This slender volume delivers exactly what the title promises: a collection of short stories about the city-state of New Babbage. Under the editorial direction of Assistant Maceholder A. E. Cleanslate, the volume collects 30 stories that show the diversity of interests within Babbage, from mad scientists and megalomaniacs to "what could possibly go wrong?" feats of engineering to macabre goings-on.
That the book exists at all is a tribute to both the persistence of Mr. Cleanslate, who created a Kickstarter project, and the people of the Steamlands, who know a good thing when they see it. The project was fully funded - just under the wire - last September, and I received my copy of the book just after the new year. The paperback is a high-quality printing, with bright white pages and a sturdy, shiny cover, depicting a tableau of the city from the Vernian Sea, Doctor Obolensky's observatory to the left, smokestacks belching soot into the air, and a dirigible in the distance. One hardly needed the name "New Babbage" to appear on the cover.
The book is quite good. Uneven, as story collections inevitably are, but excellent overall. I was going to say "astonishingly good," as these are tales by (mostly) amateurs (the Kickstarter page notes that "with a few exceptions" the authors are not professional writers), but in some regards it is not at all surprising that a role-playing area with such a firm sense of place is also populated by talented writers, even if those writers make their livings some other way. The backstories, ongoing tales, and shared role-play all suggest a populace that knows and loves stories.
Some personal highlights:
- "Mr. Marvin and the Monocipede of Mayhem," by Sarah Heiner, about Miss Bookworm Hienrichs and her encounter with a newcomer to Babbage, bent on world domination in a contraption of his own design
- "The Trains Don't Run Under Clockhaven," by A.E. Cleanslate, a truly creepy Lovecraftian tale about what happens when Progress attempts to go where it ought not
- The amusing "A Tale of New Babbage," by DreddPirateBob…even urchins can dream big
- Two humorous tales by Emerson Lighthouse about his encounters with Petharic, the Lieutenant Gerard to Lighthouse's Richard Kimble
- "The Card Game," by Jonathon Spires, a lengthy piece of intrigue and double-dealing involving the Church of the Builder, the Militia, and a third group with its own agenda
- "The Hummingbird and the Diamond Cog," by Junie Ginsburg, about the consequences of technology and obsessions
- "The Sulphurstick Girl," by Darian Mason, which provides a new twist on a classic tale
- The humorous "The Outer Circle, Or 'How I Got Kicked Out of the B.R.T.R.C.C.A.,'" by Arconus Arkright, about a secret organization and the consequences of not paying enough attention to events around one's self.
This list is not to slight the other tales. Some are very brief, mere snippets about the lives of New Babbagers. Many, including some of those described above, make good use of humor, acknowledging the over-the-top nature of the a city filled with resourceful urchins, crazy inventors, monstrous beasts, and menacing villains. A sense of humor is vital to survival.
The book closes with a poem, "Twas the Night Before a New Babbage Christmas," by Salazar Jack, which rewrites the classic Christmas poem to something more appropriate for a land of airships, urchins, smog-filled streets, and killer trolleys. I can only think that Clement Moore would have approved.
The "Vol. 1" of the title provides hope that we will see a "Vol. 2" and beyond in this series. One thing that surprised me about this book was that it contains relatively little of the ongoing characters in the city. Perhaps we'll see more of that in future volumes.
Cheers to all the participants of the projects. If one day the Dark Aether does indeed fall and New Babbage vanishes forever, this volume will be evidence of a vibrant city-state and the creativity of her citizens.