Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Ghost IS the Machine (Post Mortem Press), edited by Patrick Scalisi

***note: usually, I post my own reviews here, but I have a story in this anthology, so I handed the reviewing duties to someone else.- Anton Cancre***

First, this is a great read – very entertaining throughout as a collection of short ghost stories. Some of these are extremely well written, draw the reader in, and deliver a chilling blow that is effective and spooky. Sadly, most of these (with the exception of two) have no similarity to the Steampunk genre greater than the use of some form of device or machine. If you are hoping to find work reminiscent of H.G. Wells (with a haunted time machine) you’ll probably be disappointed. Most of the writers featured are horror writers and there is little incorporation of Industrial Age steam powered or gear and cog style alternate technology. If you like a good ghost story and aren’t too picky about the use of the term “Steampunk”, this anthology is well worth reading.


My only real complaint with the book is a lack of editing/proofreading resulting in many, many typos.

The stories are divided by The (Fanciful) Past, The Present, and The Future. Stories listed under The (Fanciful) Past consist of – you guessed it – stories set in the past. The first is probably the best example of Steampunk and, at the same time, my least favorite. “The Voice in the Box” by J. David Anderson tells the tale of an inventor who builds a mechanism to communicate with his dead fiancĂ©. While I understood what the voice in the box was doing after the first named individual was tracked down, the protagonist never seems to, even in the end when he…well… does something predictable that I won’t give away here. The second story from The Past is harder to define. “Interchangeable Parts” by Anton Cancre is not really steampunk except for the use of cogs and gears – it tells the tale of a ghost haunting a cog much as she haunted her own miserable life after immigrating to America and going to work on an assembly line assembling said cogs. Beautifully written, visual, bitter and fun to read. Don’t be disappointed when you come to the end and…nothing happens. That seems to be the point. The rest of the stories in this opening section are entertaining but not the best to be found in this collecton.

The next set of stories take place in modern times. Most are very good but, again, are good ghost stories as opposed to Steampunk stories. Notable are Joe Hill’s “Scheharazade’s Typewriter” and Rose Blackthorn’s “Eidess”. Others are well-written stories that have really been done to death, for example “The Iron Prophet”, a story about a self-fulfilling prophecy after a man is told how he will die and “The Ghost of Ozzie Hobbs” (although, I actually love this little story about summoning the evil spirit through calculators! Another reason to hate math). “Video Express” by Kristopher Triana is a real gem. It should be done as an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Finally, the future section is the shortest and probably the best of the bunch. “Watch” by Jay Wilburn is the only other example of a real Steampunk horror story. Set in a vague future time after the “Plague Wars” where a return to steam-powered technology, trains, dirigibles and the like abound, a device salvaged from a deep sea wreck compels Jonah, our hero, to abandon his life and carry out the will of the soul trapped inside. Jonah travels by train through the western wastes to Ninevah Heights where the device intends to make a family repent – through Jonah – for a sin committed by their ancestors. Well written and chock full of name symbolism, this one was by far my favorite. The last is “Afterimage” by Alexis A. Hunter. More Cyber- than Steampunk, a blind woman is given sight via an implant of mechanical eyes and starts to see people and events from someone else’s life. I had to go back and re-read to make sure the name of the company that installed the eyes wasn’t GeneCo. This one was very good and the horrific ending left me pretty satisfied.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed this Anthology and highly recommend it. Good ghost stories, great short fiction, but don’t count too much on the Steampunk tag.

buy it here.

reviewed by Laura Langford

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