What follows is a guest post by B.J. Keeton and Austin King, authors of Nimbus – Part 1.
Let us be frank for just a moment: we’re not fans of steampunk as a genre. We’re fans of steampunk as an aesthetic. While there are some really great steampunk stories out there—Nimbus: A Steampunk Novel comes to mind, tee hee!—there are also a lot of them that feel very contrived, that feel like every other steampunk story.
The thing is, though, there are a lot of cool steampunk ideas out there. Craig Hallam recently said steampunk isn’t about telling stories. It’s about “[encouraging] people to create, build, imagine and fashion all manner of doodads and thingumies.”
And that’s what we love. Doodads. Thingumies. Because we have a cool fantasy story to tell, but we wanted a cool place to tell it. That’s where steampunk comes in. We got to pick and choose the parts of steampunk we loved, and then toss the rest. That’s where the fun started and the worldbuilding began. That’s where the world of Nimbus came alive.
1. Steam Power
Probably the most important aspect of steampunk is the use of steam power. That may sound obvious, but when we were trying to come up with which genre conventions to keep and which ones to trash, we had to decide on the use of steam power just like all the rest.
We decided early on that nearly everything would run on steam power: from the airship engines to the streetlights on skyports, and even Rucca’s wheelchair, steam power keeps Nimbus going round.
Because everything in this world is so dependant on steam power, it means that pretty much everyone has access to it, both rich and poor (although the people down in the Burrows, of course, have significantly less).
This posed another question, and that was how important steam power actually plays into the plot of Nimbus. What would be most precious to a civilization completely dependent on steam power? Well, water, of course.
Our immediate reaction to this: “Okay, so how can we take that away from them?”
Enter, the fog. It’s there for many reasons, but it also provides a way for our characters to get their water through cloud extraction.
The use of steam power, then, is not just a cool concept anymore. It’s existence is rooted firmly in the overall narrative. We really play with the importance of water on a personal and technological level, and that lets us incorporate steam power into Nimbus as more than just a steampunk aesthetic, but as an actual drive for these characters and the society in which they live.
You know the coolest part about the Other Side on Fringe? They have airships. They don’t even really do anything with the airships, but they’re there. And that’s awesome.
So from the get-go, our steampunk aesthetic was centered around airships. Initially, the idea for the world of Nimbus involved there being no ground, that kingdoms and such were really just armadas of airships floating around the skies of some gas giant somewhere. And while that’s cool, it’s almost too much.
So we created a place where airships were a mainstay, but not the be-all, end-all of the world. The airships in Nimbus allow us to provide feasible connections between distant places, as well as distance certain characters from others as the need arises. We’ve sat down and created hierarchies within the shipping companies, established the kinds of folk who live and work on these ships, and even tried to make sure the boats we write about are realistic—as realistic as any pirate ship floating through the sky with a gasbag can be.
On top of that, they’re dangerous. You fall off a boat in the ocean, and you get a life-preserver tossed your way. You fall off a boat on Nimbus, and the deathly fog flays your skin from your bones, and you’re dead before you can hit the ground. We get to have dogfights and standoffs, sieges and raids.
Airships don’t only allow our characters freedom. They allow us as authors freedom to tell the story we want, while giving us a fantastic backdrop for that story.
Okay, so goggles are just fun. Can you remember the last time you saw someone just walking around in cool goggles with cogs all over them?
We can’t either, and that’s the point.
Like every other piece of steampunk aesthetic on Nimbus, the inclusion of goggles was purposeful. While on the airships, they’re functional. If you’re manually extracting water from the clouds in the middle of a lightning storm, you had better be able to see. These characters wear goggles because they have to.
On the other hand, someone like Demetrius Rucca would never be doing such menial labor, but we wanted him in goggles. His goggles, however, still serve a purpose—they are so ornate that at one point they are mistaken for a crown, and that single incident is a catalyst for his entire narrative throughout Nimbus. Even beyond that, his interchangeable lenses serve a symbolic role of helping color Rucca’s world and let him see it the way he wants to, rather than the way it is.
For those who have already read Nimbus (Part One), you may have noticed an absence of automatons (Surprise, people who haven’t read it yet!). This was, for the most part, intentional. We were introducing so many new things in Part One that we feared exploring too much. And as we continued writing, it became obvious that automatons just didn’t play a huge role in that part of the story.
The problem with their absence, however, was that we both love automatons.
Robots are just cool, right? From droids like R2-D2 and C-3P0 to the crazy dwarven automatons in Skyrim, robots are something we absolutely love. Show us someone who doesn’t like robots, and we’ll show you someone we don’t care to know any better.
There’s just something extremely interesting about robots, and for us, that something is in the duality of their nature—not quite machine, and further still from human. And let’s face it, Asimov proved that alone can make for some pretty cool stories.
We knew early on that we wanted automatons in Nimbus, and while they were unnecessary to Part One, we figured out some fairly cool ways to incorporate them into the main narrative. Keep an eye out; it’s going to be awesome.
While they may not play a large role in the overall narrative, there will be some important plot developments that result from their inclusion.
As you can see, every steampunk element we used in Nimbus, even something as simple as goggles or as obvious as steam power, plays an important role in the narrative. We didn’t want to tell a story that just happened to be steampunk. We wanted to tell a story that absolutely had to be steampunk—but for all the right reasons.