Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolutionby Ann VanderMeer
Playfully mashing up the romantic elegance of the Victorian era with whimsically modernized technology, the wildly popular steampunk genre is here to stay. Now...long live the revolution!
Steampunk Revolution features a renegade collective of writers and artists, including steampunk legends and hot, new talents rebooting the steam-driven past and powering it… See more details below
Playfully mashing up the romantic elegance of the Victorian era with whimsically modernized technology, the wildly popular steampunk genre is here to stay. Now...long live the revolution!
Steampunk Revolution features a renegade collective of writers and artists, including steampunk legends and hot, new talents rebooting the steam-driven past and powering it into the future. Lev Grossman’s “Sir Ranulph Wykeham-Rackham, GBE, a.k.a. Roboticus the All-Knowing” is the Six-Million-Dollar Steampunk Man, possessing appendages and workings recycled from metal parts, yet also fully human, resilient, and determined. Bruce Sterling’s “White Fungus” introduces steampunk’s younger cousin, salvage-punk, speculating on how cities will be built in the future using preexisting materials. Cat Valente’s “Mother Is a Machine” explores the merging of man and machine and a whole new form of parenting. In Jeff VanderMeer’s anti-steampunk story “Fixing Hanover,” a creator must turn his back on his creation because it is so utterly destructive. And Cherie Priest presents “The Clockroach,” a new and very unsettling mode of transportation.
Going far beyond corsets and goggles, Steampunk Revolution is not just your granddad’s zeppelinit’s an even wilder ride.
“Steampunk isn’t just about Victorians playing with cogs and gears; these stories (and a few essays) reveal some of the latest steps in this branch of speculative fiction’s evolution.”
“VanderMeer’s follow-up to previous similarly themed anthologies targets established fans of the retro-infatuated steampunk movement.”
“This third volume of the acclaimed Steampunk anthology series features an international cast of authors and a revolutionary take on the wonders of Steam. As steampunk continues to gain in popularity, these new tales and fresh tropes from established steampunk storytellers and new exciting talents reconcile Victorian pleasantries with passionate ideologies, reinvigorating the genre.”
“Demonstrates the power of a well-orchestrated collection...a must-have for any fan of the subgenre.”
“The 27 stories gathered here are therefore noteworthy both because of their subject matter as well as for the way they stretch the stylistics of Steampunk in new and different directions.”
“These stories have something everyone can enjoy.”
Verdict Those already familiar with the steampunk basics will welcome this new addition, which expands this subgenre’s borders and helps readers examine technology and society.Sara Schepis, East Fishkill Community Lib., Hopewell Junction, NY(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Read an Excerpt
Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution
By Ann VanderMeer
Tachyon PublicationsCopyright © 2012 Ann VanderMeer
All rights reserved.
Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil
Here it was, lying on a bed of stone, inert. Such an innocuous artifact, one that would go unnoticed on any machinist's workbench. A coil of copper wire wrapped around a steel cylinder just a few inches long, inset with an other-worldly crystal that seemed to glow faintly green with its own light, like a distant aurora. Truly otherworldly, as it happened.
Harry had searched for the object for more than a year, scouring ancient manuscripts, picking apart the threads of unlikely stories, tracking down reliable eyewitness accounts and separating them from fabrications, deciding which myths had a seed of fact within them and which were pure folly. Finally, she planned the expedition and arranged her disappearance from polite society for a month or more to embark on said expedition—leading to the moment that would make all the effort worthwhile. Or confirm that she had wasted her time utterly.
It would seem, she was pleased to note, that she hadn't.
The Aetherian craft that crashed in Surrey in 1869—her entire lifetime, twenty-five years ago now—was not the first such visitor to this world, some hypothesized. This artifact proved that they were right, that another Aetherian being had arrived a thousand years before and left this mechanism behind. A spare part to the Aetherians, but worshipped as a trinket of the gods in this obscure corner of Iceland ever since.
Some would say the Cult of Egil was not far wrong, to take the artifact as a holy talisman. Harry couldn't be bothered with the theology of the matter. She needed it for more mundane purposes. This was a piece of Aetherian technology that no one else in the world possessed. Britain had brought Aetherian wonders to the rest of humanity; by rights, it should have this as well, before anyone else. If she could convey it back home successfully.
Carefully, with gloved hands, she removed the object from its stone niche, where it had rested for centuries deep underground, inside the dormant volcano where the mysterious Icelandic cult that guarded it made its home. It hardly weighed anything. Surely the tingling she felt from it was her mind playing tricks. Merely the anticipation of finally having it in her possession. Nerves, that was all.
The artifact was hers. She set it safely inside the padded metal box she'd brought to transport it in, and slipped the box back inside her canvas rucksack, which she slung over her shoulder. Taking a moment to prepare for the next stage of the journey, she arranged herself and her tools. She wore a leather vest over a shirt, khaki trousers, and thick work boots. Along with her rucksack she wore a belt with several pouches, containing a rock hammer, lock picks, compass, hand lantern, and a holster with her pistol. Everything was in place. Now, to get out before they ever realized she'd been here.
The Cult of Egil's Temple of Sky Fire was located in an ancient lava tube, a twisting set of caves carved into the very earth by rivers of molten lava and searing gas. The air still smelled of sulfur, the reek of distant, burning stone. Heat rose up through the black rock, evidence that the fires that had once flowed through here still lingered beneath the crust. The tunnels had merged into a large cavern; oblique shafts had been dug to the surface to let in faint glimmers of arctic light. Polished squares of silver reflected the sunlight, directing the rays to strike a mural above the altar: a mosaic of bone and shell, in the shape of some inhuman god—an Aetherian pilot, Harry knew, with its plates of bone and curling tentacles.
The niche was one of dozens ringing the cavern and its altar, all containing carved stone figurines, polished jewels, elaborate gold ornaments. This niche didn't seem any larger than the others, or have any significance of placement. Surely no one would miss this artifact, which must have seemed incomprehensible to them.
Just then, the shouting of a crowd, like the roaring of a wave, echoed from the main tunnel of the cavern complex. Well, then. She'd lingered too long. A dozen tunnels led out of the cavern; the only one she'd identified for certain was the one she came in through. Her exit, if she wished to avoid the wrath of the angry cultists, would have to be via a different route. She turned to the tunnel that sloped upward out of the chamber—to the surface of the mountain and not its depths, she hoped—and ran.
She wasn't stealing, not really; she had so much more use for the object than these northern heathens possibly could. But clearly they would not understand her reasoning; a hundred voices raised in fury, shouting rolling curses in an ancient tongue, followed her. Harry didn't dare stop, but risked a glance over her shoulder.
These men, this horde—descendants of a lost tribe of Vikings trapped under the Icelandic volcano—had degenerated to a level of barbarity that would have shocked even their own bloodthirsty ancestors. The first of the cultists appeared in the cavern just in time to see which way she'd gone. A caricature of an ancient Scandinavian warrior, the hide-draped brute wore a crude helmet, and carried a chipped stone spear. His hair and beard shrouded his face in a filthy mask. His fellows swarmed behind him, antlike, one barbarian form almost indistinguishable from the next. Their blond and red heads of hair were unwashed, matted beyond rescue, but the cultists cared nothing for such civilized matters. Their only concern was the temple to their hideous alien god, and the artifacts they had made in worship of it, in imitation of the one they'd found that had fallen from the sky.
Of course Harry ran for her life—and for the artifact in her pouch, which had damned well better be worth it. Marlowe had better be waiting for her, as they'd planned, as he'd promised. She had no reason to expect he would fail her; he hadn't yet, not in all the years she'd known him. He wouldn't now.
She ran in darkness, for a time, when the tunnel curved away from the silver glow of the cavern. Hoping she didn't run smack into a wall, she had to fumble for the hand lantern in her belt pouch as she ran; she didn't dare slow down to fish for it properly. Her vision swam, searching out the way in front of her, following the wall by the sound of her breath echoing off it. Finally, her hand found the lantern, and she pressed the switch to activate its green Aetherian glow. By this light she could see only a few feet before her, but it was enough.
A hundred leather-clad footsteps pounded on the stone behind her.
Up ahead, a spot of sunlight shone—the tunnel entrance. Escape—or rescue, rather. The light ahead expanded, and the stink of sulfur in the basalt tunnel gave way to a touch of icy arctic air. When the tunnel opened, Harry skidded to a stop, balanced at the edge of a cliff that dropped away a thousand feet to a rocky, blasted landscape below.
Marlowe wasn't there.
The mountain had dozens of caves, places where the volcanic heat steamed forth. Marlowe would be keeping watch on them all, searching for her. She still had time. An hour before he gave her up as lost. Shoving her lantern back in its pouch, she reached into another one for a flare, struck the flint on the fuel, pointed it to the sky, and launched the charge. A fiery missile, sparking green, arced upward, trailing thick black smoke behind it. If that didn't work....
Before her was a long fall on hard rocks. Behind her, the cultists. She inched to the edge of the drop, keeping a hand on the tunnel wall for balance. If she had to, she'd jump. Slow her fall down the rocky slope as much as she could, and maybe Marlowe could pick up the pieces of her broken body. Or find and rescue the artifact, if there weren't enough pieces of her to collect. The flare's smoke hung in the air, a trail leading back to her—while it lasted.
She drew her Aetherian pistol from its holster, though it hardly mattered—the gun's charge would only last long enough to stop a handful of the cultists. The fiery glow of torches preceded their assault. She prepared to slide over the edge.
Suddenly, the flare's trail of smoke dissipated, scattered by a blast of wind that pressed Harry to the wall. Arm over her face, she chanced a look—and saw the airship drop down the side of the mountain, to the tunnel entrance. Its curved bladder and sleek gondola blocked the sun and threw a shadow over her.
Stone-filled bags fell from the gondola—ballast dropping, slowing the ship's descent. Marlowe had timed this very close indeed.
The Aetherian engine in the back of the airship whined, throwing off green-tinted sparks behind it. When the gondola came alongside the mouth of the tunnel, the door to the cabin was wide open, and there was Marlowe, just like he was supposed to be. The pilot was obscured, made larger and more terrifying by the greatcoat and leather-padded goggles masking his features. He held his rifle at the ready.
Harry clutched her satchel, her pistol in her right hand, and didn't look back, leaping from the cliff's edge to the airship cabin. Marlowe stepped in behind her, slammed shut the door, and lunged to the airship's controls. A Viking spear thunked against the gondola's side. Out the window, Harry saw the horde reach the edge of the cliff—in fact, two of the fellows fell over, pushed by their enthusiastic brethren rushing too fast behind. Good riddance.
The airship sank a few more feet, then stopped, and with another bag of ballast gone, rose up again. The guidance propeller spun faster, and the ship jumped forward, wind whipping across the bladder above them. The ship raced away from the tunnel, along the slope of the shattered volcano, and soon the cultists' berserker shouting faded against the sound of wind and rumbling engine.
They'd done it.
Marlowe turned another set of levers and the sound changed, drive motors coming online, whirring, moving the craft laterally. The mountain, its black crags and broken clefts, slid past, like a painting on a roller. In moments, the ship turned to the coast of Iceland, and open sky lay before them.
Settling her breathing, Harry took in lungfuls of cool clean air, letting its touch calm her. She slouched against the plush seat at the side of the cabin.
Marlowe turned in his pilot's chair to face her, pulling the goggles down to hang around his neck. In his early thirties, he was weathered in a way that spoke of experience rather than hardship, his brown hair unkempt and his cheeks covered with stubble because he simply didn't have time to bother rather than because he was sloppy. His clothing was simple, practical. His eyes shone, and his smile was playful. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach.
"If you'd misjudged the ballast you dropped by a pound, you'd have lost me," she said, scowling.
"But I didn't. You knew I wouldn't," he said.
"Bloody hell," she sighed.
The motor droned, sending vibration through the cabin. The rattling soothed her.
"You got it," he said, a declaration of fact rather than a question of her ability.
"Do you even have to ask?"
"I never doubted. May I see?"
Moving to the copilot's chair, she retrieved the box from her satchel and rested it on her lap. Marlowe leaned forward, watching as she revealed the artifact. She smiled—he clutched his hands together in an effort to keep from grabbing the thing from her. She presented the cylinder to him cupped in her hands, and admired his flat, astonished expression. He sighed a quiet breath and picked it up.
"I'm not sure I even know what it is," he said, holding it up to the cockpit window, turning it this way and that in the light. "Part of a generation coil, perhaps, or an amplification rod."
"But it's Aetherian. The stories were true."
"Yes," he murmured. "It most certainly is, and they were."
The possibilities presented by this new artifact clearly entranced Marlowe, but Harry was taken by a larger question: The Aetherians had visited Earth before. Perhaps often, even. There might even be artifacts—new pieces to the Aetherian puzzle—scattered all over the world. No one had even known to look for them.
"Where do you suppose they found it? The cultists?" she said.
"The stories say they found it frozen in ice that had drifted from the north."
"But there had to be another ship—another crash, even. Where is the rest of it?"
"It might be a tool left behind. Perhaps they didn't crash at all."
She stared out the window to a sun-bleached sky. "It rather begs the question, doesn't it? This proves they've traveled here more than once. What do we do if the Aetherians ever come back?"
Marlowe looked up from the coil, and she met his gaze. Neither of them had an answer. In the twilight shadow of the volcano, the crystal gave off a faint glow.
"All this time, and the power source is still active. Weak, but active," he said. He produced a jewelers' loupe from an inside vest pocket and tucked it over his eye. "Usual switching circuitry here—we saw this sort of thing in all the shipboard systems of the Surrey crash. Used to route power. I wonder ... Harry, my toolkit is under the bench, if you wouldn't mind—"
"Are you sure this is wise? Shouldn't you wait until you're in your laboratory?"
"This will only take a moment."
A little digging in the bench cupboard revealed the kit, a slim aluminum case containing the tools for manipulation of finer mechanisms. He chose a wire probe from the collection. When he tapped it against the alien cylinder, his hands were steady as a surgeon's.
The device emitted a hissing noise—gas released under pressure.
"What was that?" Harry asked.
Marlow tapped the cylinder again, and the hissing stopped. Bringing the artifact close to his face, he sniffed.
"Smell that," he said, offering it to her.
She hated to get too close to the coil, but she didn't have to, to identify the reek. "It's sulphur."
"Some kind of gas exchange, I'd wager," Marlowe said. "God, I really need to take this apart...."
"We'll know more, once we're back in London."
"Oh. About that." He handed the device back to her. "We may have a bit of a problem getting home."
"Good of you to mention it," she said, smirking, wrapping the coil again and securing it safely in the box. "What kind of a problem?"
"The Germans have established a blockade."
She harrumphed. "We knew that was coming. We'll simply avoid the Channel and approach from the north."
"Ah, no. Not just the Channel." She raised a brow, and he continued. "They've blockaded the entire British Isles."
A bit of a problem, indeed.
The battle had been raging for a week—naturally, the Queen and the Empire could not let a blockade of the home country stand. Marlowe had spent the time, while Harry had been infiltrating the volcanic tunnels in Iceland, hiding the Kestrel in valleys and ravines, going aloft at intervals to intercept wireless transmissions to try to get some kind of news.
They were too far away yet to see signs of fighting. Knowing the respective strength of each of the forces, though, Harry was certain she and Marlowe wouldn't be able to avoid the battle for long. They weren't at all equipped for it—the Kestrel was a courier ship, built for speed and agility. She had no armor and little in the way of weapons. Perhaps they'd do better to find a safe port and wait out the blockade.
Except they had to get the coil to Prince George, and to Marlowe's laboratory. The artifact could change everything. She thought through a multitude of plans—land elsewhere, make their way home by some other route. Make for the Americas and rendezvous with a more capable warship. Or did they dare attempt to run the blockade? She knew what Marlowe would say.
"So, do we go above or below the fray?" she asked.
"Above. They've got surface ships on the water."
She went to the safe in the back, a square of thick steel tucked over the driveshaft, put her satchel containing the artifact inside, locked it tight, and tied the key to a cord around her neck. Even if the ship didn't make it through, no one would be able to gain access to the box without destroying its contents. Not without her.
"What can I do to help?" she asked.
"Don't jostle the boat," he said. "Or if you'd like you can pour us some brandy." He glanced over his shoulder and quirked a grin.
"I'm your maid, then?" she said.
Excerpted from Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution by Ann VanderMeer. Copyright © 2012 Ann VanderMeer. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are saying about this
"Beautiful, often lyrical, frequently disturbing, always exciting, and occasionally even funny, but they're also dense, literary, and trusting of the reader to be smart enough to 'get' it." —New York Journal of Books on Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded
"Steampunk isn't just about Victorians playing with cogs and gears; these stories (and a few essays) reveal some of the latest steps in this branch of speculative fiction's evolution." —www.Shelf-Awareness.com
"Demonstrates the power of a well-orchestrated collection. . . . A must-have for any fan of the subgenre." —www.BeyondVictoriana.com
"The 27 stories gathered here are therefore noteworthy both because of their subject matter as well as for the way they stretch the stylistics of Steampunk in new and different directions." —www.bookgasm.com
"This third edition is the best yet. . . . Steampunk III is a strong and sharp collection of writing. You don't have to be a fan of steampunk—or even really know what it is—to enjoy this work." —January Magazine, Best Books of 2012
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