Greetings good folks. Before we venture any further, I must point out that the subject matter of today's salon is a review of adult-oriented, hence, reader discretion is advised, and you may wish to move along to another post. I shall give you a moment while I review my notes.
And now we can commence. Feel free to have a cup of tea, or a sniff of something stronger, if you wish. My automated valet can bring you something.
My voyage through steampunk literature has recently brought me to The Innocent's Progress, by Peter Tupper, published in electronic format. This is a collection of 6 short stories set in an alternate world of the author's devising. This is no common set of erotic tales with minimal plot and excesses of sexual content, nor is it overdone steampunk riddled with gears and parasols; this is intellectual fiction, subtly written and focusing more on the people and the stories. Several characters are interwoven through the tales, slowly drawing back the curtains around this Victorian-flavoured world.
The best part of this work, for me, is the slow reveal of this unique world, story by story. Readers are first introduced to the Commedia, a form of theatre in which archetypes are performed on the stage, and privately performed offstage, for the pleasure of the audience. One quickly realizes that dichomoties are rife in this world, as in Victorian England. Performance and sexuality are blended and blurred in the Half-world of the actors, yet it is clearly unacceptable for them to stray, in any way, from the limited range of traditional archetypes. Sexuality is quite acceptible within the Commedia, yet the Decency Board strives to remove the threat of pornography from society, to protect women and the lower classes. There are allusions to historical figures and works throughout the tales, which enhances the reading experience. Peter Tupper even thoughtfully includes an Afterword, in which he gives background information and historical references for each tale.
My favourite story is "Delicate Work", where the reader is taken deep into the Honeycomb, an "Institution for the Reclamation of Wayward Women". The Honeycomb is the Victorian workhouse writ very large and very dark. In true Victorian fashion, this is where wayward women (those who do not live within the rigid and narrow boundaries defined by society) are "helped" by permanently hiding them out of sight. The Honeycomb is seen through the eyes of Tangwen, one of the Tinker Girl inmates employed in producing technology for the world outside. "Delicate Work" shows us the dirty, dystopian, dark side, which is all too often neglected in much of steampunk fiction.
There is one tale in the collection, "The Impurity", which differs from the others. "The Impurity" is an imaginative retelling of the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde story, into which the author breathes new life. I don't want to reveal the details here, but suffice to say, it is refreshing.
I recommend the reader look beyond the cover of Innnocent's Progress. Peter Tupper takes the reader into a familiar yet foreign world, which is richly textured and multifaceted - part Victorian, part steampunk, part intellectual foray, part erotica. If you wish to acquire this book yourself, the various forms and manner of procuring it can be found at Peter Tupper's site for Innocent's Progress.