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Steam Lust: An Attempt at Steampunk Erotica
For those that are fans of both romance and Steampunk (which it should be stated I am, since I've dedicated significant time and effort to my own series combining these two things), a book that claims to be a collection of Steampunk erotica should send the pressure gauges rising. Unfortunately, like any machine that's built more in fancy than in fact, “Steam Lust” looks great on paper, but it has several, major design flaws.
Let's begin with the nuts and bolts of the collection. The first, major flaw is that it has a distinct feeling of fiction with the gears glued on. Most of the stories in the collection aren't Steampunk erotica; they're erotica that's using Steampunk as a prop. Nearly every story in the collection could work in a variety of other genres with almost no editing except to take out reference to the years and to change the design of machines to being made of sleek steel rather than polished brass. These stories could be greatly enhanced, on the whole, with a little more attention paid to the feeling of the worlds and the setting as something beyond a convenient back drop so it would fit into this genre.
Moving on to more serious errors in the collection though is the question of suspension of disbelief. The authors are already asking us to believe in time travel, advanced mechanical creatures and clockwork automatons that have achieve self-awareness, and that's par for the course in Steampunk. But when you're asking your audience to believe things like that, you have to give them characters that are rooted in reality, whose motivations and actions make sense and who we'll concede might be real people. This is where “Steam Lust” falls flat on its face.
Don't take my word for it though, I'll provide examples. Right out of the gate, the first story in the collection, involves a beautiful engineer (all the men and all the women are hauntingly, cosmetically perfect, but that's another gripe) meeting a baron who is a war hero that bears clockwork appendages from his wounds. They have never met before, never seen each other, and they are so overtaken with desire that within 10 minutes of meeting they're stripping each others' clothes off. But where the locomotive jumps the rails is the baron mentioning the engineer's one true love, who he knows is recently deceased, and who mid-coitus proposes marriage to this woman that he's just met for the first time in the flesh. I wish this was only one bad story, but this is a pattern that “Steam Lust” displays with startling regularity. The formula goes “beautiful woman meets a man for the first time and they come together in a beautiful, loving embrace that ends in instant agreement of marriage or monogamy.” Of course the collection mixes it up with an alternative formula of “beautiful but unappreciated woman that has pined for a beautiful and reserved man finds out at the last moment that he also pines for her but had never said anything for fear of rejection.”
If the math plays out then by all means follow it, and you could blame the writers or the editors of this collection, but the predictability of “Steam Lust” brings the collection across as flat and one dimensional. Despite the number of characters that are involved in world wars or military action there is never once a story that involves gun play or pugilism, never a story where characters argue loudly or display mature reactions to talk about issues and problems. Even the smuttier parts of the book, potentially the entire selling point for many readers, fall victim to the pattern of predictability. While a common misconception is that Victorian men and women were uptight and suppressed, research and history (even the queen's personal journals) shows that they were quite inventive in the realm of sex.
So, all in all, “Steam Lust” is a cracker. There's a bit of salt, it's slightly crunchy, but it lacks the garnish of good cheese or some outstanding dip. Perhaps the most redeeming feature of this collection is that it shows the mainstream is really taking an interest in Steampunk, if it cares enough to put out a cookie cutter collection of short erotica that fails to capture the true romance of a bygone era.
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