One morsel review: Published in 2011, this anthology is already considered a must read for any dieselpunk enthusiast… and with reasons.
Broken Time Blues
Edited by Jaym Gates & Erika Holt
Twelve short stories exploring the entire spectrum of dieselpunk fiction: from hard science fiction to soft fantasy, from alternative history to dieselpunk incarnation of classic fantasy.
Anthologies are strange beasts. They offer many different stories, so you often find pearls and pebbles mixed together. Occasionally, you get lucky and stumble upon an anthology that offers mostly pearls. Broken Time Blues is one such lucky case.
This is what dieselpunk is about
I really enjoyed this anthology which gathers together a few of the most interesting voices involved in dieselpunk fiction today and gives a wide view on what the genre can offer, which is – in my opinion – a lot more than even fans sometimes think.
In my experience as dieselpunk reader, I’ve found that two kinds of stories are particularly popular within the genre, maybe because this is where the inner characteristic of dieselpunk (disillusion and grittiness) express themselves the best. One is the story connected or set during one of the two World Wars, the other is the hard boiled mystery story.
Both are well represented here, though I’d say that WW stories, with their hard retro-futuristic vibe and love for machines and automations, take up a good part of this anthology. I’ve noticed that WW material tends to be more SF-inspired, while hard boiled adventure tends to bend more on one form or another of fantasy (at least, this is what happens here).
Alternative history also has a good representation… though all of these stories can be considered alternative history to some extent, because the great majority have an easily recognizable historical setting (the iconic “diesel” era, spanning from the 1920s to the 1950s) sometime so strong it seems to push the speculative element to the side, thought never completely.
There’s adventure, mystery, noir, even introspective pieces and the occasional grotesque idea. It’s truly a fantastic mix.
How it’s played out in this anthology
The anthology opens with one of my favourite stories in the book, The Sharing by James L. Sutter. This is set in Prohibition Era America and centers around an idea I found very clever: aliens came to Earth right after the end of World War I. They are peaceful people, but they have a bothersome characteristic, when they get drunk, they can read people’s mind. Nor the Moonlight by Andrew Penn Romine is a very sophisticated story, written in elegant, nearly poetic stile, set in Paris right after World War I and centering around the living creations of one of Europe’s most powerful wizards, Salvador Dalì, I truly loved this idea of turning Dalì into a wizard, the idea to mix art with magic and make it able to create both incredible things and very disturbing ones. In the story, Dalì gathered pieces of body from the battlefields, put them together and created new life. What happened to these creatures, he didn’t much care.
Both of these are retro-futuristic stories with a strong SF element.
Button Up Your Overcoat by Barbara Krasnoff is instead one of those stories which are more historically set, with a very mild speculative element. The central idea is a peculiar form of ‘passing’. The story evolves as a historical piece to the very end, where we get a glimpse of the future.
But my absolute favorite (and what would you expect from a multi-decades fantasy fan like me?) is The Purloined Ledger by Ari Marmell. Set in Chicago during the Depression, the main character is Mick Oberon, an elf and PI. If you have any familiarity with fantasy, you’ll be aware the elf PI is one of the most dreaded clichés. Then you should really read one of Mick Oberon’s stories because they have nothing clichéd about them. Witty prose, brilliant ideas (like the one at the core of this story, which I’m not going to spoil) and very interesting, well thought-out characters and speculative elements. Really I dare you not to appreciate this, even if it isn’t your chosen genre.
So if you are a fan of dieselpunk, really you shouldn’t pass on this, because I’m sure you’ll enjoy it immensely. If you wonder what dieselpunk is, grab this anthology and in the end you’ll have a very fair idea. Really, it’s a good one.
The Sharing by James L. Sutter
Chickadee by Frank Ard
Semele’s Daughter by John Nakamura Remy
The Automatic City By Morgan Dempsey
Button Up Your Overcoat by Barbara Krasnoff
Nor the Moonlight by Andrew Penn Romine
Jack and the Wise Birds by Lucia Starkey
Madonna and Child, In Jade by Amanda C. Davis
Der Graue Engel by Jack Graham
The Purloined Ledger by Ari Marmell
Fight Night by Ryan McFadden
A Drink for Teddy Ford by Robert Jackson Bennett