- Nemo: Heart of Ice by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill: The top spot for this year's best steampunk read has to go to Moore and O'Neill, for redeeming themselves after the brilliant-but-far-too-esoteric Century: 1910, the last League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book to feature Janni, Captain Nemo's daughter, as a key character. Heart of Ice is a mash-up on par with the earliest League books for accessibility, intertextuality, and sheer-icy fun. Moore mixes At the Mountains of Madness, She, Eddisonades, and Tom Swift in an adventure across the Antarctic. Nemo + Nameless Terror = Happy Reader. And to think, I was once told steampunk's future didn't lie in mashups with Lovecraft.
- Luminous Chaos by Jean-Christophe Valtat - My greatest challenge as a book-blogger is that I hate having to read books at a breakneck pace to review them in time for their release. Thankfully, the folks who sent me a review copy of Luminous Chaos made no such demands, and I was able to savor Jean-Christophe Valtat's exquisite prose. Comparisons have been made between Valtat and Pynchon, and insofar as Pynchon's Against the Day, I concur. Luminous Chaos is easily the most literary work of steampunk I've read since Dexter Palmer's disappointing Dream of Perpetual Motion. Where Palmer tried too hard to be profound, Valtat revels in the absurdity of the steampunk aesthetic, revealing one batshit-crazy idea after another. However, Valtat's gorgeous writing mediates the absurdity as something wondrous and beautiful. Highly recommended for those expecting more from steampunk than the average adventure tales are delivering.
- Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff - While I know that some critics see Kristoff's work as cultural appropriation and/or Victorientalism, I have trouble with how earnest the Lotus War series is. I'm also nonplussed that so much attention is focused on minor foibles of creating a secondary world based on fantasy Japan, rather than celebrating his frequent use of strong female characters or his eco-criticism. Kristoff hamstrings his heroine Yukiko with simultaneous problem and insight: she learns why her father became an addict, and why she faces the same potential future. Rather than simply resorting to force/violence or heartbreak/retribution as drama, Kristoff gives Yukiko an inner battle, rendering her physical challenges and adventures all the more desperate. I remain a dedicated fan of this series, and eagerly anticipate the next installment, which is much more than I can say for many steampunk series.
- The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock - Many of Blaylock's
trademarks are present here: use of Mayhew's dirty and destitute London
denizens, a motley crew of Everymen, and St. Ives once again as the
reluctant hero. But this book brings the darkness of Blaylock's horror
novels to his steampunk London, with a Narbondo more wicked than ever
before. Combining the best of what I love in Blaylock's writing, The Aylesford Skull is one of his best steampunk offerings. FULL REVIEW HERE.
- Steampunk Wells by H.G. Wells and Zdenko Basic: While I consider H.G. Wells's Time Machine and War of the Worlds early SF, not steampunk, RP Classics' omnibus edition certainly puts the steampunk aesthetic to good use, and for that, I'm including it in my top five list for this year. RP Classics' earlier offerings of Steampunk Poe and Steampunk Frankenstein were also laudatory in this way, but I think series artist Zdenko Basic's art works best with Wells's visions. It's really Basic's art that makes the series steampunk. The texts are pure originals: Shelley, Poe, and Wells. And while Basic's art is great eye-candy, his rendering of War of the Worlds in Steampunk Wells is spot-on. He really captures the violence and darkness of Wells's vision. Kudos to RP Classics for finding a sharp way of introducing a new generation to these classic books.
I also want to give a shout-out to Trent Jamison's Roil and Night Engines, which weren't published in 2013, but were among my favourite steampunk-related reads this year.
And while this marks the end of the five year journey I began in the fall of 2008, it does not mark the end of my steampunk research. I will continue to read and study steampunk, along with my other speculative interests. I owe the steampunk community a huge debt, and for that I will always be very thankful. I look forward to journeying with you all beyond the worlds of steampunk, into the larger worlds of science fiction, fantasy, and horror!