During a recent brief hospital confinement, I randomly selected to read two steampunk short stories from my copy of Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant.
The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor by Delia Sherman shares the legend of Mistress Angharad Cwmlech, daughter of Sir Owen Cwmlech who went into battle and secured her in Cwmlech Manor.
The tale is told from the perspective of Tacy Gof, filial daughter of a smith and a former kitchen maid of the said manor. She grew up with a passionate admiration for Mistress Angharad Cwmlech who hid well her family treasure and confronted a large group of enemy soldiers with a sword.
The night the Roundheads broke into the manor, they found her on the stairs, clad in her nightdress, armed with her grandfather’s sword. They slew her where she stood, but not a gold coin did they find or a silver spoon, though they turned the house upside down with looking. (Source: The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor by Delia Sherman)
Such is Tacy’s attachment to the mistress of the house that she calls her name to reveal the treasure’s location and restore the decaying manor. She pleads in vain. Her life takes an interesting turn when a descendant of the mistress, Sir Arthur, a gentle 19-year-old fanatic of all things mechanical, arrives to take over the manor.
Tacy is hired as his housekeeper. Some time later, Tacy develops her sight for ghosts and gets to communicate with the ghost of the mistress herself. What follows next is an unexpected turn of events that will guarantee the toppling down of three bad guys who are aggressively going after the manor and its hidden treasure.
While Tacy is a picture of determination and reason, Shanaia (in the short story Steam Girl by Dylan Horrocks) is the image of inferiority whose coping mechanism is fueled by the life of the Steam Girl found in the vivid stories she creates for herself.
She looks away. “Do you like this place?” she says.
“Uh…you mean the school?”
“The school, the town, the whole bloody world… All of it.”
I shrug. “Well, it’s OK, I guess,” I say, and then I shake my head. “Actually, it kind of sucks. At least what I’ve seen of it. I’m sre there are plenty of great places out there, but…”
There’s another long silence.
“Anyway,” she says, making it sound like a closing door. (Source: Steam Girl by Dylan Horrocks)
To me, though, Steam Girls’ life in the steampunk-themed fantasy world is parallel in events to Shanaia’s own life. She finds color in the beat-up trailer she lives in with her seemingly indifferent father and finds only grayness everywhere else. Elsewhere in real life, she is either a mouse or a punching bag.
One person, the narrator, who calls himself Rocket Boy, listens to her and animates her and stimulates her to color her reality with the characteristics Shanaia borne Steam Girl with. She is Steam Girl after all, armed with what looks like a dangerous Reality Gun, but while there is such an equipment in the story, it could be a metaphor of life, too.
You can get a copy of Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories here.