Friday, July 19, 2024

Need More Queer Steampunk Action? Check Out Wireless

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Good news everyone! Marta Ramos is back for more steampunk, Sherlock Holmsian-style adventures! If you recall from my review of Murder on the Titania, I’m a huge fan of Alex Acks’ sarcastic, anarchist, queer lady version of the iconic sleuth. After reading the first set of short stories, I fell in love with Acks’ style and flair (and a more than a bit in love with Marta Ramos herself, lbr). So when I heard we were getting more Ramos, I had to get my hands on her. I mean it—the book. Moving right along. Let’s take a closer look at Wireless and More Steam Powered Adventures, from Alex Acks, shall we?

A Brief (Spoiler Free) Rundown

Captain Marta Ramos, the most dangerous pirate in the Duchy of Denver, is back and she and Simms are up to their goggles in trouble. Has General del Toro found a way to use the Infected as an army and can Captain Ramos work with her arch enemy, Colonel Geoffrey Douglas, to stop him? Can Simms join forces with the devious Deliah Nimowitz on a jailbreak, some sewer misadventures AND a high society soiree involving tea, a heist, and sausages? And what about the Rail King and his nefarious plans? Can Captain Ramos and her crew stop him before he completes his latest dastardly deed, one that may result in Deliah’s demise? Check out the next installment of the exciting adventures of Captain Ramos and her valiant crew to find out more!

The Good Stuff

Wireless has fewer stories than Murder on the Titania (three novellas to Murder on the Titania’s four novellas and a short story), but each of the novellas is a bit longer. Overall, you’re getting about the same story bang for your buck. And what a bang they are.

“Blood in Elk Creek,” the first novella, follows both Marta Ramos and her long-time rival Geoffrey Douglas as they each attempt to investigate mysterious goings on in the so-called ‘dead plains.’ As ever, Acks’ tone for Marta Ramos’ narration is impeccable. The combination of dry humor and scientific detachment utterly delights me. It’s a difficult balance to find, and Acks nails it.

Acks creates a strong sense of characterization for both Douglas and Ramos via word choice and internal thoughts. You never have to guess which character you’re reading; you know just by tone. “Blood in Elk Creek” has a strong sense of encroaching doom—or should I say it feels like the slow, creeping spread of an infection? Sounds ominous, and it is. I also really appreciated how well the narrative comments on US history and the exploitation of First Peoples.

The latter two stories are more quickly paced than “Blood in Elk Creek.” “Do Shut Up, Mr. Simms” fills in the details of what Simms gets up to while Marta is off having her adventure in the ‘dead plains’ with Douglas. While I of course miss Marta’s snide commentary, Simms’ headspace fills in enough of that when he thinks about what Marta would say. Once again, Acks does a brilliant job giving us a different character’s narrative voice and tone while still being true to the overall narrative tone of the Ramos novellas.

What I love most about this second novella is how it expands on the threads of found family we saw in Murder on the Titania. We get to see more of the rest of Marta’s team: a group of misfits, folks that don’t quite fit into society. Thus the found family angle. At the same time, piracy also works well as a metaphor for the experience of queerness. Or really any aspect of personhood that makes one not fully fit in to ‘polite society’—be it ethnicity, religion (or lack thereof), attraction, gender identity, etc. Simms and his team live on the margins, and they’re a family. Come hell or high water they’re going to stick up for each other and protect each other because they’re all they have.

Oh, and we get to see more Deliah Nimowitz, Marta Ramos’ kind of girlfriend, and she’s the best. I only wish we’d gotten more of Deliah and Marta on the same page together, because they play off of each other so well.

Like “Do Shut Up, Mr. Simms” last novella, the titular “Wireless,” is less about Marta Ramos than it is about the other characters. It’s a fun detour into the minds of Acks’ secondary characters, but I do miss Marta’s sarcastic tone and dry humor.

At the same time, the direction the story goes in really excited me. Disrupting a system of exploitation and abuse created and controlled by a cishet white male? BADASS. I would honestly love to learn more about all the women living in that group home. Could we have a collection of short stories featuring them and the behind the scenes shenanigans they likely get up to? Please and thank.

Finally, I liked the fact that the novellas in this collection were chronological-ish. The first two really do read as a matched set—one exploring Marta, the other Simms during the same time period. Each novella builds on the previous one. It wasn’t bad that Murder on the Titania lacked a chronological basis, at least not for me. But for those who do prefer knowing how short stories and novellas fit together, Wireless will satisfy.

Potential Drawbacks

Compared to the other two novellas in Wireless, ‘Blood in Elk Creek’ has a bit of a slower pace. While it never felt like a slog, there were a few moments where I found myself wishing the pace would pick up, especially in the lead-up to the final confrontation. That might also have been because I was more invested in Ramos’ narrative than Douglas’, so when it was his ‘turn’ to take the lead, I wanted to get back to Ramos. In addition, Douglas’ bias against the First People tribes living in the ‘dead plains’ was a bit much after a while. I get that he’s bigoted against them because of his culture, but I could have used less of his derogatory commentary.

As mentioned above, the latter two novellas don’t focus much on Marta herself. If you’re as obsessed with Marta’s wit and headspace as I am, Wireless will be a bit of a letdown in that regard. Much as I love the other characters and exploring their minds, I wanted more Marta.

These novellas also felt less like Holmsian-style mysteries than action-oriented steampunk adventure stories. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good action-oriented steampunk adventure story. At the same time, part of what I loved so much about Murder on the Titania was how it felt like reading the queer, woman of color, anti-capitalist Sherlock Holmes reboot of my dreams. Outside of the first novella, Wireless didn’t really offer up any puzzles for Marta’s dizzying intellect to solve. That doesn’t make these stories any less worth reading, but it’s good to know diving in that you’re getting something different from Murder on the Titania.

Final Score: 8/10

While more action-oriented and with less narration by Marta herself, Wireless still satisfies my craving for queer steampunk adventures. As ever, Alex Acks tone and narration are top notch and her characters engage the reader on every page. Overall, I liked Murder on the Titania more than Wireless, but this is still a good sequel collection to a very strong, unique character in steampunk fiction. I love Marta Ramos, and I look forward to more!

Images courtesy of Queen of Swords Press

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