This week's story recommendation is a somber occasion. My recommendation is "The Bohemian Astrobleme" by Kage Baker, who passed away this week at the age of only 57.
"The Bohemian Astrobleme" is a delightful steampunk novelette from the Winter 2010 issue of Subterranean Online, the quarterly e-zine from excellent small publisher Subterranean Press, which routinely prints short fiction from some of the top names in the genre.
Kage Baker is best known for her "Company" time travel stories, but she has written in many styles. "The Bohemian Astrobleme" is lighthearted steampunk, set in the same universe as her recent novella The Women of Nell Gwynne's (which obliquely ties into the Company sequence), with an appearance by the heroine of that tale, the intelligent and admirable prostitute Lady Beatrice.
In "The Bohemian Astrobleme," the Gentlemen's Speculative Society discovers a material with strange and useful properties, possibly of extraterrestrial origin. Two of its members, along with a less-than-trusty assistant, set off from England to find more of the material, making use of a remarkable array of equipment most of us did not realize was available in the Victorian era. They proceed into Eastern Europe for the hunt, which ends up turning on an amusing but convincing point of chemistry. "The Bohemian Astrobleme" makes for highly entertaining reading, and what a shame it is we cannot look forward to much more of the same from Baker in the future.
Incidentally, I do not intend to turn the Story Recommendation of the Week into an obituary column (the "obit" effect contributed to the current hiatus of the Book of the Week, which became depressing), but by coincidence I came across "The Bohemian Astrobleme" just before Baker's death, and what better way to honor the memory of a departed author than by enjoying her work?