Archive for August, 2008

What the Hell is Steampunk?

August 29, 2008

I suppose many urban denizens might wonder what wilderness I come from that I never came across the word and the genre before today. Probably the suffix punk was enough for me to close my mind to it. Anyway, thanks to John Lawson, author of Witch Ember and Raven for sending a link to an interview about his writing and for commenting that some readers place his books in that genre.

Really? I reviewed Witch Ember (somewhat late, John, sorry but it’s in the queue to be posted) and except for one episode where the protagonist traveled on a steamer, or maybe steam/sail hybrid, I saw not one overt Victorian influence and no other steam. Mercifully, no pseudo Sherlock Holmes werewolves either. Since all my novels have some aspect of steam culture, maybe they’re in the genre, too.

I don’t know about the others’ – authors and fans – claim to steam fascination but I’ve had more contact than just watching steam trains go by. I ran steam plant – nearly melted the superheater tubes of a 600psi steam generator once trying to bring it on line too quickly. Ever see the effect of white hot steam? Another plant had a big turbine pushing an out of balance compressor that one had to start by bypassing all the safety shut-downs and pouring the steam to it fast enough, by hand, that it accelerated through the worst vibrations before it shook itself apart.

Then there was the night I was just a bit too good at starting a balky steam turbine pump. We were bringing up a refinery plant from cold and it was time to direct the butanes into tower 4. For some reason the pump wouldn’t take suction. Somehow I teased it into pumping and the instant howling noises and thumping from all the vessels and pipework sounded as if the place was about to blow up. The whole unit rocked as if everything was going to fall down. Clearly some valve downstream had been left closed.

Since we’d checked the lines it had to be one that was hard to find and almost never touched. Bill went one way and I went the other. In the section with the lye treat vessels the safeties were releasing and closing in quick succession – clouds of horrible vapours of lye and butanes billowed around and the platforms and vessels rocked to the whooping of the released fluids, but I had to plunge into it to look for the damned valve.

Eventually we found it, outside, ten feet above our heads near the base of tower 4. We climbed onto the piperack, slapped a pipewrench on it, and a length of pipe for leverage, and heaved. As if by magic the chaos ceased and calm descended. Bill went back inside to check for damage while I rushed into the control room to see what more upsets it had caused. I don’t have any scenes like that in my novels, but my characters speak with that kind of experience behind them.

In my Iskander series, the small group of moderns introduce steam and mass produced steel into a 17th century society. They need to recruit the indigenous people into their operations and I model the reactions of these people to technology far beyond their experience on the desert Arabs we had working for us when I surveyed on an oil exploration crew in the Libyan Desert. We had guys that had seen a truck or an airplane but only from a distance, and didn’t even know how to open a vehicle door to let themselves out – or to fasten a seatbelt for takeoff. The action in Deadly Enterprise and The Wildcat’s Victory often revolves about the differences between a culture the age of Charles II and Louis XIV and the modern mindset of my protagonists.

In my fantasy, Rast, I satirize the hubris of the mechanistic Offrangs who believe their steam powered galleys and land transporters make them superior to the Riders of Rast and their sorcerer king. Do these aspects make my novels steampunk? I don’t really think so, but if I could get an already formed fan group to take a look I’m willing to craft a story around the features they clearly find fascinating.


Blog swallowed by Black Hole

August 24, 2008

I really should return to updating this blog more often – trouble is I haven’t thought or done anything lately that I thought people would be interested in. (Hence the entry prior to this about modifying a fence – really galvanizing revelations.)

Since this blog is primarily about the second of my two Iskander series releases, The Wildcat’s Victory, I should be writing something about it. However, a more current event is the run-up to the release of Arrival – the next story in the series (actually the prequel). I still don’t have any solid release date, other than September, so I can’t even tempt you with a countdown. Arrival is on the way and I’ve started a website for it on Freewebs: (you’ll need to cut and paste the link as it doesn’t want to go live for me.) The site has an excerpt (from Chapter 2) as well as links to Deadly Enterprise and The Wildcat’s Victory.

As for my main website:  it’s still not updated to Spring and so I will have to buttonhole my webmaster (when he next surfaces) and plan another new suite of changes. The lack of updating for this site is the reason I started the Freewebs site. I can get at that one to make my own changes.

I have yet to decide on the promotion activities I plan for Arrival. I think I want to try something new again (will find out what works one day) but keep my bonus rate for my next Virtual Book Tour in reserve for my fantasy novel release in January. That will be Rast, from Zumaya Publications. I’ve already booked my attendance at World Fantasy 2008 at Calgary at the end of October, beginning of November, to look for advance promotion opportunities for it.

I did post a new satire to Blogcritics: in response to concern expressed in some circles that the new CERN Fast Hadron Collider will create mini black holes that could (in principle) grow to swallow the entire Earth. Not to worry, the CERN people say – we know what we’re doing. The theory says any black hole created will immediately evaporate – except that the high energy collider is built to test those theories. So, if you find yourself being swallowed by a monster wall of impenetrable blackness sometime in the next – 50 hrs to 50 million years (the various interpretations say) – you’ll know what the cause is.

Knowledge is power, they say. If you don’t wind up in the black hole before Arrival is released, come over to one of my sites and check it out.

Dog Days of Summer?

August 1, 2008

I really must get down to writing a blog entry for this week.

I have an excuse for not writing at all this past few days – actually several excuses. I had to build an ecologically friendly fence . . . what’s that, you say? It’s like this . . .

(Aside; don’t you love those ellipses?) I built a fence running from the front of the garage to the upwind property line many years ago. While I was working and had my big ugly survey pickup available it didn’t matter that the fence slowed down the wind (and we have hurricane force chinooks) and caused snowdrifts to form right where I had to change direction from the concrete slab to the gravel driveway – because I just put the BUSP into 4WD and mowed the drift down by driving on it. Then, my more citified SUV (only a half-assed 4X4 – as are they all) could back out of the garage – or in – without becoming ignominiously stuck.

That drift has been the reason all the snide remarks people have made about SUVs has annoyed me so much these past few years. I wanted to take the unctuous SOBs by the scruff of the neck and say, “You just try to get that plastic pansy car of yours out of my driveway in the winter.”

However, the BUSP is no more than a steel lawn decoration in my driveway today. I haven’t had the ambition to try to start it for a year or two – the wear is so far advanced on several of the cylinders that it doesn’t have enough compression to fire. Yup, it’s a diesel. I haven’t insured it for 2 years and I’m still figuring out a way to salvage useful things while leaving it valuable enough that some scrapyard honcho might take it away without charging me money. Right now it’s just adding to the winter snowdrift problem.

Now for that fence. When I built the original I chose a cedar board fence, six feet high, so that it would protect the plants downwind from the winter blasts. You know what? I don’t really give a damn what the icy winter blasts do the cotton-pickin’ plants. They just have to look out for themselves. I want to look out for number one, who ever since completing the perfectly aerodynamically laminar-flow chain link replacement, is waiting fondly for a snowdrift free driveway next winter. When future  winter blasts carry snow straight down the street at 60 mph and veer left into my driveway there will be no obstacle to slow them down and send them into dizzying spirals that allow aforesaid snow to drop in front of the garage door.

If the proving trials are successful – ie, if I don’t get that half assed SUV stuck next winter – I can contemplate replacing it one day with a totally electric pickup that won’t cost me as much as a wooden nickel in gas. An internal-combustion-free transportation device that will not contribute to the global atmospheric load of carbon dioxide – as long as our hidebound utility companies quit burning coal and natural gas to generate electricity.

Now the other excuses? Well – there are the dog days, or rather the dog mornings when our two get their hour+ run and I use up about half my daily quota of free energy chasing after them. That exercise happens every day – rain or shine, blizzard or heatwave. I could write a novel in the time I spend with them, but then I’d probably become too fat and sluggish to press the computer keys. It’s always one darned thing after another.