to check out Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, a forthcoming anthology from Torquere Books. Editor userinfoupstart_crow (JoSelle Vanderhooft) kindly sent me an ARC of this antho, and I can happily say it was one of the more unusual anthologies I’ve read, not only because of the lesbian aspect but also because of the sheer diversity of stories and the emphasis on non-European and non-American cultures when possible.

Hands down, my favorite story in the whole thing was N.K. Jemisin’s “The Effluent Engine”. Fantasy fans may recognize that name from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which got a whole lot of favorable buzz; now that I’ve finally read something by this author, I can see why. I very much enjoyed her story, thanks to my ideal level of romance (i.e., it’s an aspect of the story but not the dominant point of the plot), the intrigue (a female spy in New Orleans is looking for hotly sought secrets of clean methane production, because whoever gets hold of that gets airship superiority), and the emphasis on Haiti. The heroine of this story is Haitian, and it’s just after the revolution in that country–so not only do you get a lesbian romance, it’s multi-racial and multi-cultural as well.

“Brilliant”, by Georgina Bruce, mostly worked for me as a character study–although again, we have an emphasis on non-European culture, as there are references to the “Egyptian Empire”, and the title character of the story is the daughter of the Nigerian ambassador to Cairo. Nice.

D.L. MacInnes’ “Owl Song” was a bittersweet one, which I didn’t entirely enjoy. And yet, the ending of it was haunting and powerful.

“Where the Ocean Meets the Sky” by Sara M. Harvey somewhat contrasted for me with Jemisin’s story, since there’s more emphasis here on the sexual attraction between the two main characters and not quite as much on the actual plot. But that said, I quite enjoyed that the plot featured a colorful character from San Francisco history, Emperor Joshua Norton I.

Beth Wodzinski’s “Suffer Water” gets points for a nice little blend of Old West, nanotech done steampunk style, a relationship gone wrong, and a bit of mad scientist to boot.

In “Steel Rider”, Rachel Manija Brown brings us a tale with a bit of anime-style mecha to spice up her steampunk. There’s a hint of Jewish culture here as well as Aztec and Mexican, not to mention all sorts of interesting questions about the world only barely seen in this story.

Shira Lipkin’s vignette “Truth and Life” is a glimpse of the sadness of a brilliant engineer.

Matthew Kressel, in “The Hands that Feed”, brings us a solid little tale of a shopkeeper with hidden talents, and the seemingly innocent young woman she comes to love. Our two heroines are Jewish and Hindu, as well as separated by thirty years of age, which makes for quite the unusual pairing indeed.

My fellow Drollerie author Meredith Holmes brings us “Love in the Time of Airships”, a tale of romance across social classes–and a woman who discovers not only that she has romantic inclinations she never dreamed of, but that her so-called husband is far more dangerous than she ever imagined.

Teresa Wymore, another fellow Drollerie author, has some intriguing glimpses of genetic manipulation shaping the society that exists “Under the Dome”.

“Clockwork and Music”, by Tara Sommers, is a poignant tale of a young woman who must wrestle madness, possibly nefarious intentions of the doctor who looks after her in a sanitarium, and the clockwork servants that carry out his will. All she has to sustain her is the love of a fellow inmate, who may or may not be mad herself.

Mikki Kendall’s “Copper for a Trickster” is brutal, and believably so, if you take a steampunk culture and think about how it would have impacted the development of African slavery. Protagonist Dalila and her beloved Ashaki are willing to do anything to free themselves and the children enslaved with them–but Dalila learns the price of the bargain they make with the Hare.

“Sleepless, Burning Life”, by Mike Allen, is perhaps the oddest piece in the collection. The prose is almost more metaphor than narrative, and even after having read through it, I’m still not entirely sure what it’s about. There are goddesses and priestesses and gears involved, and that’s pretty much what I came away with; more than that will have to wait until I get a formal copy of the anthology. (This was the first of two stories where I found the watermarking on the ARC to interfere enough with my ability to read the story that I will need to re-read it later.) Still, there’s imagery to be admired here, as well as the sheer lyricism of the writing.

And lastly, we have Shweta Narayan’s “The Padishah Begum’s Reflections”, another piece complex enough that I had a hard time reading it given the watermarking on the ARC and reading it on my iPhone. There’s a lot of jumping around between time frames in this story, which made it hard to follow on a small screen–but I glimpsed enough complexity of plot in this final piece that it’s another reason I absolutely want to acquire a full formal copy of the book.

In conclusion: highly recommended for steampunk fans as well as readers in search of lesbian fiction as well as fiction that embraces non-Western cultures. Not every piece was to my particular tastes, but they were all solid, and I look forward to buying my formal copy. Four stars.

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