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CLOCKWORK FAGIN – steampunk review

September 26, 2011

Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have a promising new steampunk anthology hitting shelves on 11-October-2011 called STEAMPUNK! – AN ANTHOLOGY OF FANTASTICALLY RICH AND STRANGE STORIES.

Steampunk stories are everywhere right now and that’s a good thing. That means (a) it’s an adaptable genre and (b) writers are playing with it, and the more writers you get writing in this style, the more we all learn what this style is capable of. Anthologies provide great perspective and if Cory Doctorow’s CLOCKWORK FAGIN is any indication, then STEAMPUNK! is a must-read.

Noticeable elements of steampunk include cunning mechanisms, coal-fired boilers, gaslight parlors, and the like, evidence of the “steam” portion of the genre. But what about the “punk?”

Doctorow’s CLOCKWORK FAGIN ups the punk in steampunk with an able cast of think-outside-the-box characters. (Note: for a limited time Amazon is offering a free download of CLOCKWORK FAGIN.)

CLOCKWORK FAGIN is an alt.Dickensian story told by Sian O’Leary, a one-armed boy at Saint Agatha’s Home for the Rehabilitation of Crippled Children. The story is laid out in the first paragraph–an opening ¶ that perfectly resonates w/ the whole story, btw. It’s a stranger-comes-to-town story about the arrival of Monty Goldfarb and how he cleans up the place.

The story’s got clear goals which make for a fun read. The first goal (opening ¶, not a spoiler) is for the kids to gain their freedom. The next goal is for them to keep it. And then finally when it looks like their goose is cooked, their last goal is for all the marbles. There’s a cute denouement here, too, that bookends the story nicely.

Doctorow builds a convincing “steam” world that gives causality and purpose to the genre elements rather than just using them as decoration. The kids are in here, in trouble, as a natural result of the steampunk world they live in, and the solution to their problems also comes out of the elements of that world.

I especially like the presentation of the Public Computing Works, which for some readers will bring fond memories of Gibson’s & Sterling’s THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE. But it’s the well formed characters that make this grimly optimistic tale so much fun. Monty, Sian, little Girtie Shine-Pate, and the right bastard Grinder, each of them is solidly introduced and employed.

Doctorow makes it look easy with this richly detailed story. He has proven time and again that he can write intelligent believable kids in interesting Maker/DIY tech environments and leave you feeling like you might be able to cobble some of this stuff together yourself.

I enjoyed reading about these gimpy little brass jackers and I look forward to reading what else STEAMPUNK! has to offer.

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