I have been eagerly awaiting this collection since finishing its predecessor, Murder on the Titania and Other Steam-Powered Adventures, last year. Wireless brings us the same fabulous cast of dukes, refined ladies, men of honor…just kidding, it’s about steampunk pirate ne’er-do-wells, and it’s just as much of a romp as Murder was. I MIGHT like Wireless better though, for one simple reason: zombies.
Yes, my favorite horror movie staples were only hinted at in Murder on the Titania. We got one SMALL encounter, and it satisfied me enough not to call author Alex Acks a tease. But in Wireless we finally got the desperate-flight-from-a-ravening-horde scenes that I live for. Let’s see how Wireless stacks up to the Scale:
Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt
Not at all.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts
Wireless and Murder on the Titania are helmed by Captain Marta Ramos. Like any good pirate, she lives for treasure and adventure. A consummate risk-taker, she occasionally gets sidetracked for a just cause, but only as long as she can stick it to the Man at the same time.
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts
There are plenty of female side characters, including others on Captain Ramos’ crew. In Wireless, we meet a few new female characters as well.
The secondary female character with the most screen time is Deliah Nimowitz. Deliah is completely different kind of criminal, one who deals in secrets and is more likely to be found in tea parlors than a shootout. She doesn’t get to match wits as much with Captain Ramos as in Murder (she spends more time in Wireless torturing Simms, Captain Ramos’ second in command), but even so, this book passes the Bechdel-Wallace test with ease, as well as similar bars for racial and LGBT+ inclusion.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
This is a book about steampunk pirates in an alternate US that has split into duchies following the great Infection that felled huge swaths of the population and turned them into zombies. It’s a credit to Alex Acks’ writing that this doesn’t feel like a bunch of random stuff all thrown together. The worldbuilding expands in Wireless, giving us a greater picture, but one that still feels rooted in real scenarios.
The characters help anchor this. Both Murder and Wireless are collections of stories, and while the plots are self-contained, the characters’ individual development and relationships to each other still grow and change. Wireless has a little more pathos, especially for Captain Ramos, but at its core the stories are wish-fulfillment romps for anyone dying to drop their day job and become a pirate.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
This one’s easy. For representation alone, Wireless goes above and beyond. Characters have a racial and sexual orientation diversity. In Wireless, we learn that Native tribes control large swaths of land, and Acks draws a wide breadth of named, speaking, opinionated Native characters, stereotype-free. The patriarchy is in full swing, and characters like Marta and Deliah aren’t afraid to manipulate or subvert the assumptions placed on them.
Somehow, I’ve so far only read steampunk by authors from marginalized backgrounds, whether it is by race, gender, or sexual orientation. (While I’m talking about it, check out Maurice Broaddus’ Buffalo Soldier or the Southeast Asian-inspired anthology The SEA is Ours.) While justice may not prevail in all quarters in these stories, most of these authors have used some kind of social justice-revisionist history to create their steampunk worlds. This includes themes, characters, and plots that liberate not just marginalized groups that the author identifies with, but also other traditionally-oppressed groups. I’m glad to see authors continue to make thoughtful, intersectional stories–masquerading as fun pirate romps.