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Steampunk Inspiration: A World Tour

We asked 10 authors to suggest their top travel destinations for steampunks

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Suppose a billionaire gave you unlimited use of their personal airship, and you could take a crew of steampunks anyplace in the world. Where would you go? What destinations have sparked your imagination, or might inspire others?

I posed those questions to 10 steampunk authors at last month’s Worldcon in San Jose. Many of the answers surprised me. And all were unique: None of the authors mentioned a place that someone else had suggested.

Collectively, this could be the ultimate itinerary for the ambitious Steampunk Explorer. Or at least Part One of that journey. You can be sure I’ll be seeking suggestions from other creative folks in the genre.

It’s not just a journey in words—you can also view the destinations in the photo gallery below.

Shelley Adina

Shelley Adina

Shelley Adina is author of the Magnificent Devices and Mysterious Devices steampunk series as well as romances and young adult fiction. As Adina Senft, she’s author of the Healing Grace and Amish Quilt series about Pennsylvania’s Amish community. Her works have been published by Harlequin, Warner, and Hachette in addition to her own Moonshell Books.

Destinations: “The first place I would take my airship full of steampunks would be London, of course. I did a walking tour one year of the Thames riverbanks. It was the Mudlarking tour, and that gave me the idea of how the children made their living. They were ragpickers, and a lot of things I found on the beach there could have been resold.”

Next “would be the Wild West,” she says, specifically the Four Corners area. “They call it the Land of Enchantment for a reason. It’s full of atmosphere and legend and supernatural myth, and astounding scenery. It was almost a natural that I would bring my latest heroine, the watercolorist, out to the Four Corners because of the colors that she could paint.”

The region also has dangers that lend themselves to adventure, she says: “Flash floods and cliffs and rivers that are not quite in human control.”

Gail Carriger

Gail Carriger

Gail Carriger’s bio states the following: “Gail Carriger writes comedies of manners mixed with paranormal romance (and the sexy San Andreas Shifter series as G L Carriger). Her books include the Parasol Protectorate, Custard Protocol, and Supernatural Society series for adults, and the Finishing School series for young adults. She is published in many languages and has over a dozen NYT bestsellers. She was once an archaeologist and is fond of shoes, octopuses, and tea.”

Along with with Piper J Drake, she also co-hosts “20 Minute Delay,” a podcast that offers “tips, tricks, gadgets, and horror stories on traveling by land, air, and sea. We get there, so you don’t have to.”

Destinations: “I would go to Como in Italy, which is my favorite place in the world,” she says. “The food is the best in Italy.”

For steampunk inspiration, she suggests historic museums such as the National Museum of Scotland and British Museum, as well as major libraries such as the Stockholm Public Library. And “there’s an amazing clock in Strasbourg [France],” she says.

Kaja Foglio

Kaja Foglio

Along with husband Phil, Kaja Foglio is co-author of the Girl Genius comic book series, which was a three-time winner of the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. She’s also illustrated Magic: The Gathering and Shadowfist trading cards.

Destinations: The House on the Rock in southwestern Wisconsin “was a big influence on us, which is why our house looks like it does,” she says. “We’re in the process of shoveling it out.” (She meant her house, not the one on the rock.)

Originally designed and built by Alex Jordan Jr., the House on the Rock is actually a complex of buildings with varied collections, including automatic music machines, model airplanes and a large indoor carousel. The house was a setting in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

A second location is Disneyland — the original in Anaheim, California — which “is steampunk as all get-out,” she says. “There’s steampunk everywhere at Disneyland. They practically invented it.”

Phil Foglio

Phil Foglio

Phil Foglio is co-author and illustrator of the Girl Genius steampunk comic book series. He’s also the creator of the Buck Godot comic series and has illustrated numerous books and games.

Destination: “The most interesting place is the Henry Ford Museum in [Dearborn] Michigan,” he says. “They have all kinds of stuff. They have the largest locomotive ever produced. They have actual Model T Fords that you can ride around in. They have Thomas Edison’s lab. I’m a big fan of architecture, and they have famous buildings from science and engineering that they have disassembled and schlepped all the way up to Michigan. It will take you like three days [to see everything], and you won’t be bored with any of it.”

Jaymee Goh

Jaymee Goh

Jaymee Goh describes herself as a “writer, editor, critic, [and] poet of fantasy and science fiction.” She’s co-editor (with Joyce Chng) of The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia. Her “Silver Goggles” blog explores “issues of race, representation, diversity, and other such exciting adventures as one might find in our genial genre.” She recently received a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California Riverside. In August 2018, her short story “The Last Cheng Being Gift” was featured in the Levar Burton Reads podcast.

Destination: She would take a crew of steampunks to the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California. “It’s such an interesting amalgamation of different architectural styles that somehow form into a cohesive whole,” she says. “There are all these weird little walkways and alleys that are cool to explore. It’s a really beautiful place.” She adds: “I did a lot of my grading [at the Mission Inn] when I was a teaching assistant.”

Laurel Anne Hill

Laurel Anne Hill

Laurel Anne Hill is author of The Engine Woman’s Light, winner of the 2017 Independent Press Award in the steampunk category. Her works also include Heroes Arise and numerous short stories. On her website, you can see her wielding her “amazing steampunk cookie press.”

Destination: She’s a fan of steam locomotives, so her first stop would be the Niles Canyon Railway, which operates a heritage railroad between Sunol, California and the Niles section of Fremont. Her favorite engine, Southern Pacific 2472, used to be there but is now at the Golden Gate Railroad Museum in Redwood City. She learned how to operate the engine in preparation for The Engine Woman’s Light..

Next, she would take her steampunk crew to the Skunk Train in Fort Bragg, California. “It was the first steam train that I rode in the engine cab,” she says. “Under close supervision, I got to brake it a little.”

Other favorite spots include the Smithsonian Institution and Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado. And she advises steampunks to “get on a real working steamboat.”

Madeline Holly-Rosing

Madeline Holly-Rosing

Madeline Holly-Rosing is author of Boston Metaphysical Society, a series of “steampunk supernatural mystery” comics set in an alternate 1895. She also presents classes—and offers consulting—on crowdfunding for independent creators.

Destination: “A cool place to take people would be Ravenwood Castle in Ohio,” she says. “It’s a castle/hotel/park area. A lot of the rooms are Victorian or Medieval. I think it would be a great place to get everyone’s imagination going.” Constructed in 1995, it’s modeled after castles built in the 12th and 13th centuries. The castle often hosts gaming and murder mystery events. It’s in New Plymouth, about 70 miles southeast of Columbus and 140 miles east of Cincinnati.

David D. Levine

David Levine

David D. Levine is author of Arabella of Mars and two sequels set in an alternate early 19th century. He’s also author of more than 50 science fiction and fantasy stories, including “Tk’Tk’Tk,” winner of the 2006 Hugo Award, and “Nucleon,” winner of the James White Award.

Destination: Arabella of Mars “involves a lot of sailing,” he says. “So I got a lot of inspiration and photographs at the maritime museum in Paris [Musée National de la Marine]. There are some delightful old steam-powered ships and sail ships—beautiful ship models, some of them 30 and 40 feet long.” He also saw a dive suit reminiscent of the one in the BioShock video game.

Diana Pho

Diana Pho

Diana Pho describes herself as “a scholar, activist, performer, and general rabble-rouser.” She’s also an editor at Tor Books and founder of “Beyond Victoriana,” a blog “about multicultural steampunk and retro-futurism—that is, steampunk outside of a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework.”

Destinations: Her first stop would be Vietnam, “because I do Vietnamese steampunk,” she says. “Specifically, the cities of Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi still have a lot of remnants of modern and colonial architecture. It’s a place that is changing and burgeoning in all kinds of different ways. It’s a tech center as well. I think it’s a great place for people to go and explore and see all those different dynamics.”

She also recommends Paris for its museums and architecture. “It is astoundingly and unexpectedly beautiful,” she says. “I never thought about Paris earning the title of City of Lights until I was actually there.”

William C. Tracy

William Tracy

William C. Tracy is the author of stories set in the Dissolutionverse, which he describes as “a society of ten interstellar homeworlds connected by magic instead of space flight.” His works include Merchants and Maji, described as “two shorter tales of steampunk and political intrigue”; The Society of Two Houses, a “Sherlock Holmes-style murder mystery”; and Journey to the Top of the Nether, “a Jules Verne-like adventure.”

Destinations: His first stop would be the Hawaiian Islands. “Hawaii gives you a sense of adventure, which is what steampunk is all about,” he says. “You see the rolling hills and towers and rocks and animals. You can bring that into your world and it helps you come up with new stuff.” The Big Island, he adds, “gives you a sort of post-apocalyptic view.”

“Another place I would go is mainland Europe for the architecture,” he says. “The old architecture gives you a sense of formality.”


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