|Art by Christopher Balaskas|
"Out of the Rose Hills" by Marissa Lingen (4699 words)
This one is a story of a woman and soldier, Tirene and Yelen, setting out into the unknown of the nauseating Rose Hills in order to find aide for the woman's family, whose situation is a little dire in the midst of a civil war. The Rose Hills are oppressive, the smell of roses overpowering, but after nearly a week they make it through to a city, a city where they plan to hire mercenaries. Only when they arrive they find that they're not alone. A shadow woman has followed them in, one who seems incapable of telling the truth. She confounds them, telling stories about how Tirene is a princess from a far away land. The stories, the lies, are to make things more interesting, more dramatic. For Tirene and Yelen they are annoying. But they also offer the solution to their dilemma, a way to fight back against her family's enemies without armed force. The story is, at its core, about the power of stories and how they can be weaponized. The tone of the story is a mix of light adventure with darker elements, with looming conflict and a world where magic is subtle but present. I liked that ended, that idea that Tirene and Yelen have to fight back, to embrace the power o f the shadow woman's lies. Her stories. Her potential to create chaos. A nice story that ends with the sound of laughter.
"The Punctuality Machine, or, A Steampunk Libretto" by Bill Powell (5107 words)
A story written as a play, this one is definitely on the lighter side of things, capturing a whimsical and farcical episode where a geometry tutor in love with his student comes face to face with aliens, time travel, and the travails of romance. The structure of the play is rather classic but obviously something that could not have been performed at the time it is ascribed to (1882) as it involves duplicates and smoldering clothing and all sorts of things of that nature. But for a steampunk story it certainly has a lot going on. But it's all very light and funny, with the tutor, Cartwright, being an idiot when it comes to the affections of the woman he yearns for, Lady Cadence. This is only confounded more when aliens arrive and the leader of them, a personage named Vril, also falls in love with her. What follows is a series of ridiculous attempts to save the day through time travel, that sort of spiral out of control and force Cadence to take matters into her own hands to save the day. It is a bit ridiculous but also very fun and funny, the situation matched by the craziness of the situation. It's rare enough to see a story written as a play, but it is a medium that is growing in popularity, especially with comedy "plays." This reminds me in some ways of the William Shakespeare's Star Wars books that are quite delightful for mixing the archaic language of the 19th Century with futuristic technologies and alien races. It's a lot of fun, and had me smiling throughout, poking fun at the rather ridiculous gender roles and expectations of plays at the time and giving some nice modern embellishments. Well worth a read!