Bookshelf: A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk

ZI first met Oberon Malieux as a contestant in a Space Balrogs game called Steampunk Supervillain Smackdown. He was a dastardly rogue, played by Scott Tarbet in goggles, top hat, and kilt, whose plan as supervillain was to mechanically augment the bodies of the world’s wounded veterans and madmen, and unleash them as a conquering army. Dr. Malieux / Tarbet won the Smackdown, after a series of shocking maneuvers the secrecy of which I have sworn in a solemn vow.

It turns out Scott is an author. And it turns out further that in the Smackdown he was cunningly playing the part of his villain in the novel A Misummer Night’s Steampunk, where Malieux appears as the mad scientist of steam-powered prosthetics in the secret pay of the kaiser, and also locked into a duel with his mad scientist of optical technology wife, Lakshmi.

Steampunk hi-jinks in classic style ensue, with the delightful twist that Tarbet’s story draws liberally and openly from the plot and characters of the Shakespeare play referenced in its title (which makes the inevitable denunciation of Shakespeare by one of the characters as “sentimental drivel” very droll). We are also given a strong dose of actual historical characters in improbable but convincing steampunk incarnations, tongue-in-cheek representations of Victorian style and manners, and a very amusing view of to what uses steam-powered prosthetics would likely be put; one of the characters is half-human, and half sewing machine, for instance.

A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk reminds me most of all of Lavie Tidhar’s Bookman trilogy, with its frenetic action, wit, and co-opting of the Bard. Recommended for fans of steampunk and Shakespeare alike!

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