Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Iron Sky: Dread Eagle Blog Tour - Alex Woolf Talks Research!

The year is 1845. Since Napoleon's famous victory at Waterloo, France and Britain have been locked in a long and bloody war for global supremacy. This breathtaking steampunk adventure introduces an alternative 19th century of giant airships soaring through the skies above the English Channel, fantastical, steam-powered automata, aerial steam carriages, floating cities, giant mechanical birds and a new kind of secret agent. Enter the world of Iron Sky... In this version of reality, an ageing Napoleon is threatening a full-scale invasion of Britain. Opposing him is Sir George Jarrett, head of the Imperial British Secret Service, helped by an all-female team of aerial spies known as the Sky Sisters. The youngest of them is Lady Arabella West. As war clouds loom, airships start to disappear, and rumours spread of a mysterious terror in the skies. Arabella, with the help of her automaton sidekick, Miles, sets out to investigate.

Iron Sky: Dread Eagle is the first book in a new steampunk series written by Alex Woolf and published by Scribo. It sounds brilliant and I'm looking forward to reading it soon - just look at that cover!

Thanks to Alex for writing the following post for me!


DREAD EAGLE research
by Alex Woolf

I was new to steampunk when I was asked to write Iron Sky: Dread Eagle. I was vaguely aware of this strange and slightly sinister subgenre of books featuring zany technology in a Victorian setting, but I hadn’t yet dared venture into it. This could have been an advantage in some ways, giving me a fresh perspective. On the other hand, I was deeply conscious that I was a novice plunging blindly into a world with strong, well-established traditions. Steampunk has only been around for about thirty years, yet it’s penetrated so much of our culture, from books and graphic novels to films and fashion.
As I took my first tottering steps into this dusty, smoky, brass-and-leather world of airships and clockwork automata, I was intimidated by its size and density. It appeared to me like a vast workshop, populated by a bunch of highly imaginative and slightly crazy writers. They had been busy in there for a long time, playing with the tools and machinery they found scattered about the place, and had produced some amazing stuff! I wondered what could I possibly contribute, and kept worrying about tripping over and making a fool of myself.
But the more I read, the more I realised how open and welcoming steampunk is to new people, new ideas and new stories. It’s a collective process of the imagination, this steampunk world we’re building. It’s chaotic and contradictory and that’s part of the fun. There is no ‘cannon’ as you often find in other types of SF, like Star Trek or Dr Who. There’s no ‘geek police’ telling you you can’t do this or that. If you knock on the door of the steampunk workshop, they never fail to welcome you in and invite you to come and have a play with the toys.
And what toys! Floating cities; robotic animals; rocket packs; clockwork computers – all beautifully handcrafted in ornamental Victorian style. Since entering the workshop, I confess that I have become completely addicted. I adore the look of the machines, and the endless possibilities of this genre.
What research did I do? Most of my research tended to be historical, rather than steampunk-related. Dread Eagle is set in an alternative 1845. Thirty years earlier, Napoleon unexpectedly won the Battle of Waterloo, and since then Britain and France have been slugging it out for global supremacy. As a result of all this war, technology has boomed and they’ve reached about 1920 or so in terms of technological development – except that engines are steam- rather than petrol-driven, and instead of radio waves they’ve discovered this mysterious, invisible fluid called the aether, which allows them long-distance communication.
To create this world, I needed to research the political and social history of the mid-19th century, and then graft my high-tech, highly militarised world onto that. I looked at Victorian experiments in automata and steam power to try and find a realistic look for my machines, and I looked at World War I fighter aircraft and 1920s airships to get a fix on what such machines might have looked like had the Victorians built them. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of genteel Victorian manners with all this military hardware. My heroine, Lady Arabella West, is an aviatrix who wears petticoats and corsets when off-duty, and a leather flying jacket and baggy trousers when flying in her aerial steam carriage. I love that!
The historical research was enjoyable, but honestly the best fun I had was when I could put down my history books and get back to the steampunk workshop to play. Among the steampunk books I read were William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s classic The Difference Engine, Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines, George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge, Sharon Gosling’s The Diamond Thief and Nick Cook’s Cloud Riders. I also read Sean Wallace’s Mammoth Book of Steampunk and The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer. I loved all these books and what I learned from them is that steampunk is endlessly reinventable (is that even a word?). It’s not about following rules, but about following your imagination wherever it takes you. Giant mechanical eagle – no problem! Just make sure it’s powered by steam!


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