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Steampunk World Tour, The Sequel

Ten authors, and some readers, suggest more locations for your steampunk bucket list

Monday, July 1, 2019

At last year’s Worldcon in San Jose, we asked 10 authors to suggest their top travel destinations for steampunk enthusiasts. The result was a “Steampunk World Tour” that proved to be one of our most popular stories. So we decided to do a sequel.

The opportunity came at Clockwork Alchemy, the steampunk convention held March 22-24 near San Francisco. We corralled 10 more authors and posed this question: If you had a group of steampunks and unlimited use of an airship, where would you take them?

Their answers span four continents and nearly 2000 years of history, from the pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica to the Industrial Revolution and beyond. They include some places you might expect: Historic buildings, transportation museums, and the like. But others surprised us, such as the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan and the blue holes of the Bahamas.

To accompany the authors’ responses, we’ve compiled a photo gallery of these destinations, which you’ll find below.

Philippa Ballantine

Pip Ballantine

Ballantine, along with her collaborator and husband Tee Morris, was Clockwork Alchemy’s author Guest of Honor for 2019. They are the co-authors of three novels and one anthology in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk series. Her other recent works include Siren’s Tide and The Mystery of Emerald Flame. Learn more on her website.

Destination: “If I was taking a group of steampunks on an airship for an adventure, I would stop in St. Petersburg, which was the home of Peter the Great. It’s the most European of Russia’s cities but it’s also Russian, which is really cool. You have The Hermitage, where you could get all dressed up and walk around the fabulous artwork. It was also the home of Catherine the Great, who is one of my own personal heroes.”

Tee Morris

Tee Morris

In addition to his work with Philippa Ballantine, Morris is author or co-author of several non-fiction books, including Podcasting for Dummies and Twitch for Dummies. Learn more on his website.

Destination: “If I would pick one place to take steampunks anywhere around the world, it’s Oamaru [in New Zealand],” he says. “Steampunks are there who are living the dream, 24/7. It’s not something you just do on the weekends. You get dressed in steampunk. You live the life. It’s awesome.”

Home to the Steampunk HQ museum and the Steampunk NZ festival, Oamaru deserves a story and photo gallery all its own. The same applies to Nantes in France, another location on many steampunk bucket lists.

Lillian Csernica

Lillian Csernica

Csernica describes herself as a history buff and Japanophile, so naturally many of her stories have a historical Japanese setting. These include a series of steampunk tales featuring Dr. William Harrington, a British expatriate in 19th century Kyoto. Along with other authors at Clockwork Alchemy, her stories are featured in the “Later” series of anthologies: Sometime Later, Thirty Days Later, and Twelve Hours Later.

She mostly writes short fiction, but she’s also the author of Ship of Dreams, an 18th-century Caribbean pirate romance published under her pseudonym, Elaine LeClaire. In addition, she’s written two non-fiction books for authors: The Writer’s Spellbook: Creating Magic Systems for Fantasy and The Fright Factory: Building Better Horror. See her blog for more info.

Destinations: We asked her specifically to suggest places in Japan. “In Tokyo proper, there are quite a few resources to see the history of steam-powered development,” she says. But “for an exciting example of life on the rails, I would use Yokohama Station. It has an underground shopping mall, which is rather modern, but if you go down there and you have an educated steampunk eye, you can see the traces of history it has been built upon.

“Because Japan is so strong on historical preservation, you don’t have to put a lot of effort into looking for the signs and elements of 19th century steampunk tech. Provided it’s not a really busy time like rush hour, the attendants will bend over backward to help you get the answers to your questions.”

Anthony Francis

Anthony Francis

Francis writes urban fantasy and steampunk, including his 2017 novel Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine (see the Goodreads page). He’s also a co-founder of Thinking Ink Press, which published the “Later” anthology series. By day, he’s a software engineer in Silicon Valley. Learn more on his website.

Destination: Francis would take his airship full of steampunks to the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan. It’s a natural gas crater that has been burning continuously since 1971. “I think flying over that in an airship would be really awesome,” he says, adding that it would be preferable to a volcano. “One, it’s a cool name, and two, volcanoes do that exploding thing, which I’d like to avoid.”

T.E. MacArthur

T.E. MacArthur

MacArthur is the author of The Volcano Lady, a series featuring Victorian-era scientist Lettie Gantry, and The Gaslight Adventures of Tom Turner, a series of spinoff novellas. Her most recent work is A Place of Fog and Murder, a dieselpunk murder mystery set in 1935 San Francisco. See her website for more info.

Destinations: “I would take people to ancient Mexico, ancient Central America and ancient South America. People need to see — and hopefully not in horrendous tourist packs — what happened on this side of the world while things we’re very familiar with were going on in Europe. I would love to take people down to Teotihuacán, Chichen Itza, or Tikal, and move down to areas around Cusco [in Peru]. Not necessarily Machu Picchu, because a lot of people are there, but that might be a good thing too.”

This would introduce people to the mysteries and developments of ancient civilizations such as the Moche that they don’t know much about, she says. “Wouldn’t that be the epitome of steampunk’s inclusiveness?”

Katherine L. Morse

Sparky McTrowell

Along with David L. Drake, she’s the co-author of The Adventures of Drake and McTrowell, a series of steampunk tales starring their alter egos, Erasmus L. Drake and Dr. “Sparky” L. McTrowell. Drake is a chief Inspector with Scotland Yard, and McTrowell is an airship pilot and flight surgeon. They often appear at steampunk events in the guise of those characters. The stories can be read for free on their website.

Drake and Morse were also the publishers of The Clockwork Oracle, a 2018 anthology featuring their own stories as well as contributions from A.J. Sikes, B.J. Sikes, and Dover Whitecliff.

Destination: “I would take them to Northern New Mexico, which seems like a really funny answer for steampunk,” she says. “But one of our signature episodes is called ‘The Pecos Incident.’ It’s an early incident in the life of Dr. Sparky McTrowell. She saves everybody in an airship by driving them into this chasm in La Bajada, which is a rise in the land between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

“A lot of people think steampunk can only be British, but particularly here in California and Arizona, we do Western steampunk. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on in the Victorian era in the American West. From an adventure perspective, it really was the Wild West in those days. Santa Fe in particular has a lot of history. So you can be part of that Wild West with a steampunk overlay.”

AJ Sikes

A.J. Sikes

Sikes is a co-editor of the “Later” steampunk anthologies and contributed short stories to each. His other works include Gods of Chicago, a noir/dieselpunk novel, and the Redemption Trilogy, about a viral epidemic that turns people into monsters. Learn more on his website.

Destination: He would take steampunks to the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California. Its collection includes a full-scale replica of the Hermes Jr. Avitor, a steam-powered airship prototype built in 1869. It was constructed by Frederick Marriott of San Francisco, who had planned to build a much larger airship to carry passengers between New York and California. His vision was dashed by a stock market crash and the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.

“They’re going to give you all sorts of aircraft,” he says. “Airships, yes, but also biplanes, triplanes, Da Vinci inventions, all of that.”

The museum plans to host a Steampunk Extravaganza on July 13 in honor of the airship’s 150th anniversary.

Belinda Sikes

Belinda Sikes

Belinda is co-editor of the “Later” steampunk anthologies and author of The Archimedean Heart, a steampunk tale set in 1880 Paris. Her website includes lots of advice for other authors.

Destination: “I would take steampunks on an airship to the Bahamas,” she says, specifically “to Andros Island to investigate the blue holes.” She’s referring to underwater caverns or sinkholes that populate the island and others in the Bahamas. “We wonder what kinds of monsters might be down in the depths,” she explains.

Legend has it that the blue holes of Andros Island are home to the Lusca, a gigantic sea monster said to resemble an octopus. The creature has also been described as an octopus-shark hybrid.

Michael Tierney

Michael Tierney

Trained as a chemist, Tierney is the author of three novels in the Airship Flamel steampunk series: To Rule the Skies, The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday,, and Mr. Darwin’s Dragon. They feature the exploits of Professor Nicodemus Boffin and include appearances by Michael Faraday and Charles Darwin. See his website for more info.

Destinations: First, he would take steampunks to The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, near Detroit. This sprawling indoor/outdoor museum focuses on the history of American innovation. Greenfield Village, the outdoor portion, has historic structures moved from their original locations, including the Wright Bros. bicycle shop. In our first world tour, Girl Genius co-author Phil Foglio also listed The Henry Ford as a top steampunk destination. It’s the only location to be mentioned by multiple authors.

Tierney’s second destination would be the Crossness Pumping Station in London. “It was the original pumping station for when they built sewers in London,” he explains. Constructed between 1859 and 1865, it’s known for its ornamental cast ironwork and enormous steam engines, one of which has been restored to working order. It’s now a museum, and was a shooting location for Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009).

Dover Whitecliff

Dover Whitecliff

Whitecliff is another co-editor of the “Later” steampunk anthologies and co-author of The Stolen Songbird with the late Vicki Rorke. As Penelope Dreadfulle, she’s the ace reporter for Blackfriars Courant, a self-described scandal sheet covering “all the news that’s unfit to print, or what really happened in all the novels and short stories the Clockwork Alchemy authors write.” Learn more on her blog.

Destinations: First, she would take steampunks to the Evergreen Air & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. “The biggest thing that blew me away was the Spruce Goose, “ she says, referring to the flying boat built by Hughes Aircraft during World War II. At the time, it was the largest aircraft ever built, and until April 2019, it had the largest wingspan of any aircraft ever flown. (The new record-holder is the Scaled Composites Model 351 Stratolaunch, designed to launch rockets into space.)

The Spruce Goose occupies most of the aviation center, one of two exhibit centers at the museum. The other is the space flight center, which features a Titan II missile and SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft.

Her second destination would be Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii. “It’s the only palace on American soil,” she explains. “It was used during King Kalākaua’s time. They have restored it to its original beauty. I remember going on a tour in second grade and trying very hard to sneak away so I could slide down the bannister. But unfortunately, I got caught.”

Reader suggestions

After we posted the first world tour, readers of The Steampunk Explorer had their own excellent suggestions: the Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Trades) in Paris; the Science Museum in London; the London Museum of Water & Steam; the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London; the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, UK; Head of Steam in Darlington, UK; and the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology in Canada. These, too, are in the photo gallery.

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