The smartly titled A Steampunk Anthology: Mechanized Masterpieces is not just a description of the stories collected in this anthology edited by Penny Freeman. The book’s forward reinforces the theme of the stories with, “Steampunk is revisionism, and what better material to expand upon than literature that bespeaks the universal human condition and has withstood the test of time?” In the spirit of brilliant classics, Xchyler Publishing has taken this definition to heart by using characters, ideas, little snippets and whole stories from literary “masterpieces” and opened up fresh new Steampunk perspectives.
There are only eight contributions with varying lengths in this collection, with only nine authors to their credit. But be assured, each selection exemplifies the revisionist theme by introducing new angles on old ideas. Here are brief rundowns of what you can expect.
Anthologies are tricky in that editors are encouraged to put their best foot forward if they want to grab the reader’s attention for the entire volume. Tropic of Cancer by Neve Talbot is the first installment of the collection, and a strong candidate in letting the reader know just what to expect in the rest of the book. Fashioned around the moral awareness of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the familiar character Edward Fairfax Rochester is the determined protagonist this time around. With the industrial challenges of a Steampunk era mixed in with a little mystical romance, the hero battles atonement to an estranged father, an ambitious brother and the empowerment of love. Charlotte Brontë would approve.
Styled after Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Anika Arrington gives her story a Steampunk feel with more of a pirate twist. In Sense and Cyborgs, the young Margaret Dashwood Campbell is not only the first mate on the sea vessel named Maiden, she is also married to the Captain “Dagger” Campbell. This mystery adventure finds the crew in Singapore in search of a physician known as the Elephant Butcher. The captain is gravely injured and a clockwork prosthetic leg may be his only way of survival, but dangerous surprises stand in their way.
Characters from Charles Dickens’ classic David Copperfield appear in Micawber and Copperfield and the Great Diamond Heist of 1879 by David W. Wilkin. This is also a Steampunk pirate tale, but this one takes place in airships rather than on the sea. The Dickens characters make a smooth transition to the genre, but the setting and insightful detail on airship battle techniques is what brings this tale to life.
Little Boiler Girl by Scott William Taylor is a story that tugs at the same heartstrings as its influential predecessor Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. A dark and depressing steam powered city depends on the dedication of a small girl to remain running. But rather than relying on a few matches for enlightenment, this little girl’s curiosity powers the discovery of a madman’s hidden secrets along with her own mysterious past.
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux is another classic story nicely suited for the Steampunk genre. But for this anthology, inspired author M. K. Wiseman introduces an elusive Opera Ghost playing cat and mouse with theatre officials in A Clockwork Ballet. Meg, the featured star of the theatre productions must face her emotional ties with the strange beast hiding in the shadows along with those of her ailing mother. With exciting Victorian era drama, the mysterious links between the three characters slowly unravel.
Of course Victorian imagery is essential in many Steampunk worlds. But relying on familiar characters from iconic works like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens can be quite an ambitious goal. Author’s Aaron and Belinda Sikes take the challenge a step further in the story titled His Frozen Heart. Here, Ebenezer Scrooge is a shrewd businessman who doesn’t need ghosts of time to make him understand the true price of love. By adding both romance and horror to this timeless tale, the authors have provided a new dimension to the archetypical miser.
Our Man Fred by A. F. Stewart also addresses A Christmas Carol in a different and unexpected point of view. Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew Fred is a daring agent of the Clockwork Department of London. Hot on the trail of a sinister madman, Fred and his partner Mary are armed with fantastic Steampunk gadgets as they partake in this nonstop adventure to save the world.
Finally, it’s surprising Mary Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus hasn’t been pulled into the Steampunk fold more often. Titled Lavenza, or the Modern Galatea, the last installment in the anthology by Alyson Grauer is a unique take on the legendary monster story. Elizabeth Lavenza is a young woman driven by family loyalty and passion. But as the mystery of her sordid past unfolds, the reader begins to question who the true Frankenstein monster really is.
Each entry in A Steampunk Anthology: Mechanized Masterpieces is styled after a classic canonized story most readers are probably already familiar with. If not, you should take the opportunity to search them out and see what the fuss was about. But the new stories here are not just rehashed or “mechanized” to fit the Steampunk idea. Relying on genuine character development separated from the original stories and fresh imagery, these talented writers have created masterful works of their own. It’s obvious that Xchyler Publishing made the right choices for this anthology.