Good story anthologies aren’t a ramshackle bunch of pieces crammed in any order—like CD albums, there should be a flow, a greater focus beyond the individual stories. These anthologies conduct conversations inside of them: selections that tease, question, argue back and forth with each other, as well as tie together key themes and concepts. Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution, moreso than the previous volumes in Tachyon Publications’ well-known retrofuturist series, demonstrates the power of a well-orchestrated collection.
Steampunk has proven to be particularly popular in short form, and for round three, Ann Vandermeer acts as the sole editor to select from the subgenre’s rich offerings. Full disclosure here: Ann is one of our newest additions to the short story acquisitions staff on Tor.com, and the introduction to this anthology was also featured here on Tor as part of our recent Steampunk Week. So I already knew a bit about what to expect when the book arrived.
What distinguishes this volume from the previous two is its sharpened sociopolitical focus. Namely, how can literature instigate revolution? Is that even possible anymore? Many old-school methods of communication to the masses aren’t as effective in our global, digital era. Twitter can organize better than handing out radical pamphlets on the street. TV shows and websites alert us to social causes faster than books written in the vein of Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo. Even pizza can be ordered from across the globe to support another country’s protest. So how can steampunk play a part in social change? Ann argues in her introduction: “In the Steampunk context, it means to examine our relationship with technology, with each other, and with the world around us. And by doing that through the lens of Steampunk, it allows our imaginations to take off. Let’s use creative play to look at creation, invention.”
This collection addresses the dynamic facets of revolution: industrial, political, social, and historical. Not all of these stories are about the flash-and-bang, the anarchist bomb, the topping of statues. Instead, revolution is framed as acts of personal action in the face of social pressure, for good or for ill, which are possible because of that world’s innovative technology.
[This revolution will not be telegraphed. Neither will this book.]