At this point, a sultry young woman approached and interrupted the smith. She was covered entirely in gold; she looked quite a bit like Jill Masterson, in the James Bond film "Goldfinger."
He held the open book out to her.
"Here, darling. This, I think, is for you," he said.
She took it up and glanced at the description of the clown creature without its festive appearance: "It resembled an enormous garden slug in its pale nakedness, folds of flesh rolling along the rib cage and gut, massive thighs, yet with narrow, long-fingered hands like a strangler. There were no genitals, just a little dimpled mound for urination..."
"Disgusting," she said.
He smiled. "There's no creation more cunning than you," he said. "But the creature described here is built for military reasons, not beauty. And don't be too quick to judge Ferrante or to call him sadistic. Remember" -- and here he was thinking of Talos, the bronze guardian he made for Minos -- "that I dabbled once in similar horrors."
After Hef had delved into the rest of the anthology -- stories by Paul Di Filippo, Neal Stephenson, Mary Gentle and many others -- he felt a good deal more cheerful. For here, in this group of writers, he sensed a connection to the ancient makers of myth. Both told stories in which contrivances, willful humans and divine influences all merge. The VanderMeers' anthology (would that it were longer) effectively captures what the steampunk genre is all about.
ALSO NEW IN BOOKSTORES:
"The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy" edited by Ellen Datlow (Del Rey: 402 pp., $16 paper).
Though Datlow's anthology is not specifically about steampunk -- it embraces a wide variety of works of speculative fiction -- many of the stories might have made the trip down the volcano's throat too. Datlow has selected tales of alternative history, such as Jason Stoddard's "The Elephant Ironclads" (one image is of Confederate blacksmiths forging battle armor for pachyderms) and the truly amazing, such as Jeffrey Ford's "Daltharee," in which we observe a city in a bottle and the microscopic lives of its citizens, their existence produced by "superminiature cells." Datlow is a tireless editor; once again she succeeds in bringing together a collection of writers whom readers should be aware of.