This is a critique of the fourth story in the steampunk anthology ‘Mechanized Masterpieces’ edited by Penny Freeman. The purpose is not to show all the mistakes and short comings, or say that I am a better writer, because clearly I’m not. This is simply an exercise in critical reading with the goal of improving my own writing, and encouraging great writing from any reader that passes by.
There will be lots of SPOILERS here. You have been warned.
Now to what I think may be my most favorite story in the Mechanized Masterpieces anthology. ‘Little Boiler Girl’ by Scott William Taylor, while not the flashiest or most exhilarating short story in the anthology wins my favor because of its clean and complete story line.
Readers of my other reviews may have noticed that I pay a lot of attention to plot and motivation. I really want to be able to turn a story over and over in my mind and be able to connect all the presented dots that are given, such that I can meaningfully imagine and continue connecting the dots that are not given. In order to provide that a short story has to be concise, self consistent, and free of extraneous rabbit trails that distract from the main point. Little Boiler Girl does all that and does so with a heart grabbing tale that may bring you to tears.
No, I haven’t read ‘Little Match Girl’ by Hans Christian Andersen, but with this work I feel I don’t need to have in order to thoroughly enjoy Taylors steampunk rendering. While Taylor may not possess quite as much skill in setting a scene as Talbot, or as peculiarly unique a style as Arrington, his strength is in the balance of many skills needed to make an engaging tale.
As a reader, I felt connected to Pia, and empathized in her plight. As a writer, I found it elegant how Taylor embedded the substantial backstory across the tale without ‘info-dumping’ or distracting from the present events in the story. Only a writer would know what a delicate dance it is to bring in backstory in such a way, and I was really impressed.
For complaints, I did notice a little glitch where the entrance to the secret part of the facility seemed too easily discovered by Pia. Later also, it seemed to be of no impedance to the police, despite the door specifically being closed behind Pia.
Stylistically, I would have liked to see some added symmetry by having the matchcase introduced earlier in the story and then it brought back at the end as it becomes a focal point. But, such symmetry is another of my pet preferences and may not be shared by all readers.
The only other nitpicky thing I could say is that I would have liked to see a slightly different treatment of the hypothermia experienced by Pia. Heralding from New England I’m personally familiar with the cold and with hypothermia, and didn’t feel terribly convinced by the details of Pia’s experiences with freezing death.
Little Boiler Girl was perhaps my most favorite in the anthology because it was well written, moving, and distraction free. Thanks Scott, I hope to read more from you soon.