[Book Review] The Steampunk Trilogy

The Steampunk Trilogy / Paul di Filippo (Powell's Books)
"An outrageous trio of novellas that bizarrely and brilliantly twists the Victorian era out of shape, by a master of steampunk alternate history

Welcome to the world of steampunk, a nineteenth century outrageously reconfigured through weird science. With his magnificent trilogy, acclaimed author Paul Di Filippo demonstrates how this unique subgenre of science fiction is done to perfection—reinventing a mannered age of corsets and industrial revolution with odd technologies born of a truly twisted imagination."

I'm not even sure how to start reviewing this book.  As promised, this is a collection of three bizarrely twisted tales.  I do not know enough about the author to agree that he is a "master of steampunk alternate history."

The Steampunk Trilogy is a collection of three stories more of an alternative history rather than specifically steampunk inclination.  Eldritch horror, interest in science, and spiritualists do not make the stories steampunk.

Victoria is a bizarrely round-about story involving carnal desires, the soon-to-be-crowned queen, and a royal doppelgänger that is a hybrid of woman and salamander.  The plot makes no sense once the reveal is made, there really was no point to it.  The Prime Minister had the power to get what he wanted without sending Cowperthwait on a wild goose chase, its not as if he wasn't going to learn the truth.  And the whole extra bit about the gentleman on the same search and how that fell out was utterly pointless.  The premise was interesting none-the-less, and the story was somewhat intriguing.

I couldn't finish reading Hottentots.  Ze german accent would have made an Indiana Jones Nazi proud, it was written out so thick and exaggerated to be near incomprehensible without sounding everything out.  That combined with incredibly heavy dwelling on the part of the narrator on the inferiorities and defects of the "lesser" races (plus things like mistaking the black woman who wakes him for an ape) just made the story unfinishable.  Had I continued, I believe I would have gotten into a story of eldrich horror, which I normally like, but I just couldn't stand the story enough to get to that point.  I assume the author was going for 'historical accuracy' with the scientist's obsession about race, but that doesn't make it any less overwhelming.

Now, maybe I'm overly judgmental of Walt and Emily simply because I grew up in Amherst, MA.  But sometimes it's the little things, like Emily wondering what life would be like "had the family stayed closer to town" (have you looked at a map of Amherst and the location of the Dickenson home?) or it's something bigger like the sheer overwhelming pretention of both Emily and Walt and the fact that they seem to only think and communicate in poetic prose, including to quote themselves in conversation.  Then again is the fact that the story is essentially Emily/Walt fan-fiction, with just as a consummation of lust that is just as bizarre as the rest of the story.

I suppose the whole book could be classified as absurdist.  It has elements of science fiction and fantasy, and the stories definitely take place in anachronistic historical settings, but I can't bring myself to consider the book standing out on its own as 'steampunk.'

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.


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