Altered America: Steampunk Stories by Cat Rambo
Published: Plunkett Press (Jun 12, 2016)
Posted: Goodreads (Aug 4, 2016)
(3.5 / 5)
Altered America: Steampunk Stories by Cat Rambo is a collection of the author’s short stories. Unlike other Steampunk works, Rambo focuses on crafting an alternate history of the world in which dreadful magic returns and supernatural threats run rampant.
Most of the stories take place in America during the mid-1800s, early 1900s. Unlike other shorts in the genre, those in Altered America focus on a singular, pivotal event: the mysterious return of fairies, heralding in other forms of magic and supernatural life.
Cat Rambo’s writing is excellent. My major complaints have to do with the story selection and their relationship with Steampunk and sci-fi rather than any fault inherent in the writing. I did find that some of the stories ended too quickly, as if the stories were forced into short story form. Some of the shorts in Altered America would be much better as seeds for future novels (Laurel and Windowed are great stories that would be even better in novel form).
My favorite stories are “Ticktock Girl” (a story of a “special” feminist avenger named Athena, pure poetry), “Clockwork Fairies” (nailing all of the themes perfectly with good pacing), “Memphis BBQ” (a tale of sky pirates), “Laurel Finch, Laurel Finch, Where Do You Wander?” (action packed with strong characters), “Snakes on a Train” (Pinkerton bodyguards with special attributes), “Rappachi’s Crow,” and the return of the Pinkertons Elspeth and Artemus in “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart.”
Many cool themes are present in Rambo’s shorts. Clockwork, Memphis and Laurel all feature strong female characters rebelling against the anti-feminist sentiment of those in that time period. Women’s suffrage is a motivator for many characters and it fits well. The idea of women choosing their own role in life during this time – as seen in “Memphis BBQ” – is on point and very well explored. Racial tensions with Native Americans is always behind the scenes but shines in “Rappachi’s Crow,” which also features the controversial topic of gender identity. Artemus and Elspeth’s stories are outstanding as they focus on love and what it means to be a human (or machine).
My least favorite story was “Rare Pears & Greengages.” The role playing-style narrative didn’t fit with the other stories in the collection. There were no Steampunk in that story at all. Maybe it was included to flesh out some of the fantasy in Altered but it didn’t work. The ending of that story is well implemented.
The major problem with Altered America is that it doesn’t faithfully and consistently “do” any one genre very well.
While many of the stories are well written and likeable as Works of general fiction, they don’t fit for a Steampunk collection. While I wasn’t expecting the full world building of a novel, Altered America focuses too heavily on weak fantasy and less so on the technology. The fantasy in Altered is almost stereotypical (Werewolves don’t take kindly to silver, etc). Some suspenseful moments devolve into “vampires, fairies and werewolves.”
One story that featured some awesome fantasy storytelling was, “Web of Blood and Iron.” A bet with the vampire elite becomes a spectacle of horror, hinting at the shape of things to come. A portrait of the past and a glimpse of the future. Although it did have early 1900s elements that were cool, I thought it played into the fantasy aspects of Altered America very well.
The novel does have some Steampunk. Mainly in the background or as a setting to other stories. These things include war machines, bioengineered/augmented soldiers, a combustible chemical that gets more mention than it should, steam powered trains, and a steam gun. Chambered Heart features cool flying machines. They’re all cool ideas but they just aren’t present in the right proportions throughout the book.
I recommend Altered America for those interested in reading a blend of wacky fantasy with good old fashioned storytelling. While Steampunk elements are present, Altered America excels at providing the reader with original general fiction shorts rather than Steampunk.
3.5/5 (3 on GR)