I saw a request for advance readers for a new steampunk anthology that was coming out and I jumped on the chance to get a peek at the latest in steampunk short fiction. I received my copy a month before publication and read it with relish.
Published by Xchyler Publishing, an independent publisher that seeks out new and aspiring authors in fantasy, paranormal and steampunk, Mechanized Masterpieces edited by Penny Freeman (MM) is everything you would expect from an anthology of breakout authors. Each of the eight authors of MM all share a common strength in exhilarating turn of phrase. Throughout the book I was often caught up in the moment, or racing through the text to see what came of the drama and suspense.
I will let you google ‘steampunk’ if you are not familiar with the term, but simply say that it is a fun sub-genre that is gaining in popularity, and that it is essentially a mix of pre-industrial themes, settings, and technology and science fiction-like invention, and imagination. MM delves into this world in unique ways in each story with the frequent appearance of clockwork cyborgs and robots, and the ever lovely Victorian formality and style. It is great fun!
I will however note that the very first story ‘Tropic of Cancer’ by Neve Talbot, while having some great qualities in itself, fits only marginally into the steampunk genre and with the change of a few lines of text would become just another work of speculative fiction. More on that story in particular in another post, but just want to say I would not have chosen to start off a steampunk anthology on that foot.
Another interesting aspect to MM is that each story ascribes to a be written after the style of a great literary work such as ‘Sense and Sensibility’ by Jane Austen. While a fun idea, nearly half of the stories only nominally adhere to such a format as far as I can tell. In some cases, a complete literary work is re-written in steampunk fashion, others add an unwritten perspective, back, or parrallel story to the literary work of choice. In some instances, however, the relation seemed like it was added after the fact as a means of forcing the story to conform to the determined theme. For others still, the only relation I could find was the disclaimer at the end of the story telling me it was styled after some other work. I don’t think that the ‘styled after’ theme hurt the anthology any, but as a writer I don’t think it really helped anything.
My final criticism of the anthology as a whole, is the criticism of a writer. While each author really showed great promise in their ability to set up a scene and convey a sense of emotion with great technical and artful writing, there is a failure in solid plot development in more than one of the stories. To me, as a reader and a writer, good writing keeps me on the page, but good plot lines keep me in the book. Short stories obviously get a little more grace, as getting an engaging plot together within such a short word count is a challenge. But in MM I found stories in which the plot was either poorly motivated, dependent on the not so believable actions of characters, or nearly absent.
I’ll rate and discuss each story and author as time allows, and more as an exercise in critique to better my own writing than for reader information. But overall, I must say that despite my criticisms MM was an enjoyable read that showcased a great deal of creativity and quality writing. I’ll be looking forward to reading more anthologies from Xchyler Publishing in the future.