Saturday, 1 October 2011

Review | 20, 001: A Steampunk Odyssey - 'Sufficiently innovative for a book twice the length'

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!


  1. Pardon me while I squee. *Steampunk* :)

    I've been challenging myself to read more short stories and anthologies, so will definitely have to check this one out...thanks for the review!

  2. Hey, let me join in with the squeeing! :P

    Yes - I'm not usually a huge fan of non-SF short stories (though I love GRRM's Dunk and Egg stories, and Erikson's Bauchelain and Korbal Broach) - but steampunk works really well as short stories! I'd be interested to know what you think when you've finished: some of the stories are better than others, but the best thing is the variety. (For me, anyway)

  3. Sea monsters AND steampunk? Yes, please! haha. Sounds like an odd combination, but I would be willing to give it a go anyway.

    I've only read perhaps one book of short stories where the stories weren't required for school...but lately I've been seeing a lot of anthologies with stories that sound intriguing. I'm sure these are a good way to find authors who are new to me, too.

    Thanks for the review, I'll have to keep an eye out for this!

  4. Heh, it is! But odd combinations - well, they're often the best.

    I'm not really an anthology person either, but I definitely enjoy the occasional read - and just like you said, they're fantastic for finding new authors - in one anthology, I ended up liking a story so much that I reserved the authors' entire series. Can't remember who, though... Thanks for commenting!