The Space Cantina – Dreaming in aether

My first introduction to “steampunk” is hazy. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was my first exposure to the forerunners of the genre, but it wasn’t literature that first got me into it. I’ve been attending Dragon*Con for almost a decade now and it was the culture of steampunk that influenced me. The people all dressed up in brass and steam vented tech hooked me deep and I never resisted the line. That was a horrible metaphor, I should really apologize for that but I won’t. See? Punkness.

My creative outlet for anything steampunky was roleplaying at first. I played Changeling: The Dreaming and Mage: The Ascension by White Wolf Studios. If you know anything about those old games you might understand what I mean by that. I’d invent my head off with a Son of Ether or create some awesome gear-operated armor for my Nocker. Even WoW had the Gnomes. I love me some gnomey goodness. FOR GNOMEREGON!

In 2009 I participated in NaNoWriMo and it was a fantastic experience. 50,000 words in one month was a challenge but it wasn’t nearly the impossible climb people told me it’d be. I just wrote everyday. That was it. I wrote about a victorian-esque world where mages were hunted down by religious zealots called Paladins and had to fight off these horrid creatures I called…. horrors. Okay, not my most brilliant name, but it didn’t matter. When I finished writing that, people read bits of it and told me “I love steampunk!” But… I didn’t set out to write a steampunk novel. Actually what I felt I’d created was “MagicPunk.”

That book died an early death just after NaNo. I just didn’t have the outline solid enough to keep it going. One of my two main characters got stabbed in the face right in the middle of the story, so that didn’t help either. It went into the drawer and I wrote a bunch of science fiction stories for a while. Still, my fascination with victorianesque worlds and magic continued to brew, bubble and boil. Several months ago I dug out my notebooks (I have a marble black/white notebook for every story I write) and read the notes for my novel from graduate school. This novel (my thesis) involved the conventional fantasy trope of a young group of heroes trying to fight off a great evil. I LOVE this story trope, and I will never grow tired of reading its many variations. But that story, much like the NaNo novel, died an early death as well. In reading my notes, I grew misty-eyed and nostalgic.

I also slapped it ontop of my NaNo notebook.

MagicPunk lives. It wasn’t what I ultimately did with the story, but a great deal of ideas came together when I looked at them together. I stole elements from both and even stole the seed of a novel concept I’d been keeping for a rainy day and threw that in. In stewed like … well, stew, in a crockpot, and came out smelling and tasting not at all like crap. I then set to work on massaging out overused tropes, cliches and adding conflicts, characters and seeds for the story’s future. What came out of it was something I’m tentatively calling my “Aether Dreams” cycle.

It’s steampunk, edging on dieselpunk with a heavy feel of World War I tech to it. Added to this world is Aether, a mysterious substance that is both a powerful fuel and a heretical substance. Those who chose to study and manipulate aether go mad, grow sick or kill themselves with their experiments… except for those who learned to control it, and those who did are capable of fascinating technology. Unfortunately their research was cut short by the untimely demise of their king, the overthrow of their kingdom and subsequent subjugation by a technocratic, heavily religious Empire.

I’m not going to go into much more detail about any plot elements yet but this world really got me thinking and writing. I love it and with the story I’m plotting, I hope some readers do too. Some of you know that I’m fascinated by military history and there is plenty of that influence in my story. I’m not talking about cold, detailed battles where I describe who ordered who, who shot who with which volley… no. I write about characters and about the conflicts that hit close to their hearts.

I know this wasn’t a fiction post and more about my writing ideas, but I’m glad you stuck with me so far. Next week I should be getting the first bits of 36 Hours up. Yay, more fiction!

/Hackett Out.

The Space Cantina – A reflection on Icarus, a brief interlude and a steampunked 36 Hours

So Icarus has come to an end. The story was much longer in execution than I’d originally thought it would be. This wasn’t a “story that grew in the telling” exactly. It was the author still feeling his way through this new media, trying to figure out a formula for posting 3 times a week in short, but whole chunks. After a time I ended up with a 3-post arc for each week. They are hard to see but I knew I wanted to accomplish 1 thing each week and split it into a rising action, climax and aftermath, or variations thereof. I also wanted to weave two complete stories into one, though I doubt it was obvious.

This is not me claiming that I’m some super genius and no one can possibly understand the webs I weave. Please. I can hardly understand what I think up. I wanted to tell a story where you are left with your own interpretations of events, but also a pretty clear understanding of what was going to happen in the future based on those interpretations. I’ve foreshadowed quite a bit but this form, posting 3 times a week over a great period of time, does not allow a reader the luxury of absorbing it all at once. You read the foreshadowed event 5 weeks ago, only to have the event come to fruition when you’ve already forgotten it.

Small problem. I will have to think on how to avoid this in the future.

Anyway, I’m rambling. For those who read this story, I’d love to hear what you thought of it and what you imagine would happen in the future of this world. What did you get out of it? Did you like the format? Did you even like the story? If not, really, that’s okay. I’ve got plenty of strange tales yet to tell.

In other news, I just wanted to let you all know that I’m going to be taking a week off. My brother, sister-in-law and my two young nephews are visiting and I rarely see them. We live states upon states apart. I plan to come back with a re-telling of my “36 Hours” story, this time set in my own steampunked Civil War. The premise of this being an age-old theory of what might happen had Lee won Gettysburg. Historically, Lee was to march on Washington and sue for peace and recognition from the Union. Well in 36 Hours, that didn’t go so well. Washington is now in Confederate hands and Baltimore is besieged.

Here’s a little work-in-progress for its “pitch.”

When Thomas Adkin signed up to go to war, he never imagined the horrors awaiting him.

The Confederate Army has captured Washington and have pushed further into Maryland, desperate to capture the port of Baltimore. It is here that the remnants of the Army of the Potomac makes its last stand below the Dixie Line. Below the battered walls of the city lay miles of blood-soaked trenches where Thomas and his four closest friends must withstand unfathomable barrages by enemy artillery, unceasing advances made by an enemy resupplied by England and the slow, unending toll of death and shell shock. Confederate President Jefferson Davis has sued for peace, and while the Union government deliberates over the next 36 Hours, they will stop at nothing to capture this last city and push the negotiations evermore in the South’s favor.

36 Hours is a steampunk alternate history novella inspired by the works of Erich Maria Remarque’s gut-wrenching novel “All Quiet on the Western Front.” It examines the question of friendship and loyalty during a time of utter madness and certain death. Its author is a long time history buff that is both fascinated and horrified by what mankind has done to itself over the last two hundred years.