steampunk! an anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories – guest post by alexis of lit from woe

Today’s guest blogger is Alexis of Lit From Woe.  She’s part of my DC FYA book club, and is (of course) smart & funny. Deadly combination.


This is not Detroit. I've never even BEEN to Detroit. But it sounded punk rock and a bit mechanical, and since this week is steampun…

Oh. NOT that kind of steampunk? Man. I'm two and oh here.

Okay. *Steampunk* Like, the sub-genre. In kid lit.

Got it.

I don't think I'm alone in having more than a bit of private embarrassment over the fact that, while I like the *idea* of steampunk, and I LOVE the aesthetics, I'm rarely enticed, let alone bowled over, by steampunk in literature. Maybe because the concept is TOO visual, it's hard to sustain interest in a non-visual medium. Maybe my imagination sucks.

I know, I know. This whole post is going all the wrong ways. BEAR WITH ME.

steampunk! an anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories edited by kelly link and gavin j. grant book cover
So I don't love stempunk in literature, but I really really *want to.* My TBR pile, it's always open to new steampunk efforts. And even if I'm not the right reader for most of them, occasionally I find things I love, and Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, is one of the efforts I loved.

Not surprising, really. Kelly Link is a superhero with words. I would buy her Pretty Monsters collection for every person I ever met, if only I had the money. The things she does with stories…seriously. SERIOUSLY. She takes genres and peels them inside out and rightside back, and makes you wonder how it is possible that no one ever thought of those stories (monsters; aliens; wolves; ghosts) from those angles before.

Which is probably why I was so impressed by her edited collection of steampunk short stories, and bowled the heck over by both her own and Libba Bray's contributions: their stories are steampunk, but pulled inside out and rightside back.

In Link's "The Summer People," the story opens on a contemporary girl, home miserably sick from school, dealing with a myopic, self-interested dad on his way out the door for a "week or three" to "get right with God." Again. There is NyQuil and television and Lexuses and prayer meetings and hooch running in this world. There are also fairies.

But the story isn't about the fairies (although Fran's entire existence hinges on her relationship with them), or about the hooch running or prayer meetings (although Fran's entire existence hinges around her father's relationship to THOSE), or even about the magical clockwork toys the summer people leave for Fran as gifts for her help (although those are as fascinating as any a clockwork bauble popped up in steampunk lore).

No, what "The Summer People" is about is how Fran is living her life, and what she does, good or bad, to take it by the horns and make it HERS. This is steampunk where the steam power and clockwork is incidental background noise, and the real story is what happens in and around it. This is steampunk where punk ideals—fighting against/within/despite/in the face of the system, wearing your own decisions like a bloody crown, making your own damn mark on the world—those are what matter most. And it's fantastic.

The word I most associate with Libba Bray (incidentally, doing a The Diviners event @ DC's own Politics & Prose this very evening!) is AMBITIOUS, and with her entry in the Steampunk! collection, she does not disappoint. "The Last Ride of the Glory Girls" is just as punk rock, with just as much spitting by the heroine(s) in the face of the clockwork world at large as is Link's "Summer People," just with fewer fairies and a few more train heists.

(Although, interestingly, there is still plenty of "getting right with God" serving as motivation for the heroine to grab the reins of her own life…)

"Glory Girls," for all it is steampunk, is also a western. It is, too, sci-fi. But the generic trappings aren't what make the story. When Adelaide Jones rides with the Glory Girls, she is not a cowgirl. When she signs up with the Pinkertons, she is not a dusty private detective. When she fiddles together a clockwork device that bubbles time, she is not a steampunk engineer.

What she is is a girl whose been left behind and forced into working the system the only way the system will let her. What she is is a girl who is on her way to having just about too damn much, and would you mind greatly if I go ahead and explode my way through a life I've decided on for myself, you love-drowning, backwards society, please and thank you and a big EFF YOU to you all.

She is Adelaide Jones, and her story is not ABOUT the aesthetic trappings of steampunk. That's just icing.

So, privately—now publicly—embarrassed as I may be to admit that literary steampunk just isn't my bag, I am MORE than happy to shill for steampunk that lets the steampunk do its own thing in the background, so long as the characters are allowed to punch their way through their own lives up front.

steampunk! an anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories uk book cover
Imagine an alternate universe where romance and technology reign. Where tinkerers and dreamers craft and re-craft a world of automatons, clockworks, calculating machines, and other marvels that never were. Where scientists and schoolgirls, fair folk and Romans, intergalactic bandits, utopian revolutionaries, and intrepid orphans solve crimes, escape from monstrous predicaments, consult oracles, and hover over volcanoes in steam-powered airships. Here, fourteen masters of speculative fiction, including two graphic storytellers, embrace the genre's established themes and refashion them in surprising ways and settings as diverse as Appalachia, ancient Rome, future Australia, and alternate California. Visionaries Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have invited all-new explorations and expansions, taking a genre already rich, strange, and inventive in the extreme and challenging contributors to remake it from the ground up. The result is an anthology that defies its genre even as it defines it.

Interested in more steampunk? Check out the Steampunk Week in September calendar of events!


Liviania said...

I have a few sample stories from Steampunk! but I've always meant to buy and read the whole thing.

I agree that literary steampunk doesn't always work for me, unlike steampunk cosplayers.

Ginny Larsen said...

GREAT guest post--love all of it. i was laughing the whole time... loving the honesty too (makes it real, like how Alexis describes the characters).

awesome review.

thanks for being great at this thing. i mentioned you in my interview btw. killer move by me :D

AlexisKG said...

Ginny—thank you so much!

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