A quartet of classic steampunk tales, reimagined by Eileen Gunn

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Award-winning short story writer Eileen Gunn, author of Stable Strategies and Others, is publishing a series of four flash fiction stories over at Tor.com, written in the style of classic steampunk tales. The first is "A Different Engine."

Illustration by Fyodor Pavlov

It's written as an homage to William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's classic steampunk novel, The Difference Engine.


Here is how the story starts:

Nth Iteration: The Compass Rose Tattoo

A phenakistoscope of Ada Lovelace and Carmen Machado, with Machado's companion dog, the brown-and-white pit bull Oliver. They are apparently at a racetrack, although the tableau was no doubt staged at the maker's studio. The two women, clearly on friendly terms, are attired in pale silk gowns and overdresses, billowing out over crinolines but still elegantly simple in effect. They are shown seated at first, on an ornate cast-iron bench in front of a painted scrim, watching the start of an invisible race. They move their gaze to follow the speeding steam gurneys. They stand, caught up in excitement. Carmen puts her hand on Ada's arm, and removes it quickly. Then she surreptitiously dips her hand in Ada's reticule bag, withdraws an Engine card, slips it into a hidden pocket in her own dress, and resumes watching the race. The two women jump about triumphantly, laughing and clapping their hands in an artificial manner. The race has been run and an imaginary purse no doubt won by at least one of them. At the end, Machado turns to hug Lovelace briefly. Her dress dips elegantly low at the back of her neck, and we get a brief glimpse of the famous tattoo between her shoulder blades: a large, elaborate compass rose. Then the two women sit down as they were at the beginning, a slight smile on Machado's face.

You can read the whole thing, and read Gunn's other three stories (the final two will go up early next week) on Tor.com. These stories were written as part of a benefit for Clarion West writers' workshop.