“Reluctance” — Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest is the author of the bestselling novel Boneshaker, which, as of this writing, is a finalist for the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards. She has three other works set in the same milieu as Boneshaker: a novella from Subterranean Press called Clementine, another novel from Tor called Dreadnought, and the story that follows. Priest’s other novels include Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Wings to the Kingdom, Not Flesh Nor Feathers, and Fathom. Forthcoming books include urban fantasies Bloodshot and Hellbent. Her short fiction has appeared in Subterranean Magazine and Apex Digest and is forthcoming in Steampunk Reloaded.

Priest is one of the leading writers of “steampunk,” a literary subgenre of fantasy typically characterized by a Victorian aesthetic and the use of Industrial Age technology like gears and steam pipes to power wondrous contraptions such as giant robots.

Our next story, which is set in the same milieu as Boneshaker, is an alternate reality in which the American Civil War has stretched on for nearly two decades and which has seen the development of all manner of incredible steampunk machinery. In the novel, an inventor’s ill-conceived scheme to tunnel for gold beneath Seattle ends up releasing a toxic gas that turns much of the city’s population into shambling corpses called “rotters.”

If just the thought of “steampunk plus zombies” has you quivering with joy, this next story should be right up your alley. The author says, “I’d been reading a lot about the Civil War, and something that nabbed my attention was how boys were occasionally sent off to fight while still horribly young. Thirteen was fairly common, and boys as young as eleven are rumored to have fought. I wanted to tell a story about one of these kids ‘all grown up’ and trying to move on—moving west, to make a life for himself away from the front lines. I thought such a boy might make an excellent character to dump into the creeping danger of a zombie story because he wouldn’t necessarily face the steep learning curve that ordinarily whittles down a survival party; his instincts and battle experience would give him an edge.”