STRANGE TALES FROM THE SCRIPTORIAN VAULTS edited by SAMMY HK SMITH
PB, 238 pages, Kristell Ink
“Strange Tales from the Scriptorian Vaults” is the debut release from new fantasy/sf imprint Kristell Ink. It’s a collection of steampunk shorts by mostly unknown authors, with the profits going to First Story – http://www.firststory.org.uk/
Rather than just being a collection of unrelated shorts, the book links its stories together by the theme of parallel Earths, and the discovery in an abandoned library of reports back from dozens of parallel worlds by the adventurous Scriptorians of the title. The stories they brought back from their explorations form the core of the book, and this works really well as a linking device.
Inevitably, in any collection of short stories, some stand out above the rest. Highlights in this collection include “The Boat of Ra” by Ross M Kitson, where a man made desperate by the plague that has afflicted his son resorts to murder and raises an ancient evil, and the creepy “The Fae of Craven Street” by Jake Finlay which makes up for it’s “cor blimey guv!” affectations by being a twisty, unsettling tale of mutation and hideous experimentation. My favourite story in the collection was “The Diary of the Frankensteins” by Steven J Guscott, a feminist reworking of Frankenstein.
There are enough cogs and brass and buzzing Tesla coils in here to keep any steampunk fan happy, and the science-fiction elements don’t seem out of place in the neo-Victorian worlds the Scriptorians travel to. Some writers introduced the idea of “Anti-Scriptorians”, looping from world to world in a ruthless pursuit of money and power. I don’t know if the nods to Quantum Leap were deliberate, but they were definitely there, and that’s not a bad thing….
It might be nice to see the idea of the Scriptorians expanded into novel-length work; the concept could work as a shared universe. For now, this is a great way to launch an imprint that promises to deliver high-quality SF and F over the next few years.