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Authors: S.G. Schvercraft

The Zeppelin Jihad

BOOK: The Zeppelin Jihad
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THE ZEPPELIN JIHAD

(STEAM POINTE #1)

By

S.G. Schvercraft

 

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed herein are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2016 by Series Hero, LLC

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form. A Series Hero Production.

 

Cover art by Deranged Doctor Design

 

First Series Hero Printing, March 2016

www.serieshero.com

 

Author’s Introduction

 

I came of
age in the ’90s, that holiday from history between the Cold War’s end, and the post-9/11/01 world’s start.

Collective memory paints that decade as halcyon days of plenty, and compared to the present era of economic stagnation and social decline, perhaps it was. Yet it didn’t seem so shining at the time.

Sad but true: for the U.S., no worthy foreign enemy also meant no purpose. And this in turn made the entire culture feel rudderless. The period’s casual nihilism was typified by the era’s grunge sound and slovenly fashion, both of which signaled, “Why even bother?”

Against this backdrop, the photos of 19th century scientists, explorers, writers, and statesmen that occasionally appeared in my high school European history textbook may as well have been examples of alien life. Their neat, formal clothing. Their serious expressions. The sharp confidence in their eyes. It was like these people had something they believed in. More than that: that they had something
worth
believing in.

I remember thinking that would be very nice to have. A society that hadn’t lost its way. What would that even feel like?

It was the kind of idle thought you have while daydreaming in class. Except this one would linger with me enough that I’d revisit the Victorian period in both nonfiction and prose again and again over the next decade or so. My father’s copy of Sir Richard Francis Burton’s biography here; a second-hand copy of
The Adventures of
Sherlock Holmes
there; Niall Ferguson’s history of the British Empire, and Mark Frost’s fantastic novel,
The List of Seven
, thrown in for good measure. No real agenda or reason to it, just an instinctual return to a time when the West believed in itself.

This was all somewhat of a guilty pleasure, especially since mainstream culture saw mostly horror when looking at the same era. Part of this is the era’s general attitude towards the sexes and race. Sometimes though it was more specific:
King Leopold’s Ghost
, a bestselling history from the late ’90s, detailed the barbarism of 1880’s Belgium imperial practices in the Congo. Closer to home, Erik Larson’s
The Devil in the White City
masterfully used the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair to show a darkness existing just below the surface of the late 19th century’s optimism and ingenuity.

For whatever reason, in today’s culture the existence of any past sin stains not just the entire era, but all of western civilization as well. Yet there developed in literature a workaround from this staining guilt when wanting to write or enjoy a Victorian era adventure.

If you’re reading this, I assume you already know what steampunk is, but the OED’s definition is nonetheless useful for our discussion: “A genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.”

Serviceable enough. Left unmentioned is that steampunk is often everything we moderns would like from the late 19th century—for me, it’s the age’s confidence, for others it’s the aesthetics or sense of decorum—without all those things we are uncomfortable with. In other words, steampunk is the 19th century set to safe mode.

And it’s fun, isn’t it? The retro tech, the civilization that believes in itself, the improbable adventures that result from mingling the two, all available in a guilt-free package. What’s not to love?

And yet . . .

I wonder if we don’t lose something doing it this way. Some unhappy but necessary bit of truth: all things have a cost.

Maybe the cost of a confident civilization on the upswing is brutality and chauvinism.

Maybe the cost of all our modern technology and convenience is weakness and decline.

That’s an idea I play with here in
Steam Pointe
, the series you’re about to begin. It’s a little different from the type of steampunk you may be used to. On Steam Pointe, all the steam-powered tech exists contemporaneously with the cell phone, tablet or computer you’re reading this on. But this is less about ornate and antiquated machinery clashing with its smooth and tastefully understated contemporary counterparts.

Rather, it’s about us meeting this retro mindset. It’s about a people with the same confident eyes as I saw in those history book photos from decades ago, locking with our own modern, less certain gaze.

This isn’t steampunk as the 19th century set to safe mode. It’s steampunk setting the 21st century to “armed”.

I hope you like it.

 

S.G. Schvercraft

Wilmington, Delaware

February 2016

 

 

 

The Zeppelin Jihad

(Steam Pointe #1)

 

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1

Coming to Steam Pointe

 

It felt less
like looking out an airplane window than staring through a time warp into 1890. The flight attendant saw the look on my face.

First time to Steam Pointe, miss?

he asked.


Yeah,

I said.

It

s one thing looking down on it with Google Earth. Quite another in real life.

Even at this height, I could see great, gilded smokestacks stabbing into the sky, their dyed plumes painting the horizon surprisingly pleasing shades of violet, orange and red. Dirigible airships hovered here and there like storm clouds.

The flight attendant shook his head, his perfectly gelled, frosted-tipped hair never moving.

I can

t understand a country where you have to check your laptop, cell phone, and iPod upon entry. I take it you

re here on business? Not many people would consider it a fun escape spot.

I certainly didn

t, not that the FBI cared. Who

d want to be someplace that practiced technological apartheid? Where you couldn

t get something as simple as, say, a hairdryer, instead having to rely on some coal-fired, magnetic, or gear-grinding contraption.


Have you explored the island much? I wouldn

t mind some advice on dealing with the natives.


They don

t particularly care for my kind, so I usually stay at the airport guesthouse during layovers,

he said. I

d been given a hurried briefing on island culture by the State Department: traditional as Steamies were, having a gay flight attendant flitting up-and-down their cobblestone streets would have gone over like a pregnant pole-vaulter.


Of course,

he continued, as if we were sorority sisters getting our nails done,

they may not like you either.


Because I

m a woman?

I asked.


It

s not women they dislike. It

s just that they expect them to be
ladies
,

he said, rolling his eyes. Then he continued down the aisle, checking for seats that hadn

t been returned to their upright positions.

The island
—“
Pointe Island

on the maps

rose from the ocean on sheer cliffs that could have been castle walls. Probably why it wasn

t successfully settled until the 1800

s. Mountains peeked over the horizon, and even at this distance I could see the mining scaffolding that completely encased some of them. There were patchworks of farm fields like you

d see in flyover country back home, but these were intermingled with perfectly square forests. Trees here were just another crop. Railroad lines, some of them raised and as wide as an interstate highway, crisscrossed the countryside. Cargo ships came and went from the man-made barrier islands that ringed the coast.

I could make out distant cities, some of them darkly brooding masses as though every building were part of a single, massive factory. Others gleamed whitely in the sun, the Potemkin utopias of 19th century World

s Fairs finally made real.

Somewhere between these extremes was Boothcross, Steam Pointe

s largest city. Its skyscrapers were laced together with a spider

s web of elevated tramlines. Great Tesla coils were worked into some buildings

designs, and arc lightning sparked from them like Thor

s hammer. Rising above these were the city

s Faced Towers

four art nouveau buildings linked by a dozen skyways. Each was crowned with a sculpted face of copper that stared in a different cardinal direction. The tallest structures on the island, they were always featured on postcards.

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