I have not read much Steampunk fiction, at least not anything being currently published.
My only knowledge of the genre in any literary sense has come from reading Michael Moorcock’s arguably “proto-steampunk” Oswald Bastable series. I am aware of the subculture certainly, but I have always been on the fringes but a keen observer nonetheless.
So it is with this unfortunate ignorance that I came to Steampunk Salmagundi and if what I encountered here is but a taste of where Steampunk literature is going then I wish to read more.
Steampunk Salmagundi, as its name suggests is a collection of stories and articles by John Reppion previously published in the pages of the semi-annual Steampunk Magazine. Reppion is widely known as a comic book writer, working in collaboration with his wife Leah Moore on series such as The Complete Dracula and Damsels. Just looking at their recently published series Sherlock Holmes and The Liverpool Demon, Victoriana and the bizarre is never far from Mr Reppion’s mind and in this self published collection he lets his interest run riot with highly enjoyable results.
The first story “Uhrwerk – The Incredible Steam Band” unfolds like an NME article for the Victorian age as Mr Reppion introduces us to the mythic, at least among those who are in the know, musical group who overcame extreme circumstances to put on a performance that would live in infamy. This is a fun piece filled with vivid descriptions of the band’s music and intricate details of the workings of their instruments. In fact they are so detailed you begin to suspect that Reppion has the surviving parts stuffed in a shed at the bottom of his garden.
What could easily have been a Steampunk send up of Kraftwerk, (Uhrwerk being the german for clockwork) actually becomes a rather fascinating examination of technology and music and how this may have worked in the landscape of Reppion’s imagination.
The collection then continues with the three part pulp adventure”Doppler and the Madness Engine”. In a fun and intriguing romp we follow consulting detective Doppler and her companion Grober through the murky Victorian world of spiritualism and infernal technology. Reppion has a great sense of wit and an even greater sense of horror as some of the scenes described in part three are genuinely unsettling. To talk about this story in too much detail would be detrimental to one’s enjoyment but I shall certainly welcome any further adventures of Doppler and Grober as the characters have wings.
When not writing comics, Reppion is a regular contributor to magazines like Fortean Times and rounding off the collection are two of his articles for Steampunk Magazine both informative and very well written. The first is “Baritsu, Bartitsu and Ju-Jutsuffragettes" in which he explores the lost art of gentlemanly self defence and its originator Edward Barton-Wright. Reppion includes excellent detail on the origin of the art, its decline and rebirth in the modern era as well as the inventible mention of its use by the Great Detective in dispatching a certain criminal mastermind.
To round off the collection is the fascinating story of Thomas Edison and his supposed quest to communicate with the other side. “Séance Through Science – Edison’s Ghost Machine” is an intriguing investigation as Reppion separates the fact from the fiction and what he uncovers is a rather interesting observation on how bizarre legends can grow up around men of science, and how they can become quoted as fact.
Steampunk Salmagundi is a marvellous little collection showcasing the inner workings and interests of a very talented writer. Although I cannot comment on where Reppion’s work fits in with current Steampunk writing, it certainly makes this reader want to find out more.
Steampunk Salmagundi is available as a limited edition self published work. John Reppion will be appearing at The Steampunk Doncaster event on Saturday 15th June where he will be selling copies as well as some of his other work which include Journeys in theWinterlands, his Sherlock Holmes comics and The Complete Dracula written in collaboration with Leah Moore.
Many thanks to John Reppion for providing a review copy.