Eileen Gunn | Tor.com
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Eileen Gunn

Fiction and Excerpts [6]

Fiction and Excerpts [6]

William Gibson’s Neuromancer: Does the Edge Still Bleed?

My favorite part of reading a work of science fiction for the first time, like visiting a new country, is that hit of strangeness, of being someplace where I don’t know the rules, where even the familiar is unsettling, where I see everything with new eyes.

In 1984, Neuromancer delivered that to me. I read the book in small bites, like one of those sea-salt caramels that are too big and intense and salty to consume all at once. The first few chapters are especially chewy: I like the almost-brutal profligacy of the prose, new words and ideas cascading out of the book fresh and cold as a mountain torrent, and be damned if you lose your footing. The opening vision of an assaultive future is wide-ranging and obsessive, as if the narrator, dex-driven and frantic in Chiba City, just can’t turn his consciousness off. Everything he sees has layers of meaning and speaks of the past, the present, and the future all at once.

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Best SFF Novels of the Decade: An Appreciation of Perdido Street Station

The right side of my brain wants to delve deeply into the enchantment of China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, and the left side of my brain, annoyingly, wants to explain how it’s done. In this brief appreciation, I’ll give the right side full rein, and engage the left side periodically.

First of all, Perdido Street Station is brimming with enchantment. Written in intense, evocative prose, set in Dickensian New Crobuzon, peopled with characters of Boschian demeanor and diversity—four different kinds of humans and some three dozen other sentient and insentient species and entities—the book flourishes and shuffles the conventions of science fiction, fantasy, and horror: twirls them, riffles them, fans them, springs them, and carousels them before the gaze of the delighted reader.

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Series: Best SFF Novels of the Decade Readers Poll

The Trains that Climb the Winter Tree


We hope you enjoy this holiday story by Michael Swanwick and Eileen Gunn, previously available only to Tor.com registrants. Don’t forget to check out the process post from Michael and Eileen once you finish! Merry Christmas!

It was the middle of the night when the elves came out of the mirrors. Everyone in the house was asleep. Outside, the city slumbered. Silent as shadows, the warriors went from room to room. Their knives were so sharp they could slit a throat without awakening their victim.

They killed all the adults.

The children they spared.

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Internal Devices

A note of explanation about the Steampunk Quartet.

(with apologies to K.W. Jeter)

After my tumultuous adventures resulting from Lord Bendray’s attempt to destroy the world, I sought, naturally, to restore my equanimity, and I had thought that moving my modest clockwork-repair shop to a little-noted part of London would guarantee me obscurity, a modest living, and surcease of adventure, not to mention the calming of the unwonted physical excitement that has disturbed me since Miss McThane assisted in the culmination of my efforts. But the events of a cold, foggy day in early November reminded me that no man’s adventure can be declared done until he himself is Done.

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Series: Steampunk Fortnight

The Perdido Street Project

A note of explanation about the Steampunk Quartet.

(with apologies to China Miéville)
Wetlands to Rudewood, and then the train. After years of wandering in the wilderness, I am coming home to a place I’ve never been. It feels already as though I live here, as though I’ve lived here a very long time.

As the train moves from the tawdry edge of the city, all decaying farms and rusting iron mills, the voices of its inhabitants, rough, ill-formed, without art or poetry, call out their names swiftly from walls as we pass in the dark. Some are written in Ragamoll or Lubbock, but other scripts abound, including a few I have never before seen. I am sure one of them was Anopheliian, a strange, whiny script that made my body itch as we passed. Strange scents filled the car and were gone: Khepri obscenities.

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Series: Steampunk Fortnight

Day After the Cooters

A note of explanation about the Steampunk Quartet.


(with apologies to Howard Waldrop)

Sheriff Lindley opened his mouth to accept a fig from the beautiful woman in a diaphanous gown who was kneeling on the floor next to his couch. She looked like the woman on those cigarette paper ads, but more alert. She was holding the fruit just out of his reach, and he lifted his head a bit from the pillow. She smiled and pulled it teasingly further away.

Suddenly, there came a heavy pounding—thump, thump, thump—not very far from his head. The lovely courtesan ignored it, and dangled the fig from its stem, smiling flirtatiously. The sheriff leaned his head toward the fruit, but it evaded him.

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Series: Steampunk Fortnight

A Different Engine

A note of explanation about the Steampunk Quartet.


(with apologies to Messrs. Gibson and Sterling)

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.

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Series: Steampunk Fortnight

Zeppelin City

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

Radio Jones came dancing down the slidewalks. She jumped from the express to a local, then spun about and raced backwards, dumping speed so she could cut across the slower lanes two and three at a time. She hopped off at the mouth of an alley, glanced up in time to see a Zeppelin disappear behind a glass-domed skyscraper, and stepped through a metal door left open to vent the heat from the furnaces within.

The glass-blowers looked up from their work as she entered the hot shop. They greeted her cheerily:

“Hey, Radio!”


“You invented a robot girlfriend for me yet?”

The shop foreman lumbered forward, smiling. “Got a box of off-spec tubes for you, under the bench there.”

“Thanks, Mackie.” Radio dug through the pockets of her patched leather greatcoat and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. “Hey, listen, I want you to do me up an estimate for these here vacuum tubes.”

Mack studied the list. “Looks to be pretty straightforward. None of your usual experimental trash. How many do you need—one of each?”

“I was thinking more like a hundred.”

What?” Mack’s shaggy black eyebrows met in a scowl. “You planning to win big betting on the Reds?”

“Not me, I’m a Whites fan all the way. Naw, I was kinda hoping you’d gimme credit. I came up with something real hot.”

“You finally built that girlfriend for Rico?”

The workmen all laughed.

“No, c’mon, I’m serious here.” She lowered her voice. “I invented a universal radio receiver. Not fixed-frequency—tunable! It’ll receive any broadcast on the radio spectrum. Twist the dial, there you are. With this baby, you can listen in on every conversation in the big game, if you want.”

Mack whistled. “There might be a lot of interest in a device like that.”

“Funny thing, I was thinking exactly that myself.” Radio grinned. “So waddaya say?”

“I say—” Mack spun around to face the glass-blowers, who were all listening intently, and bellowed, “Get back to work!” Then, in a normal voice, “Tell you what. Set me up a demo, and if your gizmo works the way you say it does, maybe I’ll invest in it. I’ve got the materials to build it, and access to the retailers. Something like this could move twenty, maybe thirty units a day, during the games.”

“Hey! Great! The game starts when? Noon, right? I’ll bring my prototype over, and we can listen to the players talking to each other.” She darted toward the door.

“Wait.” Mack ponderously made his way into his office. He extracted a five-dollar bill from the lockbox and returned, holding it extended before him. “For the option. You agree not to sell any shares in this without me seeing this doohickey first.”

“Oh, Mackie, you’re the greatest!” She bounced up on her toes to kiss his cheek. Then, stuffing the bill into the hip pocket of her jeans, she bounded away.

Fat Edna’s was only three blocks distant. She was inside and on a stool before the door jangled shut behind her. “Morning, Edna!” The neon light she’d rigged up over the bar was, she noted with satisfaction, still working. Nice and quiet, hardly any buzz to it at all. “Gimme a big plate of scrambled eggs and pastrami, with a beer on the side.”

The bartender eyed her skeptically. “Let’s see your money first.”

With elaborate nonchalance, Radio laid the bill flat on the counter before her. Edna picked it up, held it to the light, then slowly counted out four ones and eighty-five cents change. She put a glass under the tap and called over her shoulder, “Wreck a crowd, with sliced dick!” She pulled the beer, slid the glass across the counter, and said, “Out in a minute.”

“Edna, there is nobody in the world less satisfying to show off in front of than you. You still got that package I left here?”

Wordlessly, Edna took a canvas-wrapped object from under the bar and set it before her.

“Thanks.” Radio unwrapped her prototype. It was bench-work stuff—just tubes, resistors and capacitors in a metal frame. No housing, no circuit tracer lights, and a tuner she had to turn with a pair of needle-nose pliers. But it was going to make her rich. She set about double-checking all the connectors. “Hey, plug this in for me, willya?”

Edna folded her arms and looked at her.

Radio sighed, dug in her pockets again, and slapped a nickel on the bar. Edna took the cord and plugged it into the outlet under the neon light.

With a faint hum, the tubes came to life.

“That thing’s not gonna blow up, is it?” Edna asked dubiously.

“Naw.” Radio took a pair of needle-nose pliers out of her greatcoat pocket and began casting about for a strong signal. “Most it’s gonna do is electrocute you, maybe set fire to the building. But it’s not gonna explode. You been watching too many kinescopes.”

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Series: Steampunk Month

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