The Circlet Treasury of Erotic Steampunk by J. Blackmore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As I’ve said many times before – I’ve been exploring more genres recently instead of locking myself into just one. I don’t remember how this ended up in my To-Read list back in 2014, but it’s definitely different than my usual fare. That said, my preferences for stories in this collection mirrored my preferences in the video world. I’m not a consumer of erotica movies, shows, etc. I don’t find sex entertaining for its own sake. But I do think that sex can be very contributory to a plot. Sometimes it can be a move forward for a character (see the many permutations of that in 1999’s Cruel Intentions) and other times it can just make the plot more true to life (see various movies either about dating – the opening to Train Wreck or the quarter-point of Forgetting Sarah Marshall – or married life) So in this collection I preferred the stories that were good Steampunk stories that happened to have good sex vs the ones that were just the literary equivalent of porn. The highest compliment I could give to any of the stories in this collection was some variation on – “I want to see more in this story’s universe!”
So, as I do when I read an anthology, here’s what I thought of each story (essentially an edited collection of my status updates):
“The Innocent’s Progress” – not really steampunk, but still a good story in the victorians age. A take of the stage and a time of stagnation in stories. Works well and tells a good story.
“Extempore Romance” – A fantasy-ish steampunk where fantastical creatures – called chimera, but don’t seem to be as chimeric as in Greek mythology – serve the roles we might have served by robots in SF. A nonsequitor ending.
“Hysterical Friction” – Anyone who knows anything about the Victorian era “disease” of hysteria could guess what this is about, especially in an erotica collection. But it’s written rather well and cheekily. I wonder if the first gen machines really were bike-powered.
“In the flask” – A lab assistant, and our first male protagonist. I know there’s a long history of women writing slash fic, but I think it’s interesting that this is the first story in this collection so far involving male-male and it’s written by a woman. The previous stories were female-driven and, at least going by pen names, written by men. A straightforward erotia story.
“Steam and Iron” This one is more like an awesome story that also has some very dirty bits to it. I LOVE the intro scenario and the fun the author has with it. Love the conclusion to this story. And it’s got more story to it than some of the other more porn-like erotica thus far in this collection.
“The First Scientifiction Colloquium” – They say writers love to write about writing. So what would be more meta than an erotica short story about an erotica short story writer? what if it took place in a steampunk convention? I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit.
“Caged Dragons” – Started off as a pretty great story in its own right. A typical steampunk/victorian age trope of the inter-class marriage. Had lots of promise, but fizzled both erotically and storywise at the end.
“The Succubus” – straight up erotica, but a fun premise about a brothel with a steam-powered A.I.
“Ars Mechanica” – a good setup with a good payoff. When reading an anthology of this sort, it’s interesting to see the same tropes show up whether it’s M:M, M:F, or F:F.
“Nightingale” – A “pretty woman” scenario with a chimera. I could enoy a murder mystery taking place in this world.
“Clockwork Theatre” – seems like a straightforward porn until the twist at the end.
“Beast in the Machine” – a couple minor twists before it climaxes (pun intended) and has a rather fun ending.
“The Pretty Horsebreaker” – Like the best stories in this collection (IMO) – this one is more like a rated R movie or HBO show than a straight up erotica. A part-time courtesan is hired to try and get a manuscript from a thief; good ending, pretty complex.
“Adventures underground” – toes the line between erotica and story quite well. I’d love to see this world explored in a full length novel or at least a novella.
“The Skydancer” – Takes place after HG Wells’ War of the Worlds in a steampunk world. A fun Adventurer type book, but with a Strong Female vs the typical make for a Victorian Adventurer book. One of the ones I like that’s plot plus sex instead of just erotica. The author has created a fun world playing in HG Wells’ WOTW playground. Would love to read a non-erotica novel or novella in this world
“Skyway Robbery” – a steampunk Robinhood story. Bit of fun. Mostly straight erotica.
“The tinker’s lady” – A world in which progress is illegal and a woman ends up tangling with one of those scientific criminals. Would love to see more in this world.
“The Zeppelin Raider” – The first intersex story. Also, one of the few with a woman accomplished scientist as a prominent side character. In addition to being the first intersex erotica I’ve ever read, it’s also the first one that contained so much slapstick.
“Submission” -unless I missed a pronoun or a clue somewhere, that’s the first time I’ve ever read a short story (erotica, no less) where I had no idea the gender of either of the characters. How neat”
“Coming into the New Age” – Mostly straight erotica, but very well written. Would love to see the consequences of this story explored more.
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