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Steam-Powered 2 by JoSelle Vanderhooft
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Steam-Powered 2

by JoSelle Vanderhooft

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There's a gazillion good things about this anthology, and only one story struck a particularly sour note for me.

There's a keen sense of history, of the problematic nature of fetishizing the industrial revolution, boatloads of different ways to be queer, and characters i fell a little bit in love with.

Top favorites, CSE Cooney's short story the Canary of Candletown and Amal El-Mohtar's elegiac take-down of steampunk. I can't even put words to it, other than it's like a ballad, a ballet, a post-colonial theorist and a WWE match had a beautiful, beautiful baby.
  omnia_mutantur | Feb 17, 2014 |
Update 2/22/12: I finally finished all of the stories in this volume, so I'll update my review asap with my thoughts on the rest of them.

I havenÛªt read the first volume in this series of steampunk lesbian tales, but I intend to look for it as soon as I‰Ûªve finished this one so that I can compare. I plan on updating my review as I read the stories, rather than wait until I‰Ûªve finished the whole thing. As of December 31, I‰Ûªve read five out of 15 stories.

So far, the stories in this book are notable for not being the kind of steampunk I expected (i.e., taking place in Victorian London and involving plucky English ladies or mad scientists, for example). The settings and people are extremely varied -- Persian, Moroccan, Malaysian, and so on ‰ÛÒ as are the steampunk elements, but the actual lesbian relationships are underplayed compared with the backdrop of the stories: war, politics, class, etc. Maybe because it‰Ûªs necessary to do a certain amount of world building in alternate histories, but with a short story, there‰Ûªs less room to do it coherently without sacrificing something else. My favorite stories right now balance the world-building details with character/relationship development.

I received the ebook version of this from Shveta Thakrar.

"Journey's End," by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall ‰ÛÒ I liked the idea of the sentient airships, the way they communicate and bond with their crew, and the way the story explores the meaning of death/dying rituals, including what would cause a person to volunteer to ‰ÛÏgo down with the ship‰Û, to make that sacrifice. I couldn‰Ûªt really emotionally invest in the character‰Ûªs journey ‰ÛÒ the narrative felt too distant and the main character too melancholy ‰ÛÒ but I found it a thoughtful, well-paced story.

"Amphitrite," by S.L. Knapp ‰ÛÒ From women piloting sentient airships to submarines! I‰Ûªm not sure how I feel about this story. Sirens/mermaids causing the men piloting submarines to wreck themselves is a fine idea, as is some countries therefore requiring women to pilot the submarines. But I don‰Ûªt see why the sirens cannot affect women the same way they lure men if the woman in question is a lesbian; it stands to reason the siren‰Ûªs voice should be able to manipulate her as well. It‰Ûªs all about sexual desire, right? Maybe I just missed the point. Otherwise, the details of this alternate history (time period, place, political situation) just didn‰Ûªt feel clear to me.

"In the Heart of Yellow Mountain," by Jaymee Goh ‰ÛÒ This was a Lara Croft-style adventure story, with two women who distrust each other ending up navigating a booby-trapped maze through a mountain in order to gain political influence with their country‰Ûªs new ruler. I enjoyed the women‰Ûªs back-and-forth relationship and like that it didn‰Ûªt go exactly where I expected, and I liked how they used their various strengths to survive. The Asian-inspired setting was particularly well-done.

"Playing Chess in New Persepolis," by Sean Holland ‰ÛÒ I loved the whole idea behind this mechanized chess competition, whereby the participants build their own pieces to move across the board on command and destroy their opponent‰Ûªs. It‰Ûªs a cool mix of chess strategy and geeky scientific/robotic engineering. The parts of the story that concentrated on the chess stuff were excellent, but the romance between opponents felt rushed, like most of it happened off the page.

"A Thousand Mill Lofts Gray," by Jeannelle Ferreira ‰ÛÒ This was the first of the stories to really concentrate, and show, the romance, with a little of the sexy bits thrown in, so I really wanted to like it. Yet too much of the love story between a wealthy photojournalist and the poor seamstress happened off page. I had trouble keeping track of the order of events, because the narrative jumped time without any cues and rarely covered what happened in the interim. At least the ending was happy.

"Dark Horse," by A.M. Tuomala ‰ÛÒ So far, this was my favorite story, even though the ending lost me. (I have no idea what happened or what it means, and I will have to read the story again to see if it‰Ûªs me being obtuse or the story being cryptic.) The romance is pretty hot and the plot, involving political intrigue from a mercenary standpoint, has a lot of action and drama. It‰Ûªs a sort of Moroccan spy story and was the most fun to read.
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  Crowinator | Sep 23, 2013 |
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