Read Shadow Conspiracy Online

Authors: Phyllis Irene and Laura Anne Gilman Radford,Phyllis Irene and Laura Anne Gilman Radford

Tags: #Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, #Babbage Engine, #ebook, #Ada Lovelace, #Book View Cafe, #Frankenstein

Shadow Conspiracy

BOOK: Shadow Conspiracy
The Shadow Conspiracy

Tales from the Age of Steam



Edited by

Phyllis Irene Radford


Laura Anne Gilman




 “The Accumulating Man” Copyright © 2009 by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

“The Persistence of Souls” Copyright © 2009 by Sarah Zettel

“The Soul Jar” Copyright © 2009 by Steven

“Zombi” Copyright © 2009 by Pati Nagle

“A Princess of Wittgenstein” Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Stevenson

“The Savage and the Monster” Copyright © 2009 by Nancy Jane Moore

“The Water Weapon” Copyright © 2009 by Brenda W. Clough

“The Sisters of Perpetual Adoration” Copyright © 2009 by Judith Tarr

“Shadow Dancer” Copyright © 2009 by Irene Radford

“The Mind of Ada Lovelace” -- Cover Art Copyright © 2009 by Brenda W. Clough

Cover Design by Pati Nagle

Editors’ Introduction

Steampunk defies a single definition.

The Victorian era is a time when forward thinkers test the boundaries of science and go looking for explanations of why the oceans have currents or volcanoes erupt or possibly how the Earth was made. The edges of the continents have been explored and largely settled. This is the time to delve deeper in search of answers to scientific questions and possibly lost empires and amazing treasures. There is a Romance (in the classical literary sense) of adventure and exploration.

We at the Book View Press and its parent Book View Café started with a love for Victorian fashion and a fascination with fabulous machines that have an abundance of gears and levers, beautiful brass work, and steam power; when machines designed to aid humanity needed to be beautiful as well as practical.

The appeal of Steampunk begins where it deviates from history, allowing improbable-if-possible events to occur, encouraging female characters to tromp beside their male counterparts (they probably did in reality but no one admitted it) and sometimes surpass them, all the while wearing the properly embellished fashions.

But steampunk must, at its core, have that plausible history to ground it. So where do we begin this alternate history? Here at Book View Press we thought, why not with the best known piece of fantasy/horror literature, Mary Shelley’s

What really happened in the villa on Lake Geneva that long ago year without a summer, 1816? We went looking and found a conspiracy hiding in the shadows.

The stories which grew in the aftermath were each more terrible than the last, until a rational man might be tempted to reduce them all to nonsense and fantasy. And yet, in each sighting, each event, there is such truth, the grain of veracity that cannot be denied, that we must see them all, if not as true, in the very least as Real...

Phyllis Irene Radford

Laura Anne Gilman

The Accumulating Man 

… by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

A Missing Journal of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

“Still, thou canst listen to me and grant me thy compassion. I demand this from you. Hear my tale. It is long and strange...”

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley



Geneva, Switzerland—1816

My Friend, Immanuel

The Villa Diodata was just as I remembered it—square and upright and least on those days when the Sun could be encouraged to shine on us. God knew that I needed sunshine and, as we pulled through the front gate in the barouche George had put at our disposal, Sol came out in full glory, bathing the façade of the house in warm light. My heart swelled and my arms tightened reflexively around my child.
We will be happy here,
I promised him.

We were five travelling from France—myself, Percy (whom I call my husband), my step-sister Jane, my infant son William and his nanny, Elise. I hate to say that we are fleeing, but of course, we are. Fleeing ill-health, certainly, but also conventionality, and approbation. For Percy is still wed to another in the eyes of Church and State, and Jane conceals a pregnancy that only I know of.

We established ourselves quickly in the house, Elise and I setting up the nursery for my little “Willmouse” in the cosy dressing room of my own suite. (Do I reveal here how many times in a single night I rise to be certain he still breathes? Too many.) By the time we had done with that, and the servants had dealt with our baggage, it was time for Tea. Strange, how even when one eschews the conventions of “normal” English life—the devouring of meat, say, or Anglican piety—one must have one’s tea. It is as if the beverage is a spiritual touchstone. Let the world fling itself into seizures of war and poverty and outrage against humanity—as long as there is tea, we shall manage.

I saw my little William off to sleep in the early afternoon and sat a long while at his cradle, watching. Too long for Elise. She came to me with that straightforward Teutonic cheek that I so admire and said, “Mam, the child is fine. See how he breathes good and deep? Go have some tea now. If he needs watching, I can do it as well as you. Indeed, I think my eye clearer, as I’ve had more sleep.”

Elise, at fifteen, is an imposing
—tall, blonde, statuesque, and with an aura of such
about her that I find it hard to believe she was ever a child or that she moves and bends like a normal human being.

When Tea had been observed and with my son still napping under Elise’s clearer eye, I determined to walk to Petit-Lancy to a bookshop I knew there. To be sure, there were bookshops in Geneva proper—some quite close by—but this bookshop reminded me of my father’s establishment in Somers Town. It was a lovely hodgepodge of books and games and stationery and smelt of paper and binding glue. It was well worth the walk of a mile or so to the Chemin de Vendee, and the Sun was with me.

In the bookshop, I gravitated toward poetry and philosophy. One does, I suppose, when one loves a poet and has been raised by philosophers. I experienced a strange little thrill when I saw that my mother’s book,
A Vindication of the Rights of Women
sat upon the philosophy shelf. I could not help but take it down and caress it, opening the pages and touching them gently, as if Mother—wherever she might abide—could feel my touch. I had barely known my mother in the flesh, but I knew her in spirit intimately.

“Young lady,” said the shopkeeper, peering at me from behind his counter, “I think perhaps you would be more interested in the novels.” He indicated a shelf near the window where resided works he apparently felt more appropriate for one of my gender and age.

I smiled. “Novels bore me, for I’ve nothing in common with the heroines. But this is about me, after all.” I held up the book and quoted: “‘Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; the proper study of mankind is man.’”

“Alexander Pope,” said a deep, warm voice from just to my left. I looked up and beheld a young man perhaps in his mid-twenties, looking down at me from a considerable height. He leant against the corner of the bookshelf, a small stack of volumes cradled in his arms.

“And what tome is it, Miss, that our good Bardeau does not think appropriate study for you?”

I showed him the volume. Sleek sable brows ascended into his hairline and his eyes—large and coffee-dark—widened in surprise. I awaited the inevitable gasp of scandalized sensibilities.

“Tsk. Shame on you, Miss, for daring to presume that you had any rights to vindicate. You’d best put that volume down before it stains your gloves with infamy.”

I caught the twinkle in his eye and laughed. “Oh, certainly, sir. How well you put it.” I returned the book to its place (for I had my own copy) and moved to find something else to purchase. I located a volume of poetry and essays by Mr. Pope and, having had such recent occasion to quote him, I smilingly purchased that.

Monsieur Bardeau warmly agreed that this was a far better reference for a young woman than “Mrs. Godwin’s polemic.” I considered letting him know that I was the author’s daughter, but instead merely observed, “Monsieur, if you don’t like the book, why do you have a copy of it on your shelf?”

“Who said I didn’t like it?” he asked with a Gallic shrug. “I merely think it is perhaps too adult an argument for a young English lady to be exposed to.”

“Why, Monsieur!” I remonstrated, feigning indignation. “If a female in this society is to be aware of her rights as an adult, should she not be exposed to them as a young lady—nay, even as a child?” God knew I had been.

Monsieur Bardeau had no response to that, but I heard a deep chuckle from the opposite side of the philosophy shelf. I suspected my anonymous gentleman friend. Smiling, I took my book and crossed the street to the little park where I found a sun-dappled bench to read upon.

I had been there for perhaps twenty minutes with Mr. Pope, and was contemplating the walk back to the Villa Diodata, when a very long shadow fell over me. I looked up into the handsome face of the man from the bookshop.

“Pardon,” he said, bowing slightly. “But I do hope M. Bardeau did not frighten you into purchasing something you didn’t want.”

“Oh, no!” I protested. “I had already read the ‘polemic’ in question. But I left my volume of Pope in England.”

“Ah. Good. I thought your answer to him just now was quite apropos. When, indeed, should a woman become apprised of her rights if not at your age?”

“You grant that I should have rights then, Monsieur?”

“Dessins,” he said bowing. “Immanuel Dessins. And yes, you are a child of God, and therefore your rights are inalienable.”

“That is not a sentiment shared by many of your gender.”

“I apologize for them...and their sentiments.”

I glanced at the paper-wrapped package he held, tied up and suspended from a bit of twine. There must surely have been four volumes in it, at least. “You’re an avid reader, then?”

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