This is a critique of the seventhstory 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.
‘Our Man Fred’ by A. F. Stewart is a fun ride. Classic steampunk style is crisscrossed with a number of themes throughout this secret spy adventure. The tale, like ‘His Frozen Heart’ of the same anthology, is based on Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’; although by the skin of its teeth. The justification for the claim is based on a cameo appearance of Scrooge, being the main character’s Uncle.
I can’t fault Stewart much, however, because the encounter is well written and nicely blends a memorable scene from Dickens’ story while maintaining in the amusing style of the piece as a whole. ‘Fred’ is an agent of a secret organization, and commissioned with protecting the world from the threat of evil geniuses and their clockwork technology.
The tale is a classic Bond styled adventure complete with a steam version of Q. Cleverly crossed with this theme is the addition of Fred’s female partner who brings an amusing ‘Get Smart’ feel by showing up Fred at every oversight.
Aside from the rather amusing ‘Christmas Carol’ connection, I can only say that I would have liked to see a little more depth fit into in the story. Fred and his partner, while developed, didn’t have strong motivations with which to empathize. This was mostly due to the limited length of the piece, I suspect. Likewise, the mechanical menaces that the pair faced could have used further detail and description. Lastly, if the encounter with Scrooge is meant to overlap with the introduction of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, then the setting would be a cold snowy winter. However, I got a distinctly warmer feel from Stewart’s parallel tale.
All in all, ‘Our Man Fred’ was a clever, fun, and thoroughly steampunk adventure. I think even Uncle Scrooge would have smiled if he read it.