No sooner did I talk about Nazi steampunk than Ian Sales sent me his story “Wunderwaffe”, which seems to have come out directly from the pages of A Lexicon of Steam Literature of the Third Reich.
Actually, I lie. Ian sent me the story earlier, as it is a precursor (of sorts) to his novella, Adrift on the Sea of Rains, which I recently reviewed. The story was published in an e-book anthology called Vivisepulture, which is apparently Latin for ‘burying alive’. A fate, it must be said, that befalls many more stories than just “Wunderwaffe”.
Anyhow, when I pointed out to Ian that, like the vast majority of people in the world, I don’t have an e-reader, Ian, with remarkable adroity and aplomb, turned “Wunderwaffe” into Wunderwaffe – that is, he created a limited edition chapbook version of the story. I had assumed mine would be one of a kind but I am, in that, sorely disappointed: this is a limited edition of 12 signed and numbered copies, and I believe Ian may be planning to sell the other 11 (for all you collectors out there!).
Wunderwaffe, like Adrift on the Sea of Rains, features the mysterious Bell, a product of occult Nazi science based on a supposedly-real Nazi artefact of unknown purpose discovered at the end of the war.
In Adrift, the Bell acts as a device for moving between alternate realities. In Wunderwaffe, however, it turns out to be a time-travelling device. Gunter Erlichmann, a physicist and devout Nazi, is summoned to Adolf Hitler’s presence. In this world, we find out, the land of Ultima Thule was discovered by Nazi explorer Ernst Schafer, in the North Pole. The Thulans have advanced technology and assist the Nazis in the war. “Months?” Hitler says, winning over this reader forever. “I need my flying saucers now!”
Hitler sends Erlichmann to check up on secret experiments carried out by a scientist called Rotwang. Erlichmann arrives to discover Rotwang working on the Bell. He sends through a slave, Maria, a woman from the concentration camps, having turned her first into a sort of metal monster. She disappears. Erlichmann follows her through – and finds himself in a futuristic city (not unlike Metropolis), which may have inadvertently been the source of Ultima Thule…
This has the same sense of ironic – and inevitable - denouement as Adrift on the Sea of Rains, and Sales is having a lot of fun with his alternate world Nazis. If you read A Lexicon of Steam Literature of the Third Reich you’ll find many of those elements present – the Black Sun and Ultima Thule being just two of them – but at the same time, like “Lexicon…”, Wunderwaffe is a comment on both pulp and the fetish elements of pulp, rather than a fetishized pulp story in itself. It is ironic, playful, and knowing.
At the same time, Wunderwaffe is less carefully written than Adrift. Where in the novella each sentence is carefully, delicately crafted, and its ending feels both inevitable and rather poignant, Wunderwaffe does feel at times like the self-same pulp stories it parodies. It feels hasty, less weighty than its successor.
At the moment, I am looking forward to the author’s second Apollo Quartet novella. I’d highly recommend getting the first one, and if you get a chance to pick up the limited edition chapbook of Wunderwaffe, I think it makes for a lovely little collector’s item.
Currently reading: Chris Wooding’s The Iron Jackal.