Short story: “The Steam Dancer (1896)”

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“The Steam Dancer (1896),” by Caitlín R. Kiernan

First appeared in Sirenia Digest; reprinted and recorded in issue 23 of Lightspeed Magazine in April 2012 here

4,809 words according to Lightspeed, which appears to share my obsession with exact word counts; 4,641 according to my word processor

I enjoyed this piece but it’s too thin on plot for my taste—more of a character study. At the risk of spoilers, nothing happens. The main character’s body doesn’t explode or hurt someone else or fail her at a critical moment. The tension between her and her (weirdly nameless) mechanic husband doesn’t go anywhere. At one point in their conversation she starts to panic, apparently at the thought that he will stop her from dancing, but that fear doesn’t really go anywhere either. The mechanic persuades her, quite reasonably, to let him take her steampunk leg away for repairs. When she wakes up to find it and him gone, there’s no horror, no anger, no character change, no change in their relationship. She reads the tender note he left, grumbles a bit, and takes solace in daydreams of dancing.

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