I had no idea what to expect when I picked up Carnal Machines. I confess that before reading the foreword, I wasn't 100% sure what steampunk was — though it turned out that I was pretty much right in my thinking. And for those of you that don't know, in brief the genre is stories based in the Victorian era with an emphasis on inventions and machinery, i.e. steam-powered.
Now that's cleared up, on to the review...
When I started reading Carnal Machines I quickly realised that the title was very literal. I knew that the machinery would be involved, obviously, but I wasn't expecting, well, sex machines. There are naughty gadgets left, right and centre in this book — it's a Victorian version of a sex toy shop!
The book really captures what it was to be alive in Victorian times — worried about being proper, sullied reputations — and sex. Carnal Machines takes what we know about that repressed time and flings open the doors. It's always been hinted that the Victorians were in fact sex mad, probably due to the "forbidden" nature of the act, and this anthology really plays on that. You can almost imagine yourself being transported back to a simpler time where polite society frowned upon naughtiness, so people did it in secret.
There are tales about the curing of hysterical women, using sexual energy to power machines, steam powered strap ons and much more. It's a really good fun, well written anthology which is completely different to anything I've ever read before.
One of my favourite stories was "Doctor Watson Makes A House Call," purely because I'm a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories and thought this was a brilliant take on it. The very idea of the supposedly prim and proper Watson using sexual aids on a woman to "cure" her was excellent.
So, if you're looking something sexy and very different, look no further. Carnal Machines is a decadent and unique read that's well worth adding to your to be read list.