Reflections On SteamPowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories
In 2013, I read and enjoyed SteamPowered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories (Torquere Press, 2011, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft). So when Torquere Press released SteamPowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories (Torquere Press, 2011), also edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft, I put it on my to-read list. I finally sampled a few of the stories and wanted to share some initial impressions. To give you an idea of what SteamPowered II is about, here’s the blurb:
These fifteen thrilling and ingenious tales take the familiar genre of steampunk in exciting new directions, following women from across the globe and through pasts that never were (but could have been) on their search for money, adventure, prestige, freedom–and the love of another woman. Here you’ll meet a Moroccan airship engineer and an English diplomat who receive a cryptic message and an exploding music box, a librarian who doubts her God, a Malaysian shipping clerk who dreams of adventure, a terracotta bride from the Tenth Circle of Hell, and an aeronaut on her way to certain death and a surprising discovery–and many more. Though they hail from across the globe and universes far away, each of them is driven to follow her own path to independence and to romance. The women of Steam-Powered II push steampunk to its limits and beyond.
Despite the title, the settings and worldbuilding involve more than just steam-powered technology. Some of them would be more accurately described as clockpunk, such as Sean Holland’s “Playing Chess in New Persepolis.” S.L. Knapp’s “Amphitrite” could be framed as “Captain Nemo punk” since it involves submarine technology and a mermaid heroine. Elizabeth Porter Birdsall’s “Journey’s End” features airships powered by refined “aetherium meteorites.”
A notable element is the anthology’s multicultural approach to steampunk. I blogged here previously about my desire for such stories, and happily, the ones in SteamPowered II utilize a variety of settings and characters that transport readers beyond Victorian England. The difference in cultural perspective is refreshingly insightful and informative. Such a creative choice is the obvious one to make, so yay for authors and small press/e-publishers willing to go the distance!
Empowered heroines with agency entertain like no other, and as with the first anthology, SteamPowered II delivers them regularly like a well-oiled clock. The heroines have various occupations, e.g., airship engineer, tinkerer, submarine captain as well as the authority to make decisions that drive the plots forward. It’s nice to be able to relax into a story knowing the heroines are given the freedom to be extraordinary and celebrated as such.
Your mileage may vary, but I’d personally tag the stories in both anthologies as either steampunk or steampunk with romantic elements. The romances lean to the subtle side, with perhaps a chaste kiss at some point. Or even just a meaningful exchange of glances–some stories leave the resolution of the romance entirely up to the readers’ imaginations. It’s a lovely change of pace given the current trend of erotically-charged stories.
I’ve enjoyed the stories in both anthologies on their own terms, but the experience also leaves me craving novella and novel-length lesbian steampunk romances of similar types. I realize the risks are significant for authors interested in writing these tales, but for what it’s worth, I’ll wait for them as long as it takes.
For more information, read More Lesbian Steampunk Stories: A Roundtable with Steam-Powered II Authors at Tor.com.
About the author
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author in the genre. To learn more about her published work, visit heathermassey.com.