Steampunk: an evocative word for an evocative subgenre. Steampunk, for those who haven't encountered it yet, envisages an alternate history of antiquity - a world in which the Victorians invented airships like this:
Or where Babbage completed his analytical engine! A world, in short, in which technology, mysticism and manners mix with the aesthetic of steam: gears, dials, cogs, and a helping of Victorian fashion. Steampunk's more than the aesthetic, however, as you can find out by reading this anthology - rather amusingly titled 20, 001: A Steampunk Odyssey.
...And please don't tell me that needs an explanation. So, what can you find inside this particular collection of steampunk? First off, it's an eclectic mix - a combination of more traditional steampunkery and nicely innovative concepts. Strike Breakers, for instant, takes the 'cool railway' of the subgenre into the real world: giving us a look at the workers, their difficulties, and what happens when it all goes wrong - an unsettling but profoundly necessary foundation to the prettier ideas of steampunk. This was one of my personal favourites, in fact, because it shows us that it's not just gleaming brass - there are huge social problems.
Another, Mad, combines the traditional airship - and let's face it, who doesn't feel a little thrill at a fantasy airship? - with multiple timelines. A little confusing in places, it nevertheless manages to show the verve of true steampunk - a combination of crazy ideas into something fun and very original. And there's a lot more to this anthology: mad science, the discovery of Atlantis, sea-monsters (in the desert!), portals, undersea cities, submarines in Crush Depth.. I could go on. (But I won't - I'm lazy).
It manages a good mix of tones as well, including some rather funny moments. My one complaint would be resolution - as the conclusions of a couple of stories are a little rushed. Still, there's plenty for everyone - the variety here means that if you're disappointed: well, I'll eat someone's brass pocketwatch. This is true steampunk - hit and miss on occasion, but with so many 'hit's that you'll forget the rest. This collection makes the Victorian age into a vigorous fantasy of brass and steel - nasty bits included.
Read this book, or plan to? Comment and tell me below!