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Publisher Description

In a steampunk Wild West, women with nothing left to lose walk into the desert, and emerge soul-bonded to giant robots...

A pair of bickering angels try to re-create Heaven in a Tokyo subway station...

A woman warrior matches swords and wits with a demon in mythic India...

These stories and more appear in "A Cup of Smoke," a collection of short works by Rachel Manija Brown. The anthology contains six short stories, twenty poems, and a rodent zodiac.

It includes her Rhysling Award-winning poem "Nine Views of the Oracle" and her Rhysling nominee poem "Minotaur Noir."

Two of the short stories and eleven of the poems are original to this collection. The other stories originally appeared in "Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk I," "Strange Horizons," "Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and "Cabinet des Fees." All the short stories have all-new afterwords by the author.

Excerpt from "Steel Rider:"

The sands spoke to me as the first red line of sunset drew itself across the sky. I nearly started out of my seat, but the straps held me tight.

“We have to change our course,” I said.

"For any particular purpose?" Nocturno inquired.

“The desert wants us to head west. I reckon we should. When I’m riding you, nothing talks to me unless it has something important to say.” I grinned. “Except you.”

"I have something important to say," Nocturno replied. "I will power down in one hour sixteen minutes thirty-nine seconds."

“Well, that doesn’t matter, does it?” I said. “We wouldn’t reach town in that time anyway.”

"I inform you of my remaining time of operation at sundown. It is sundown now. So I am informing you."

“I know, I know. Thank you.”

I settled back into my seat and told my body to turn around. Nocturno turned smoothly, and we began walking into the west.

I hoped the desert was sending me on some adventure. Most of our jobs in the last few years had been guarding travelers, traders, and wagon trains, often without even the thrill of a bandit attack.

Used to be some folk set out alone, gambling that the money saved by not hiring a steel rider was worth the risk of not having one. Then a group got snowbound in the Sierra Nevada and ran out of food. By the time help arrived, months had passed and the only survivor was a seventeen-year-old girl. No one wanted to ask too many questions, but folk say they never found most of the bodies. After that, the high fees for an escort who could dig out a pass through twelve feet of snow started looking more reasonable.

I watched the sun sink toward the hills, like a ripe fruit slowly falling through shadowed waters. Every time we looked into the burning eye in the sky, my heart lifted with the thought that I could do such a thing. Nocturno could raise its cowled mask up to the noonday sun, and stare and stare without dazzling or blinding itself. It could see clear to an elf owl nesting in a saguaro a half-mile away. And in my rider’s seat, so could I.

But even my farsighted steed couldn’t see past the land we strode through—the ordinary sands where folk built pueblos and coyotes yipped in packs—and into the land of its origin: that desert where no plant grew and no bird sang, into which no man and few women could venture, and from which fewer ever returned.

When a huge black figure appeared out of thin air five long strides away, I knew right then that it must have stepped out of that other desert, the one I’d fled into as a barefoot girl and walked away from as Nocturno’s steel rider.

Fiction & Literature
April 26
Rachel Manija Brown

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