The Beckoning Void
by Patrick LeClerc
Genre: Gaslamp Adventure Horror
Emelia DuMond is an actress, her skill at adopting and changing her identity lifting her from her humble beginnings to success on the stage of Victorian London. And to the attention of the Ghost Society, a secret organization who work to defend the world from threats of the paranormal. After centuries of seeking, the sinister Disciples of the Void have obtained an arcane book of great power. A power that could tear the veil between dimensions and plunge the world into a dark, unspeakable future.
It did not take long for the two new bodyguards to gather their belongings and meet Emelia at the Phoenix. After they had seen the ship and been shown their berths, MacGregor invited them all for a drink at the big table in the wardroom. As they took their seats, he reverently opened a new bottle of whisky.
“Not hoarding the good stuff for yourself?” asked Connolly.
“Figured you deserved a dram since I won it betting on you.”
“Trading on inside information?” said Connolly, accepting the offered glass.
“Having knowledge and failing to use it goes against every principle of engineering. At that point, you may as well just be a scientist.”
“Where do you two know one another from?” Emelia asked. “I know you said you met in the army, but there must be a story there.”
“We met in India. On the Northwest Frontier. Near Afghanistan,” said MacGregor.
“Long time ago,” added Connolly. “Twenty years?”
“I was in the Royal Engineers, doing aerial surveying and building bridges in that godforsaken country. Connolly here had a Company commission. Led a troop of irregular cavalry.”
“Like leading Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves,” Connolly smiled. “First class scouts, damn fine horsemen. Thieves to the bone. Steal the horse from under your saddle if you looked away. God, I miss ‘em.”
Alyah studied his face. “Khan Ali?” she said.
“What?” Connolly asked.
“You are Khan Ali?”
Connolly let out a laugh. “That’s what my men called me. Closest they could get to ‘Connolly.’ How’d you know that?”
“I think you met my father.”
“Age is a hell of a thing.” He shook his head. “Was he one of my cutthroats?”
“One of the cutthroats on the other side,” she said with a wide grin. “I think you have him to thank for that scar.”
“Really?” drawled MacGregor. “That’s a tale, now.”
“I did get that from some brigand with a tulwar,” said Connolly, rubbing a scar above his right eyebrow. “That bastard was your father?”
“He always bragged he struck down the great Khan Ali,” Alyah replied. “Now I know his boast has some substance.”
“He didn’t strike me down. We crossed swords, and he got the better of it. I killed two of his fellows that day before he and I fought.”
“He credited you with ten,” she said. “Before he defeated you.”
“It was only two. And he didn’t defeat me, he cut me. And escaped. I’d have caught him if it wasn’t for the blood running into my eyes.”
“It seems the young lady takes after her father,” said the engineer.
“If he’d been half as good as she is, I’d be dead,” said Connolly.
“So your father was an Afghan brigand?” asked Emelia, turning her curiosity on the other woman.
Patrick LeClerc makes good use of his history degree by working as a paramedic for an ever- changing parade of ambulance companies in the Northern suburbs of Boston. When not writing he enjoys cooking, fencing and making witty, insightful remarks with career-limiting candor.
In the lulls between runs on the ambulance –and sometimes the lulls between employment at various ambulance companies– he writes fiction.
His work can be found at inkandbourbon.com, and quantummuse.com
Why Did I choose an Alternative Victorian Era for “The Beckoning Void?”
Mostly because it’s a mashup of all my favorite things. History and sword fighting and adventure stories and old Hollywood banter all rolled into one. With airships.
The Victorian Era is great story fodder. You have enormous technological and societal changes going on, and that’s really where science fiction as we know it today was invented. Look at Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (which is probably technically Georgian, not Victorian, but on the cusp) and Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne and H G Wells. This is where authors started looking at technology and asking, “What if?” which is the basis of all science fiction.
Plus, you can still combine all that tech with swashbuckling swordfights.
In addition to the science fiction possibilities, I wanted a diverse, eclectic cast, and that fits the era better than people think.
Emelia was raised in poverty, but had a talent for immitation that allowed her to find success on the stage, reinventing herslef as an actress and then a spy. The colonialism of the age creates the perfect circumstances for a character like Alyah. Mixed race, Afghan-English, raised by a father who taught her swordplay and riding who doesn’t really fit into either world, so she finds her own way. The realities of the Famine and the new mobility . Connolly and Count Roderick are both products of the Wild Geese, Irish exiles turned soldiers in foreign armies, albeit with varied success. Captain Little is a great character. Escaped slave turned airship captain.
I drew inspiration for all of these characters from historical examples. None are exact analogues, but they certainly all have precedents.
One thing they all have in common, regardless of which side they wind up on, is that they are all outsiders. Whether due to race or class or gender, each of them has to find their way in a world that doesn’t accept them. The social, political, and technological upheaval of the Nineteeth Century gave me a terrific canvas to work with.
Not to say this is a book primarily about social issues. At its heart, it’s an action adventure swashbuckler with a touch of horror. Think the plot of the 1999 version of “The Mummy” with the banter of “The Princess Bride” and a dash of social commentary. Plus, a bit of mad science and airships.
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