Airships and sky pirates! Brain Modification chips! Technologically enhanced nymphs! Shakespeare goes punk in this first volume of stories from Writerpunk Press (www.punkwriters.com). Profits to go to PAWS Lynwood (www.paws.org), an animal shelter and wildlife rescue. Ask a bunch of eclectic writers to write stories inspired by one of the greatest dramatists of all time. Cast the stories in various punk genres: Cyber, Tesla, Diesel, Steam, Clock. Result: an innovative collection of stories inspired by the Bard, with a twist! Punk stories show the path not taken or the path that shouldn't be taken. Let us reshape your world.
I love Shakespeare.
I will ramble about my favorite plays and the inner motivation about characters in a way that astonishes (and frightens) most people. In my last semester of college, I studied 15 plays and loved every minute of it!
So when the author of a really wonderful steampunk series that I have featured before informed me that he would be contributing (along with about six or seven others) to an anthology of "punk" adaptations of Shakespeare plays.... I knew I had to have it.
If that is still no indication of how incredibly awesome and delightful it was, well, keep reading!
What is 'punk'?
If you're like my less-geeky family, you probably see the word "punk" and think this:
No, we're not giving Shakespeare a bunch of body piercings and a bleached mohawk. Don't you even go there.
The writers of Shakespeare Goes Punk offer this explanation of the term "punk":
"When it comes to it, punk is about aesthetic... The defining thing... has to reshape the world into the path not taken... The mainstream is what you would expect, for good or ill, in any genre. In cases of historical-based punk tropes, like Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or Teslapunk, technologies that were never explored become the defining parts of the setting."
Now that we've got that cleared up, on to the actual review...
"Mac" (Macbeth)-- The opening act of "SGP" packs a wallop! The author chose a futuristic "cyberpunk" setting... but it's all there.
SWEET MOTHER OF PIE IT'S ALL STILL FREAKING THERE.
The witches, the prophecy, Birnam and Cawdor, Banks (Banquo), Malcom, Duncan, Duffy (MacDuff), the floating dagger.... The author manages to leave everything just as The Bard intended... while at the same time flipping what we had known completely on its head! I loved everything about this tale, including the fabulous twist ending. The stigma of robotics and the clever use of technology smacked of that other great Literary Giant, Isaac Asimov (whom I also love) and if he had ever decided to do an adaptation of Shakespeare I would expect nothing less than this. It was sheer brilliance from the first sentence to the last.
"Green-Eyed Monster" (Othello)-- Shades of studying this play came back... out of the five tragedies I studied, this one was my least favorite. I did note that out of the five, this used the coarsest language and most vulgar terms--but from what I remember, the same was true for the original play. I wasn't as familiar with the "Dieselpunk" genre, but, as with "Mac" everything most striking about the play remained, from the most spine-chilling of Iago's monologues lifted right from the script itself, to the use of Desdemona's scarf/kerchief as the "red herring" for the misguided Othello. As much as I don't usually take to appreciating literary works with such liberal cussing, I recognized it here as a nod to the edgy nature of the original play, and I think it worked out very well. "Othello" was never meant to leave the viewer with a very good feeling inside, methinks, and while "Green-Eyed Monster" does the same, it did thrill me to be reading such attentive and well-thought work.
"Prospero's Island" (The Tempest)-- Again, not a familiar genre (Teslapunk) but the author still paid gracious homage to the original: Caliban, mention of Sycorax the witch, Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand, Ariel.... I was, also, not as familiar with this specific play, but whereas the most violent event to happen in the original play was the fate-changing tempest for which it was named, the wrecking itself plays a very small part in this adaptation. Instead, the author takes the work and twists it with a pitched battle of dark versus light seemingly incorporating the works of H. G. Wells (who, if I am not mistaken, occupied the same time period as Tesla, so this makes absolute sense that they would have similarities of technology) and his far-flung future world in The Time Machine--and once again, I am left breathless and enthralled by the sheer brilliance of it all.
"A Town Called Hero" (Much Ado About Nothing)-- The title itself proved enough of an indication that this particular adaptation would be the loosest of them all, and it was. Don Pedro and Benedick are combined into the character of Ben Pedro--a result, unfortunately, which ended up having to discard the stronger parts of either character in order to reconcile them into the same person. "Claudio" becomes the name of the squadron that "falls in love" with the town, is subsequently fooled into betraying the town, and then, when all is said and done, returns to the town's favor in the same manner as the two lovers in the play. This adaptation was so far removed from the original that, in contrast to the others, I could recognize none of my favorite supporting characters. Adaptation aside, though, it was a relatively sound story; a bit heavy in the suspension of disbelief, but absolutely a worthy contribution to the anthology!
"The Winter's Tale" (A Winter's Tale)-- And now finally we come to the work written by Jeffrey Cook himself. The master of steampunk, of course he would re-imagine the group of shepherds who accept the care of young Perdita as a group of dirigible-flying smugglers. The "living statue" of the cruel Duke's "dead" wife becomes a clockwork automaton. Oh, and there's also a bear named Thomas that I frequently forgot was a bear because of the way the other characters deal with it like another human. Marvelous touch! And the ending was just as fantastic as one could have ever hoped.
Overall, this anthology does not disappoint except in the fact that it's only five plays, not all thirty-seven of them. A full-fledged FIVE STARS from The Upstream Writer, and here's hoping for at least seven more volumes!