Saturday, December 22, 2018

"All Made of Hinges," an anthology of Mormon Steampunk

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Two questions I must address first:
1. Why MORMON Steampunk?
2. Why am I, a non-Mormon, and a member of a high commitment, non-traditional Christian church, reviewing this work?

My response to the two questions.
1. Why MORMON Steampunk?
I have only quotes by the editor, but whether those answer the question, I am not sure. James Wymore, in his introduction, offers these as something that may constitute an answer to 'Why is there an anthology of Mormon steampunk?':
A. Steampunk has always been good to him
B. He is a faithful Mormon
C. He was asked to do it. 

Those work as answers to me, but if you have more questions, direct them elsewhere. I only review, I do not justify. 
A very cursory run through my memory reveals no corresponding volume which is a precise match. Certainly, there are other forms of literature linked with a particular belief system: pure expositions of theology; collections of hymns; children's instructional literature. There may even be such a thing as a particular Baptist expression of art, or a Methodist-inspired school of photography, although I am familiar with neither. Precedent exists at those times when EVERYTHING artistic had to be sponsored by The Church, because no one else had enough money to divert from survival needs. I suppose that Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia" and the Space Trilogy, besides being explicitly Christian works, may also be Protestant Christianity, and thus have some degree of specificity about them, but I wouldn't put them in the same category as "Here I Stand: A Biography of Martin Luther." 

So, while it may not be a customary thing for a work of non-religious literature to be linked to a particular belief system, it is not without precedent.

2. Why am I, a non-Mormon, and a member of a high-commitment non-traditional Christian church, reviewing this work?
I was asked to.

The Reviews.

Mere Pulp, by D. J. Butler. It's my understanding from reading the intro that D J Butler is the other primary mover of this anthology, for which we accord him due accord. He has written some EXCELLENT alternative history, published by Baen, in the "Witchy Eye" series, the last of which, Witchy Winter,  was a finalist for the Dragon Award. The quality of writing extends here, in a plot/subplot/counterplot steampunk detective story, concerning a plot to reanimate the body of Brigham Young and purify/save the Church, and the non-believers can go jump in the lake.

Marching On to Glory, by John M. Olsen. This one is exciting! It also manages to bring in the truth that military leaders frequently do not take into consideration the strengths and limitations of their troops when they make their plans for conquest. It's also a good example of that genre of literature which demonstrates that a prophecy may be fulfilled in more ways than one. Join the troops of the gigantic airship, as they make their way to battle the mechanized monsters of the South, and on the way get a glimpse of what the Eternal City must be like. This one, as others, makes lovely reference to the genius works of John Moses Browning, one of which is strapped to my right hip at the moment.

A Strike To The Heart of the Cannon Lord, by Stephen L. Peck. It doesn't matter whether we are discussing steampunk, magic, Iron Age implements, or antimatter devices, SOME Bozo is going to find a way to make people miserable with it. And some force, even it dwindles down to a Remnant, will defy the Bozo. And someone is bound to fall in love, even in the middle of a war. In this case, the Bozo is the Cannon Lord, and his superior use of steampunk tech have prevailed, up until now. A pitiful handful makes the final assault.

Avenger's Angel, by Elizabeth Mueller.  She's just a poor orphan girl, down to one faithful retainer and the last bit of technology left to her by her father. Alas, whatever shall she do? Well, she can become a bounty hunter, using her feminine wiles to win the confidence of wicked evil-doers, and then clap the bracelets on them, and turn them in for the reward. Lately, though, a tall, dark, and handsome stranger, mysteriously costumed while remaining devastatingly gorgeous, is getting the drop on her, and shooting the bad guys before she can turn them in. Alas, whatever shall she do? (Hint: she isn't gonna quit.)

Ganesh, by Scott E. Tarbet.  It is ingrained into the nature of men under arms, or engaged in some other death-defying career, that when the moment for rest comes about, they talk about what brought them to the place where they are. This is one of those conversations, more engaging than many. That it takes place between a sentient airship and a mecha-man is irrelevant; the best parts are still about fidelity and love. I couldn't say whether this story is most similar to Kipling, Jack London, or O. Henry, but it has that pleasing comfort those stories can bring. 

The Pipes of Columbia, by Jay Barnson.  Premise: the steel of Deseret has properties not found in other metals. In this case, it is the acoustical properties that are of particular value to a miscreant. A lovely lady in distress reaches out for help to a man crushed beyond endurance. And then, we have a very fine detective story. 

Napoleon's Tallest Teamster, by Joe Monson. Dippel's Oil, in this universe, is more than an obsolete animal and insect repellent. It actually acts as a restorative agent, which permits the construction of reanimated men with mechanical enhancements. However, although the substance  may generate activity, it is the actions and ethics of the Teamster that drives the story. The loyalty and determination that drives him is thus entirely his own creation, and may thus commend to his Ultimate Maker, those his earthly maker find him repellent. Nicely based on real events taking place in those years when France was having more difficulty than usual.

Reversals of Fortune, by Amanda Hamblin.  It is in this story that I found my ignorance of Mormon history to strike the hardest. From the descriptions, I get the feeling that these characters represent actual persons; if not, then they are singularly well-drawn. A dark-skinned Methodist girl, on her way to Italy, to work with their advances in steam technology, intercepts a young white girl whom she believes is intent on some sort of sabotage. Two Mormon evangelists look on, and render what assistance they can.

The Machinations of Angels, by Christopher McAfee.  This is a ghost story. There is a moderate amount of Mormon references and steampunk devices, but the essential nature is that of BOO!  What would YOU do if an angel appeared, offering technology thought to be lost forever? We may not be able to count the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin; in fact, COUNTING appears to be one of the last things you will want to do with angels. (Spine-tingle!)

The Best Among Us, by Jace Killian. The details of the story include steampunk elements, such as airships, steam-powered guns, and mechanical legs. However, it's the message of alienation, repentance, and restoration which set this apart.

Strange Pilgrims, by John D. Payne. A house elf and a robot walk into a bar... 
Well, it's not a bar, it's a cargo hold. However, they DO strike up a conversation, just as strangers will sometimes do in a bar. What is the nature of man? It almost always comes down to that, doesn't it?

Tracting Out Cthulhu, by Lee Allred. (Did you ever want to write Cat Hewell Hugh, and then get into an argument about the correct spelling? Never mind.) This installment has the best bad guys, and what might be the best good guys, and the goofiest pun. You'll know the pun when you get to it; it's the name of a robot. The heroes include Japanese schoolgirls, and genius John Moses Browning is respected for his works, one of which I have strapped to my right hip at the moment. The sufficiently advanced steampunk technology is indistinguishable from magic, and a wicked-efficient airship captain spits tobacco. Nasty human bad guys are attempting to restore Cthulhu to power, and their location is hidden, and must be determined by sending Mormon missionaries door-to-door. Help! Help! The world is under attack!

I just went back over the list to see if I could find a favorite, and found it impossible. I MIGHT be able to pick a top five. I even might be able to separate the stories into two groups: stories I will read again, and those I won't. Even that would be twitchy: the story I am MOST likely not to read again is  so well crafted, I think it belongs in a 'Best Of' collection. I just don't LIKE stories in that genre. 

Peace be on your household.

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