Title: The Steampunk Trilogy
Author: Paul Di Filippo
Publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows.
A marvellous book by American author Paul Di Filippo, who the book jacket claims is an open secret in the science fiction world (translation: he mostly writes short stories). As the cannier observers amongst us may have guessed from the title of the book, the book is composed of three mostly unrelated novellas in the steampunk genre: Victoria (originally published in the magazine Amazing Stories in 1991), Hottentots and Walt and Emily (originally published in the magazine Interzone in 1993).
To describe the three stories:
- Victoria. In 1838, a young inventor named Cosmo Cowperthwait (after killing his parents in an atomic explosion when he tried to power a train with atomic energy) somehow manages to breed a horny half-human half-newt he names Victoria in honour of the new Queen of England. Lo and behold, William Lamb, the Prime Minister of England, comes to Cosmo to ask for his help in finding Queen Victoria, and to borrow the half-newt to take her place...
- Hottentots. In 19th century Massachusetts, the ignorant, reactionary beliefs of Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz are challenged when he meets a South African and his wife (the daughter of the Hottentot Venus) who are racing against the clock in order to stop various Teutonic Knights, anarchists, and worshippers of Dagon (we are in Massachusetts after all) from finding a 'fetiche' made from the sinus pudoris of the Hottentot Venus.
- Walt and Emily. Emily Dickinson hilariously and poetically meets and falls in love with Walt Whitman, eventually losing her virginity to Whitman, after travelling to an unusual timeless dimension where they meet Allen Ginsberg and Sylvia Plath.
Di Filippo's imaginative, surreal sense of humour permeates all three stories. The main characters in each book have hilariously quaint and offensive 19th century beliefs, the subtext (the subtext of the entire genre of steampunk, really) being that, in 200 years people will find our beliefs just as quaint.
An excerpt from Hottentots, as Dagon (who has the shape of an Ichthyosaurus) has just awoken (page 234):
Now Maurice stepped forward, out of the crowd.
"All you imperialists know is force. Let me attempt to reason with the creature. Ahoy, creature! I represent the proletariat-"
Seeming attracted by the whiney voice of the socialist, the Ichthyosaurus dropped its head down to peer at him.
In the blink of an eye, the horrid beast swallowed Maurice Desor.
The only thing wrong with The Steampunk Trilogy is that it is at it's funniest when you are familiar with the historical personages (and so on) described in the stories. It's probably worth reading a few of the nodes I've linked to if you intend on reading the book.