First off, we have three copies of Tim Akers Horns of Ruin to give away.
Congrats! Please email me at suzannelazear (@) hotmail to claim your prize. Didn’t win? We still have up for grabs a book by YA author Ren Cummins, a prize pack of goodies including a copy of Blameless and a fan autographed by Gail Carriger, and your choice of one of Leanna Renee Hieber’s Strangely Beautiful books.
Today we welcome Steampunk author Philippa Ballantine.
Philippa (Pip) Ballantine is the co-author with Tee Morris of Phoenix Rising: a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrence novel coming out soon from Harper Voyager. It contains airships, archives and large amounts of derry-doing. Find out more at ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com
Steampunk and gadgets and gears. Oh my!
By Philippa Ballantine
One of my favourite quotes about our upcoming book is from Warp Core Sci-Fi If James Bond wore a corset and drank Earl Grey it might be something like the adventures in Phoenix Rising.
The joy of gadgetry that can be found in the Bond movies is something that my co-author Tee Morris and I wanted to include in our series—after all we too are writing about a government organization, even if it is one in the nineteenth century rather than the twenty-first. So the tech support that Q gave the secret agents in MI5 might well be found in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences—but powered by boilers and steam. Interestingly, since the term boffin wasn’t coined until much later, we invented a term for those that make gizmos—we called them clankertons.
Steampunk is a rising genre in fiction that can be dark and dystopian, or fun and optimistic. It can be set in the Victorian age, or on a distant planet—it doesn’t really matter. Steampunk is about many things, but above all its trademark is technology powered by steam—often fantastical and improbable. One thing that is constant however is the gadgets. Some are be used to keep humanity oppressed, others are just loads of fun.
For example a steam-powered listening device is in the Ministry’s arsenal. It’s larger than our own modern devices, but looks a lot more amazing, with valves and brass. It’s also far larger, which gives our agents some difficulty getting it into the opera.
A joy of working in steampunk as an author, is that you can get inspiration from things that might have been and imagining what might of happened if they had been made. A particular favorite machine in the genre is Charles Babbage’s difference engine. This device was made in the first half of the nineteenth century and was a mechanical calculator. However, one device that Babbage never got the funding to build was the analytical engine. This would have been a mechanical general-purpose computer, and could have been revolutionary for Queen Victoria’s empire. Steampunk often takes this particular device and plays with what the resulting social and political change might have been. In our novel, it is used by the Archivist of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences to keep track of the files…and also to make a spiffing cup of tea.
Research into the time period often throws up remarkable inventions that you might not know even existed, and giving them just a little ramp up. Before setting forth on this adventure I was not aware that there was in fact something called a steam-powered motor-bike. The sequel to Phoenix Rising has our heroine racing through the English countryside on a souped up version of what actually existed. Indeed, the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang can be counted as steampunk because of that particularly amazing car.
Finally, as an author you can just let your imagination take flight in steampunk. Just create devices out of wild and fun imaginings. Automatons, of the clockwork or steam variety, are a staple gadget of the genre. For example Paul Guinan’s Boilerplate is about a steam powered robot and his adventures with famous people of the era. Inserting this comical looking robot into historical pictures eventually lead to it becoming a book and optioned by JJ Abrams to be a movie. Not bad at all for a collection of pistons and boilers.
Gizmos, gadgets, the wild and the possible all embroider the steampunk world of fiction. They provide a vital ingredient of ‘what if’ and twist the history of the Victorian era into all kinds of interesting shapes. They can also be jolly good fun!
What are your favorite Steampunk gadgets?