Charles Darwin Considers Dragons

I am happy to offer the electronic version of my latest book, Mr. Darwin’s Dragon, at 50% off ($1.75) during Smashwords‘ July Summer/Winter promotion until the end of July.

This book is the latest Airship Flamel Adventure featuring Professor Nicodemus Flamel, the main character in this series.

Charles Darwin, one of Britain’s most famous and certainly most controversial scientists has a puzzle. How could it be that cultures all over the world–who had no prior contact with each other–have ancient myths of dragons? Could dragons have once lived alongside ancient man? Could dragons still exist?

Professor Nicodemus Boffin and his newly launched airship Flamel takes up the famous naturalist’s request to search for evidence of modern dragons. The voyage takes Flamel from Britain through the Middle East and over the Himalayas to China. The search is barely begun when Flamel discovers an illicit gold mine run by Cai Yuan, a cruel Chinese warlord, and his corrupt British collaborator. Professor Boffin and his family are taken hostage in the mine which seems to be guarded by a fierce dragon. The crew of Flamel must rescue them, and together discover whether Mr. Darwin’s dragon truly exists.

Enjoy!

What Steampunk means to me

I’m not interested in trying to define steampunk. Any number of articles and blog posts have been written on the general topic of “What is Steampunk?”  While there’s a certain usefulness in that endeavour (Steampunk isn’t “anything you want”.), I’m happy to believe that steampunk can encompass, or at least cast its brass begoggled gaze over, an astonishingly broad swath of our sci-fi/fantasy microcosm.

Also,  who am I to tell my fellow foot soldiers in Her Majesty’s Legions that their magic-infused automatons are any more or less valid than my British professor travelling the world on a Voyage of Discovery in his plasma-powered airship?

I would, however, like to describe what Steampunk has come to mean to me—my own personal, subjective opinion.

I’ve been interested in Victorian design for some time. I live in a 1880s Victorian house. I also have a deep fascination with Victorian Era technology, which is simple and visible enough to understand its function— the clicks of a telegraph key or the swoosh of a steam piston—yet powerful enough to build an Empire. Industrial Revolution practicality combined with completely superfluous decoration embody the two precepts of William Morris’s adage, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

1280px-The_Octagon,_Crossness_Pumping_Station

There’s no functional need for a sewage pumping station to be so ornately decorated, but why not? Crossness Pumping Station, downriver from London. Source: Steve Cadman, flickr.com

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about this thing called steampunk.  It was likely sometime between a visit to Maker Faire and seeing my neighbors preparing for Burning Man. At Maker Faire I saw the League of S.T.E.A.M., a performance group of steampunk ghostbusters,  as well as the group Obtainium Works, then known mostly for the Neverwas Haul, a self-propelled Victorian house.

Seeing these groups and their fantastic self-made outfits and props was truly inspiring, especially considering my science background and interest in the history of the Victorian Era.  Who knew that there were others with the same combination of interests as me? And that they could build a functioning (well, mostly functioning) zombie immobilization engine?

Maker Faire became an annual event for our family, and we met many more amazing Steampunks wandering around the Faire.  My sons wanted to make their own steampunk outfits one year and were searching for accessories to combine with pieces borrowed from the neighbors’ costuming box. I modded a neon-colored water pistol from the dollar store into a reasonably respectable plasma pistol for one of them to carry around.  It was my gateway project that urged me further down the rabbit hole that is Steampunk. (My next pistol was built around a small plasma globe that I first saw as part of a steampunked electric guitar.)

before

Water pistol before…

after

Modded water pistol

Maker Faire (RIP) led to Nova Albion (RIP) which led to Clockwork Alchemy, the Bay Area’s steampunk con, and the Dickens’ Fair, a celebration of Dickensian Christmas which also attracts many steampunk fellow travelers.

pistol_on

“McCaig’s Folly” A plasma pistol based on a plasma ball.

So, what does steampunk mean to me? Steampunk is joyful and collaborative.  It is the opposite of cynical and sarcastic.  But witty though, it’s definitely witty.  Steampunk is good-natured and and good-humoured.  (Yes, I added a British “u” there, because it’s fun!  Brits, you can omit your superfluous “u” if you want to explore Wild Weird West-style Steampunk.)

I delight in the Steampunk Aesthetic, in all its brass cogs, steam engines, airships, top hats and corsets. Self-made props and gadgets, some of which truly rise to the level of Art, astound me with their cleverness and sense of humor. Just as important is the generosity and sense of camaraderie amongst steampunks. I have found us to be always quick to help out with friendly and helpful advice on techniques and resources for the often arcane materials we might need to get that appearance just right. This sense of fellowship continues for my author comrades, the Treehouse Writers, at Clockwork Alchemy.  They helped me get started writing with encouragement and suggestions when all I had was a first chapter, and misty visions. Now, three books and several short stories later, I know I can always rely upon them for advice and support.

And just last week, upon the cancellation of Clockwork Alchemy 2020 because of the pandemic, the volunteer organizers mounted a replacement concert, completely on-line with the artists that were to attend the con streaming their performances from bedrooms and basements to fellow steampunks around the world.

I have no doubt that the Steampunk Spirit will prevail and I’ll be attending Clockwork Alchemy again next March.

Be Splendid.

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Darwin’s Dragon — Now available!

190218_Dragon bookmark art

I am very pleased to announce that my latest novel in the Airship Flamel Adventures Series, Mr. Darwin’s Dragon, is now available on Amazon for paperback and Kindle formats and on Smashwords for most other ebook formats.  Here’s the synopsis:

Charles Darwin, one of Britain’s most famous and certainly most controversial scientists has a puzzle. How is it that cultures all over the world have ancient myths of dragons? Could dragons have once lived alongside ancient man? Could dragons still exist?

Professor Nicodemus Boffin and his newly launched airship Flamel takes up Darwin’s request to search for evidence of modern dragons. The voyage takes Flamel from Britain through the Middle East and over the Himalayas to China. The search is barely begun when Flamel discovers an illicit gold mine run by Cai Yuan, a cruel Chinese warlord, and his corrupt British collaborator. Professor Boffin and his family are taken hostage in the mine which seems to be guarded by a fierce dragon. The crew of Flamel must rescue them, and together discover whether Mr. Darwin’s dragon truly exists.

The book will be launched next weekend at Clockwork Alchemy, the San Francisco Bay Area’s steampunk con.  But that’s not all.  I also have written one of the eleven short stories published in an anthology titled, Next Stop on the #13, put together with many of the talented authors that you’ll be able to  meet at Clockwork Alchemy.

next_stop_on_13_front_cover

If you’re interested in Steampunk and in the Bay Area next weekend (March 22-24), I wholeheartedly recommend you attend and take part in the shenanigans.  I’ll be in the Author’s Alley section of the Artist’s Bazaar.  Come by and say Hi!

Also, come by and see me at the two panels I’ll be presenting.  On Saturday at 2:00 pm, I’ll be giving a talk on Steampunk Architecture, and on Sunday at noon, I will be presenting “How to Research” along with the master of alternative history, Harry Turtledove.  (I expect to learn more from him than I teach myself.)

 

A preview, of sorts

As I was writing this afternoon, I discovered that this paragraph had appeared on my computer screen:

“And what about me, Nicodemus?” asked Jane.  “This is the second time in this book series that I’ve been locked in a dungeon!”

I didn’t mean for Jane Boffin (née Faraday) to suddenly become so meta, but there it was.  I’ll go back tomorrow, repair the broken fourth wall, and rework the scene, toning down Jane’s impertinence just a bit. (She is imprisoned in a dungeon after all.)

This book (the third I’ve written in the Airship Flamel Adventures series) has been listed on my NaNoWriMo page as having the working title of “There Be Dragons Here”.  Although that phrase is encountered in the novel, the story has evolved away from the pirate-y connotation that phase implies. I’m still deciding on a final title.  There will be dragons though.

Stay tuned.

Happy Birthday, Michael Faraday

Today, Sept. 22, is the great British scientist Michael Faraday’s 226th birthday.

Faraday’s contribution to science are many, and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that before Faraday, electricity was batteries, and afterward, it was Edison and Tesla and all the motors, transformers, and generators they unleashed upon the world.

Faraday’s relationship to science can be summed up in two images:  First, Faraday at work at the lab bench in the basement of the Royal Institution, and second, Faraday presiding over a Christmas Lecture–specifically designed for the layman, and for children in particular.

M_Faraday_Lab_H_Moore

 

Faraday_Michael_Christmas_lecture

Professionally, I work in a field that is the direct descendant of Faraday–electrochemistry–so Faraday has always been a bit of a hero for me.  For more information of Faraday’s life and contributions, see here.  I’ve even written Professor Faraday into one of my novels as a major character, “The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday“.

On-line Resources for Writers

On-line resources

This page is based on a talk I gave at the 2018 Clockwork Alchemy con entitled “On-Line Research for Steampunk Novels”. During the course of writing my novels, I’ve discovered a number of great on-line resources that I found extremely useful in researching the Victorian Era, its technology, society and history, and of course, its cockeyed offspring Steampunk.

This list should be helpful for writers of both historical fiction and fictional history as we all want to get the details right–except when we don’t. Because my steampunk novels revolve around Victorian Britain, this list is starting off biased in that direction–but there are plenty of other ways to write steampunk.

I’ll keep the link to this list at the top of the front page of the blog and I invite you to leave your favorite on-line resource in the comments, and I’ll add it to the list (with appropriate credit, of course!).

Starting with Steampunk — Wally Smith

This first poem for the NaPoWriMo month of April ought to have been posted some hours ago, shortly after going to the Easter Sunday church service and lunch at a local hostelry. However, that is when we met a couple of steampunk enthusiasts, dressed flamboyantly in a mix of retro styles relating in the main […]

via Starting with Steampunk — Wally Smith