Editor: Dominik Parisien
Published by: Exile Editions
My rating: 4 out of 5
Where I got the book: Broke down and bought my own copy
This review was originally written for the Charlatan. An edited version was published on September 29, 2016, Volume 46, Issue 9.
Clockwork Canada is an anthology that’s the first of its kind, steampunk stories set in Canada and entirely written by Canadians. Despite Canadian history being rife with events that are perfect to explore through a steampunk narrative, steampunk fiction predominantly focuses on British Victorian history. Clockwork Canada aims to change that though, with stories that examine and reimagine Canadian myth and history across the country. Rather than merely replicating traditional steampunk narrative, Clockwork Canada explores darker sides of Canadian history, covering a broad range of steampunk in difference places across the country and in different time periods, imagining how Canada’s colonial history, from British, French, Indigenous and immigrant perspectives, would have changed with an industrial age of brass and steam.
“La Clochmar” by Charlotte Ashley opens the collection with a fantastical story where mythical clockwork creatures roam the landscapes of New France and terrorizing settlers. “Buffalo Gals” by Colleen Anderson continues the blending of clockwork, fantasy and death, where a young North-West Mounted Police Constable ends caught up in a mystery about mechanical buffalo women while trying to solve a string of murders in white and Indigenous communities. “The Seven O’Clock Man” by Kate Heartfield goes darker, drawing on a French Canadian myth about a boogieman who kidnaps children to tell the story about a community who lives in terror about a living clock that will take their children if they’re not in bed on time. “Equus” by Kate Story also draws on myth, blending Irish mythology with land surveying and colonial expansion in Newfoundland. “Bones of Bronze, Limbs Like Iron” by Rhea Rose blends together historical fiction, steampunk and science-fiction, in which a small town in northern Saskatchewan becomes a immigration point for people from an overcrowded future Earth.
Fast paced adventure drives an number of stories, from treasure hunting in “The Curlicue Seahorse” by Chantal Bordieu to blackmail, a kidnapping and a fight to keep a gas bomb from falling into American hands in “The Tunnels of Madness” by Harold R. Thompson. “Our Chymical Séance” by Tony Pi is an action detective story trying after a séance goes horribly wrong. In “The Harpoonist” by Brent Nichols, an unexpected superhero finds his calling in order to protect workers trying to start their own factory in Vancouver’s Gastown.
In contrast to the action packed nature of some stories, a number of stories use strong characterization to drive the plot. Set in the same time period and a different part of Vancouver as “The Harpoonist”, “East Wind in Carrall Street” by Holly Schofield is set in Chinatown and tells a story about a young boy trying to not shame his father as a secret starts to unravel. “Gold Mountain” by Karin Lowachee is a beautifully written story about a woman’s grief after her prospector husband’s death in an avalanche. “Crew 255” by Claire Humphery is set in Toronto after an airship explosion and follows the lives of one of the cleanup crews.
Through out Clockwork Canada, authors play with alternate histories as they imagine how steam and clockwork technology would have transformed Canada. A couple stories go even further, taking their inspiration directly from historical events. “Let Slip the Sluicegates of War, Hydro-Girl” by Terri Farvo writes about a world where the war of 1812 doesn’t end, but morphs into a continual battle between the British Empire and the States. In “Komagata Maru”, Rati Mehrota imagines if the passengers of the Komagata Maru hadn’t been forced to return to India, but escaped to the Prairies by transforming the boat into an airship.
As is the nature of anthologies, not all stories stand on equal strength. But Clockwork Canada is a solid anthology, with a number of excellent stories and other decent stories that rounded out the collection. There’s a story for every reader, from fast paced adventure to character driven, where fantasy meets mechanical, industry, science, the occult, war and colonization.