Jan 31, 2016

Top 5 Steampunk Reads of 2015


It's back! After a long hiatus, I'm finally reading steampunk again in earnest, motivated primarily by the first book on the list this year. Mark Hodder's Burton and Swinburne series restored my faith in steampunk as a genre, and I opened myself up to submissions for review again. While I missed out on some key works of steampunk like Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn: Shadows of Self and Jim Butcher's The Aeronaut's Windlass: The Cinder Spires, Book 1, I certainly read enough to form up the beginnings of a "best of" for steampunk in 2015. I decided not to finish this list until I've finished reading The Geomancer by Clay and Susan Griffith (which I'm enjoying thus far) and Gail Carriger's Prudence, which has been an enjoyable romp on par with her earlier Parasol Protectorate books. But here's the list so far, for those who have missed having me around to help avoid the pitfalls of steampunk reading. 

1. Rise of the Automated Aristocrats by Mark Hodder
If this is the first you've ever heard of Mark Hodder's steampunk novels, you need to go check out books 1-5 before taking on this final installment in one of the best steampunk series in print. I re-read the first two books in the series, and then read my way through the intervening volumes I've missed over the years. While Rise of the Automated Aristocrats is not the best of that series, it does a fine job of wrapping up all six books, while continuing to play the game Hodder started in book 4, when he kept the series running by imagining another timeline with another Burton and Swinburne, along with variant versions of the rest of the characters fans of this series had come to love. The stakes are high, and there are bittersweet losses, but it's a very satisfying conclusion, and one of the few steampunk novels I've read that can lay any serious claim to being called science fiction. Unreservedly recommended, along with all of the books in this brilliant series.
2. Clockwork Lives by Kevin J. Anderson
One of my great frustrations in my final year of studying steampunk was that, although I had Rush's Clockwork Angels to keep me company as I finished writing my dissertation, I never got around to reading Kevin J. Anderson's novel that accompanied the concept album. Thankfully, I was given a second chance in the form of the sequel, Clockwork Lives, which is first and foremost, just a gorgeous book. People who enjoy books as objects, especially when that object looks like the book inside the story you're holding, will appreciate the quality of the hardback of Clockwork Lives. It's designed to look like the alchemical book that the protagonist of the story's frame narrative is carrying around. The frame narrative of Clockwork Lives involves a woman going on a journey, with the goal of collecting stories. A drop of a person's blood on the pages of this alchemical book, and their story is being told. The premise is great, even if Anderson's prose doesn't always live up to the fictional conceit (he's a great storyteller, but his style isn't varied enough to really convey the breadth of voices telling their stories), and the book's attempt to be a sort of steampunk Canterbury Tales is worthy of a look.

3. The Circlet Press Steampunk Bundle: Four Full-Length Novels & an Anthology by Vinnie Tesla, Petter Tupper, et al.
I reviewed Peter Tupper's lovely steampunk erotica The Innocent's Progress years ago when it was first released, and gave it high praise. This year, I read Vinnie Tesla's The Erotofluidic Age, and found myself jumping from arousal to unrestrained laughter throughout. Circlet Press releases some of the best science fiction and fantasy erotica out there. In my experience (and reviewing steampunk books, I've read more than I ever thought I would), I know no better. I have not read all four books in this bundle, and while the individual books were released in previous years, I wanted to give them the attention they deserve since they've been re-released in this very affordable bundle as eBooks. If you like your steampunk steamy, you will not go wrong with Vinnie Tesla and Peter Tupper. Their erotica is far more than sex with gears slapped on. It's smart speculative fiction about a crucial part of the human experience. In Tupper, it's serious and poignant. In Tesla, it's over-the-top funny, and both are well worth a read. 
I also want to give an honorable mention to Rebecca Diem's From Haven to Hell, which is the second book in her Tales of Captain Duke series. I had stated on Twitter that I was no longer taking self-published works, since many of them are so poorly written that they are unreadable. It had become a waste of my time to wade through all the requests I was getting to review books I had no interest in reading. But Rebecca made a plea, asking me to check out her series, which begins with the very entertaining Stowaway Debutante, and I'm happy to say that I'm glad I took her up on it. While Diem's writing chops betray some beginner's flaws, she isn't a bad writer, and her prose is clean and concise in a way that a good page turner should be. Her steampunk world is bright and vibrant, and her characters are brave adventurers who don't have a million flaws (at least, not until you get to book two...). They are a throwback to a simpler time, and in that respect, will likely appeal to young readers, and readers who are young at heart. Nevertheless, while I can't recommend it as the best steampunk I read in 2015, I can say without reservation that it's some of the best indie steampunk I've ever read, and I would recommend her to readers looking for high adventure in small packages. One of the great attractions of Diem's books is that they are short, and consequently really great for young readers who may not be up to the challenge of massive wrist crackers. If nothing else, check out Diem while she's still indie. If this is what she writes like without an editor, she's going to do very well if she ever goes pro.

I'll update the list as soon as I've made a decision about the final two spots. But I'm back, people. I'm really back this time.
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