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!

6 comments:

  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!

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  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)

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  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!

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  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!

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