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Steamed: A Steampunk Romance Mass Market Paperback – Feb 2 2010
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About the Author
Katie MacAlister lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dogs, and can often be found lurking around online game sites.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
A Plague on Sisters
"Good morning, Jack. Is that a molecular detector in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"
The voice that called out as I passed was female, soft, and sultry as hell. I paused to toss a grin at one of the two women who were occupying the big kidney-shaped desk that graced the front lobby of the Nordic Tech building. "Morning, Karin. Would it be against human resources policy if I was to tell you how much I liked that top?"
The red-haired receptionist giggled and leaned forward, giving me a better-than-normal view of her cleavage in the skimpy tank top that she liked to wear on casual-dress Fridays. "Probably, but I'm not going to tell anyone. You know my rule, Jack."
"What happens in reception stays in reception?" I asked, winking.
She giggled again. "You're so naughty. You look really yummy yourself in khaki. Is that the new Airship Pirates shirt?"
"It is. Saw them last night at the Foundry," I answered, naming a local hot spot favored by bands that were a bit out of the mainstream. I turned around so she could admire the design on the back of the T-shirt.
"Oh, and I was hoping you would ask me to go see them," she said, pouting just a little, and leaning over a bit farther. She traced a finger down my arm as I turned back to face her. "We had such fun the last time we went out. Well, until I got sick and had to go home, but I just know we would have fun again."
She paused, clearly waiting for me to do my duty and ask her out again, but the memory of her lying in a drunken stupor in the back of my car—not to mention the money I had to pay to have the vomit cleaned up and the car deodorized—was enough to warn me against any such thing.
That wasn't the Jack Fletcher she wanted, however. It was the fake Jack she was appealing to, the fictional Jack who had somehow garnered a reputation as a wild ladies' man. I did what was expected and slapped a quasi leer onto my face as I leaned in close. "You know I would snap you up in a minute if it wasn't for your boyfriend."
"Oh, him," she simpered, brushing my hand with her fingers. "Jerry's jealous of everyone."
"He threatened to rip my head off and spit down my throat the last time he saw me," I said, dropping my voice. "I think he meant it, too."
"I don't for one minute think you're scared of Jerry," she said, looking both pleased and coy. "Not you. Not the famous Jack Fletcher. Oh, Jack, this is Minerva. She's going to take over for me while I'm in Cancún for two weeks."
A girlish face hove into view, her eyes wide and somewhat vacant. "Hi, Dr. Fletcher. I've heard so much about you from Karin."
"Don't believe a word of it," I cautioned, giving her a wink, as well. I had a reputation to maintain, after all. "I doubt if any of it is true."
"Of course it's true," Karin said, squeezing my arm as she heaved herself a little farther over the counter so her breast could press against my arm. "Everyone knows you're a hero! You're just too modest to admit it."
Or perhaps resigned to people's determination to ignore the truth in favor of more attractive and entertaining fiction that had started several years back.
"Karin said you tracked down a notorious ring of industrial spies in Cairo," Minerva said, breathless with excitement. She started to lean toward me over the counter, but a gimlet-eyed glance from her friend warned her off.
"He didn't just track them down—he beat the crap out of them, and got secret plans back for the government."
Minerva ooohed appreciably, her eyes filling with hero worship. Honesty prompted me to correct that particular fallacy. "I didn't actually track anyone down so much as accidentally ran into a meeting of some folks selling proprietary information. They thought I was following them, but I was really just lost and trying to find my way back to my hotel so I could rejoin my tour. In fact, I wasn't even in danger from them, since Interpol had them under surveillance, and the Cairo police were hidden around the bazaar, but it was exciting for a few minutes until everything was straightened out."
"And then there's Alaska," Karin said, ignoring the boring truth just as everyone did when I tried to explain what really happened in Cairo.
"Alaska?" Minerva asked her. "What about Alaska?"
Karin turned to her friend. "It was so amazing! It's all over the Greenpeace Web site."
I groaned to myself and prepared to explain that incident, as well.
"What happened?" Minerva repeated, a rapt expression on her face.
"I was on vacation, doing some fishing, and my rented boat had engine trouble. I got picked up by some animal-activist people, and they—"
"He hijacked a whaling ship!" Karin interrupted, a triumphant note in her voice as she beamed at me.
"Ooooh!" Minerva breathed.
"I wasn't even part of the group," I said quickly, wondering why no one was ever willing to believe that I had been the victim of odd circumstances. "My engine had died and the Greenpeacers picked me up on the way to attacking a whaling ship. It was just the purest of coincidences that I was even on the ship at the time, and that picture of me holding a gun on the captain was totally misleading. He'd dropped it and I was going to hand it back to him when a photographer took a picture of us—"
"You went to jail for that, didn't you?" Karin asked, squeezing my arm a little more insistently now, her face filled with sympathy.
"Three months," I said, resigned. "It took that long for my lawyer to convince the judge I had nothing to do with the whole whaler fiasco."
"But the really amazing thing was in Mexico," Karin told Minerva.
"I love amazing things," she said, grasping my other arm. "What happened? I'm dying to know!"
Oh, Lord, not Mexico. "It's really not worth talking about—"
"Jack was in Mexico City with Mr. Sawyer on some business matters, and Mr. Sawyer was kidnapped by radical Mexican antitechnology fanatics!" Karin said, her gaze earnest and fervent as she told the story to her friend. "Jack rescued Mr. Sawyer right as the fanatics were about to sacrifice him on a Mayan altar! He saved his life!"
"Saved Mr. Sawyer's life!" Minerva gasped.
The addition of the Mayan altar to the whole crock of bullshit was too much for me. "There was no altar, Mayan or otherwise," I said firmly.
"Mr. Sawyer totally swore his undying gratitude," Karin answered her, nodding vehemently.
"And it really wasn't so much a group of radical fanatics as it was a couple of people who had been unemployed and took Mr. Sawyer's limo for that of the labor secretary."
"He told Jack that he would have a job at his company for the rest of his life," Karin added in a confusion of pronouns.
"They drove us straight back to the hotel after they realized their mistake," I said, a hint of desperation entering my voice. Why the hell did no one ever listen to me?
"Well, I would promise that, too," Minerva told her. "Being sacrificed on a Mayan altar would scare the bejeepers out of me! That was so brave of Dr. Fletcher!"
"The whole thing got blown out of proportion when the police had a report of a kidnapping, and brought in some military troops to try to find us, which was ridiculous because by then we were back at the hotel safe and sound, having margaritas next to the pool. It wasn't until the next day that we realized they were looking for us," I finished, but I knew my breath was wasted. People, I have frequently noticed, hear what they want to hear.
"Well, you know, Jack was in the military," Karin said, her voice dropping to a confidential level, apparently forgetting I was standing right there. "Secret military research."
"Wow," Minerva said, her eyes huge. "What sort of research?"
"I don't know, but it has to be something pretty juicy because Jack never talks about it."
I sighed, gathered up my leather satchel and the morning's paper, and headed for the stairs.
"He's just like Indiana Jones, isn't he?" I heard Minerva say as I started up the stairs to the fourth floor, where my office was located. "Right down to the hat. I wonder if he has one of those long whips he could wrap around his waist?"
"He should totally get one. . . ."
"Hey, Jack." I entered the first in a connected set of rooms that were our research labs, unloading hat, satchel, and newspaper onto my desk. A tall man with curly black hair emerged from the far room. "You're late."
"Had a late night." I slumped into the chair behind my desk and pulled out my laptop.
"Foundry?" Brian, the graduate student who was interning for a year, plopped down on the corner of his desk.
"Yep. Airship Pirates were playing last night."
"Airship . . ." His face screwed up in thought for a few seconds. "Oh, that goth band?"
"Part steampunk, part goth, part industrial." I frowned as the e-mail started loading into my in-box. "You should go sometime."
"Like I have time to go hang out at the Foundry? You may, but I have work to do." He nodded toward the clean room behind him. "If I don't get those dots set today, I'll be out of an internship. Speaking of that—Dr. Elton's been asking for you. He says that latest version of the quantum gate you sent him refuses to reverse, and could you fix it by noon so he has a working model to show Sawyer."
"It's on my list of things to do today," I murmured.
"Feeley called and said if you don't get that budget to him by the end of today, he'll sauté your balls in garlic and wine sauce."
I made a face. I hated dealing with the yearly budget.
"Oh, and a woman was here to see you."
"A woman?" I looked up in surprise. "Who?"
Brian shrugged and picked up one of the small canisters of liquid helium we use to cool down the computer equipment. "Didn't say. Said she'd be back, though."
"I wonder who it could be." I wracked my brain for any female acquaintance who would be willing to brave the geekified air of Nordic Tech.
"Someone you met last night?" Brian offered as he headed for the clean room.
"Doubt it. I went with a couple of Friends last night."
He paused at the door, his eyebrows raised. "You went with Quakers? To see a goth band? Isn't that like a sin or something?"
"Of course it's not a sin," I said, giving him a quick frown. "It's not like they decapitated a bat."
"Yeah, but Quakers! At a goth concert! It's just so wrong!"
"Hardly. I've been a part of the church my whole life, and I assure you, there's nothing anywhere in the Bible that says goth concerts are on the forbidden list," I answered, quickly scanning an e-mail from the CEO, Jeff Sawyer.
"I know you're one and all, but you're kind of like Quaker Lite, aren't you? I mean, you drink, and you swear better than my old man, and he was in the merchant marines. You go out with women. And you were in the army. I thought that was, like, totally anti-Quaker."
"Many of us are conscientious objectors, but still manage to be useful in ways that don't compromise our beliefs."
"That's right. Karin at reception said you did research in the army in lieu of seeing action in the Middle East. High-tech stuff, huh? Spy technology and all that?"
I looked up and cocked an eyebrow at him. "I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you."
His jaw dropped a smidgen.
"You don't see the irony of that statement, do you?" I asked, unable to keep from smiling.
"Well, I see the irony in you threatening to kill me when I'm the only intern you've got," he answered quickly, edging closer to the door.
"Tempting as it is to explain, we both have work to do. If you expect to get those quantum dots down before the afternoon, we'll have to forgo a discussion of my personal philosophy for another time."
He glanced at the clock, uttered an expletive, and bolted into the changing area for the clean room beyond, where we did the bulk of our construction on the quantum computer we were building.
A half hour later, when I was doubled over a minute circuit board, soldering on a tiny circuit, the door opened.
"Good morning, Indiana. What adventures have you had this morning? Rescued a damsel in distress? Saved a priceless amulet from being stolen by ruffians? Smuggled innocent baby seals from a fur-processing plant?"
"Hallelujah," I said, looking up and waving a small soldering iron at her by way of greeting. A minute piece of silver solder flew toward her. "What are you doing here?"
"Avoiding internal injury, evidently," she said, sidestepping the solder. "And don't call me that. You know I hate it."
"Not nearly as much as I hate being called Indiana."
"He who weareth the hat shall be calleth by the name," she said, grabbing a stool and hauling it over to my worktable. "At least you haven't gotten a bullwhip. Yet."
"You've been talking to Karin."
"Bah," my sister said, waving away the subject. "I hope you're not serious about her, because she's totally the wrong type for you."
"I'm not serious about anyone, not that it's any of your business," I said, looking through the microscope for placement of a minuscule part.
"Ah, but it is, big brother. I am here in my official capacity to hook you up with an absolutely terrific woman."
I set down the soldering iron. "Not another blind date, Hal? You promised me you weren't going to set me up on any more of those hellish experiences."
She picked up a piece of circuit board and toyed with it as I went across the lab to grab some wire. "Trust me, you're going to like Linda. She's different. She likes all the things you like."
"Such as?" I took the piece of circuit board from her. Absently, she picked up a pair of forceps meant to position small pieces, and used them to poke at my notes.
"She has a laptop that she takes everywhere, so she's clearly a computer geek, just like you. And she likes reading, and you always have your nose in a comic book."
"Graphic novel. They're called graphic novels."
"Whatever." She forcepped a piece of muffin left over from my breakfast and popped it in her mouth. "She likes those—she was reading one that she said was a retelling of a Jules Verne book, and it sounded just like something you'd read, what with all those Victorian rocket ships to the moon, and people marching around with ray guns and goggles."
"I'm delighted that you have a friend who enjoys steampunk and computers, but I fail to see why you would want to match her up with me. I'm perfectly happy as I am."
She slid off the stool and moved around the lab, tidying papers, rearranging boxes of computer components, and generally doing what she referred to as "straightening up." "It's . . . well . . . you see . . ."
"Spit it out, Hallie," I said, squinting through the microscope as I wrapped wire around a semiconductor.
She took a deep breath, then said very quickly, "I promised you to Linda."
I looked up at that. "You did what?"
"I promised you to Linda. That is, I sold you to her." She held a small canister of helium in her hands, absently twisting the top as she watched me with anxious eyes.
"You sold me? Like a slave or something?" I asked, completely confused. "What do you mean, you sold me?"
"No, not like a slave, don't be stupid," she said, biting her lip. "It was an auction. A charity auction."
I closed my eyes for a moment before shaking my head. "Which charity?"
"Now, don't you get that tone of voice," she said, adopting a defensive attitude. She shook the canister at me as she spoke. "I know what you think about my charities, but this one is fabulous, Jack, just fabulous. It's for care and rehabilitation of released parakeets."
I was so surprised by what she said, I stopped worrying about whether the top had been loosened on the helium. "Released what?"
"Parakeets! Do you have any idea how many parakeets each year are shoved out of their homes and left to fend for themselves? Hundreds, Jack! Hundreds and hundreds of poor little innocent birdies just tossed out the window, and they have no idea how to forage for food, or where to sleep, or even where to live. It's a horrible, senseless tragedy, and we at the People for Humane Treatment of Parakeets are doing what we can to try to rescue parakeets, and rehome them with good people who will take care of them."
Hallie always had a cause. Ever since she was a little girl, she had been a joiner of causes. When she grew up, she had taken to throwing herself wholeheartedly into whatever cause appealed to her at the moment.
"What happened to that group you belonged to that was supposed to knit sweaters for hairless dogs who lived in animal shelters?"
"Oh, that fell apart months ago," she said, twisting the lid of the canister again. "We couldn't decide on whether mohair or acrylic yarn was best. This group is totally rock solid, Jack. And you like animals!"
"That doesn't mean I want to be sold into slavery on their behalf. What did you sell me for?"
"Five hundred dollars! Can you believe it? No one else's husband or brother went for as much. It was a shame you couldn't be there to model yourself, but I took that picture of you that was in the paper that time you and Jeff Sawyer were in Mexico, and you rescued him from being disemboweled by crazed Mayans."
I sighed to myself again. It was pretty sad when my own sister refused to listen to me.
"Anyway, everyone loved that picture, and lots of ladies bid on you, only Linda won, and that's so perfect because she's just the woman I would pick out for you. She's smart and she likes the things you like, and she paid five hundred dollars just to spend some time with you."
"I wasn't asking how much she spent; what services of mine has she won?" I asked suspiciously.
"Oh, well, that's up to Linda," she said, waving the canister at me.
"Stop shaking that!" When I realized what she was doing, I jumped to my feet and lunged toward her in the hopes of getting the canister before it blew up.
"Now, I know you're a bit peeved that I sold you without telling you, but really, it's for a very good cause—" Hallie skirted the lab table, keeping just out of my reach as she pleaded with me.
I cut her short, worried about her safety. "No, you idiot! The lid is off and you're shaking the canister. It's very volatile!"
"This?" She looked down at the helium. "It's just a thermos of coffee. How can coffee be volatile?"
"It's not coffee—it's liquid helium."
"Helium?" She held the canister up as if she could see through the stainless steel walls. "What on earth are you doing with helium?"
"We use it to cool the core of the chip when it's being tested. Now set it down very carefully."
"Oh, like canned air? I use that all the time at home on my stereo. I like the way the bottle frosts up when you use it for a while. You're not mad at me about the auction, are you?" she said with sublime unawareness of what she held. She reached for the lid, jamming it down on top of the canister.
"My emotions at this moment are rather indescribable," I said, moving around to take the canister from her.
"Stupid thing won't go on," she grumbled, trying to force the lid on, but the inner valve had been jostled and was out of position enough to keep the lid from screwing on properly.
"Just set it down, Hallie, and I'll deal with it."
"Maybe it's got an air bubble or something that's keeping it from closing properly." She tossed aside the top, right on top of the circuit I had been finishing. Several tiny LED lights lit up, indicating the computer's brain was receiving power.
"No!" I yelled, lunging for her. Just as my hand closed around hers, she flipped up the valve, sending liquid helium boiling out to the circuit below. Hallie snatched at the precious circuit, obviously to save it from being harmed, but it was too late. A brilliant silver light filled my mind as she grabbed the circuit board. In the dim distance, I could hear voices talking, but couldn't make out what they were saying. The light expanded until it seemed to fill the room, filling me with a soothing, calming presence.
Hallie screamed as the light erupted around and through and inside me.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I ordered this book because I like pulp adventure and the whole steampunk concept so the idea of a spunky airship captain falling for a traveller from our world in a light-hearted adventure sounded promising. In the actual execution... not so much.
SURELY SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
First, all of the characters aside from the two leads are one trait exemplified. This one is salty. That one is a comic-opera latin. The other is mysterious. The hero's sister is a plot-mover only.
Second, the two leads are not much better. Jack is a horny, two fisted, Quaker scientist. Octavia is a horny airship captain and revolutionary. Is Jack morose about being stranded in a strange world, does he think about parents left behind, pets going unfed, *anything* about his old life? No, he's in wuv. Does Octavia worry at all about winning the loyalty of her new crew, of taking her responsibilities seriously? Is she anything more than mildly annoyed at losing the ship she worked her whole life to win? Nope, she's in wuv too. With Jack's sister's life on the line will the couple resist the temptation to have a wildly inapprropriate and mistimed sex session in the secret passage of the castle? Nope, they're in wuv.
Third, the political situation that forms the whole background for the "plot" is very thin. So there's an Anglo Prussian empire. Well, OK, I guess, but why is Octavia plotting with the Black Hand to bring it down? We see that war refugees live a difficult existence, but as far as we can tell from what we see of the rest of the empire and its citizens, it seems reasonably nice. We even meet the emperor and he's not a bad sort, if a bit overfond of hangings. There's some hint that the Black Hand is working for Prussian independance, but we never hear what the grievances are or why Octavia throws her lot in with them. Then there are the Moguhls running around without any logistical support, trying to do, um, something.
Fourth, the ending is very odd. Yes, I see the setup for future books, but the decision to become non-lethal air pirates is ridiculous and the idea that the crew, who never knew Octavia before she got them all shot down (not to mention lying to them for most of their first voyage together) opt to stay with her from loyalty is totally unconvincing.
I guess the worst thing about this book is that all the elements to make a good book are there, but this wasn't it.
If you want a GOOD steam-punk romance adventure, read _Clockwork Heart_ by Dru Pagliassotti: Great characters, great world-building and plot and convincingly developed romance.
Finding Jack and Hallie aboard her Aerocorps vessel, the HIMA Tesla, Captain Octavia Pye is in no mood to deal with stow-aways. As it happens Europe is in the middle of a war and between Moghul enemies and Revolutionaries dead set against bringing down the emperor Octavia has her hands full. But one look at the red locked Captain and Jack is smitten with lust. He'll have Octavia Pye and she him, if the two can survive the adventure ahead. If Hallie and Jack can't return to their own reality they may have to learn the ways of a steampunk lifestyle really fast.
Yet another book where the concept seems really great but just doesn't quite work. I'm no purist when it comes to romances. Sometimes I do like one where the narration is done in first person. Unfortunately, Steamed is told from both Jack and Octavia's eyes. It might work for some readers but I found it hard to tell the difference between their "voices" in this format. I didn't like it and by the end of the book I found it insanely irritating how shallow and lusty it made each sound. I like a lusty romance as much as the next reader but with the Victorian era mannerisms and speech it sounded kind of crass.
The story itself felt really slapped together. There were entertaining crew members aboard the Tesla to pepper it with funny dialog and euphemisms but at times it felt like there was no one really needed aside from the hero and heroine. It is my personal preference in reading--whether romance or not--that there be secondary characters. Those here in Steamed really do nothing for the story other than provide a little bit of conflicting force and backup. What little conflict there is resolves way too easily and that really cheapened the conclusion for me. This is the first time I've read MacAlister though I have some of her other titles in my TBR pile and if this is an example of the humor she threads into her work that is its main saving grace.
In summation, liked the humor, liked the concept, didn't care for the narrative style or general storyline. Would I read another steampunk romance based on this one as a point of comparison? Probably not. But I'm open to trying other steampunkish titles with romance in them.
You can create a world and spend all your time giving details of that world, such as putting a table/chart in the back of the book that tells you how to interpret the time given in this world, but if the story isn't that good, then the ideas behind the story fails.
This is what happens in Steamed. Ms. MacAlister falls very short in this genre, and I for one hopes she 1) never goes back to this world, or 2) in the future, she actually researches better.
Where to start? There are so many disappointments for me as a reader. I was thrown out so many times of the story, that I found it very difficult to get through this story. It has taken a little over two weeks and I finally came to the conclusion that this book will never be a finished read.
Here is what the story is about. Jack Fletcher and his sister, though she is a minor character, are sucked into an alternate steampunk universe where he meets the captain, Octavia Pye, of an airship. They are transported to the ship by "mysterious" means. Octavia believes Jack and his sister are spies, but realizes they are not. He, Jack, repeatedly references things as "steampunk" much to the chagrin of the captain who does not know what he is talking about. So begins the beginning of my annoyance with this book.
I could go on but I got to about page 214 of a 352 page book. It was such a brutal read for me. There were just too many characters to keep up with, and so many little annoying characteristics about the characters that I was continuously thrown out of the story.
There were two minor characters I hated in particular, a Mr. Francisco and a Mr. Llama. I could not understand why the author thought these two were even worthy to write, from Mr. Francisco's irritating, clichéd flowery speech every time he addressed the captain to when Mr. Llama seemly appeared and disappeared at random and how the captain kept on remarking on this.
Captain Octavia Pye. She was a very irritating character and she is the heroine. From the "voice" to her mannerisms I so wanted to punch the captain in the face. Instead I opted to throw the book across the room. I even hated Jack. I mean really hated him. Why? Because he kept on talking about his world and the technology and it just irked me in general. These two characters really made no sense to me and the fact that they supposedly fall in love, well I just didn't buy it.
And before I forget, the biggest offense of all. The viewpoint is told in first person point of view. Which would be fine except that she (the author) goes back and forth between Jack and Octavia as the narrator of the story. Talk about an awful experience for the reader because it is hard to actually get into the story with all the head-hopping. I honestly wish she would have picked a character and stuck with that character throughout the story. Or better yet, maybe she should have opted for third person.
Bottom line, the book gets a 1. By the time the sex happened I was so no longer invested in the story. This could have been an awesome story, especially from the blurb, but I feel as if the author put too many characters in the book, which made for busy reading. When reading, I kept forgetting who was who until my eyes crossed in frustration. Not everyone should try to write in this genre and I believe Ms. MacAlister should really leave steampunk alone, well, unless she could actually go back and really research, read or watch other steampunk and see what works. If you still want to read this and see for yourself, well good luck. I for one need a Men in Black Neuralyzer to erase the memory of this book and replace the memory with say the Wild Wild West movie.
And the dashing mysterious stranger of unprovable antecedents who tried it would have been, under the circumstances, thrown over the side in one long scream, to be cut short by a wet splat in some remote location where his body would not be found until it was bare bleached broken bones.
It's a crying shame because it could have been a good book; the setting and background are interesting, if I could just have gotten past my urge to messily murder the main male character and half the minor characters, and sit the main female character down for a quick talk about her right to be respected as a captain and an adult human being.
If you still think you might enjoy it, for goodness sake get it out of the library first. If humiliation of women isn't your thing, you will be able to return it with a shudder, grateful that you didn't spend actual money on it.