A review by Dawn Vogel
Clockwork Fairy Tales (2013, Rok Books), edited by Stephen L. Antczak and James C. Bassett, is an anthology of nine steampunk adaptations of classic fairy tales. Growing up with Disney movies, I expected that I’d enjoy retellings of some of my favorites, but I was surprised when the first four stories were based on fairy tales I was not familiar with. It wasn’t until I got to Jay Lake’s “You Will Attend Until Beauty Awakens” (based on Charles Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty”) that I was familiar with the original story. Despite my ignorance of the original stories, the anthology was still a fun read.
Many of the stories featured interesting twists on the original fairy tales. For example, Steven Harper’s “Fair Vasyl” (based on the Russian fairy tale “Vasilisa the Beautiful”) genderflips the main character to good effect. Other stories replace magic with steampunk technology, or combine the two together.
It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite story in this anthology. I liked Kat Richardson’s “The Hollow Hounds” (based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Tinderbox”) and liked it even more when I got to hear her read the first part of the story. This one is definitely worth reading twice, just to catch her clever word use once you know one of the twists in the story. I also liked Gregory Nicoll’s “The Steampiper, the Stovepiper, and Pied Piper of New Hamelin, Texas” (based on the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamlin), which moved the setting to among German settlers of Texas and had a fun Weird West feel to it. And Pip Ballantine’s “The Mechanical Wings” (based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans”) was beautifully written with loads of evocative detail.
If there was anything I didn’t like about the book, it was mostly that I wasn’t prepared for the length of the stories. The stories are considerably longer than typical short story length, which meant that I wasn’t cruising through more than one story in the hour I had to read before bed. But that’s really a minor problem in the grand scheme of things. The stories are well written and edited, and even the unfamiliar fairy tales held little bits of familiarity in their structure.