Monday, 15 July 2013

Guest post: Go West, Young Crankshaft...

GO WEST, YOUNG CRANKSHAFT: LEAVING FOGGY STEAMPUNK LONDON FOR THE HAZY MARINE LAYERS OF STEAMPUNK CALIFORNIA

Hello, readers of Zoe’s Corner.  My name is Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. and I have written a steampunk adventure novel called Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders which released from 47North on July 2nd, 2013.  City of the Founders is the first installment in the post-apocalyptic Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin book series, to be followed by book 2: Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War on November 19th, 2013.  The Romulus Buckle series is set over 300 years in the future and follows a war zeppelin captain and his crew as they mount expeditions across the icebound surface of the earth in an area once known as Southern California.  A race of zebra-striped alien beings (known as ‘Martians’ though they came from some unknown place much further away than that) have invaded and nearly annihilated Earth, and have left behind a handful of rebel descendants and a menagerie of alien monsters known collectively as ‘beasties.’ The aliens also suppressed all electrical power and cast the world into a new ice age, so humans now rely on steam power and fantastic steam-driven machines, and have modeled their new civilization on their fragmentary memories on the old Victorian age (there are reasons for this, to be explained as the series progresses).

[Read an extract of Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders and enter the giveaway at 'this link']

I’d like to take a moment and thank Zoe for having me here to guest on her blog and also running a signed book giveaway (just make a comment on this post, or the giveaway/extract post to enter) as part of the book promotion.  I appeared here before to do an author interview (link here) on February 12th and Zoe has always been enthusiastic, kind and professional.  I have had a great experience with her and the other online book bloggers I have met and they should be proud of their contribution (and hard work) to make the internet such an informative and vibrant place for new novels, authors, and book discussions to thrive and find an audience.  I’d like to thank everyone in the UK as well, for Romulus Buckle has held the #1 spot in the Amazon UK Kindle Store science-fiction/steampunk category for nearly a week now.

So, back to the story of Romulus Buckle—I wanted to write the tale of the crew of a ship at war, an epic,
fun adventure series in the tradition of The Adventures of Robin Hood, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Indiana Jones with a lot of Hornblower, Patrick O’Brian and King Solomon’s Mines thrown in.  And I wanted strong female characters.  And I wanted aliens.  I cast about for my environment, originally looking at scenarios involving a WW2 submarine, an 18th Century warship and a space vessel.  Nothing worked for me there.  A friend introduced me to steampunk and I immediately knew that I had found the perfect place to weave the tale of Romulus Buckle and his erstwhile airship and crew.  I love history and one of my favorite topics is the British Empire.  Steampunk—with its wide-open subgenre playing field—allowed me to adjust its source geography and add sci-fi and post-apocalyptic elements so it was the right fit.  Instead of a stage for a space opera I had a stage for my steampunk opera.

The definition of steampunk is a difficult thing to corral, but generally speaking it follows something like this: steampunk , a subgenre of science fiction, tends to involve stories set in Victorian/Edwardian England or its empire where steam power and fantastic machines have become the norm.  Steampunk tends to address themes which reflect the highly exciting period of change in the era of British industrialization and high empire: man vs. machine; industry vs. agriculture; Darwinism vs. religion; wealth vs. extreme poverty; sexual repression vs. open sexuality; female repression vs. female suffrage; colonialism vs. exploration and on and on.

So why did I leave England and choose southern California as my setting for Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders?  There were a lot of reasons.  I knew from the very beginning that I would set the series in the Los Angeles area (at least for starters—later novels in the series branch out much further afield) because it just felt right.  I know Los Angeles its surrounds pretty well since I live here, so it was easy to visit the landscapes and landmarks which appear in the books.  I am a huge anglophile, having backpacked around England, Scotland and Wales (and later Ireland) but as much as I originally felt the urge to plant my series in the rich soil of 19th Century London and/or its sprawling realm, it just felt like it would not fit my ideas for the series.  I wanted a fresh canvas to world build on and the palm trees of Sunset Boulevard seemed to offer new and exciting possibilities.  The geography of southern California also contains a great set of closely-packed, different landscapes such as high desert, low desert, ocean shoreline and mountain ranges, so my different clans could live in relatively close proximity but in vastly different terrain and even climates.

But I mainly wanted to world-build a unique culture, one in which humanity’s survivors have largely lost the details of their history and have rebuilt their society on the faulty memories of a time long past, far away from even the locale where that history in reality occurred.  The British and largely Western European (although Russian and a mix of Mexican/Spanish/American Hispanic also loom large) veneer of this rebuilt human world in what was once known as the southwestern United Sates is the result of a highly planned, highly regimented new civilization built as a response to the near extinction of the human race and the following ice age with its catastrophic societal breakdown.  The actual history and process of this transformation and rebuilding will be revealed as the series advances, but I this as much of an explanation as I want to give at this point, and certainly more than I have revealed so far.  And although the stories begin as a kind of Saturday afternoon matinee rousing adventures, after Book 2 the series rapidly turns darker and plunges deeper into many of the more serious Victorian-era themes listed above, although it will never lose its high-action and thirst-for-adventure character.  

Southern California also offered so wonderful elements which are interwoven into my story: the gorgeous art-deco Griffith Observatory now serves as the stronghold of the Alchemist clan, who still maintain the Hollywood sign as a territory marker.  The City of the Founders with its citadel and Crystal Palace (that sounds familiar, I bet) sits on top of the famous La Brea Tar Pits, which provide all kinds of resources and icons that I am sure you can guess at.  The wreck of the RMS Queen Mary luxury liner provides the home for another clan which has yet to appear in the books.  And, believe it or not, it all fits—for me, at least.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that I think that my steampunk series does not leave traditional Victorian Britain behind or escape the mighty themes it confronts: Romulus Buckle simply transplants the whole boiling witch’s cauldron into a brave new world.  

Don't forget to enter the giveaway and read an extract of book one (here).
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Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. is a science fiction writer who loves the zeitgeist of steampunk. Although he grew up in both the United States and Canada he prefers to think of himself as British. He attended the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where he earned an Honors B.A. in English with a Minor in Anthropology.  He has lived on Prince Edward Island, excavated a 400 year old Huron Indian skeleton and attended a sperm whale autopsy. Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders is the first installment in his new steampunk series, The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin. Richard has also written for film and television. He currently resides in California.

Social Media
Richardellisprestonjr.com (Web)
@RichardEPreston (Twitter – I use this a lot)
Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. on Facebook (Business page, not as a Person)

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