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The Steampunk Trilogy
Paul Di Filippo
Four Walls Eight Windows, 352 pages

The Steampunk Trilogy
Paul Di Filippo
Paul Di Filippo lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He is the author of four story collections, Destroy All Brains, The Steampunk Trilogy, Ribofunk, Fractal Paisleys (and a fifth called Lost Pages due out this year). Paul Di Filippo's first novel, Ciphers, was published by Cambrian Publications and Permeable Press. Cambrian Publications plans to publish two more of his novels: Joe's Liver (mid-1998) and Spondulix (second half of 1998 or early 1999).

Paul Di Filippo Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Ribofunk
SF Site Review: Fractal Paisleys
SF Site Reading List: Four Walls Eight Windows

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Katharine Mills

The Steampunk Trilogy is a magnificent specimen of that rare bird, intelligent humour. Di Filippo stirs up a funky stew of puns, literature, natural history and sex, and serves it up in an elaborate Victorian dish -- 300-odd pages of juicy reading pleasure.

Welcome to steampunk. You probably don't remember, but the 19th century was much like the 20th -- a period of faster-than-the-naked-eye change, and galloping technological advances. Forget nostalgia; Di Filippo has caught the spirit of an age that looked forward, a cutting-edge wrapped in corsets and bustle. Whether he's chronicling the creation of a sexy newt, or the travels of a ship equipped with galvanic generators and spiritualist manifestations, he's talking about the latest thing. But don't think this is mere history.  This is better.

The three novellas of The Steampunk Trilogy share this deliciously twisted 19th century setting, though their narratives are quite independent of each other. They share, too, a delightfully irreverent attitude to the Figures of History.

In "Victoria," we encounter the aforementioned newt, transformed into something like a human woman by Cosmo Cowperthwaite's administration of glandular growth factors. Unfortunately, Cowperthwaite's tinkering has had an unexpected side effect: the newt is a nymphomaniac, and irresistible to any male of normal appetites. Nonetheless, her tractability, and a chance resemblance to the young Queen, makes her the perfect choice to conceal Queen Victoria's sudden disappearance.

The tale then becomes a wild chase through the seamy underbelly of London. Cowperthwaite and his intrepid assistant McGroaty must find the real Victoria before her coronation (and before her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, expires from sexual exhaustion), while foiling the devilish machinations of Lord Chuting-Payne, who would like nothing better than to involve the monarchy in a crashing scandal. "Victoria" reminded me in places of some of the more improbable Sherlock Holmes stories, only loaded with naughty moments.

From there, we leap lightly across the ocean to the New World, and "Hottentots." Here we encounter Swiss naturalist and white supremacist extraordinaire Louis Agassiz, on the verge of the greatest adventure of his career. When his bedroom is invaded one night by Jacob Cezar and the "abominable anthropological specimen" Ng!datu, he little realizes where it will lead. But he is shortly, to his horror, entangled in black magic, a quest for a stolen fetish and a search for the Well of Life. Worse still, he must deal with insurrection in the ranks of his own underlings, a short stay in prison, and the debunking of all the ideals he holds most dear.

The last tale, and my favourite, is "Walt and Emily," a delightful story starring American poet-recluse Emily Dickinson. Popular history has it that Emily lived out her life as a near-total hermit and weirdo, dressing in white and lowering her award-winning baked goods down to the local children in baskets. Little did we know, until now, that in fact she was travelling through the Astral Plane on a most unusually equipped ship, having steamy affairs with -- Walt Whitman! This is a side of the modest and virginal Emily that hadn't occurred to me. And though Walt, whom we first encounter in a State of Nature, proves himself to be no more than a man, Emily's spiritual awakening happens in spite of him. "Walt and Emily" gains an added piquancy from the fact that Di Filippo is obviously familiar with their verse, and uses it to mischievous effect in their dialogue.

Yes, The Steampunk Trilogy is a delicious little threesome indeed! From Dickens to the cutting edge of the avant-garde, Di Filippo's got it covered, in a spunky synthesis that manages to be at once raunchy and well-read. Go for it!

Copyright © 1998 Katharine Mills

Since this past Yuletide, Katharine Mills has been the proud owner of a thirty-volume set of the works of Dickens, bound in red. Her recreations include playing Vivaldi loud enough to disturb the neighbours, and worse, singing tunelessly in accompaniment. Her deepest wish has not yet come true, but it might.

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