Book Review: The Steampunk Trilogy

by Paul DiFilippo.

Check out the cover at the link above. Three figures, each presented in three sections: one has the head of a woman (Queen Victoria), the torso of something resembling an albino frog, and the feet of a dance-hall girl. The other two figures are even stranger and more mismatched. Along with the other elements, I have to say this book is something of an exception to the rule that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The book is supposed to be one of the seminal works the Steampunk sub-genre and this does seem to be the case. However, I do not recommend it for those people whose impression of Steampunk is The Difference Engine and Girl Genius.*

Like I said, book, cover, exception. It was so surreal that it drove me up the wall while I was reading it (too much nonsense, not enough feeling), and it gave me the strangest dreams afterwards. But after I was done, I immediately liked it more than I did while I was reading it. I stopped to look up several of the characters of the stories, which I should have done while I was reading. Now I get the jokes, and the stories are much more amusing in retrospect. And the disorientation less. Decent writing and interesting (if not necessarily likeable) characters.

The book is actually three novellas. My favorite section was the last one, “Walt and Emily,” about a meeting between Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and the other side of the veil. DiFillipo seems to have trouble ending stories–I’ve read some of his short stories, too–and the ending here is very much like his others, disjointed and somewhat trite in that the characters act as expected: superficially. Here, however, that type of ending fits exactly and poignantly.

Very much a case of “if it’s the kind of thing you like, you’ll probably like it, at least somewhat.” It certainly isn’t forgettable, and I think it’ll last longer than most fiction. A unique experiment. Also, the person who did the cover should have received some kind of award, perhaps “Least Misleading Cover of All Time.”

*Specifically Dave.

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