Review: “Wireless,” Alex Acks

Pros: Delightful characters and worldbuilding
Rating: 5 out of 5

Alex Acks writes Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures (Adventures of the Valiant Captain Ramos), a collection of three stories about steampunk Captain Marta Ramos and her stout crew. In “Blood in Elk Creek,” Marta discovers that men from the Grand Duchy of Denver are deliberately infecting the water supply that the Lakota Indians are using. She must join forces with her nemesis, Colonel Douglas, in order to stop the bad guys and end the threat. She’s stranded without her crew or her pistols, however, and she’s broken her arm. In “Do Shut Up, Mister Simms,” we find out what happened to Marta’s crew while she was fending off Infected. Lucius gets thrown in jail, and Marta’s lover Deliah offers to help get him out. Simms doesn’t trust Deliah, but he’s left with no choice. The seemingly innocent favor she asks in return, of course, turns out to bring even more trouble down upon him. “Wireless” takes place a few months later. Simms is worried about Marta–she’s in a funk, and the crew is getting restless. When he runs out of other ideas, he lets Deliah know he’s worried, and before they know it the crew has to run off to help Deliah rescue herself from one of her devilish schemes.

The author’s introduction gives the best description of the world I can imagine, so I’ll quote it here:

[A] vision of what Sherlock Holmes might be like, if he were in fact a she and much more an anarchist, living in a rollicking steampunk universe where the rails are surrounded by ravening hordes of the undead.

The worldbuilding, as you can begin to see from that quote, is terribly fun. Steampunk, pirates, same-sex relationships, and zombies, oh my! I’m not wholly interested in the Victorian aspects of the steampunk milieu, but this is more adventure than period piece. This appears to be an alternate Earth, with America broken up into various Duchies and areas connected by rail. Airships exist, but are expensive and not so frequently used. Marta and her crew are pirates and troublemakers, and all of the characters are rich and interesting. One of the pirates used to be an opera singer (which actually becomes relevant), and another, trouble-making man loves to sew and embroider. These details are brought into the mix in charming and delightful ways.

The stories are great, and often put the characters into moral quandaries. Marta is determined that they don’t ‘do’ charity, but sometimes they find excuses to do the right thing. The characters are properly witty and banter as though they’re fencing with swords. I really enjoyed this collection of tales!

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