One of my favorite book discoveries of the past year is Torquere Press’s SteamPowered: Steampunk Lesbian Stories (2011, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Editor). As a fan of steampunk and steampunk romance, I was excited to finally crack open this anthology. And as luck would have it, I did so just in time for the Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event!
Before I share my experience with SteamPowered, here’s the blurb:
The fifteen tantalizing, thrilling, and ingenious tales in Steam-Powered put a new spin on steampunk by putting women where they belong -- in the captain’s chair, the laboratory, and one another’s arms. Here you’ll meet inventors, diamond thieves, lonely pawn brokers, clockwork empresses, brilliant asylum inmates, and privateers in the service of San Francisco’s eccentric empire. Though they hail from across the globe and universes far away, each character is driven to follow her own path to independence and to romance. The women of Steam-Powered push steampunk to its limits and beyond.
I had known about SteamPowered for a while and mainly held back purchasing it because of budget reasons. Many months later, in the mood for a steampunk anthology one day, I checked out The Mammoth Book of Steampunk (2012, Sean Wallace, Editor) from my local library. Little did I know what that anthology had in store for me.
N.K. Jemisin’s “The Effluent Engine” was in that anthology and I enjoyed it immensely. (You can read it for free here.). An alternate history 1800s New Orleans setting and a Haitian protagonist? Sold!
Upon finishing the tale I did some research. I learned that “The Effluent Engine” had originally been released in SteamPowered. That’s when I finally realize how much fun awaited me. What was I waiting for?
I immediately downloaded SteamPowered. An improved budget was a factor, but my decision really came down to the power of Jemisin’s story as well as my craving for diversity in steampunk and steampunk romance. But yeah, since all of the authors were new to me, it also helped that I was able to sample a story for free. Yay libraries!
SteamPowered went beyond my expectations. One of the reasons (among many) it’s a great collection is the variety. You’ll encounter wildly different settings, characters, genre elements, and themes. One of my personal favorites is “Suffer Water” by Beth Wodzinski. This story features a steampunk cyborg gunslinger! I don’t encounter those in my reading as often as I’d like—let alone female ones—so what a terrific surprise it was.
I’m a fan of Western films (and we all know how diverse the Western film genre is—not!), so it was really refreshing to read about an intrepid female gunslinger determined to complete her mission even as her steampunk parts are practically disintegrating before her eyes. Take that, Django!
Don’t care for Western settings? No problem! SteamPowered delivers all kinds of steampunk flavors. Some of the settings are more tech/steam powered based, while others slant toward fantasy and clockwork. Action-adventure, mystery, political elements, and suspense infuse many of the stories in one way or another.
Rachel Manija Brown’s “Steel Rider,” for example, combines steampunk with giant transforming robots in a haunting frontier setting. I know! The premise is pure awesomesauce. In “Brilliant” by Georgina Bruce you’ll meet two protagonists traveling aboard a train through a fantastical landscape of glass cities and silver dirigibles. Their relationship is quirky, silly, and at times wonderfully, painfully juvenile.
Many of the stories feature a romance or romantic elements. Some follow romance genre conventions and end with a Happily Ever After or Happily For Now. Others feature bittersweet or in some cases, downright tragic endings for the couple.
This anthology showcases a delicious assortment of smart, strong, and ingenious female characters. Based on my reading experience, SteamPowered easily matches other steampunk anthologies in terms of overall quality and creativity. Actually, as a female reader, I think it does them one better. The underlying message is all about empowerment and the limitless possibilities of what women can accomplish.
Want to know more about SteamPowered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories Visit Torquere Press to read the table of contents. Beyond Victoriana posted a review of the anthology as well as an interview with JoSelle Vanderhooft and some of the authors. In fact, I’ll conclude with one of the passages from the review because it poetically sums up the anthology:
More than about romance, this anthology is about relationships: dangerous and moving, frenetic, complicated, wistful, and conflicted. These female romances in the stories show characters who discover how wonderful connections can be or how they can be something to mourn, how they can bloom in unexpected places, or simply fall apart.
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express.