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Author Topic: Review: "Shadow Conspiracy II" Steampunk Short Story Anthology  (Read 908 times)
Gideon-SciFi
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« on: May 05, 2011, 08:33:51 pm »



The eleven short stories in Shadow Conspiracy II (US, UK), a Steampunk shared-world anthology, have very little overlap, and can be enjoyed independently of one another, and even from the ones collected in the first book of the series, Shadow Conspiracy (US, UK). As one who had not read the original prior to this sequel, this reviewer can attest to the strength of this anthology, and will certainly be reading the original in the coming days:

Mad Bad Richard Dadd by Amy Sterling Casil
A silly title, but a fascinating ‘bodysnatcher’ story that fits seamlessly into the genre. Bonus points for the clever French pun: “chemin d’enfer”! Further stories by Casil are collected in her collaborative anthology “Without Absolution: Science Fiction Stories” (US, UK).

The Peculiar Case of Sir Willoughby Smythe by Judith Tarr
The main character, Emma Rigby, is apparently a recurring one for Tarr. A sort of Sherlock Holmes story where the interesting part isn’t the protagonist, but the implications of the unfolding mystery around her. Although Tarr is best known for her Fantasy work and not her SciFi, Her novel “Lord of the Two Lands” (US, UK) was nominated in 1994 for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.

Queen of French Prairie by Irene Radford
Terrific fast-paced with heavy Steampunk imagery and a clever plot. Pirates help a small community stand up against a bully ‘cattleman’ boss. If you enjoy this story as much as I did, I highly recommend the novelette “The Skysailor’s Tale by Michael Swanwick, which can be found (among other places) in the terrific anthology “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty Fifth Annual Collection” (US, UK).

The Maiden Mechanical by Brenda W. Clough
A cute little piece with a few open mysteries that leave me looking of more: why the distrust of Byron? Who is ‘minor Holmes’ (Sherlock)? And what’s with the final sentence? I needed my dictionary often, but enjoyed the voice and plot: boy makes girl. “The Water Weapon” is a well-regarded Steampunk short story by Clough, which can be found in the anthology “The Dragon and the Stars” (US).

The Shadow of Kilimanjaro by Sue Lange
Told in ‘Rashomon’ style multi-perspectives, an effective way to get more mileage from the cliffhanger. This story clearly advances the plot of the shared-world plotline. Love the villain! An undercover detective uncovers a plot to ‘ensoul’ inanimate objects. Additional dark, humorous short stories by Lange that will make you pause and think after reading can be found in her collection “Uncategorized” (US, UK).

Nuthin' but a Man by C.L. Anderson
A Steampunk retelling of the John Henry tall tale from an eyewitness POV. Obligatory twist ending but not as satisfyingly SciFi for me. One cool concept I’ve never seen anywhere else: Steam Carrier Pigeons! Anderson gets a little more ‘space opera’ in the decidedly more interstellar “Bitter Angels” (US, UK).

Abide With Me by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
As a SciFi purist who distrusts mystical plot elements, this reviewer was slightly disappointed by this sentimental story surrounding a mechanical arm that draws and paints and has the soul of its creator willingly trapped within. Beware the very abrupt ending! Kimbriel is best known for her “Chronicles of Nuala” (US, UK) series.

Steel Seraph by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
An “X-Files” mystery told from the perspective of an intrepid reporter. The army is covering up its flying machine program… and the truth about its inventor. Bohnhoff is quite a genre-bender in her writing, but SciFi fans will appreciate her short story "Ask Arlen” found in the anthology “Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls” (US, UK).

New Lives by Nancy Jane Moore
This reviewer appreciates the reminder in this story of the QUITE different political and social climates of the 19th century when compared to our own. In surprisingly female-centric approach, the protagonist undertakes a rescue mission. While SciFi seemed an afterthought in the work, there is a promise to a prequel/sequel story, and the Jane Freemantle character appears like a regular one in Moore’s work. Interested readers of feminist sub-genre SciFi may want to give Moore’s novella “Changeling” (US) a look.

Claire De Lune by Pati Nagle
One can’t help but compare this story to the one which precedes it in the anthology (‘New Lives’ by Nancy Jane Moore). As in ‘New Lives’, this has a racial minority heroine (who seems like a recurring character) rescuing a prisoner and solving a mystery. Here however there is a healthier dosage of SciFi and suspense, and arguably rounder characters. Those who enjoy this great introduction to Nagle’s work will want to follow up by reading her collection “Coyote Ugly” (US, UK) which is named for her Theodore Sturgeon Award Finalist story, and includes SciFi and a sampling of other genres.

What Ho! Automaton by Chris Dolley
A very funny piece that simultaneously reminds one of Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” A rogue stumbles across a pair of mysteries in a garden party where both robots and reanimated roam. Personally, this was my favorite story in the collection, and thankfully, the author has an expanded edition which includes this story and a sequel novella of roughly 5 times the length! (US, UK).

Overall, Shadow Conspiracy II (US, UK) is a clear winner, with no uninteresting stories, and quite a few memorable ones. As it is an anthology, it also makes a good introductory read for those new to Steampunk as no individual story is an overlong time investment. I received Shadow Conspiracy II (US, UK) as a review copy from the editor.
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