Posts Tagged ‘Leviathan’

Today we welcome back Scott Westerfeld, author of the Steampunk YA adventure books Leviathan and Behemoth. He’s written a variety of other YA books, including the Uglies series. Behemoth, book two in the Leviathan series, was released October 5, 2010.

Steampunk has been expanding steadily. Not just in the sense of visibility and sales, but in terms of settings, backdrops, and milieus. In other words, our sub-generic headquarters may still be found in London, but, like the Victorians themselves, we have outposts all over the globe. Cherie Priest’s Hugo-nominated Boneshaker is set in Seattle. Ten years ago Jan Lars Jensen’s Shiva 3000 featured steam-powered Hindu gods. Countless manga titles bring steampunk to Japan, and if you want see a great live-action Japanese steampunk film, check out K-20: Fiend of Twenty Faces. Readers of this blog can probably supply many more examples of steampunk’s promiscuous diversification in the comments.

But what has this to do with me? My Leviathan series is set in an alternate World War I, and all of book one transpired in Europe—namely London, Austria, and Switzerland. When the first book came to a close, however, our heroes were headed for Istanbul.

Turkey may be part of the European Union now, but in 1914 it was a different world. The Ottoman sultan was the Caliph, the secular ruler of Islam, and his empire stretched from Persia to (nominally) Egypt. The Ottomans had been at odds, culturally and militarily, with Christian Europe for centuries. By late 1914, though, both sides of the Great War had an interest in wooing the Ottomans over to their side. So I thought an airship trip to a steampunk Istanbul would be a great way to expand the world of the series.

For those of you who haven’t read Leviathan, the Great War is between the Clankers (Germanic machine users) and Darwinists (Charles discovered DNA in the 1860s, and created a sort of Victorian biotech). So we have steampunk mechanical walkers versus living machines like the eponymous airship, made from the life-threads of a whale. Leviathan is also illustrated, like any self-respecting novel would have been in 1914. The artist, Keith Thompson, created a style for each of the warring powers. The Clanker style is boxy and mechanical, the Darwinist style organic and sinuous. To show this distinction, I always use this Clanker walker compared with the captain’s desk aboard the Leviathan:

So when my characters traveled to Istanbul, Keith and I figured that the Ottomans needed their own style. Since they ultimately joined the Germans, we figured they had to be Clankers at heart. But they were on the fence for a few months in 1914, so I decided that Ottomans would make their machines in the form of animals, just to give the Darwinists a fighting chance. Thus the sultan’s power is based on an army of mechanical elephants:

This two-page image shows how rich Keith’s Clanker Istanbul is. We can see a minaret and mosque alongside the western-influenced residential architecture of the city, and in the background a pair of Iron Golems guarding a Jewish neighborhood. Istanbul in 1914 was a true multicultural city, so each religion has its own Clanker style. My favorite is possibly the Kurdish battle walker, based on the goddess Şahmeran, shown here in a Steamed World Exclusive!

One of the great things about illustrated books is how the themes in the text are reinforced by the art. In these last two images you can see the conflict that the Ottomans face: Are they steely, functional Clankers or sensuously styled Darwinists? They have bits of both, of course, so choosing sides in the great war won’t be easy.

Without being too spoiler-y, I’ll reveal that in the third book of the series, Goliath, His Majesty’s Airship Leviathan continues on its travels around the globe. There should be many more styles to discover along the way.

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Happy Monday everyone. To all you writers out there, I’m begining a “Book in a Week Challenge” today on my other blog. You don’t have to write middle grade, just be committed to try to write 20-50k this week. Details here. Come join the fun.

I’d like to give a special shout out to Lolita Elizabeth who just sold two Steampunk stories to Harlequin Spice Briefs.

Today I have a book review for you all–a YA Steampunk from Scott Westerfeld.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

In a riveting and entertaining alternate history, early twentieth century Europe is on the brink of war. The “Clankers” with their advanced mechanical technology are at odds with the British “Darwinists” who’s machines are actually made from genetically engineered beasts.

Deryn Sharp is assigned to the British airship Leviathan for her very first assignment–a dream come true. The giant airship is made from a conglomeration of animals, including a whale. The only problem is, women aren’t allowed in the air service. She disguises herself as a boy and fears being discovered.

Prince Aleksandar Ferdinand is rousted from his bed one night and sets on a mad-dash across Europe with only a few men, his enemies hot on their trail.

When the Leviathan crashes, Deryn and Aleksander find themselves in an unlikely friendship and in the middle of a daring adventure. Most of all, even though they should be enemies, there’s a lot they can learn from each other.

Westerfeld has created a vibrant alternate history full of fabulous flying machines, engineered beasts, and grand adventure. The whole idea of the “Darwinists” and manipulating DNA on such a grand scale is a fresh and original and paints a stark contract to the iron beasts of the Clankers.

Deryn and Aleksander are both bright, brave, strong characters, who being so young, have a lot to learn in life. Their innocence keeps getting them into trouble, but its fun to see their friendship develop in spite of cultural norms.

Not only is Leviathan entertaining, but the illustrations are amazing bringing forth memories of classic adventure books. If only more books had illustrations now days.

Leviathan is an adventurous romp that will delight both kids and adults. I’m looking forward to the sequel, Behemoth, which will be released in October.

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We have a terrific guest for you all today. But first I’d like to announce the winner of the clock hand earrings from EJP Creations.

…drum roll please…


Congratulations, Arwen!  Please email me at suzannelazear @ hotmail so you can get your prize.

Didn’t win?  You can still win the “ear wings” from Creative Habits or a copy of issue 6 of Steampunk Tales.

Let’s give a big Steampunkapalooza welcome to today’s guest–young adult writer Scott Westerfeld. Scott has written a number of incredible books for young adults including the Midnighters and Uglies series. His Steampunk book, Leviathan was released last fall with the sequel Behemoth to follow in October, 2010.


I’ve written five science fiction books for adults, and I’m best known for my Uglies series, which is also science fiction. So people often ask me, How did you wind up writing a steampunk series?

I should probably to come up with some sort of literary-sounding answer, but the real story is one of pure self-indulgence.

After the success of Uglies, I figured I could do pretty much what I wanted. That is, I had this one shot to write something that was maybe a bit less commercial, because I had a publisher and fans who would support me.

So I decided to embark on a series that contained all the props and themes that I personally enjoy, including, in no particular order: airships, walkers, derring-do, swords, awesome clothes, and strange chimeric animals. And really, steampunk was the only genre flexible enough to incorporate all these.

Steampunk is a literature of collage, in a lot of ways. You can build steampunk out of a whole bunch of contradictory elements, from the real past or from the Victorian period’s imaginary futures, from feasible alternate technologies or crazy pseudo-sciences like hollow earths and spirit photography. You can decide what to include based on visual appeal, or on story needs, or on world building, or even your personal politics (challenging colonialism and sexism is big in steampunk, after all).

I started my collage by imaging a world that was divided into two warring sets of countries. The Clanker Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, use machines like we do (but much steampunkier) while the Darwinist Powers, France, Britain and Russia, engage in a form of Victorian (well, Edwardian) bio-engineering. I had a girl dressed as a boy to serve in the Royal Air Navy, and the son of the Archduke Ferdinand disguised as a commoner trying to escape his father’s murderers.

Like I said, it was all the stuff I really liked, all crammed together.

But about sixty pages into the first book, I realized what was missing. You can’t do a collage without pictures! So at that point I spent an endless time (about a year) searching for the right illustrator. I finally found Keith Thompson, who created a sort of “Edwardian manga” style based on the illustrations in Punch Magazine of 1914.

To show you what I mean, here’s my girl-dressed-as-boy, Deryn, showing that engineered military beasts don’t scare her:

And here’s the eponymous airship over London:

At last, everything was in place. And luckily for me, my publisher really got it, and came along for the ride. They printed the books on wonderfully thick and heavy paper, and added color end papers with an amazing map that Keith created. It really looks and feels like a book from 1914. (Back when even books for adults had illustrations.)

After all, part of doing steampunk is living the part. Putting on the right frock or the perfect pair of goggles. So I’m pleased to bits that I wound up with the book equivalent of a velvet waistcoat.

Not to mention some pretty awesome clothes created by Keith:

But this is just between us. In interviews, I usually talk about wanting to create a metaphor for the collision of metal and flesh that was World War I, or something like that.

So don’t tell anyone, but it was mostly to have an excuse to buy a really good waistcoat.


Leviathan blurb (from scottwesterfeld.com)

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.


Thank you so much for joining us today, Scott!  Those illustrations are amazing, and I think a lot of us are partial to Steampunk clothes.  For more information on Scott Westerfeld and his books please drop by his blog and website. Watch for Behemoth in October, 2010!

Keep tuning in all week for more great authors as Steampunkapalooza continues. Tomorrow we have author Regina Riley. Please join us on Saturday, April 24th for prizes and mayhem as we help author O.M. Grey release her new book Avalon Revisited. Young Adult author Kate Milford stops by on Sunday, April 25th.

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