Posts Tagged ‘steampunk’

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Escape Pod 664: The Day Girl


The Day Girl

by Rivqa Rafael

Mother never wanted me to take the meteorology job. “Those high fences and secret regulations,” she said. “There’s something shady about Rubens’ Medicines” —dear Mother’s tone was sarcastic when she wished it— “mark my words, Genevieve. Dull work, too, and why don’t they use automatons?” But it was that or go in as a governess or lady’s maid, and that would have been a bitter pill to swallow indeed.

I smile wryly at my little medicinal joke as I smooth down the page of the logbook. In any case, testimonials prove the worth of Rubens’ medicinal tonic above our competitors across Britain (to say nothing of the endorsement of Queen Victoria’s Surgeon): Worth every penny to save Da from consumption… Jarvis’ Elixir did nothing but Rubens’ saved her… The only cure, everyone knows it…

The hours are long, true, but the nursery is a pleasant place to work, with its high glass ceilings. I like seeing the tidy berry crops from my laboratory bench. Besides, it’s warm in winter, if a little stifling in summer.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 631: Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam

Show Notes

Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam is set in the same universe as Escape Pod 436: Into the Breach.


Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam

By Malon Edwards

You squeeze through the doorway past the bouncer wearing the massive Conquest Knight XV exo and make way your over to Nyanza Swift. The Soul Queen’s blackout is spacious, but minimalist. Low sightlines. No shadowy alcoves. No jacks. No data exchange. No electricity.

This is the best blackout in uncontrolled airspace.

Your twin sister is sitting in the back near the chop shops. She stands and you kiss her on both cheeks. Her quicksilver skin is cold against your lips. You frown.

” It’s not that bad,” she says.

“Fout,” you curse, and you are surprised by the anger in your voice. “Ou malad prèt pou mouri. You’re dying.”

Nyanza Swift smiles, a wan, tired one, and new crow’s feet crinkle her eyes. “Mwen fatige.”

“E fèb,” you add, trying to keep the worry out of your voice. “You look like you’re about to fall over.”

“Mwen byen. I just need an hour or two of rest and some high quality coal dust.”

You shake your head. “M ka wè li. It’s all over your face. You’ve aged twenty years since we last saw each other.”

Your sister’s smile becomes more playful. “M ap fè dan zòrèy. I’m no spring chicken anymore, am I?”

“Sispann fè jwèt,” you tell her, wiping your eyes. “It’s not funny.”

Nyanza Swift’s smile fades fast. “Ah, sè byenneme mwen, my kind-hearted little sister, pa kriye.” She moves her chair to the other side of the table and puts her arms around you. The cold quicksilver skin of her fine jaw touches your exposed cheek. “Please don’t cry.”

You shake your smooth, brown bald head hard. “M pa vle al bwachat w. I don’t want you to die, but you will. If you keep doing this, w’ap mouri.”

You have no idea what she is doing to herself, but it scares you.

Nyanza Swift kisses you on the temple. “Se pa anyen ditou,” she tells you. “It’s nothing. M pa gen anyen. Really. M’anfòm. I’m fine.”

You take a deep breath to push back down the sob bubbling up from your chest, threatening to burst out of your mouth. “You look like Manmi.” Your voice is soft. It does not waver. “Age looks good on you.”

And you mean it.      (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 563: Two Steps Forward


Two Steps Forward

By Holly Schofield

I eased myself down off the running board of the ’28 Hudson sedan then laid a hand on the hood in mute sympathy for its overheated pistons. A quick buttoning-up of my topcoat and a tug on my fedora and I felt ready to approach the farmhouse.

The old woman on the veranda watched me as I drew close. Fly-away gray hair surrounded a narrow, clever face, faded housedress atop rubber boots, she was as much of a hodgepodge as I used to be. The late model Stewart Warner radio perched on the windowsill shimmied with “The Spell of the Blues”. I hummed along as the saxophones swooped and soared.

The old woman fingered the jumble of items on her lap as if looking for a weapon and I stopped a few feet from the bottom step of the porch. (Continue Reading…)

EP548: A Prayer at Noon


A Prayer at Noon

by John Shade

It was a day into the third sun when the patchwork man rode into town.

I remember the dust scrabbling at my eyes, and the folk that had gathered on the sidewalks to watch him plod past on a chugging, nearly-spent machine horse. As he came to me, the stitched segments of his face shifted into a new configuration, a hinted smile or frown, and his torso swung around, my breath seized. I’d been around men before, but he was something different. Something more. He was ugly, though, with a wiry frame and a large head set on top, wads of crusted hair sprouting between the seams across his skin. He rode toward us, confident as anything. I braced as he reached down, but he plucked my little sister, Ester, from the crowd instead. The town went silent but for the constant shuffle of wind-blown sand.

With his god-strength, the patchwork man tossed Ester into the air like an aerialist, and set her down to swelling applause. The dread was broken. Our prayers had been answered at last.

(Continue Reading…)

EP545: Murder or a Duck


Murder or a Duck

by Beth Goder

George called out, “Mrs. Whitman, you have a visitor.”

Mrs. Whitman strode from her workroom, her white hair skipping out of its hairpins. She straightened her work skirt, massaged her bad knee, then hurried down the hall.

“George, what’s happened to the lamp with the blue shade?”

“To which lamp are you referring?” George smoothed down a cravat embroidered with tiny trombones. Improper attire for a butler, but George had never been entirely proper.

Mrs. Whitman examined the sitting room in further depth. The blue lamp was gone, as were the doilies, thank goodness. An elegant table sat between the armchair and green sofa, which was infused with the stuffy smell of potpourri. Behind the sofa hung The Roses of Wiltshire, a painting that Mrs. Whitman had never cared for, despite its lush purples and pinks and reds. And the ficus was there, too, of course.

Mrs. Whitman pulled out a battered notebook. George’s trombone cravat indicated she was in a timeline where he was courting Sonia. A good sign, indeed. Perhaps, after six hundred and two tries, she’d finally landed in a timeline where Mr. Whitman would return home safely.

Consulting her charts, she circled some continuities and crossed out others, referring often to an appendix at the back. The notebook was worn, its blue cover faded. And it was the twelfth one she’d had since starting the project.

George cleared his throat. Mrs. Whitman didn’t even glance up. “You have a visitor,” he said.

“George, I need to ask you a few questions.”

George sighed, but made no comment.

“Has Mr. Whitman returned from his trip?” She always asked this question first, in the hope that George would direct her to the study, where she’d find Mr. Whitman reading a book or knitting socks.

“He’s due back sometime today.”

That was what George always said. Mrs. Whitman had been through it over and over again; she knew it was useless to organize a search until the evening, when everyone else would begin to worry.

Undeterred, Mrs. Whitman asked her control question. “Did you wear your navy suit anywhere this year?”

George raised an eyebrow, but said, “I wore my suit once to the Lacklustres’ evening ball, and again at the horse show for troubled teens.”

If the Lacklustres were holding a ball, then they hadn’t gone bankrupt yet, which meant she was in a timeline where Winston Tuppers hadn’t revealed Mr. Lacklustre’s banking fraud. And the horse show for troubled teens never appeared without a corresponding tea party later in June. Mrs. Whitman flipped busily through her charts.

“Which tea cakes are they selling at the market on Quill Lane? Chocolate? Lavender? Orange and cream?” she asked.

“There is no market on Quill Lane. It was torn down last year,” George said, a rare look of concern on his face. “Are you sure you’re feeling quite all right?”

“Just one more question,” said Mrs. Whitman, making a mark in her notebook. “Is it Sir Henry waiting in the foyer?”

“No,” he said. “Mrs. Lane requests your attention.”

Mrs. Whitman snapped the notebook closed. If Mrs. Lane was visiting, it could only mean one thing. She was either there to kill Mrs. Whitman or sell her a duck.

(Continue Reading…)

EP466: Checkmate


Checkmate

by Brian Trent

The black steamrotor chugged noisily beneath the maze of damp brick arches, cutting a frothy wake in the underground canal.  Edward Oakshott stood rigidly at the bow, leaning against his silver cane. The dank stink of London’s forgotten netherworld perspirated over the vessel’s wood, the humidity visibly beading like a spate of glassy insect eyes on the many green lamplights they passed.  Edward drummed his fingers against one clammy hand.  His sense of direction, precise as his fashionable gold pocketwatch, reckoned they must be passing directly below the evening crowd at Charing Cross’ Hungerford Market.

Yet he wondered at their boatman’s skill in navigating these dark, labyrinthine channels.  How often were customers ferried to Thoth’s subterranean bazaar?  Edward grinned in nervous anticipation and peered from beneath the rim of his hat at the constellation of green lamps marking the canal’s many twists and turns.

“We shall be late if this continues,” Sophia Westbury said behind him.  Her folded parasol looked like a pale sword against her shoulder. “Really, Edward, was there no earlier date you could meet him?  It had to wait until the very eve of war?”

“The party shall wait for me.”

“It will be a scandal,” Sophia said, though her bell-like voice belied the smile on her lips.  Edward was already the scandal of the decade. Chessmen were synonymous with shadowy, secret shufflings in the night; living legends who could be your banker, teacher, butcher, parent, or carriage driver during times of peace.  Edward’s public antics had shocked Europe into a buzzing hive.

Sophia sighed and looped her arm round his.  “What do you know about this Thoth?  Any man who dwells like a spider beneath London, spinning mechanical webs beyond the Ministry’s sight…”  She shivered.  “I feel like Faustus!”

“Henry sent a Bishop here last autumn, darling, the one who defended Cornwall.  If Henry says Thoth is trustworthy, that is good enough for me.”

At these words, the boat banked sharply through a new arch, throwing up a huge wake.  Edward steadied himself with pressure to his cane, but cast a ghastly glare at their boatman in the ship’s small cabin.

“Edward!”   (Continue Reading…)

Book Review: Ghosts of Engines Past by Sean McMullen


When I was offered the opportunity to review Ghosts of Engines Past, a short-story collection by one of my favorite authors, Sean McMullen, the initial e-mail said it was a steampunk anthology. I suppose this is broadly true, in much the same way that an anthology about veterinarians might be 80 percent dog stories. In this case, the 80 percent is stories of flight.

And if there’s one thing McMullen knows how to do, it’s make people fly.

(Continue Reading…)

EP394: Good Hunting


by Ken Liu

Read by John Chu

About the Author…

I’ve worked as a programmer and as a lawyer, and the two professions are surprisingly similar. In both, one extra level of indirection solves most problems.

I write speculative fiction and poetry. Occasionally, I also translate Chinese fiction into English.

My wife, Lisa Tang Liu, is an artist. I’m working on a novel set in a universe we came up with together.

Things I like: pure Lisp, clever Perl, tight C; well-designed products, the Red Sox; sentences that sound perfect in only one language; math proofs that I can hold in my head; novels that make me quiver; poems that make me sing; arguments that aren’t hypocritical; old clothes, old friends, new ideas.

Labels that fit with various degrees of accuracy: American, Chinese; Christian, Daoist, Confucian; populist, contrarian, skeptic, libertarian (small “l”); a liminal provincial in America, the New Rome.

About the Narrator…

John designs microprocessors by day and writes fiction by night. His work has been published at Boston Review, Asimov’s and Tor.com. His website is http://johnchu.net

Good Hunting
by Ken Liu

Night. Half moon. An occasional hoot from an owl. The merchant and his wife and all the servants had been sent away. The large house was eerily quiet. Father and I crouched behind the scholar’s rock in the courtyard. Through the rock’s many holes I could see the bedroom window of the merchant’s son. “Oh, Tsiao-jung, my sweet Tsiao-jung…” The young man’s feverish groans were pitiful. Half-delirious, he was tied to his bed for his own good, but Father had left a window open so that his plaintive cries could be carried by the breeze far over the rice paddies. “Do you think she really will come?” I whispered. Today was my thirteenth birthday, and this was my first hunt.

“She will,” Father said. “A _hulijing_ cannot resist the cries of the man she has bewitched.”

“Like how the Butterfly Lovers cannot resist each other?” I thought back to the folk opera troupe that had come through our village last fall.

“Not quite,” Father said. But he seemed to have trouble explaining why. “Just know that it’s not the same.”

I nodded, not sure I understood. But I remembered how the merchant and his wife had come to Father to ask for his help.

_”How shameful!” The merchant had muttered. “He’s not even nineteen. How could he have read so many sages’ books and still fall under the spell of such a creature?”_

_”There’s no shame in being entranced by the beauty and wiles of a _hulijing_,” Father had said. “Even the great scholar Wong Lai once spent three nights in the company of one, and he took first place at the Imperial Examinations. Your son just needs a little help.”_

_”You must save him,” the merchant’s wife had said, bowing like a chicken pecking at rice. “If this gets out, the matchmakers won’t touch him at all.”_

A _hulijing_ was a demon who stole hearts. I shuddered, worried if I would have the courage to face one.

Father put a warm hand on my shoulder, and I felt calmer. In his hand was Swallow Tail, a sword that had first been forged by our ancestor, General Lau Yip, thirteen generations ago. The sword was charged with hundreds of Daoist blessings and had drunk the blood of countless demons.

A passing cloud obscured the moon for a moment, throwing everything into darkness.

When the moon emerged again, I almost cried out.

There, in the courtyard, was the most beautiful lady I had ever seen. (Continue Reading…)

EP360: Follow That Cathedral!


Follow that Cathedral!

By Gareth Owens

…and with that Pixie dived from the open door of the Zeppelin. The air around her suddenly becoming liquid, rushing over the smooth leather of her helmet and bringing tears to her eyes.

“Always some bloody thing!” she grinned into the gale, falling headlong towards the welcoming embraces of Mother Earth and Mother Russia below.

Siberian night enveloped her, storm filled frozen darkness, cloud shrouded full moon, and below, the steam powered lightning of The Iron Czar. A hissing, glowing, monster of a train, three storeys high, and even longer than the leviathan Fourteen Bags of Mischief hanging above.

Pixie saw the orange furnaces erupting sparks through the twin stacks, as if Hephaestus himself stoked on the imperial railways. (Continue Reading…)

EP315: Clockwork Fagin


By Cory Doctorow
Read by Grant Baciocco
Discuss on our forums.
First appeared in Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories
Music by Clockwork Quartet
All stories by Cory Doctorow
All stories read by Grant Baciocco

This one is a long one! This is considered appropriate for kids 12 and up – it’s a YA story with one murder.

Clockwork Fagin
By Cory Doctorow

Monty Goldfarb walked into St Agatha’s like he owned the place, a superior look on the half of his face that was still intact, a spring in his step despite his steel left leg. And it wasn’t long before he *did* own the place, taken it over by simple murder and cunning artifice. It wasn’t long before he was my best friend and my master, too, and the master of all St Agatha’s, and didn’t he preside over a *golden* era in the history of that miserable place?

I’ve lived in St Agatha’s for six years, since I was 11 years old, when a reciprocating gear in the Muddy York Hall of Computing took off my right arm at the elbow. My Da had sent me off to Muddy York when Ma died of the consumption. He’d sold me into service of the Computers and I’d thrived in the big city, hadn’t cried, not even once, not even when Master Saunders beat me for playing kick-the-can with the other boys when I was meant to be polishing the brass. I didn’t cry when I lost my arm, nor when the barber-surgeon clamped me off and burned my stump with his medicinal tar.

I’ve seen every kind of boy and girl come to St Aggie’s — swaggering, scared, tough, meek. The burned ones are often the hardest to read, inscrutable beneath their scars. Old Grinder don’t care, though, not one bit. Angry or scared, burned and hobbling or swaggering and full of beans, the first thing he does when new meat turns up on his doorstep is tenderize it a little. That means a good long session with the belt — and Grinder doesn’t care where the strap lands, whole skin or fresh scars, it’s all the same to him — and then a night or two down the hole, where there’s no light and no warmth and nothing for company except for the big hairy Muddy York rats who’ll come and nibble at whatever’s left of you if you manage to fall asleep. It’s the blood, see, it draws them out.

(Continue Reading…)