The Airship Invasion
November 23, 2010
As I've related in a previous blog post, I am a card-carrying nerd. So, it should come as no surprise that I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Lately, I've noticed something of a trend in the nerdosphere. No, it's not vampires. No, it's not zombies either. I'm talking about airships.
It seems that blimps, dirigibles, and zeppelins have invaded the world of speculative fiction, mainly via the steampunk movement. Much ink has been spilled defining exactly what steampunk is, but a very brief explanation is that it’s basically Victorian-era technology and society projected into the future, an alternate history or some fantastic world. The steampunk aesthetic has left the printed page and has become a DIY phenomenon, with steampunk devotees creating their own retro-futuristic jewelry, clothing, and devices. Airships fit very well into the overall steampunk worldview, with some added bonuses.
Airships move relatively slowly, so lots of plot development can occur en route. You can’t have dastardly conspiracies or shipboard romances unfold in a mere two hour airplane flight. Airships are usually quite large, so there’s plenty of room for all this action to occur in as well. In addition, airship battles are often portrayed as being a lot like naval warfare, with cannon barrages and swashbuckling armed boarding parties. Sword fights along narrow walkways thousands of feet above ground are way more exciting than atomizing your enemy from miles away with guided missiles and lasers.
Finally, airships are just plain cool. Say what you will of the Hindenburg’s fiery demise and its Nazi builders, it was a pretty awesome flying machine. The Hindenburg was over 800 feet long and could lift half a million pounds! How many other modes of transportation are featured on an iconic album cover? The US Navy once transformed airships into airborne aircraft carriers where fighter biplanes would take off and land from what essentially amounts to a trapeze. The experiment was less than successful, ultimately ending with the crash of the USS Akron in 1933. The US military hasn't given up on airships entirely, however. The US Army is planning to deploy the LEMV, an automated reconnaissance airship in Afghanistan in 2011.
If you're interested in reading some SF/Fantasy from MCPL featuring airships, try the following books:
- Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds
- Boneshaker, Dreadnought and Clementine by Cherie Priest
- The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
- The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
- The Affinity Bridge by George Mann
- The Bas Lag novels (Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council) by China Mieville
- The Clockwork Earth novels (Mainspring, Escapement and Pinion) by Jay Lake
- The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld
- The Airborn series by Kenneth Oppel
- The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
- The Hungry Cities Chronicles by Philip Reeve
- The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
- The His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman
- The Virga series by Karl Schroeder