This is an anthology of five stories set in the same steampunk universe, in which the Faraday effect is used to nullify gravity, thus allowing both air-breathing flight and spaceflight. There are also colonies on Venus and Mars and several space stations.
The existence of the colony on Venus requires (given what we now know about Venus) a degree more suspension of disbelief than is usual as we have to ignore what we know to be true: that Venus has a mean surface temperature of 462 degrees C, and atmospheric pressure at the surface 92 times greater than earth, making human colonisation highly unlikely. However, the steampunk genre leans heavily on the legacy of Victorian science fiction writers, in which trips to Venus feature regularly (Voyage to Venus, Journey to Venus, A Trip to Venus etc), so this is forgivable.
On a mining base in the asteroid belt, people start dying by having their blood sucked out. The main character, the station’s security chief, must solve the murders – his job made more difficult (or not?) by the arrival of a mysterious woman. I particularly liked the setting of this one, and would like to read more about the main characters, both of whom were more interesting than could be properly explored in the word count allowed. The murders were rather slow to appear and the resolution was rather quick, but still a very enjoyable story – admirably fitted, I think, to being the prequel to a full-length novel. Hint, hint.
Taking the Cure
The main character, a young ensign on his first deployment, is faced with a bigger problem than any ensign should have to cope with. This was one of my two favourites in the book. It’s the kind of story where the impact doesn’t really hit you until about half an hour after you’ve finished reading it. Then you realise that the motives of one of the characters could be read in two entirely different ways – putting a completely different spin on the ending. Very, very good. This, I think, is going to stay with me for a while.
My other favourite. The main character, not a military type like his brothers, goes to Russia to build a “Faraday Floor” for the Czar’s family. This is the story of a young man whose unaggressive attitude is a disappointment to his family, but who is determined to make his own way and earn enough money to marry the woman he loves. The relationship between the two young people was done well, and the ending was just right, I think. It didn’t have quite the delayed impact of Taking the Cure but it had a depth that ensures it stays with you.
Girl meets boy. Misunderstandings ensue. Etc. My least-favourite story in the anthology. I thought the two young lovers were each equally wet and annoying (but the dog was quite amusing). Luckily, the rest of the anthology makes up for it. This is also the only story that had virtually no steampunk element. Although airships and a couple of gadgets were mentioned, they were not important to the story and could have been removed without much trouble. In fact, it occurs to me that the reverse could equally have happened: the steampunk bits added afterwards, to make a standard historical romance fit into a steampunk anthology.
Gilda Dettwiler needs a Babbage Analytical engine. An air-plane which crashed within a few miles of her home probably has one on board; if she can salvage it, it might solve several of her and her family’s problems. This one is a straightforward Boys’ Own (or maybe Girls’ Own!) adventure, with dangers both human and natural, and unexpected allies. A quick, enjoyable read, and a good one to round off the anthology, ending it on a high note.
Overall, a solid four stars. A seriously recommended read if you like your steampunk with a bit of depth to it – particularly Taking the Cure and Iron Curtain.