Sunday, October 14, 2012

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A Nice Steampunk Romance Surprise: N.K. Jemisin's "The Effluent Engine"

I finally caught up with a library copy of THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF STEAMPUNK, an anthology of thirty-one stories edited by Sean Wallace. A handful of the stories are original and the rest are reprints. I’d had my eye on it for a while and so was glad for a chance to check it out.

I was basically in the mood for a heavy dose of steampunk by new-to-me authors. Specifically, I wanted some cool tech and amazing visuals. I didn’t really have any expectations beyond entertainment. Romance was optional.

So I read the first third of the anthology. Each story was well written and there were a few nice surprises in terms of characters (mutated airship conductors! Little Person Protagonist!). So far, the stories have been pleasant but nothing blew me away. The short form may have been a factor here because I kept wanting bigger plots and more exciting denouements. But if you enjoy quiet/mood-driven steampunk then this might be up your alley.

However, I did discover a fun little gem among the mix I've read so far: “The Effluent Engine” by N.K. Jemisin. Because guess what? It’s an f/f steampunk romance! I could hardly believe my eyes. At first, I kept my expectations in check. This anthology is on the SF side so the romance subplot could have gone either way. But sure enough, the arc qualifies it as a romance (in terms of romance conventions).

According to the author, “The story is both steampunk and alternate history (with quite a bit of real history mixed in), is sort of vaguely inspired by Nina Simone’s song “Pirate Jenny”…” It’s also “A swashbuckling adventure-romance set in 1800s New Orleans with secret societies, derringers, and bustles.”

The story was originally published in STEAM-POWERED: LESBIAN STEAMPUNK STORIES (which I promptly downloaded for my Kindle while working on this post, heh!).

Here are a few non-spoiler elements in “The Effluent Engine” that jumped out at me:

* plot driven story with action and suspense

* Both heroines are intelligent. One is a spy and the other is a scientist

* Both heroines are people of color

* The steampunk elements are integral to the plot but not front and center

* The romance is subtle and falls squarely on the sweet side. In fact, I think this story would be a great place to start for readers who have been hesitant to read f/f SFR but are willing to give it a try.

* As the story progresses, the romance becomes integral to the plot. If you removed the romance from this story, it would fall apart.

And guess what else? You can read "The Effluent Engine" for free at the author’s site right here! Happy reading!

Joyfully yours,