Read Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology Online

Authors: Anika Arrington,Alyson Grauer,Aaron Sikes,A. F. Stewart,Scott William Taylor,Neve Talbot,M. K. Wiseman,David W. Wilkin,Belinda Sikes

Tags: #Jane Austen Charles Dickens Charlotte Bronte expansions, #classical literature expansions into steampunk, #Victorian science fiction with classical characters, #Jane Austen fantasy short stories, #classical stories with steampunk expansion, #steam engines in steampunk short stories, #Cyborgs, #steampunk short story anthology, #19th century British English literature expansion into steampunk, #Frankenstein Phantom horror story expansions, #classical stories in alternative realities, #airships

Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology

BOOK: Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology
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Combine leather and lace, brass and steel, flywheels, pistons, levers, and springs, mix an industrialized past with a technocratic future, stir well, steam thoroughly, garnish with a dash of panache, and voila! Steampunk.

Whether one defines it as retro-futurism, Victorian and Old West sci-fi, or anachronistic speculative fiction—whether one defines it at all—it pervades the popular culture of literature, television, and cinema. It has spawned unique fashion, art, and musical styles.

With its origins deeply rooted in the literary works of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Mary Shelley, inspired by the vision of Charles Babbage, Nicola Tesla, and Richard Trevithick, the genre draws its life from fantasy, alternative histories, parallel universes, the paranormal, and post-apocalyptic futures. Steampunk
is
revisionism, and what better material to expand upon than literature that bespeaks the universal human condition and has withstood the test of time?

Classics live on because they leave ajar doors of possibility, even as their stories draw to a close. In this anthology, nine talented writers embrace the invitation to explore those allusive realms. Some have chosen works whose tales untold seem to demand the expansion. Others have used a master’s world as a springboard into their own.

Whether their taste bends to
Sense and Sensibility
or
Frankenstein
, whether they pine for love with Ebenezer Scrooge or corner dastardly villains with his nephew, Fred, for diehard Steampunkers and the curious novice alike, these Mechanized Masterpieces will entertain and delight. They may even raise a bit of gooseflesh or send shivers up the spine. Steampunk is all of the above.

 

My father went to his grave without a word of praise for me falling from his lips. He never truly knew me. Even so, he knew human nature, and therein lay his genius and my downfall.

My father knew the profundity of the fable “Sun and Wind.”

Sun and Wind argued over who wielded more power. They determined to settle the argument with a competition. They spied a traveler walking down the road, wrapped in a cloak. The contest: wrest the man’s protection from him.

Wind accepted Sun’s invitation for the first go. It blew and loosened the man’s wrap. Then, Wind blew harder, forcing the man to struggle to keep his mantle. However, the stronger Wind blew, the fiercer the traveler held to his cloak. At long last, Wind prevailed by blowing his victim from his feet.

Despite Wind’s self-satisfaction, Sun took its turn with confidence. It shone upon the wayfarer. The air warmed. The man loosened his grip upon the cloak as he walked. Then, he removed it and slung it over his shoulder.

Thus, my father wrested my dreams from me.

A passionate youth, a lover of all things mechanical, I fancied myself a changer of the world—an inventor—and so earned my father’s patrician contempt. I nursed great ambitions but assumed no generosity on his part. I knew the entire Rochester fortune portioned to my elder brother, Rowland.

I desired only two things from my father: the freedom to make my own way in the world without interference from my family, and his ward and niece, Yvette Fairfax, as my bride. My father bequeathed me neither.

My attempts to keep the latter concealed from him failed. My father’s actions professed him perfectly sensible of the attachment between Yvette and me. However, he never mentioned it.

Instead, the man sent me into the sun.

As my father’s agent, I traveled from London to Spanish Town, Jamaica, in the prototype airship of my own design. My father assured me linking my fortunes with Jonas Mason, a wealthy cane planter, would set me for life. My friend and partner, Professor Heinrich Rottstieger, accompanied me. Afforded little choice, we resolved to make my father’s dictates serve our own ends.

All manner of airships abounded at that time, but with Herr Professor’s metallurgic discoveries, and my own invention, a sunlight-dynamo power source, our design would revolutionize air travel. In Jamaica, I would conduct further investigations into the energy-retentive powers of crystals.

My sweet Yvette provided the impetus for every scheme. My hopes in her propelled me forward. And, lest my recollections of her fade, the engraved crystal that hung about my neck continuously brushed my skin and thrust her to the forefront of my thoughts.

Not yet one and twenty, I had never before traveled beyond the shores of Great Britain. The trappings of “progress” and “civilization” defined my world: coal, steam, copper, and steel. Creation seemed made up of these things.

However, in every port of call—Lisbon, the Azores, Bermuda—the greater the distance from my homeland, the more alien and strange the world became to my limited experience . . . the stronger Nature clung to that which is rightfully her own: clear skies, blue sea, unpolluted shores. The breath of life.

We had nothing but ease on our journey: fair winds and a furrowing sea, so to speak. In clear skies over deep waters, with the silver of our triple envelopes gleaming in the sun, our image shone back at us. Our configuration, long and sleek—the fins and rudders, the stern propellers and engine houses—created what appeared a strange creature of the deep running beneath us.

We cleared the emerald-green mountains northeast of Kingston on the morning of the fifteenth day. The absence of man-shaped mechanoids patrolling the streets grabbed my attention. Where were those brutal implements of totalitarianism? Those clockwork weapons with head, arms and legs, but no conscience or compassion?

I realized nothing of mechanization had invaded that island—no airships, no dreadnaughts, no rail guns or steam engines. No sub-aquatics patrolling the deep in an illusion of absolute control. No steam-sweepers or horseless carriages chugging and puffing, filling the air with their noise and soot. The light shone pure and clear, the sky as azure as the sea.

Heinrich circled low over Spanish Town. Children raced the
Andromeda
to her landing site. At the broad expanse of lawn before the Mason mansion, they hesitated. When the airship belched our engineers from the hold, and they rappelled down the lines to anchor us to terra firma, the children cheered. The adults who trailed after them seemed only slightly less eager.

Not the least trace of soot smeared the pure faces before me. Likewise, the weary existence and unending toil of the downtrodden in London seemed absent in Jamaica. In this sea of humanity, their black skin a grace of Nature, rather than the curse of industrialization, I could yet see hope.

Did I see poverty? In abundance. The need for reform? Without doubt. But unlike Mother England, I saw happiness in the faces of the poor. I saw dignity; belief in themselves. I felt myself the serpent in the Garden of Eden with my hold full of cargo and my brain full of technological marvels. I wondered what mischief I had wrought in this island paradise simply by bursting onto the consciousness of this people.

Thus, the inescapable paradox of my life lay bared before me: mechanization had long since become my great passion, but I detested its natural consequences. Young, sincere, and green as new spring, I swore Jamaica would not suffer the fate of England.

As I copiloted the airship in its final descent, a pair of women on the veranda of Mason’s home caught my eye. They stood on the balcony; an old crone leaned heavily upon a cane. Her weathered, ebony skin stood in sharp contrast to her hair of brilliant white. Her bright eyes shone sharp and quick. An aura of calm surrounded her.

She stood beside a young lady at the balustrade, a statuesque beauty whose complexion glowed like aged ivory. A gossamer robe provided token coverage of her nubile form. Her jet black hair hung in loose curtains down her back, and along with the folds of her dressing gown, ruffled in the morning breeze.

She appeared intent on the windscreen behind which I sat, which bubbled out from the cockpit of the airship. Eventually, the heckling of the old woman gained her attention. She then glanced at herself, tugged at her wrap, and turned into the house.

As we landed, Yvette’s crystal burned with an icy sting against my chest. I failed to understand the significance at that time, but with the chill, I relived the occasion when Yvette presented the gift, as I often did in future days.

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