Contented Reader

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Book Review: Steam Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories

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Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories

JoSelle Vanderhooft, editor

Torquere Press

 

 

Steam Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories was just as torrid as I feared it might be.  So I was pleasantly surprised that, while torrid, it was not trashy.  In fact, there are some awfully well-crafted stories in here, and I’m already looking forward to the promised ‘Steam Powered 2.’

Yes, it’s a gimmick.  What’s cooler than steampunk lesbians?  Nothing that I know of.  I almost didn’t buy this collection, because I assumed that it would be another of those themed anthologies that counts on its title to sell enough copies to the targeted audience to pay for the paper, but with each story apparently chosen to make me skip to the next one, until I abruptly find myself staring at the back cover without having found anything I wanted to read.  I read so many of those as a teenager.  ‘Future Vampire Cat Tales 3.’  I think I made that title up, but I’m not ruling out the possibility that it exists.

The reason I actually did buy it was that I saw the name NK Jemisin at the top of the table of contents, and that gave me hope for at least one story worth reading.  It was a last-minute impulse purchase at the dealers’ room at Readercon, just looking for something not-too-taxing to read on the plane.

It was a very pleasant flight.  The Jemisin story, “The Effluent Engine,” was well placed at the beginning of the anthology, because it so neatly established the expectations of this collection: not only is this a book of steampunk lesbians, but the editor is making deliberate choices to include people who I don’t always see in steampunk- people who aren’t white, aren’t wealthy or even middle-class, aren’t European.  When I saw that, I feared I was going to be stuck in an exercise in political correctness, but it works because the stories themselves are good- occasionally very good.

I think my favorite story in the collection was also the shortest: Shira Lipkin’s “Truth and Life,” a tale as lovely and delicate as the tiny mechanical creatures it features.  But there are many images and ideas in here that will stay with me: the repurposed mechanical spiders of Matthew Kressel’s “The Hands That Feed” are nicely burned into my brain now, and thank you so much for that, Mr. Kressel.  Rachel Manija Brown’s vision of women who go into the desert to be bonded to mysterious mechanical steeds- or to die trying- in “Steel Rider.”  And, of course, “The Effluent Engine,” in which a free black woman comes from Haiti to New Orleans to navigate dangerous political, personal, and racial waters in order to perfect a new technology.

Were you wondering about that ‘lesbian’ bit?  The stories range from sweetly romantic to pleasantly spicy to frankly erotic.  They didn’t give off the vibe of being written to titillate men; I felt like they were more targeted to a lesbian audience.  Though I’m sure the fellas will like a few of them, too.

If you’re a lesbian or a steampunk enthusiast, you definitely will want to read this book.  Even if you’re just a person who likes to read short stories, you might enjoy picking it up.

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Written by Contented Reader

July 24, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Reviews

One Response

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  1. […] The Contented Reader says: “a tale as lovely and delicate as the tiny mechanical creatures it features.” […]


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