Welcome back to the second installment of my advance reader review for Twit Publishing’s soon-to-be-published Dieselpunk anthology! Yesterday we looked at the first four short stories, and now I’ll wrap up the review with the final four.
Our next tale is Jack Philpott’s “Cocktails on the Street of Bones,” a sub-tropical adventure yarn set in the Florida Keys in an alternate early 20th century timeline where the United States never came about. This one has plenty of action and espionage, and reads as a much more pulpy, less alcohol-fueled version of The Rum Diary as written by Harry Turtledove or Harry Harrison, and it’s immensely entertaining.
In all honesty there’s little to nothing I can say in criticism of the short story; in fact the only bad thing about it is that there’s so many questions left unanswered. This means, of course, that I’ll be eagerly awaiting another short story from the author that follows in the footsteps of the excellent groundwork he’s already laid, just so I can find out more. It’s the highest praise I can really bestow on something like this – the story fires your imagination and gets you wondering just what’s going to happen to these characters and what’s up with the setting.
The next short story in the anthology, “Dex Puncher, American Hero,” by Nick Keller, is vastly different in scope and scale from the previous story, but the sheer amount of kinetic energy nestled within the narrative definitely goes to eleven. Imagine an over-the-top Captain America movie directed by Quentin Tarantino and set against the backdrop of the ravaged trenches of The Great War and you’ve got an excellent idea of the kind of heroics you’re going to encounter, and you’ve got a great idea of what you’re going to be in for.
In fact, things get so over the top that at some points you have to just laugh and figure that the author is almost purposefully going for lampooning the genre. The story works as a pitch-perfect parody, complete with steel-jawed, implacable hero and nefarious, wily nemesis that have been linked together in conflict for many years. It’s kind of like an Adventures of Blast Hardcheese with machine guns instead of laser pistols, except it’s endearing in its earnestness. It’s a fun read, and as long as you’re not expecting All Quiet on the Western Front you’ll find it enjoyable.
Next to last we have Frank R Sjodin’s “The Changing of the Cogs,” a surprisingly multi-layered story set in a massive, nameless city that harnesses the power of a massive, unstable tectonic fault line to provide it with power. Written in almost high diction, it reminded me very strongly of Frank Herbert’s Dune or even one of Asimov’s Foundation novels, but narrowed in scope to a single, seemingly innocuous event that ends up changing a centuries-long balance of power.
The most well-developed character here is the engineering level of the city itself, which is composed of a network of massive, interlinked subterranean shafts fitted with rods and cogs and constantly rocked with earthquakes. A comparison to Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember would be apt, especially in the gritty, ultra-mechanical feel it evokes.
Finally we come to the short story that closes out the anthology, “The Phallus of Osiris” by Craig Gabrysch. Tying in the kind of holy relic-hunting and secret societies that you would expect from an Indiana Jones film, it continues in the tradition of “Hillbilly Hell” and “A Knight Templar in Lincoln County,” two other excellent short stories by Craig (if you haven’t read them, go get “Hillbilly Hell” for free now and thank me later), this installment introduces a female Templar in a race against competing factions to recover an Egyptian artifact from the wrong hands in 1916 Petrograd.
The character development in the short story is fantastic, and definitely a stand-out. The protagonist, an Annie Oakley-type turned Knight Templar as vehicle for her own redemption, brooks no argument from anyone, whether they be a former lover or an infamous historical figure, and I would love to see more of her adventures in the future.
So there you have it: the last four stories in Twit’s Dieselpunk anthology. As promised, there were no spoilers, but hopefully this will whet your appetite for more once it’s available for purchase sometime soon. I know I’ll have to get my own copy – after all, I have to find out how “Yankee Diesel Dandy” ends, don’t I?