Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Extraordinary Engines" edited by Nick Gevers

"Extraordinary Engines"
edited by Nick Gevers
Format: Paperback, 448 pages
Publisher: Solaris Books

I personally enjoyed in my reading years the English novels set in the Victorian era, but not only the novels set in that period, also the authors of that period, such as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, just to name a few. And the combination between this era and a modern technology used in steampunk made me read with interest and curiosity this sub-genre when I got the chance. I got such a chance again when I picked up the anthology edited by Nick Gevers, “Extraordinary Engines”. “Extraordinary Engines” is a collection which gathers between its covers 12 steampunk stories written by some of the present speculative fiction authors.

“Steampunch” by James Lovegrove – In a remote prison, an inmate recollects the story of his life to a new arrival and the story of Steampunch. Steampunch was a robot who took part in the mechano-boxing, a sport involving steam machines, and the inmate his trainer. What I liked at this story is how the author transposes the world of boxing in the mechanical world. I liked how every robot has a nickname matching his boxing performance, how the sport was covered in the papers and also how was contested. Also the end of the story is interesting and I mean here that I liked where James Lovegrove places the prison giving his story a deeper touch of the Sci-Fi Genre.

“Static” by Marly Youmans – Estella Hightower is kept prisoner by her aunt in her own house, but when her aunt dies by instant combustion Estella faces her freedom, but also the investigation of a young man, who she admired from her tower prison. Well, I have to admit that I’m not particularly fond of this story. Although it has the feeling of the Victorian era, with an evil aunt who terrorizes her niece over an inheritance, I found the story moving slowly and without very much action. This didn’t apply well to my entertainment.

“Speed, Speed the Cable” by Kage Baker – A trans-Atlantic cable is set to make the connection between the Americans and the English. But not everyone sees this as progress and agrees with the cable. So, different factions fight to prevent or to allow the existence of the Atlantic cable. The story is focused on the progress, represented here by the trans-Atlantic cable, how the society receives the progress and the debate around it. Also it deals with the philosophical questions of the sacrifices imposed by progress, if they are justified or not. The end of the story is ironic and it has an interesting issue around copyright and a writing figure of that Victorian period.

“Elementals” by Ian R. MacLeod – James Woolfendon is an active young man and now he tries a new theory of his, the theory of elementals. But his experiments will change him and our storyteller forever. I was interested in this story until one point, but unfortunately from that point it became rather ambiguous and it seemed that the author speeded up the end, because I found the story a little rushed to a conclusion.

“Machine Maid” by Margo Lanagan – In the Australian colony a young wife finds herself alone for a while, without any companionship besides an automaton. She discovers that this mechanical maid has some features different from the usual ones and she will try to change the automaton and her life. The story chances the difficulties which encountered the women in that era. Mrs. Goverman has an inner struggling and is trying to outcome a society in which her behavior is imposed and she must fit a specific standard. She also exercises a talent thought inappropriate for her by the society, but with a stunning result.

“Lady Witherspoon’s Solution” by James Morrow – Captain Archibald Carmody of H.M.S. “Aldebaran” finds a new island on the Indian Ocean. On this island he discovers some pre-historical men, but no women, and also with the help of one of the inhabitants a journal that would clarify many aspects of his discovery. What I liked at this story is the hidden experiments that are taking place here and the tests made on themselves by some characters in a true “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” style. The story is quite catchy and the action kept me turning the pages quickly.

“Hannah” by Keith Brooke – Inspector Derby is investigating the murder of a little girl, Hannah Mason. He is helped by the storyteller, a doctor who has a new technique that might revolutionize the forensic science. The story is centered on the medical technique of that era, with an ethical question behind it and with a little twist behind the murder of Hannah Mason.

“Petrolpunk” by Adam Roberts – The Queen has forbidden the Earth foray and the society is relying only on the steam power. A new group is emerging trying to force a change in this policy and to profit after the huge resources of the Earth. This story is one my favorite from this anthology. I liked that although the author keeps England close to the reality of the Victorian era his world has some very interesting changes. Also the elements of Science Fiction stories are present on almost every step and I really liked the irony behind the petrol, the pollution and exploitation notions present in the story.

“American Cheetah” by Robert Reed – The election campaign of Abraham Lincoln is helped by a few machines that resemble perfectly with the American president and are present in different corners of the country. After the death of the president one of them settles in a small town and becomes the sheriff of that town. And now he is facing the threat of some well-known villains which are not very different from him. This is a western story with accents of Sci-Fi, with the development of technology and how that technology is put to use.

“Fixing Hanover” by Jeff VanderMeer – On a remote island the sea brings to shore a robot. And a genius who hides on this island has to repair him. I believe the characters of this story are the most emotional involved from this anthology. It seems that the author caught in the few pages of the story the turmoil of the main character. Also behind the main characters I could see another philosophical theme which leaves the reader thinking, how the character deals with the consequences of his actions.

“The Lollygang Save the World by Accident” by Jay Lake – Per is a member of the Lollygang and that group lives and acts like everyone else on one of the decks of The Big Pipe. When he tries to revolt against his group his punishment leads him not only to his saving, but to the world’s saving too. That is another story I really liked, mainly because of a few ideas behind the story, like how the world lives in The Big Pipe and this idea made me think of the post-apocalyptic stories I enjoy so much. And the atmosphere of the story resembles the atmosphere of a post-apocalyptic story.

“The Dream of Reason” by Jeffrey Ford – Amanitas Perul is a renowned luminist and he believes the stars are made of diamonds and the matter is merely light slowed down. Now he is trying to obtain diamond dust from the starlight. An interesting story especially because it is set in a fantastic world. It is an interesting world, with a different society with different rules. And the author shows us some glimpses of this world geography.

“Extraordinary Engines” is not a perfect anthology. No anthology is! Like in every anthology Nick Gevers gathers in his one, stories that I really liked and some stories that weren’t on my liking. But “Extraordinary Engines” is a nice foray in the steampunk with interesting stories for those familiar with the sub-genre and for those unfamiliar too.


SciFiGuy said...

Sounds like a decent collection from some great writers. I've loved steampunk ever since discovering James Blaylock,.

Mihai A. said...

Indeed a decent collection. Although isn't my top favorite I still enjoy to read it :)

Anonymous said...

i wanted to read it when i saw it but now...i don`t know, i have second thoughts...anyway the cover looks interesting :)and if i could i guess i would bought it only because Jeff has a story there;)

Mihai A. said...

Kyo, indeed is an interesting cover. As for Jeff VandeMeer's story, although it is interesting I personally liked two others more :)

Anonymous said...

hey...the solaris editors saw your review;)
here is the link :


nicely done ;)

Mihai A. said...

Thank you very much, Kyo :)