Book Review: The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo

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Paul Di Filippo’s The Steampunk Trilogy contains three bizarre and occasionally humorous novels taking the reader from Queen Victoria’s amphibian doppelganger to racist naturalists and black magic, and finally the interdimensional love story of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

I was first introduced to Paul Di Filippo through his surreal short story collection Shuteye for the Timebroker. The Steampunk Trilogy continues his tradition of the bizarre and the weird. The first novella, simply entitled “Victoria” follows Cosmo Cowperhwait the inventor of a human-amphibian hybrid that bares an uncanny resemblance to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, as well as an insatiable sexual appetite. This is a satire of Victorian mores, politics, and, of course, of the stereotypical mad scientist. Cosmo finds himself embroiled in a plot at the highest levels of the British Court, fights in a duel, and find brief passion.

The second novella is “Hottentots” is less outrageously funny, at least on the surface. This is in part due to the fact that the story is told, for the most part through the eyes of Swiss-born naturalist Louis Agassiz, who is apart from pompous and self-aggrandizing, also a proud unrepentant racist. As a result, Di Filippo adopts a more satirical tone as Agassiz confronts anarchists, voodoo, academic maneuverings, swordfights, and a Lovecraftian horror all without loosing a hint of his arrogance or smug assurances.

The final novella, “Walt and Emily,” follows Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman’s blossoming love as they join a spiritualist and scientific expedition into the afterlife. More than either of the previous stories, “Walt and Emily” delights in literary references and games. The story is saturated with poetic quotations and the unrepentant silly fun not only of a love story between Dickenson and Whitman but the idea of them visiting the afterlife. It was also, the story which, for me, felt as though it had the most room to breathe. While all of the stories were enjoyable, the first two couldn’t help but feel a little rushed.

On the whole, however, The Steampunk Trilogy is a gleeful journey through the more peculiar side of Steampunk.

***Received copy from NetGalley for review

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