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Obligatory disclaimer: An advance review copy of this anthology was graciously provided by the editor. Also, I know several people who wrote stories for this. This does not affect the content of the review in any way, or, if it does, I'll try to point that out when I come to it.

So there's been a lot of internet conversation lately, which it is very much too three in the morning for me to link to comprehensively because I mean it, there has been a lot, about whether steampunk is innately a reactionary genre, or whether it's just that a lot of people write it that way. Because, you know, a lot of alt-historical Queen Victoria and the sun never setting on the British Empire and colonialism Now With Dirigibles. And the question arises, where is the Mughal steampunk, and the African steampunk, and the Caribbean steampunk, and the steampunk which deals with political issues, and the steampunk which thinks about issues of identity, and on and on and on and on and on?

Well, one of the major goals of this collection, and one of the goals it fulfills admirably, is to start being some of that where. Yes, this is all lesbian steampunk; there is some lesbian element in every one of the stories. It is also full of stories that are crammed with other directions I haven't seen steampunk go before. None of the stories here is set in England for more than about two pages. There's a magnificent Mughal story in here, there are multiple stories set in Africa, in the Caribbean, in places where people are Jewish and Muslim and disabled and political radicals and political conservatives and just in general this book does really, really well at not being The Usual By Now Nearly Archetypal Extremely White Rather Straight Steampunk Book, and without it ever feeling forced-- these are the stories these writers wanted to tell, and they are new stories, and I love that.

Of course, there is also going to be debate about whether some of these stories are actually steampunk. Is it a tech level we're talking about, or does it have to be an actual alternate history using that tech level? If so, how alternate? Clearly, the appropriate tech level does not, in our world, do the things it needs to do in fiction, so how much magic is allowable as a supplement to that tech, and should it be explicitly magic, or does it need to stay fairly implicit? This sort of argument can go on forever, and everyone will have six or seven opinions. I tend to come down on the side of 'yes, I would like it to be vaguely identifiable as alternate history' and 'would like the magic mitigated by at least some technical handwavium', so for me, in this anthology, Mike Allen's 'Sleepless, Burning Life' is actually 'metaphysical fantasy with clockwork in'. Your mileage may vary. It was for me the only one that came down on that side of that genre line, here, and it's not as though I actually mind.

The quality of the stories here is generally extremely high. )


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March 2017

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