I could actually hear the full, long dresses swish against the railings of airships as these intrepid passengers sped along through the clouds. I also trembled in fear along with the professor as he gazed at the misshapen, cobbled and furred automaton whirring in front of him. Had I been transported back (or forward, far, far forward) in time to an alternative Victorian world? No, I had simply immersed myself in Steampunk Prime, a collection of short stories edited by Mike Ashley.
I am certainly a newbie when it comes to steampunk. Or maybe it’s not so? Unbeknownst to me, apparently I have always been steampunk, before it ever became cool. The TV show, Wild, Wild West had long been a favorite of mine. I’m fairly certain I’ve seen every episode. I swooned at the brilliant teeth and lean figure of actor Robert Conrad in the lead role and fell for the charm and gadgets of his brilliant sidekick played by actor Ross Martin.
In Steampunk Prime, Ashley has gathered representatives of all of the perfect elements of this wild, wild genre. New marvelous inventions including machines, electricity, aircraft, aliens, world doom, world elation and even a bit of horror. The oldest story here was written in 1897 while the most recent, 1916. A far cry away from our recent fascination with all things “steampunk.”
However, what makes this anthology so astounding is that these authors truly lived steampunk. The cogs and gears on which they relied weren’t simply adornments for an outfit or the retro-fitting for an elaborate necklace. It was this new “steam” that powered their daily lives – whooshed them in half the time from place to place on behemoth trains or even cleaned their laundry with an unimaginable ease! When the sizzle of electricity snaked its way into these authors homes and routine places of business, they could only marvel in wonder or recoil in trepidation. They have given us such a unique view into how they saw the future of their world – where they imagined this industrial revolution might take them in 300 or 13,000,000 years in the future.
I can only say “Thanks, Mr. Ashley” for putting together in one place all these stupendous glimpses into real Victorian steampunk for us. Very well done.
Thanks to TOR for the copy.