Posts Tagged ‘YA steampunk’

Today we welcome author Dave Freer who’s new steampunk YA, Cuttlefish, releases in July from Pyr.

Dave Freer is the author of a bunch of sf/fantasy novels some of which blundered onto best-seller lists. He’s collaborated with Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey on various books. He lives with his wife Barbara and a selection of dogs , under the semi-benign rule of three cats on a remote island off the south coast of Australia. I think he calls what they do ‘an experiment in self-sufficiency.’ Other people call it ‘chaos and messing about in mud and small boats’. He was an ichthyologist, so they have plenty of fish. It’s supposed to be good for the brain. On the other hand diving – which he does a lot of – is supposed to be bad for it. Much about him is explained by this combination. He’s fond of adrenalin, books and strange food, not necessarily together or in that order. You can read more at  http://davefreer.com/


by Dave Freer

Tsss….p, clickety clack, tsss…p, clickety-clack, bang. Tsss… p.

Hello. I am Dave Freer. I am what you get when you find an eight year old trying to distill rust behind a garage full of Victorian-era tools and old chests full of the relics of Empire, and you do not do the wise and merciful thing. If I remember rightly my father, on discovering I planned to conquer the world (doesn’t everyone?) with this, gave me an elderly woodcut-illustrated encyclopaedia, on the grounds that I might as well do it properly. In doing this he made a terrible mistake because he unlocked the elderly green cupboard at the back of the garage, and forgot to lock it. Not only (cue evil cackle) had he handed me the key to early 20th century science and technology, but a trove of books which I guess belonged to my grandmother or great grandmother.  Being an amoral little brat, who would rather read than breathe (yes, I do know what I speak of. No one sings hymns to breath until they can’t), I read them all quietly. Kipling to Bulldog Drummond to Jeffrey Farnol. I’d long since exhausted the inadequate books I was allowed at in the house, and my parents were of the barbaric kind that only went to the library once a week. Being hyperactive and sickly (the breathing part, remember) was a dreadful combination. It meant I had to do a lot in my head. It meant I got sent away to boarding school (Stalky and Co. would have felt just at home there) to a high altitude, dry climate and time travel back to 1890 as to how things were done. In a country where steam loco’s still pulled the rattling leather and teak carriages, and the train smoked and steamed and clickety-clacked its way up over the mountains. Where the attitudes, and the racial discrimination were still Victorian (it wasn’t all fancy mustachios and clockwork and brass-buttons). Soot stained everything and smuts would get in your eye if you undid the brass catches and lowered leather-strapped windows and looked out. Just a whiff of coal-smoke takes me right back there. And thus was born a love-hate relationship with steam, grafted onto a great deal too much Victorian/Edwardian swashbuckling and romantic reading, added to a scientist with an inborn touch of Heath Robinson in his odd inventive mind. The question is not why do I write steampunk, but why did it take me so long?

So more-than-thirty years on I still haven’t grown up a lot, but at least to point where I think conquering the world would be tedious (well, not so much the conquering part, but the bit that comes after, where you have to change its diapers), but I still love inventing strange machines… in a kind of alternate history powered by coal. With, naturally, a bit of swash, some buckle, and a little romance. The boarding school stuff did sort out the lungs in the greater part, helped the hyperactivity by letting me become a danger-sports nutter… but didn’t change the reading a bit.  I come from a commercial fishing / diving background, so that was what I ended up doing at University. I am, technically speaking, an ichthyologist-turned-writer, and I still dive…

Only diving is incompatible with steam… isn’t it?

Which is where we come to the idea of a coal-fired submarine, and a story about it.  One of the thins that always worried me about steam-punk is that big picture of what a world of steam-power would do to the ecology. If you’re worried about global warming in our world… well, given the huge amounts of soot also produced by a coal-fired world, and what happens when you put little black spots on nice white snow or ice, we’re well off.  Black carbon (aka soot) is a major problem in our world (not in the first world so much as in the third world), and in any real steam punk scenario… the world will get warmer. And ice is going to melt. Methane will come bubbling out of the arctic seas, and the tundra.

And people will be just as stubborn as now in the face of disaster.  CUTTLEFISH’s steampunk world has got a lot warmer. The British-German Empire not only survived this, but actually survived better, by going back to direct Imperial rule and having a strong military to deal with all. Of course that didn’t stop London flooding. Or the pride of the Empire not abandoning the capital, but making it into a new Venice, with canals where her streets once ran, and the basements, lower floors and myriad tunnels all flooded.

Or not. When the emergency was over, people thought life would go back to normal. To parliaments and elections. And when they didn’t, well, there was rebellion. And the rebels needed somewhere to be. To hide and to be safe. The tunnels weren’t all water-filled. There was air trapped down there. And some of those flooded could be pumped dry, with airlocks that could allow them to flood again if anyone came looking.  They did need a way in and out though. A lifeline.

Submarines, in a world where oil is just not easily available.

I’m odd enough to like my story devices and machines to at least possibly work.  On the face of it… coal as a submarine fuel about as stupid as you can get (hey, no wonder I liked it). Coal just isn’t a great calorific fuel compared to gasoline or even diesel. It uses a lot of oxygen to burn, and if there is one thing you don’t have spare on a submarine, it’s air to breath.  It was quite well reported that when the snorkel on diesel submarines stopped (by a wave in the cut-off valve for example… the big diesels pulled so much oxygen out of the air as to burst ear-drums with the sudden pressure change. And it’s a lot harder to damp a coal fire as fast as you can switch of a diesel.  So I thought about a coal dust diesel engine… one story I read somewhere had the snippet of information that Rudolf Diesel originally wanted to use coal-dust and not oil (which would work). Only – well coal dust burns, but is very abrasive. Your submarine would work as well as a diesel-oil one, but it would also need a lot more fuel and impossiblium liners for the cylinders… So I started looking for alternatives. Steam engines are quite inefficient and the one thing a submarine can’t be is that.

But Stirling engines are a lot more efficient. And there is no reason they can’t be coal-burning.  Any source of heat will do for them. And… Stirling engines are quiet. And… it has been done. Not with coal, but with a Stirling engine. I’m not going to bore you with how they work — its an external combustion engine. I got around a lot of the other issues by running the air input through a compressor/buffer system for the snorkel, and then focussing on the next problem. Submarines are small. Not much room for coal…

That was the big issue – refuelling submarines – during WW1 and WW2.  And they ran on a fuel that doesn’t take as much space.  Now submarines had another problem, pre-nuclear submarine… A round torpedo shape is best for diving and pressure. But a V-shaped hull is what you need on the surface, which is where they had to be to run their diesel engines. So they had two hulls – an inner -torpedo shaped, and an outer giving the V shape for the surface.

So… what goes faster and uses less fuel to do so than a surface vessel, but is still a boat?  A hydroplane — a essentially flying over water with as little ‘wet’ area as possible, with the hull (or foils) designed to create lift, not just buoyancy.

If you look at the cover to CUTTLEFISH – you’ll see that design in action, with the outer false hull pushed out on struts to make the submarine into a trimaran Hydrosailer. It’s a boat that can run underwater, steam on the surface, or hydrosail, skimming above the surface. It’s a real steampunk fantasy… and it might even work.

It’s a good vessel for sailing into a swashbuckling adventure with.

–Dave Freer


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Today we welcome Shelley who writes under varies and sundry alter egos, writing YA as Shelley Adina, adult inspirational under Shelley Bates, and Amish fiction under the name Adina Senft.  I’ve asked her to come on today because after having written numberous books for major publishers, some award-winning, she has decided to self-publish her latest work, a Steampunk YA entitled Lady of Devices, which came out last week.

Award-winning author Shelley Adina wrote her first teen novel when she was 13. It was rejected by the literary publisher to whom she sent it, but he did say she knew how to tell a story. That was enough to keep her going through the rest of her adolescence, a career, a move to another country, a B.A. in Literature, an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction, and countless manuscript pages. Between books, Shelley loves traveling, playing the piano and Celtic harp, making period costumes, and spoiling her flock of rescued chickens.

A whole new meaning for DIY

By Shelley Adina

First of all, thank you to the lolitas for inviting me to post today!

We all know how important the makers are to the steampunk world. Without them, where would we get mechanical arms, cool clothes, and temporal decay monitors? I’m a maker myself when it comes to costume, whether it’s a full Victorian ballgown or a steampunked-out day costume that I wear to work. But when it comes to my books, I create the manuscript and then I leave it to my publisher to make the final product.

Until now.

Last year, as part of my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program, I wrote a YA steampunk story called Lady of Devices. Since I wasn’t under contract at the time, I pulled out all the stops and just had fun with it. Why shouldn’t the British Mail be delivered by vacuum tube? Why shouldn’t housework be done with automatons? And why can’t a well-bred young lady be an engineer? That last one is a stumper for my heroine, which is why she gets this story.

Anyway, my agent sent it out all over New York, and we waited for someone to love it as much as we did.

And waited.

And waited.

Then the replies started coming in. “Love the story. Can’t market it.” “Beautifully written but where do we shelve it?” “Love the story. Can we make the heroine 22?” Did they not know how hot steampunk is right now? Don’t they get it? Crestfallen, I retreated back into my office and the Lady resigned herself to netting me a degree instead of a publishing contract. Until we both had an idea.

Self publishing.

After all, I’m a maker and she is a creature of intellect and resources. I contacted Amanda Hocking’s cover artist, who gave me a stunning cover that was exactly right for the book. I hired a designer to do the lettering, as well as to create the back cover for the print edition, published through CreateSpace (amazon’s POD arm). I formatted the book myself, edited it myself (it’s what I do in the day job) and posted it … et voila, Lady of Devices is available in print and digital form, at your service on amazon.com.  

My agent is very supportive—after all, she reads the blogs and knows what’s going on in the world of self publishing. And the response from readers? Let’s just say the book has been selling five copies a day since I put it up, which for a newbie at this, is pretty good. It debuted at #39 on the historical fantasy bestseller list—two below The Mists of Avalon and one above Naomi Novik’s latest! And that was with no marketing at all other than an announcement on my Facebook page. I plan to do just what I do for my print books—let people know via my newsletter and Facebook, hand out bookmarks, and then let the writing appeal to readers who enjoy it and might want to talk about it with their friends.

Makers. When all else fails, we do it ourselves.

~Shelley Adina


Thanks Shelley for sharing with us.  We all know what a hot topic self publishing is.

What’s your take on self publishing? 

Shelley will be giving away one paper copy of Lady of Devices to one lucky commenter.  North American only please.  Contest ends June 15, 2011 at 11:59 PM PST.

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