October 11, 2011

Zeppelins, goggles and clockwork

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If you are unfamiliar with the genre known as steampunk, then this collection of stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant is a good place to start. As the subtitle states, this “anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories” represents not only steampunk in the classic definition but also with unexpected sci-fi and fantasy twists.

For the neophyte, the standard setting for steampunk fiction is an alternate timeline in which there is more Industrial Age machinery (think steam engines, brass workings and aviation goggles) than computerized technology—though often these worlds are sufficiently advanced to include inventions like clockwork robots and huge flying ships. The genre has been expanding in recent years, and now Link and Grant have brought together some great names in YA fiction to produce this anthology, including M.T. Anderson, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray and Garth Nix. The authors present numerous different variations on the steampunk theme and are clearly enjoying themselves as they let their imaginations loose.

Even though steampunk fiction has been around for many years (most people would include Jules Verne in this category), it has made a resurgence lately in the form of middle grade and teen fiction and is rapidly becoming the new favorite of previously hardcore fantasy fans. With a host of various heroes and villains—“scientists and schoolgirls, fair folk and Romans, intergalactic bandits, Utopian revolutionaries, and intrepid orphans” among them—Steampunk! would be a fine starting point for anyone curious about this genre as these popular authors more than live up to their reputations.

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