by Mari Fee, historical/fantasy (2010)
Samhain Publishing, $3.50, ISBN 978-1-60928-254-7
Bluebeard's Machine is clearly a steampunk take on the old French tale of Bluebeard. You may have heard the story before: the husband tells the new wife never to enter that locked room, but one day she becomes too curious for her own good, enters the room, and discovers the dead bodies of his previous wives.
Annette Parker is frustrated by the fact that her husband Ambrose spends a lot of time in his laboratory. She sneaks into his study one day and discovers that she is actually the fifth clone of Annette Parker. The original Annette was dead and Ambrose had spent the years since attempting to create a clone that would be the exact replica of his wife. The last four clones were destroyed for what Ambrose perceived to be flaws, and now Annette learns that she is also marked for a similar fate. She does what any sane woman would do in her shoes: she flees at the earliest opportunity.
Now calling herself Ada Powell, she seeks sanctuary in an island called Muckle Green Holm, one of the North Oakney Islands. Isaac Ward, the nicer scientist, has his pretty fabulous lab on Muckle Green Holm and Ada decides to seek his help. Isaac knows Annette, but he also knows that Annette died ten years ago. Ada looks exactly like Annette, which makes it easy for her to claim to be Annette's cousin seeking a big favor from him: she wants money in order to get to Australia where she intends to start life anew away from her crazy husband.
Bluebeard's Machine is a steampunk story, although due to the isolated location in which the story takes place, there aren't many historical flavor to complement the science and the machinery. Still, this is an interesting story regardless of whether it is steampunk or something else, as the narrative is engaging, the pacing is just about right, and the main characters are well drawn enough to carry the story. It's a short story, so don't expect too much in terms of depths and characterization. However, there is enough of all that in here to sustain my interest.
I just wish Isaac isn't so predictable as a straight-laced professor stereotype though. While Ada is a fine heroine in her own right, Isaac is boring compared to her because he's this close to being a cliché. Also, due to the length constraints, the question of whether Isaac loves Ada for herself or because she looks like Annette is never resolved well enough for my liking. I still have my doubts at the end of the day.
But as a short story, with all the limitations of that format taken into account, Bluebeard's Machine is a jolly good read.
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