QSFer David Bridger has a new queer steampunk book out:
I’ve Indie re-released my futuristic steampunk novel A Flight of Thieves. It’s a post-apocalyptic post-flood world of airships and intelligent robots and pirates and slavers, where no one looks askance at same-sex or mixed-race relationships, but robots are often treated badly, and anyone who wears a robotic replacement for a lost limb is shunned from society:
In a dangerous world of isolated, steam-powered, island communities, a thousand years after Earth’s apocalyptic flood, Princess Victoria and her robot mentor King Henry recruit a ragtag band of airship adventurers to help her fight the military traitors who intend to murder her family and enslave the kingdom.
Victoria has spent all of her sixteen years in a secluded palace on Ben Nevis Island under the protection of King Henry, one of the three original robots programmed by the ancient ancestors to rule the flooded planet Earth. She’s safe there, but her family and their intelligent clockwork servants treat her like the tomboy child she used to be—and sometimes still is. She yearns to fly away in one of the great steam-driven iron airships to see the world.
It seems too good to be true when Henry asks Victoria to board the Royal Airship Elizabeth, with him disguised as her robot footman, and fly over the sea to meet the Lord of Ireland. Victoria jumps at the chance for an adventure, and they take to the skies together.
But the world is a dangerous place. Air pirates prowl trade routes, and slaver fleets cross the oceans to raid unprotected islands. The Royal Navy is building up to a war, and Henry’s old friend, the Lord of Ireland, is accused of giving safe harbor to pirates. Victoria and Henry must overcome them all in order to make their way home to a kingdom that might not still be standing.
The big blue royal standard was flying from a flagpole at the very back of the ship, snapping and cracking in the sharp wind beneath the balloon. Hints of wood smoke wafted past, and a strong smell of burning charcoal filled the air. The quarterdeck robots stood unmoving in small groups alongside pairs of substantial iron bollards spaced around the outside of the deck, waiting for their orders and singing the same short series of notes over and over again, in unison with their fire room brothers somewhere below. It sounded like a musical engine.
“You’ll be okay here,” Sidney said, leading them to an out-of-the-way corner. “I’ll see you when we get airborne.” He crossed the deck and stood next to his petty officer on a raised platform in front of the standard.
Mother and Father were watching from the upper western gallery. She couldn’t see their faces, but she knew they’d be there, and their shapes were easily recognizable. Anne and Nanny B’s shapes walked together along the gallery and joined her parents. She waved and grinned. They all waved back.
A deep tone like a steam horn carried through the air from somewhere towards the front of the airship, probably the bridge. It held for some moments then stepped up two notes, and the quarterdeck robots followed its lead. The distant fire room robots remained in their original key so that the two choirs now sang the same tune in close harmony.
Victoria thrilled with anticipation. The song’s volume hadn’t increased, but the change brought with it a sense of new urgency. That effect was doubled when the steam horn sounded a melody of several high notes, and the robots bent to take the remaining mooring ropes in hand. This time their song did get louder, as did the lower one from the fire room somewhere in the heart of the airship. She found King Henry’s hand and gave it a secret squeeze, which he returned.
At another new tune from the bridge, the crew of robots and humans moved smoothly into action. Pairs of robots slipped all the ropes at once from their bollards and paid some out through the holes before they walked away at speed in relays to bring the thick cordage whipping inboard. At the end of each length, a gang of seamen hauled the slack aside, and another pair of robots grabbed hold and strode the ropes away.
The Elizabeth lurched beneath their feet and lifted suddenly. King Henry steadied Victoria when she staggered. Already the palace was sinking away, and her family was invisible behind misty afternoon light reflecting from the many glass panes. She leaned over the side and waved excitedly to them anyway, knowing they’d be waving back, until the palace roof became nothing but a dark shape in the swirling cloud then disappeared altogether.
Thunder crashed all around. Victoria jumped at the sudden, unexpected violence of it. Another sharp bang sounded and echoed as the cloud they were rising into grew dark and threatening.
Still the robots sang their repetitive song in harmony with the fire room. Sidney nodded his head in time with it. Work continued everywhere on the quarterdeck, with ropes being dragged steadily down out of sight through a line of deck hatches and a gang of seaman sweeping the wooden deck clean with stiff brooms.
Victoria’s face was chilled. They were flying into the wet wind and she was very glad of the lovely cold weather outfit Mother had given her. She held its collar tight at her throat and relished the soft fur against her cheeks. It was old, from the days of innocent gaiety and regular royal trips all over the world. Before the girls had come along, before Victoria’s paternal grandfather had died, and before Father had assumed the position of Crown Prince with its many duties. It was old but beautifully made and cared for with love through all the years since. It made Victoria feel like a real princess for the first time in her life.
The airship was rising fast and thrusting forward through the clouds. The upper deck was clear and squared away. All the hatches were bolted shut. Robots and seamen returned to stand with their faces turned up to the dark sky. The song carried on, new harmonies emerging every few turns on the quarterdeck while the original deep tones from the fire room remained solid and continuous. Again, Victoria caught a sense of something coming. She lifted her face and waited for it.
A promise of light filtered through the bruised clouds above. Elements of confusion entered the song, with slightly harsh notes jarring the harmonious whole as the light spread and grew stronger, and the song grew louder. Sidney swayed in time with his face upturned and his eyes closed. Victoria found King Henry’s hand again.
Even with the goggles protecting her eyes from the salty wet wind, the light dazzled and hurt. She closed them for a second, but when the song stopped suddenly and silence left her ears buzzing she opened them to a whole new world.
They were flying above the clouds that rushed past on the wind like a wide, moving landscape. She squeezed King Henry’s hand and fought the squeal of delight that wanted to burst free. The low afternoon sun warmed her face. They were flying directly toward it.
To Ireland. To her first adventure.
David Bridger settled in England’s West Country after twenty years of ocean-based mischief, during which he worked at various times as a lifeguard, a sailor, an intelligence gatherer, and an investigator. Now he writes science fiction and fantasy.