Good morning, all. Today I’m going to take a long, loving look at the Kestrel, home, transportation, and sanctuary of the core characters of Beyond the Rails. I debated whether to categorize this entry as a setting or a character, but as the vessel isn’t sentient (and I’m aware of at least one steampunk airship that is), and only “comes to life” in the hands of her gifted pilot, setting it is.
I love the whole concept of airships in literature, always have, and I knew from the first moments that my crew would live and work on one. The first thing I considered, before I established any characters, where the stories would be set, or what the crew’s profession would be was the design of the airship. I first looked at, and immediately discarded, the modern “Goodyear blimp” design, with the gondola built into the frame, and appearing to be attached to the bottom of the balloon. Firstly, the balloon would have to be longer than a football field to accommodate living and working space for a crew of five, and once I decided they were a cargo/passenger ship, well, this just became unworkable.
The alternative design is the “hanging gondola,” in which the working area, motors, cabins, and all are all contained in a structure hanging below the gasbag, which is exactly that, a gasbag, and nothing more. This felt much more steampunk to me than the modern design, and opened up a whole new area of jeopardy should the suspending cables be endangered, exactly as happened in the story The Heiress. My final decision to make was the form this craft would take, and given the crew and circumstance that was coming to the fore, I decided it would be cobbled together as opposed to a professional design, something the owner/shipmaster had caused to be built by local talent. I then realized that the most economical expedient would be to purchase a laid-up boat hull that was no longer seaworthy, and hang it beneath an envelope. The boat would have cargo and engine spaces, cabins, controls, stove, toilets, nearly everything you’d need to do your job, already aboard. At this point, my notepad came out, and I produced this:
As you can see, I am neither artist nor photographer, but this is my original pencil drawing of the Kestrel’s internal layout. It is based on the deck plan of the Elco PT boat of WWII, and is envisioned to be about 75 feet in length. As she is more interested in lifting capacity than performance, she hangs below a fat, football-shaped gasbag about twice her length. Not present in the drawing is a steerable frame hanging below the stern holding two electric motors with two-bladed propellers. I once set about the project of modeling the gondola. I finished only as much as I needed to visualize everything clearly, and the derrick has snapped off during her years in storage, but she’s held up surprisingly well considering, and these pictures may help you visualize my baby.
All I needed now was a source of power, and as I didn’t want this to become a major issue, impacting every story with the same old problem ad infinitum, the decision was made to hand-wave a solution, and the Cheadle & Gatley Closed Circuit Steam-Driven Turbine was born. Basically, this uses a coal-fired boiler to produce a stream of steam that turns a generator before passing through a condenser outside the hull to turn back into water and be boiled again; basically, every system is electrically-powered. There would naturally be slight water losses in the system, but as the ship rarely makes journeys longer than a day, they can easily top off their water supply at any aerodrome.
And thus was Kestrel born. A little ragamuffin of a ship, she would be laughed out of the air in the European trade, but thanks to the knowledge of her captain and the skill of her pilot, she is the queen of the East African cargo trade. Hardly the starship Enterprise, but a cozy refuge for her closer-than-family crew, nonetheless. What do you think?
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A couple of excellent items came in on the newsfeed this morning.
David Lee Summers, as part of the Steampunk Hands Around the World project, is paying a virtual visit to Tokyo, scene of much of the action in his novel Brazen Shark, the latest installment in his Clockwork Legion series.
A wonderful site that I’m mentioning for the first time here is Writers Helping Writers. Today they’re taking an in-depth look at the role of the Personal Assistant, and the many ways that character can be used to drive a story. A site very much worth bookmarking if you’re any kind of writer.
Finally, the Writers After Dark are offering a podcast interview with Brandon Ax, whose novel Elemental was one of the Platinum Award Winners in their Chapters of Excellence book awards. An interesting author, and an interesting book; well worth a listen.
And that’s it for this outing. Read well, write better, and if you can spare a moment, let me know how I’m doing here, and what you might like to see in the future. My hope is that this site will become interactive with fans and colleagues, so let me know what you think, and keep me on my toes!