Though steampunk tales – sci-fi set in the Victorian era – are generally placed in England, the genre’s setting is rapidly expanding to other parts of the world. And hooray for that! Yes, Victorian England lends itself to improper ladies and toffs in top hats. All that overblown civility! But sometimes, the most exciting adventures take place in the world’s most uncivil places.
Since I’m from the San Francisco area and was force-fed stories of the California Gold Rush as a child, that time and place seemed a natural fit for the Sensibility Grey series of steampunk suspense. The California Gold Rush was chaotic, anarchic, and dangerous – the ideal setting for a steampunk adventure. (It was also much easier for me to research and imagine what old California looked like than Victorian London.)
Another great thing about the California Gold Rush? Since gold was discovered in 1848, and the rush got started in 1849, it takes place at the beginning of the Victorian and, therefore, the steampunk era. So for my characters, the technology they experience is new and marvelous. Readers get to experience that sense of wonder and excitement through the characters’ eyes. My heroine, Sensibility Grey is an inventor of mechanicals. She’s still in the “figuring things out” stage, and the reader can go right along with her discoveries – both mechanical and magical.
The California Gold Rush also provided an interesting mix of cultures, and frequent tension existed between them. The Spaniards oppressed the indigenous peoples. Then the Americans came in, pushed out the Spaniards… and also oppressed the local populations. These culture clashes add a tension-filled backdrop to the Sensibility Grey series of steampunk suspense novels.
Where the government fails to provide law enforcement, vigilantes will inevitably step in. When I lived in the former USSR, I saw this sadly often. The police were corrupt and allowed the successful criminals to pay them off and go free. So men would band together and administer their own justice to make their neighborhoods inhospitable to crime. Results were as could be expected – vigilantes went too far, innocent people got hurt. But I confess I felt some sympathy for those vigilantes – the police were criminals themselves. If you were neither criminal nor cop (same difference), life felt very out of control. And that’s not a good feeling.
However, I feel zero sympathy for the vigilantes who patrolled Gold Rush San Francisco’s streets. A group called “The Hounds” pretty much ran San Francisco in early 1849, when San Francisco lacked any real civic leadership or even a jail. Though the Hounds claimed they were a “safety committee,” they were anti-immigrant and criminals themselves. By the summer of 1849, the citizens of San Francisco had had enough and formed a “real” government, setting up a legal system and driving out the Hounds.
For all these reasons, the California Gold Rush was a ripe setting for a steampunk adventure.
Would your home make a good spot for some steampunk madness? Let us know in the comments below!
A Midsummer Night’s Mechanical
Sensibility Grey Series
of Steampunk Suspense Book 3
Publisher: Misterio Press
Date of Publication: May 1, 2016
Number of pages: 224
Word Count: 69,000
Cover Artist: Kirsten Weiss
A Midsummer Murder
The California Territory, 1849
Blamed for burning down the San Francisco wharf, clockwork inventor, Sensibility Grey has spent the last three months in hiding. Now all she wants is to depart the gold-crazy boomtown for a new life in the East. So when the owner of a traveling theater offers her work embellishing his mechanical stage, she turns him down. Then he turns up dead on her doorstep along with his enigmatic stage.
An explorer of the mysteries of aether, Sensibility has her own secrets to keep, and adversaries who’ll stop at nothing to learn them. Is the mechanical stage a part of a bigger game? Or the key to unlocking her true, magical potential?
A Midsummer Night’s Mechanical is book three in the Sensibility Grey series of steampunk suspense.
San Francisco, California Territory, June 1849.
Sensibility sat cross-legged upon her bed and tried not to think. She tried not to think of the ache where her stays pinched her back. She tried not to think of tomorrow’s journey across the American wilderness. She tried not to think about the clamor of banging drums and tootling fifes and—
“Oh, good gad!” She clenched her fist, pieces of quartz crystal biting into her flesh. Sensibility sprang from the bed and threw open the boarding house window. Oppressive heat, acrid from the nearby outhouse, rolled into the room. Wrinkling her nose, she leaned out over the fenced back yard and craned her neck. The afternoon sun streamed through the laundry, hanging limp on the line. From her position, she couldn’t see the street procession. But neither could she avoid hearing their blasted parade.
Something scuttled near her elbow, and she jerked away, slamming her head on the window frame. White pain arced through her skull.
A baby raccoon, not much larger than the palm of her hand, cowered on the other end of the narrow sill. It scrabbled, hunching into a tight ball, trapped on the high ledge.
“Ow.” She winced, rubbing her throbbing head and glad her chignon had taken the brunt of the blow. “How on earth did you get up here?”
The raccoon mewled.
“You shall have to make your own way home, for you cannot come inside. Mrs. Watson has a strict rule about animals inside her boarding house.”
Gently, so as not to disturb the creature, she shut the window. The raccoon peered over the ledge then looked at her, his expression plaintive.
Attempting to ignore the animal, she paced the denuded room, her brown skirts swishing.
They had ample space to swish. Nearly all her belongings lay compressed into a single carpetbag, set before the empty wardrobe. The bedroom had an air of abandonment.
Unsettled, Sensibility rattled the quartz crystals in her hand and glanced to the window.
The animal stared inside, forlorn.
She tugged at her collar. It was such a small thing. But rules were rules. “You found your way onto the ledge. You can find your own way down.”
Sensibility turned to the journal open on the desk. Her sketch of an unworldly creature she’d once encountered scowl from the page. Frowning, she slammed the book shut. It had been careless of her to have left it open. Strange, she couldn’t remember examining the journal before she’d gone downstairs to retrieve her luncheon.
The crystals pressed into her palm. She was so close to a breakthrough in aether technology, but the clues remained buried. Buried in the remains of her father’s last journal. Hidden in a journal from a traveling occultist. Scattered throughout her own notes and theories. One day soon, she would fit those pieces together. It was madness to hope she could solve that problem today.
Sensibility opened her hand and gazed at the quartz crystals. She’d mastered the use of aether to power small devices. But aether had other applications, such as distance control and distance vision. These applications eluded her. “There has to be a way…”
She glanced at the window.
The animal raised itself on its hind legs and pressed its tiny black paws to the glass.
Sensibility groaned. “I know I’ll regret this.” Pocketing the crystals, she opened the window.
The raccoon cowered.
“You,” she said, “being a wild animal, will attempt to bite me if I rescue you. But I will have none of it. I shall pick you up, I shall take you outside, and you shall neither bite nor scratch. Do you understand?”
In a swift motion, she grasped it by the scruff of the neck and lifted it inside. It writhed, and her grasp on it loosened.
She gasped. “Don’t….”
The raccoon dropped to her desk and shook its head. Whiskers twitching, it scuttled to her abandoned luncheon tray and made free with a bit of toast.
About the Author:
Kirsten Weiss worked overseas for nearly fourteen years, in the fringes of the former USSR and in South-east Asia. Her experiences abroad sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives.
Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes steampunk suspense and paranormal mysteries, blending her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem. Kirsten has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer re-runs and drinking red wine.
Sign up for her newsletter to get a free copy of the full length urban fantasy novel, The Alchemical Detective, and updates on her latest work at: http://kirstenweiss.com