19 September 2011
Post 427: Steampunk!
One of the things I like most about steampunk, besides the inventive gadgets of course, is that no matter how disparate the social structure or power dynamic, the machines almost always seem to play a part in helping equalize it. All you have to do is be able to figure out the machines, or at least be clever enough to use them in a different way and find someone to help you do that.
Because of this, we seem to get pluckier characters, usually children, and often female children or young adults who get fed up with The Way Things Are and go about working around, with, or against the system to get what they want, and damn the consequences. Nearly all of the stories in this collection are about children, or at least start off that way, and the majority of the steampunk works I've read (Leviathan series, to some extent the Parasol Protectorate, many of the Pump Six stories, etc) have involved young characters in otherwise powerless positions. This was not the stated goal in this particular anthology, so I am especially interested in the fact that pretty much all of the stories contained this element.
For instance, the fabulous Cory Doctorow gives us The Clockwork Fagin, a sort of Oliver Twist with a twist; indeed, this is where the title comes from. Our narrator ends up in a workhouse for girls and boys who have lost limbs to machinery, not uncommon during the industrial era, but these are computing machines rather than industrial looms and presses. And instead of "Oliver" going to the "Artful Dodger" it's the other way around. In the end the kids find a way of gaining a great deal of freedom, and even a better life, than they would have otherwise. This is in part due to the knowledge they gained from the previously mentioned powerless positions as child laborers. Of course, these children still had to wait for a leader among them to assist in their liberation, but that they are able to rise above their circumstances is all due to the mechanisms in hand.
Other interesting stories include The Last Ride of the Glory Girls (Libby Bray), Steam Girl (Dylan Horrocks), and The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor (Delta Sherman). The first two involve outcasts finding their places, the first through her use of mechanical know-how and the second as two teenagers relate to each other through their imaginative stories. The last story is probably the least profound in the sense that Tacy does not avoid servitude, but still manages to eke out a better living and a better servant position.
Despite the similarities in steampunk, there is still a lot about it that is unique to the genre. People are more playful with it, and it is a vastly more hopeful realm of science fiction than some of its predecessors (i.e. Frankenstein stories). It revels in the technology and offers it up as a token of hope rather than the ever present dire and doom of more traditional science fiction. To be certain, there are still some authors who go dark and gloomy with this genre (hi there, Bacigalupi), which isn't a bad thing; rather it provides a more vivid contrast to every silver lining presented.
My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by NetGalley