Edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer4/5
In 2008, the Vandermeers unveiled Steampunk, an anthology that collected short stories and essays on the early ’90s sub-genre, best recognised for its leather-and-brass mixing of Victorian-era and sci-fi. At the time, the anthology interested us more for what the essays said than what the stories showed us in short form.
If the first anthology was a primer, this is more of a flagship. The stories here reveal Steampunk to be a varied and rich genre, no longer confined to the trappings that defined it for decades. Catherynne M Valente’s The Anachronist’s Cookbook nods to William Powell. Shweta Narayan’s The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammed Akbar reads like a starter’s manual for a Steampunk role-playing game (that’s a compliment) and Caitlin Kiernan’s The Steam Dancer (1896) is a story about the life of a woman with robot limbs.
For all its cheek, Steampunk is most interesting because of its reverence for innovation – nearly every story requires a scientist, mad or not – and engagement with class. One thing that’s often glossed over is how dark Steampunk gets. Though it may be the brass’s flash that first attracts readers, it’s the grime that makes the stories, and this anthology, so compelling.