Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Steampunk Shakespeare done right

The Vintner's Tale: An Adaptation 
of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

By Claudia Alexander

(Emerald Phoenix)

     I can’t really claim to be “reviewing” this book, since I haven’t read it, at least not in this particular iteration. I did read a substantial chunk of it under the title “Leo’s Mechanical Queen” in the scarcely marketed, stealth steampunk Shakespeare anthology The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter, and thought it was one of the highlights of the book. It remained true to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale while transforming it into a true steampunk alternate history/culture story, set in a world where Louisiana was never sold to the U.S. by Napoleon, and with a Creole/voodoo culture.
     My only complaint with the original story was that it was a little too short, its ending a little too abrupt, to fully stand alone as a steampunk reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s play. In fact, it fell just short of fulfilling that promise.
     That this volume exists suggests that perhaps the story was longer originally, and it was the editors who lopped off a bit of the ending, along with other, perhaps more judicious, excisions. Its still short for a standalone book -- it’s more of a chapbook, only 48 pages -- but that may be precisely the proper length for the story. I think I must buy it, and recommend it to one and all.
     That said, there is no indication in the summary or details on or the book that a large chunk of this book was previously published as part of another book. As I’ve written before, this particular steampunk Shakespeare anthology -- while heavily promoted while the editors were looking for submissions -- has scarcely been mentioned by any of its editors, writers or even its publisher since. 
     That Claudia Alexander doesn’t mention it either is a curious conspiracy of silence. 
     Since the writers were to be exclusively paid by royalty, not an advance, perhaps Alexander has received no payment yet, and therefore sees no reason to promote it? Given the lack of buzz about the book since publication, I’m sure she sees no advantage in bringing up the connection. I even wonder if she has had the rights returned to her in exchange for silence about the whole debacle.
     Whatever the reason, I’m glad the story will now reach a wider audience, and I hope some of the other Omnibus authors’ stories follow suit, particularly Tim Kane's The Malefaction of Tybalt’s Mechanical Armature (an American Civil War-set retelling of Romeo and Juliet), Ruth Booth's Much Ado About Steam Presses: A Scandal of Minor Importance (a steampunk explanation for Don John's behavior in Much Ado about Nothing), both of which I liked but felt were a little too truncated. (Rebecca Fraimow’s Measure for Steel-Sprung Measure might also benefit from such expansion, though much more work  is needed. I liked the concept, but it’s little more than an anecdote as is.)


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