Extraordinary Engines – Edited by Nick Gevers

I received Extraordinary Engines through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme. I’ve been a fan of the Steampunk genre since I read The Difference Engine many years ago.

The first story is Steampunch by James Lovegrove, the story of the rise and fall of a steam powered boxer related by a veteran denizen of the Martian penal colony. I enjoyed this one, a very Victorian flavour coupled with some unusual steampunk devices.

Next up is Static by Marly Yeomans, set in a world permeated by static electricity and a protagonist who reminded me somewhat of Estella in Great Expectations (not that I’ve read it, mind you).

The third story is Speed, Speed the Cable by Kage Baker, features a secret society who aim to guide the world towards a more advanced future through fair means or foul. The cable of the title is the transatlantic telegraph line which is attacked by saboteurs.

Ian R. MacLeod is next with Elementals, beings conjured out of the Aether by a not as mad as he seemed scientist, but at what cost to humanity?

The fifth story is Machine Maid by Margo Lanagan – woman begins to regret moving to a new home, a ranch in the Australian outback, her only company from day to day a domestic clockwork robot called Clarissa. Driven by boredom she starts to investigate the inner workings of the robot which horrify her somewhat puritanical nature.

In Lady Witherspoon’s Solution by James Morrow, is written as a journal describing exploring scientists happen upon a secluded island peopled, apparently, by Neanderthals. After gaining their trust one of the scientists is presented with a second journal and we are transported to Victorian England to discover the shocking truth behind these creatures.

Next is Hannah by Keith Brooke which is part detective story, part Frankenstein tale. Perhaps the least ‘steampunky’ of the stories in this volume.

Adam Roberts is one of my favourite SciFi authors, his contribution to the volume is Petrolpunk. It seems like he was playing one of those free association games as he jumbles in a bunch of sci-fi tropes, including steampunk, parallel worlds, eco-warriors, mind controlling aliens, then shakes them around a bit to see what emerges. In the end I think there was a bit too much in it to fit as it all felt a little hurried towards the end, might make a nice novella though.

The ninth story is American Cheetah by Robert Reed where we meet a steam powered Abraham Lincoln, captured in algorithmic form from the original by a ‘soul-catcher’ machine, who is working as a sheriff in small town America. After some reflections on the nature of mind, freedom and what it is to be human the story moves into all action Tombstone mode with the imminent arrival of notorious, steam-powered outlaw James-Younger Gang.

Fixing Hanover by Jeff VanderMeer (for Jay Lake) starts with a broken automaton washing up on a remote beach where an army weapons scientist as hidden for many years from the horrors he created. Once he starts repairing the automaton a return to horror becomes inevitable.

Having had a story for Jay Lake, we now have one by the man himself – The Lollygang Save the World on Accident – it’s more straight Cyberpunk than Steampunk, but enjoyable nonetheless. The Lollygang are a bunch of techno-urchins surviving on petty crime on a steam powered space station.

Finally we have Jeffrey Ford’s The Dream of Reason, a short ‘mad scientist who’s demons become real’ story.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, particularly Steampunch, Machine Maid and American Cheetah. I have since been seeking out full length novels by a number of these authors at my local bookshops.

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