It’s back! The blog advent calendar. I enjoyed last year’s blog theme last year—re-reading twenty-four books of my youth—so much, so this year I’m applying the same approach to short stories, trawling through a myriad bunch of collections and anthologies I’ve read in the last few years.
December 13th: A Captive Audience by Ryan Keawekane
Tell me about your first time: Steampunk/victoriana looks easy, but it’s not; atmosphere is hard, evoking a sense of a hard, smog-filled world. When I first read Ghosts In Gaslight, Monsters In Steam, I was so impressed with the first story in it, ‘A Captive Audience’ because it did just that, conjured a wonderful sense of place and time that many similar stories fail to do so. Frankly, I was quite jealous.
Sum it up: The Artist has a power; when he draws, he steals the life from his subject, and can do with it as he wishes…
Give me a quote: “It must be in his hands. They were cold now, what with Winter pressed up against the studio windows like a pauper against your heels for pence. But there was a power in the hollow of the Artist’s palms and intertwined between his fingers. Keeping company with Winter outside was the fog off the River Thames, which wafted up and married with the perpetual smog that her Majesty Victoria alone could rise above. For a spell, the pair would watch the Artist rub his hands together for warmth. Then, Fog would tell Winter to haunt another window, but leave the Artist alone, lest he press the soul out of Winter’s bones and onto the page. But all know that Winter is a spineless fiend, and Fog a flighty companion: the former stayed to watch the Artist work as the latter flew off.”
Second reading: The richly evoked atmosphere is exactly as I remembered it, but I had forgotten the intensely sensuous nature of the rest of the story; in amongst the ephemera of the Victorian setting, there is also an intensely intimate story of people which is handled with equal deftness. I really do love this story; add this firmly to my list of stories I really wish I’d written.
Where can I read it: You can find it in Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam.