The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday — Now Available!

I am happy to announce that my second book, The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday, is now available!

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This novel is the second I’ve written in the Airship Flamel Adventures series, but is actually a prequel of my first novel, To Rule the SkiesWhen I wrote that book, I came to the realization that I was starting in the middle of Professor Nicodemus Boffin’s story.  This new book tells some of his history.  Here’s the synopsis:

Nicodemus Boffin rose from a boyhood in the ash heaps of East London to reach the pinnacles of British science when he is mentored by the great scientist, Michael Faraday. When Boffin finds a secret laboratory notebook in which Faraday has described incomprehensible experiments, Nicodemus wonders if Professor Faraday has discovered a new science, or has lost his faculties. Nicodemus’s rival, Viscount Whitehall-Barnes, seeks to gain the notebook by any means necessary to study the descriptions of a strange orange mineral with unusual properties which he believes is the alchemists’ Philosopher’s Stone. Realizing that the Viscount must never learn the secrets of the orange stone, Nicodemus takes action to keep the knowledge hidden, protect his family, and preserve the legacy of his mentor.

Besides telling the story of how Nicodemus Boffin grows from a poor but uncommonly clever boy in the slums of London to the forefront of Victorian British science, the novel features pompous aristocracy, a surprisingly capable laboratory assistant, and snarky air pirates.  Several Illustrious Personages may wander through the story as well.

The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday is available in paperback and Kindle format at Amazon, and in many other ebook formats at Smashwords.

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The Shipwreck in a Corn Field

From the always entertaining and informative website, Atlas Obscura (if you’re not already reading it, you really should be…) comes the story of a sunken steamship that was discovered in the middle of a corn field in Missouri.  How the steamboat Great White Arabia ended up in the corn field is only half the story (the Missouri River shifted course, leaving it on, or rather under, dry land).

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Some of the crockery excavated from the hold of the Arabia (Photo by Wikimedia user Johnmaxmena2).

The amazing part of the story is the amount and variety of immaculately preserved cargo found on board.  The Arabia was on its way upriver loaded with all the sundry items required for life on what must have been not too far from the American western frontier when it sank in 1856. Because the ship and its cargo has spent most of the time since underground and not underwater, they have been amazingly preserved.

The team that discovered and excavated the steamboat have opened the Arabia Steamboat Museum to display some of the 200 tons of cargo excavated before the field had to be replanted with corn. If I’m ever in that part of the country, I think it would be an extraordinarily interesting museum to explore.

Steampunk Currency

I’ve always admired countries that put figures other than national political leaders on their currency.  The UK £20 note featured the great scientist Michael Faraday for a while in the 1990s and in pre-Euro days, Galileo was on the Italian 2000 lire note. Apparently Jane Austen is scheduled to appear on a UK £10 note next year.  The closest that the US has gotten is Benjamin Franklin on our $100 bill.  While Dr. Franklin was a noted scientist of his day, he is featured on US currency because he was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

It was not always so, however. Continue reading

Colorful Death

I ran across this graphic which describes the origins (and typical toxicity) of many materials that have been used across the centuries as dyes and pigments.  (What’s the difference between a dye and a pigment, you say?  Simply put, a dye imparts color to a substrate (cloth, hair, etc.) while a pigment consists of particles which are mixed into a carrier and coated onto a substrate (think paint.))

In any case, it’s an interesting stroll through arsenic-laced wallpaper, heavy metals, and ground-up mummies, leading to purple mauveine, the first synthetic dye, whose discovery by Joseph Perkin in 1856 started organic chemical synthesis–which itself leads to the modern pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

I hadn’t heard of the web comic before–Veritable Hokum–but it describes itself as “a comic about mostly history, maybe science, and possibly some other stuff too.”–so right up my alley.  I foresee binge reading of its archives in my near future.

The Harrison Clocks

A recent post on the Two Nerdy History Girls blog prompted me to remember the wonderful book “Longitude” by Dava Sobel chronicling the history of John Harrison and his lifelong pursuit to develop an accurate chronometer.

In 1714, the Royal Navy had a problem.  Although it was a rather simple procedure to determine the latitude of a ship at sea (by sighting angle of the the sun at noon or Polaris, the North Star, at night), it was exceedingly difficult to determine a ship’s longitude.  After several maritime disasters resulting from faulty navigation, Parliament passed the Longitude Act which offered monetary rewards for methods to determine longitude at sea.

Continue reading

Fantastic Devices to Improve your Steampunk Reality: The Difference Engine

This post ponders a topic that I consider when writing Steampunk/Alternate History: How much real (vs. fantastical) science and technology to include in your writing.

Airships, Automatons, and Aliens...Oh My!

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Airships. Steam powered trains. Carriages drawn by mechanical horses, or self-propelled. When most people think of steampunk, these types of images frequently come to mind. Often these images are accompanied by automatons running amok, strange contraptions that bare little, if any resemblance to devices that currently exist, filled with cogs, gears and springs.

When it comes to the technology of a steam punk reality, the expectation seems to be big and impressive. But perhaps in a reality where the steam engine never gave way to the modern internal combustion engine, there is still a chance of a similar technological revolution. Perhaps in a world of steampunk, the world would be forever changed by a single device. A device that could take complex data and simplify it, translating it into information that the common man could use. We have the computer; our steampunk counterparts might have The Difference Engine.

For one…

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Goldsworthy Gurney–Gentleman Scientist

Goldsworthy_Gurney_-_PD-OLDSir Goldsworthy Gurney is a prime example of that most Victorian of species: the gentleman scientist.  A man of independent means who did not actually need to work to earn his living, and who possessed a scientific mind could make a fair contribution to inventing the 19th century. Such a man was Gurney.

He invented the limelight–a lamp which glowed when heated with an oxygen/hydrogen flame and used to enduring fame in lighting actors on stage.

In the 1820s he invented a steam carriage and proved that it could travel long distances even over the rough roads of the day.

In 1856, he patented an improved heater, called the Gurney Stove, some of which are still in use to this day!

Here’s a link to an article on the BBC website about this interesting and not-very-well-known man.