Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Building Chroniker City

Guest post by Brooke Johnson.

When I sat down to write a steampunk novel, I knew that I wanted the setting to be unique, to differentiate itself from the settings of other steampunk novels and fill the absence that I felt was missing in steampunk fiction—an industrial techno-hub of science and engineering. Most of the other steampunk novels I had read up to this point blended steampunk elements with fantasy, or were of the adventure and exploration variety, where the characters traveled the world on an airship.

There was a painful lack of science in these novels, many of the authors seemingly ignoring all the invention and innovation of the Victorians that propelled the human race into the modern world. Where were the engineers? The mechanics? The scientists? I yearned for a story that brought the mechanical to life, that dug into the greasy guts and gears of extraordinary machines, and focused on engineers instead of posh society, but for all my searching, I could not find it. That’s when I knew that I had to be the one to write it.

Dissatisfied with the lack of gadgetry and science in the genre, I decided to create a steampunk setting that was neither paranormal fantasy or steampunk travelogue. No werewolves or vampires or fairies. No fantastic science. And no world-travelling airships. I wanted to create a steampunk setting based in reality, with real science and plausible machines that very well could have existed in a technologically advanced world, a city where society venerated engineers above all else, creativity and innovation were valued more than lineage or wealth, and mechanical inventions permeated every aspect of daily life.

And so Chroniker City was born.

Chroniker City sits twenty miles off the southern coast of Wales, built onto a small island of rock eight miles west of Grassholm. In our world, a remote lighthouse stands there, built in the late 1850s by the Trinity House after they bought out the previous leaseholders in the 1830s. However, in my alternate timeline, that was not the case. Instead, a wealthy German engineer by the name of Gumarich Chroniker purchased rights to build on that land and employed  engineers from all over Europe to help him construct his most ambitious engineering project—a mechanical, self-sustaining city that would become the foundation for the technological center of modern Victorian science.

It was from this point onward in my alternate history that the world diverged from our timeline. The construction of Chroniker City—and the addition of its prestigious polytechnical University—ushered in a swift advancement of scientific progress. The machines are made primarily of clockwork and steam, yes, but also include electricity and wireless technology, combustion enginery, and even electromagnetic designs.

The city proper sits atop a sprawling mechanical subcity, which houses the turbines, steam boilers, water reserves, and mechanical drives that deliver power to the city above. Above ground, the city itself hosts a number of innovative technologies unique to the setting—a trolley-lift for transporting passengers from the second-quadrant streets to the upper reaches of its illustrious shops and restaurants, automatic ventilation systems to remove smog from the air, a theater renowned for its mechanically operated stage and orchestra of musical automatons—as well as more ordinary inventions such as cranes, elevator lifts, wired power tools, and electric lights. Of course, the depths of the subcity hold their own secrets as well…

By creating my own city instead of taking over an existing one, I granted myself the freedom to establish my own rules, to explore avenues of the story and the setting that would have been next to impossible in a steampunk London or Paris. I was able to build a city that served the story, instead of the other way around. Had I chosen to set the story in a real-world location, I would have needed to restrict myself to a certain layout or history—or else transform the city into something unrecognizable to achieve the same fictional effect. Instead, I saved myself a lot of research and unnecessary complication while still managing to maintain a lot of the Victorian sociopolitical atmosphere of the world at that time.

With Chroniker City, I wanted to create the quintessential steampunk setting, an alternate history with the pinnacle of Victorian science at its core, and it’s my hope that as readers delve into the pages of The Brass Giant, they experience same fascination with the science and machinery of the city that I had while building it.

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Brooke Johnson is the author of The Brass Giant, the first novel in the Chroniker City steampunk series for young adults. She is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer, and as the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes to one day live somewhere more mountainous. Follow her on Twitter @brookenomicon.

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