I’ve written before here about the new fiction outlets that seek to take advantage of social networks and new publishing platforms. For a while I’ve suspected that it was only a matter of time until someone specifically targeted the iPhone, and iPhone owners, with a fiction magazine.
Well, now someone has. Steampunk Tales is a monthly steampunk fiction magazine released through Apple’s iTunes store as an application for the iPhone (or iPod Touch). For $1.99, less than most fiction magazines cost, you get ten stories, including tales from such names as Catherynne Valente and Jay Lake.
When downloaded, Steampunk Tales loads like any other application on the iPhone. Press the icon to launch the issue. The interface is one of my favorite things about the magazine—simple, but with enough customizable features to make it work for almost anyone. Navigation is very intuitive—you tap the right side of the screen to move forward, the left side of the screen to move back. Tap in the center to call up the index (the table of contents where you can navigate to other stories), the settings and “About” which lists the credits.
When first loaded, Steampunk Tales approximates a period look, with weathered, cracked and browned pages and an audible page-turning sound when navigating forward and back. Thankfully all of this is customizable. While you can’t choose a plain white background, you can choose something pretty close. And you can turn off the page-turning sound. You can also change the font size as well as the font itself.
As a reader, I’m grateful for the options. I appreciate the fact that they created this with a certain look and feel in mind, but I’m also thankful that you can tailor that experience to suit your own reading style. With the simplicity and adaptability of the reader software, I can easily see this being expanded to other types of magazines with little difficulty.
The stories contained in the issue are decent steampunk fare, heavy on the adventure. Some of them occasionally verge on trying a little too hard, but they at least have fun while doing it. What’s really impressive is the variety of cultures the stories cover. While Victorian English/European settings are the backdrop for several of the stories, others take place in locations like Egypt and Mexico.
I like steampunk adventure tales, but if you don’t, then you won’t find anything for you here. If you do, however, this is a nice launch of a product that really is worth the price tag. I also see it as supporting the idea of short fiction on the iPhone, something I think is an exciting prospect. Their press release talks of plans to implement 3.0 features into future releases such as the ability to buy back issues from within the reader.
Steampunk Tales is a promising start to what will hopefully be a new wave of short fiction magazines taking advantage of new publishing opportunities.
Steampunk Tales #1 is currently available in the iTunes store (link will launch iTunes).