We are at it again! Kicking off the year with a brand-new campaign: Full Steam Ahead!
Yes, we are funding more books. Yes, we would love if you would check them out, maybe show your support. But don’t think you have to do it blind. Here is a taste of A Cast of Crows, a Poe-inspired steampunk collection created in conjunction with the Tell-Tale Steampunk Festival.
The other two books funding through the campaign are Grimm Machinations – the sequel to Gaslight & Grimm, bringing you even more steampunk faerie tales; and Grease Monkeys: The Heart and Soul of Dieselpunk, an anthology that takes a look at the mechanics that keep the tech running, but more on those later.
Over the course of the campaign, we will be sharing these excerpts so you can get to know our authors’ style.
Rhymes with Lenore
“Bore. Core. Gore. Cellar door.”
Like a nail scratching tin, the machine’s voice bit through the thick air of the metalworks laboratory. Edgar glared at his friend Dabbs and the foreign engineer who had saddled him with the infernal device.
“I asked for assistance. I asked for a means by which I might relieve the melancholia that has plagued me these past cold months.”
The rasp of the clockwork figure, corvid-shaped with an oiled bronze head, burnished brass torso, and shimmering plumage of rose gold, grated on Edgar’s ears like a rusted weathervane. The bird blinked its glass eyes innocently. Edgar would have sworn it mocked him with a wink. He leaned his fists on the worktable to stress his displeasure.
“I asked you to assist me in applying Golding Bird’s theories of electricity therapy for melancholia,” he said. “Dabbs, you were my boon companion at school. I thought you, above all others, could understand my plea. Instead of Golding Bird—” He waved derisively toward the automaton. “You made a golden bird! A raven, of all things. And it won’t cease its prattling.”
Dabbs, a heavyset, genial fellow, peered over the rims of his spectacles. “But I know how much you love Dickens, old boy. I remember your remarking on his talking crow, Grip. I thought it would bring a smile to your countenance.”
“Deplore,” the bird croaked.
With a frustrated roar, Edgar swept his arm across the table to upend the Raven, along with an array of retorts, beakers, condensers, and flasks, spilling their contents to the floor.
“And you betray my confidence by entrusting my commission to this French demon!” Edgar pointed an accusing finger at the slender figure beside Dabbs.
Dabbs approached warily and put a comforting arm around Edgar’s shoulder. “I assure you, Poe, Duval is the foremost electrical engineer in the field, specializing in clockwork automata. The Raven is exquisitely designed to your specifications, old boy; the finest mechanical intelligence. Were you meticulous in its application?”
Edgar growled. “I am not mad, Dabbs. Angry, yes, but mad—never.”
The two engineers exchanged concerned glances. With welding caps so tight against their heads and the odd goggle-eyed mask that covered Duval’s eyes, they looked more like hairless diabolical creatures conferring on the nature of Edgar’s soul. The tiny laboratory above the ironworks floor, already a steamy closet thick with fumes from the foundry, grew even warmer in the uncomfortable silence.
The Raven preened its burnished feathers, creating a soothing susurration of sound like brushes on a cymbal. It ruffled them out and eyed Edgar with the smug arrogance Edgar associated with his pseudo-father John Allan, demanding results he had never explained to the young orphan he had taken in, punishing mercilessly when Edgar failed to measure up to his expectations.
“Chore. Abhor. Boor. Knocked to the floor.”
It taunted him.
Duval examined the Raven, stroking its golden wings and tracing its claws with the delicate care of a nurturing parent. “Monsieur Poe, the Raven generates a very low voltage when it preens and ruffles, energy it stores and applies through the electrodes in its talons. This conduction of electricity should not have enabled the machine any further interaction than the mild therapeutic application you requested. How long did you expose yourself to the electrodes?”
Edgar flinched at the question, not for its unintelligible content but because it was the first time Duval addressed him, and he had not realized Duval was a woman. His collar tightened; his face flushed. He had unwittingly entrusted himself to a woman, the very cause of his melancholia.
One woman: his wife.
A year ago, Virginia’s throat had burst a blood vessel, and from that moment, the shadow of mortality consumed Edgar’s life apace with the disease consuming his beloved Virginia.
“More importantly, monsieur,” Duval said, poking her face into his, “were you in control of your own mind when you applied them?”
Flustered, Edgar snapped, “I am in possession of my faculties at this moment, madam, and I resent the insinuation.”
Duval pursed her lips. “Dabbs gave you clear instructions on the application. I heard him remind you that the influence of alcohol or opium while undergoing this therapy would incur dangerous consequences.”
Edgar dismissed her. “Baah. I recall no such instruction, and I would have you to understand I do not make use of opium or any such insalubrious substances that would interfere with the clarity of my mind. Such rumors of my addiction are but gross slanders. Nor have I touched a drop of alcohol for many months, as I promised my wife that I would remain sober so I may assist her in these painful days. Alcohol does not agree with my constitution.”
The rude Frenchwoman took up a lamp and pressed closer to Edgar, studying his eyes. Steel grey pierced Edgar’s soul, analytical, intrusive, unforgiving. Satisfied, she said, “His pupils are responsive, not dilated. We’ll proceed.”
Outrage at the flagrant temerity of the engineer in travesty pounded in his temples, deafening him. He pictured Duval strapped into the experimental chair with electrical and galvanizing apparatus so forcefully applied as to eject her teeth from her skull. He trembled, constraining his fury.
Dabbs patted his shoulder. “Easy, old boy. What do you say we recommence from the start.” He gathered up the Raven and stroked its head, eliciting a sweet hum as its rose-gold plumage excitated electrical forces. Dabbs indicated the chair, wired to both voltaic piles and Daniell cells. “Take a seat again, Edgar. Breathe normally.”
Edgar complied, even as he said in confusion, “Recommence? Again? We’ve done this before?”
Ef Deal is a new voice in the genre of speculative steampunk with her debut novel, Esprit de Corpse, but she is not new to publishing. Her short fiction has appeared in various magazines and ezines over the years. Her short story “Czesko,” published in the March 2006 F&SF, was given honorable mention in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, which gave both her and Gardner great delight. They laughed and laughed and sipped Scotch (not cognac, alas) over the last line.
Despite her preoccupation with old-school drum and bugle corps ~ playing, composing, arranging, and teaching ~ Ef Deal can usually be found at the keyboard of her computer rather than her piano. She is Assistant Fiction Editor at Abyss & Apex magazine and edits videos for the YouTube channel Strong Women ~ Strange Worlds Quick Reads.
Esprit de Corpse from eSpec Books is the first of a series featuring the brilliant 19th-century sisters, the Twins of Bellesfées Jacqueline and Angélique. Hard science blends with the paranormal as they challenge the supernatural invasion of France in 1843.
When she’s not lost in her imagination, Ef Deal can be found in historic Haddonfield, NJ, in a once-haunted Victorian with her husband and two chows. She is an associate member of SFWA and an affiliate member of HWA.
Learn more about Ef Deal here:
Website * Blog * GoodReads * Amazon Author Page
Follow Ef Deal on social media:
Facebook * Twitter * Instagram