My Life In Neon

Sci Fi / Fantasy writer Autumn Nicole Bradley – Dream in digital, live in neon

Archive for the tag “Lewis Mulligan”

Steampunk Worldbuilding – Lewis Mulligan

Or, How I Built A Steam-Powered Internet

When I set out to write Lewis Mulligan and the Pandemonium Engine I started by laying down some ground rules. These would be the cornerstones of my world, and any setting I created had to have a way to fit them in.

  1. Nicola Tesla is alive and well. I don’t think it is uncommon among steampunk fans to think Nicola Tesla was slighted by history. Those pads you put your phone on to charge it wirelessly? Yeah, he was doing that a hundred years ago. Even though most common appliances and electronics run on DC power, AC is a lot easier to transmit over long distances. Who do you think invented it? Radio? This has always been a touchy one, even in his day, but it’s safe to say that he and Marconi should at least share credit for certain aspects of it.

    Obvious consequence: If the Nicola Tesla was to play a role in the story, then it must be set in our world’s past. That alone brings with it tons of other baggage: real countries, real cities, real people, real historical events, and real scientific achievements.

    Vindication: Tesla “won” the War of the Currents with Edison, and thus had the capital he needed to develop his Colorado Springs and Wardenclyffe Tower projects sooner and to completion. The handwavium of this setting is that his projects worked so well that they now account for much of the world’s electrical transmission, along with transatlantic communication. One thing I tried very hard to keep faithful to was Tesla’s focus on the future and improving humanity’s lot; I do my best to keep him from becoming a mad scientist, or exploiting his technological development for personal gain.

  2. Charles Babbage finished the Difference Engine. The entire premise of the Pandemonium Engine is that it is a next-generation calculating engine. That means if we’re set in the period of 1890-1910 (due to Mr. Tesla) then the world has experienced at least 60 years of development of calculating engines in business and industry. Also, in more than just a nod to Ms. Lovelace, she lived beyond her premature death and became the foremost authority on the mechanisms.

    Obvious Consequence: 60 years is a long time to have computers. That’s the period between ENIAC and the DotCom bust. Adjust that for: 1) Cost of manufacture, 2) Physical limitations of the devices, 3) Lower global population, and suddenly you have a completely different flavor of information revolution.

    Not so obvious consequence: Combine this with the twist from above, (computing engines + wireless, transatlantic electrical transmission and communication) and you now have the stage set for a proto-Internet. What would an 1890’s world do with the Internet? This was an age of robber barons and titans of industry where they now control the means of production and the means of communication. I don’t delve too deeply into dystopia with this book, but I think I laid the groundwork for it unintentionally. I may explore that in the future. Instead, I take a different angle on it and explore the backlash against such an eruption of technology from the church who finds artificial intelligence to be an abomination.

  3. Zeppelins are pretty damn cool. Does anything else need to be said? Rather than generic aerostat dirigibles, I bump Zeppelin’s work up by a few years in light of all the rest of the industrial development.

    What if? The major limitations of aerostats is power supply and lift gas. Helium is safe, but it is expensive and (for the time period) extremely rare. However, electrolysis of water can provide a great deal of hydrogen in flight if you have water on board. But electrolysis takes a lot of power for the amount of hydrogen that needs to be liberated for an airship. Where can we get near-limitless power, anywhere in the world, even in flight? Mr. Tesla, I’m looking at you.

  4. One of the main characters is a creation of Dr. Frankenstein. The concept of the golem has always fascinated me, whether we’re talking the historic Kabbalah or modern androids. Some time ago I was in a stage performance of Frankenstein by Marty Duhatschek. It was an original reinterpretation where the monster named himself Adam upon reading the Bible and learning that Adam was the name of the Creator’s first creation. Likewise, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein included a sapient “monster”. I couldn’t resist adding one of my own.

    Don’t cross the streams! I realize there’s some uncertainty about introducing fictional characters alongside fictionalized characters. Why care about the verisimilitude of the other elements of this list (such as the plausible technologies of Tesla) if I’m just going to introduce plainly fictional elements? Well, let’s think about this a little more closely. We can already revive people through defibrillators. Medical science has already achieved a head transplant (even though nervous system control is questionable). Cryonics. Part of the horror of Shelly’s story for modern audiences is that it has actually become more plausible since it’s initial publication.

    (Geek note: whenever I play D&D, I always play a class capable of creating constructs. It’s never about pets, its about creating.)

  5. This is still for young adults. One of the advantages of setting this in the real world is that I can take advantage of the narrative to introduce younger audiences to some of the really cool stuff history missed out on by taking a different course: Gurney cars, Tesla’s world electrical grid, Babbage’s engines, and so on. I do my best to keep faithful to the original design and intent of these things so as to minimize any misunderstanding between the real thing and my fictionalized account.

What can you take away from all this

  1. Each setting choice has a consequence.
  2. Self-consistency is crucial to making things believable. If the world has readily available electricity without the need to plug in to a grid, all kinds of free standing devices become possible.
  3. Steampunk is alternate history, or an alternate world altogether. Things don’t need 100% historical accuracy.
  4. Technology brings social change, even if it is subtle. Without the need to run cables, home electricity in rural areas becomes feasible decades earlier. What kind of change would that cause?
  5. Things are allowed to be different, just remember 1-3. If you introduce the luminiferous aether, then Einstein’s theory falls apart and you’re dealing with a variable speed of light. That is bound to introduce some very, very strange things, so consider the consequences carefully (If your sky isn’t rainbow colored, why?), but don’t be afraid of it.
  6. Just remember the Rule of Cool. (Warning: Contains a link to TV Tropes. Do not click unless you have an abundance of time on your hands.)

Lewis Mulligan and the NaNoWriMo Post Mortem

Lewis Mulligan and the Pandemonium Engine wasn’t an official winner, sadly.

I am still working hard on it to finish it sometime this coming week or two. Follow me on Twitter to keep up with the progress.


That was the big number. 11:59PM on November 30th, that was where I was cut off. I didn’t reach the 50000 goal but I’m still marking this one in the Win column. That’s faster than any other writing I’ve done to date. My prior record was ~30,000 one month while writing Root of the First.

I fell behind early. I got off to a good start, but I went through a few days in the first week where I didn’t do enough to make time to write. So from that point forward I was racing to catch up. I ended up in a burst-and-break pace where I’d crank out around 2000-3000 words in a day (the goal is 1667 per day) and then go through a few 500-800 days in a row. The last day, I jumped from around 40k to the final number, so that’s 20 pages in one day. Not quite enough to close the gap, but even I’m impressed by how much I got done.

On the whole, I’m pretty satisfied with the work I’ve got on the page so far. There are sections that I know I’m going to cut, and others I’m planning to expand later. There are some curiously bad phrasings of sentences scattered throughout that I will need to clean up later.

This is a pretty large deviation from my normal writing pace. I usually work steadily at around 1000 words a day, but I make them count. I tend to give a lot more consideration to my words while drafting normally, and that saves me a great deal of time revising because I’ve already got what I want the way I want it, at least as far as line edits go. The place I lose time normally is in the structural editing, where I have to cut, move, or change my carefully worded sections in order to accommodate a shift in plot or pace.

NaNoWriMo has been the opposite. I’m spending far less time than I feel I should on the wording. It’s very dry, and very generic, voice-wise. And I’m not sure the pace helps with my plotting. I gloss over plot holes because I need to move on, but I know from experience that fixing those plot holes in revision will probably mean major edits. It isn’t usually as simple as just editing a few words here and there, or tossing in a sentence to explain something. That’s always the hope, but the reality is that the earlier in the book a structural change needs to happen, the less of the rest of the book you can leave unchanged. Butterfly effect, and all.

The end goal for this book is around the 65000 word mark. I’m thinking I will finish this first draft near the 55000 word mark and expand from there. Needing to expand a revised draft is always a nice position to be in. Certainly better than needing to cut 50000 words like last time!

I anticipate finishing the first draft sometime early this month. For those on the preview list, believe me, you don’t want to see this thing until I’ve gone over it at least once, which means sometime in January.

Lewis Mulligan and the Pandemonium Engine Update

Progress is slow, but only in relation to the NaNoWriMo goals. I have already written more than I have in any single month before.

So far, we’ve met a Frankenstein’s Monster (the sixth such creation), Nicola Tesla, a witch-hunting priest, an investigator with the Royal Irish Constabulary, and heard the voice of the villain.

Yes, you read that right, Nicola Effing Tesla.

“Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.” – Nicola Tesla

In my world, this quote has been cut down to his company’s motto: “The future is mine.” In context, it is more daring than ominous. It’s not a declaration of conquest, but more of a Tesla coil-shaped middle finger to Morgan and Edison.

Steam Engines GO!

A few days ago, I was debating which of two ideas I wanted to pursue for NaNoWriMo. Well, I have decided:

Lewis Mulligan and the Pandemonium Engine

One day, Lewis Mulligan was a scrapper in a textile mill, and the next day he was the cabin boy and apprentice navigator on the TRA Nevermore, a second-hand airship just leeward of ruin. But while transporting a clockwork contraption known as the “Pandemonium Engine,” the crew runs afoul of Church inquisitors, a secret society of alchemists, and a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Now, it’s up to Lewis to steer the Nevermore to freedom, or at least go down with style!

My goal for the crew of the Nevermore is a steampunk Firefly. Granted: different medium, one story arc vs 14 episode arcs + 1 movie, and I’m not Joss Whedon. But still, if I can get halfway there, I’ve achieved all I wanted for NaNo.

I’ll be posting Crew Profiles for the ship in the next few days.

Fallout: New Vegas comes out a week from tomorrow. Now, if I had done it right, I’d have made my planning schedule end on October 18th, and reserved the 19th-31st for Fallout, and called it “story research.” Instead, I still have benchmarks and milestones sprinkled throughout the rest of October.

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