Thursday, September 5, 2013

Steampunk & the Revival of Obsolete Science in Before the Chase: A Short Anthology

Guest post by Dara Fogel.

The Victorian era (in which my Steampunk series, the GrailChase Chronicles, are set) was a time when the Industrial Revolution was just beginning to pick up steam (pardon the pun!). It was a time that treasured craftsmanship and beauty in technology, as well as functionality. It was also a time of great social upheaval brought about by the increasing spread of industrialization and growth in production, a time in which the old agricultural society was giving way to a modern, urban consumer culture. Old ways of life were dying out, and new ones were being born - much like our own era.

The newly emerging use of science and technology was still shrouded in romance, before the full establishment of assembly line anonymity.  The Victorian era saw huge advances in the belief in human capacities to better the life of the huddles masses through science and its application to industry and medicine, never mind that the reality of that era was poverty-stricken, polluted, disease-ridden and generally miserable. The zeitgeist was wildly optimistic, as it seemed there was nothing that human ingenuity could not conquer.

Steampunk is a contemporary exploration of the road not taken. It originated as a sub-genre of science fiction, which asks what if we had stuck to steam and other technologies, instead of moving into the internal combustion engine? Most Steampunk literature consists of alternate histories, usually based in the early-industrialized west, primarily Victorian England and the American Wild West. Often, Steampunk fiction focuses on steam-powered technology, or, as in the case of my own Steampunk series, on discredited scientific theories made credible.

In the GrailChase Chronicles, I not only explore the massive cultural changes, I also posit a whole new technology, based on the theory of Phlogiston, which was popular during the Victorian era, but later disproven.  In my stories, the power of phlogiston not only exists, but also is harnessed and applied to the eternal battle between good and evil.

Phlogiston was believed to be the combustible element in fire, first posited in the mid-seventeenth century by Johann Joachim Becher and famously promoted by Robert Boyle. It was later shown in the eighteenth century by Mikhail Lomonsov that the chemical reaction of fire was different than previously thought, and Phlogiston Theory was considered obsolete.

In the GrailChase Chronicles, Marquis Alessandro D'Amici, a Victorian-era technological genius and Defender of an ancient secret, has not only proven the existence of phlogiston, but has harnessed its unlimited power to create energy weapons to defeat his sworn enemies, the Bavarian Illuminati. As the combustible element in fire, it seemed to me that phlogiston would be a tremendous power source, as well as a formidable explosive. In the later books of the series (to be released late 2014), we see phlogiston used to power not only small, clever gadgets (such as the Vibralance, found in Before the Chase: An Anthology), but also for horseless vehicles, androids and weapons of mass destruction.

I tied this invented technology in with elements of secret history, based on the theories concerning the Holy Grail set forth by Biagent, Leigh and Lincoln, positing the existence of secret societies surviving the aeons, manipulating the politics of nations and battling it out for supremacy (similarly to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code). I include a young Madame Helena Blavatsky as a major character in Book 3 of the series. Madame Blavatsky was a leader in the Theosophical Movement that swept through Europe in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century, and was considered a gifted spiritualist and brazen self-promoter. Blavatsky adds a colorful touch of historical accuracy to the series, as she was actually historically present at the places and most of the events I place her at in the story.

The GrailChase Chronicles seeks, like most Steampunk fiction, to weave together historical and social speculation with elements of good storytelling, exploring possible technologies, cultural construction and good old-fashioned adventure.

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Dara Fogel is a philosopher, author and educator in the American Southwest. Check out her website at: Her epic Steampunk series, the GrailChase Chronicles, will be released beginning in fall 2013. Before the Chase: An Anthology, a collection of three GrailChase Chronicles short stories, is available for free download at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

1 comment:

  1. I love the way Ms. Fogel weaves history and science fiction to create a totally enthralling world. Love her work!


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