This Review Submitted via Difference Engine

Steampunk has always been a bit of a conundrum for science fiction fans.  On the one hand, it's clearly set in the past, usually pre-20th century, though there are some who come closer to the current time.  On the other hand, however, the worlds of steampunk are significantly more advanced than their historical contemporaries, often far past the point of actual possibility.  On balance, then, I'm usually inclined to consider steampunk a form of science fiction.  Which means it's appropriate for this blog, being futuristic but not necessarily the future.  Which means Steampunk II - Steampunk Reloaded is appropriate for review.

Reloaded with coal?  Wood?  Aetherium?  Who can say!

At 428 pages this may not sound like a particularly weighty tome, but the type is rather dense, and packs a surprising amount into this volume.  For the most part it's quite worthwhile, too, though there are a few stories that seem to drag rather brutally.  And there are just a few flat-out strange choices for inclusion in this work, such as a more raygun gothic/deco story and a tale of Coyote trying to help free a girl from service to Titania, which is just a flat-out fantasy tale.  The editors save the worst for last, though, closing out the book with 'A Secret History of Steampunk' by 'The Mecha-Ostrich', over forty pages of disconnected fragments of story jammed together, linked only by the most tenuous of connections.  Lacking any real, coherent narrative to carry the reader through, those last forty pages can seem frankly interminable, and certainly don't allow for the fiction section to end on a high note.  That's followed by a short non-fiction section, mostly biographies of all the contributors but with a few short essays on steampunk itself, its potential future and its personal impact.

But don't get me wrong, this is an excellent collection, with a variety of strong, compelling short stories.  From the intensely personal 'The Steam Dancer (1896)' to the lyrically aesop-like tale of 'The Mechanical Aviary of Jalad-ud-din Muhammad Akbar', from the Victoriana of 'The Strange Case of Mister Salad Monday' to the Western flavour of 'The Cast Iron Kid' to the east Asian 'O One', from the lighthearted romp of 'Balfour and Meriwether in the Adventure of the Emperor's Vengeance' to the class-conscious rabble rousing of 'The Anachronist's Cookbook', Steampunk II has something for every potential fan of the genre.  And despite being a fair connoisseur of various genre short fiction pieces, there was only a single story in this collection I'd seen anywhere else, and even that was an interesting alt-hist piece well worth re-reading.

I'm always wary of recommending an anthology for purchase; they're often quite pricey, and the stories can be pretty hit or miss in a lot of them.  But this collection, and the anthology that preceded this one, I'm happy to recommend without reservation.  Any steampunk fan, no matter what particular form of steampunk story they like, will find something here to enjoy, and enjoy greatly.

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