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Monday, July 18, 2016

GUEST BLOG: Hey, You Got Space Travel in My Historical Drama! by David D. Levine (Arabella of Mars Blog Tour)

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to be a part of the Ababella of Mars blog tour. This fun, fast paced sci-fi fantasy novel has a historical flare and is filled with fun and excitement. Today, we are pleased to welcome David D. Levine to our blog to talk about the novel and what it is like to write a historical drama that just so happens to have a bit of space travel involved.

Summary of Arabella of Mars:
Ever since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, they proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.

Now, one century later, a plantation in the flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby. A tomboy who shares her father's deft hand with complex automatons. Being raised on the Martian frontier by her Martian nanny, Arabella is more a wild child than a proper young lady. Something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.

Arabella soon finds herself trying to navigate an alien world until a dramatic change in her family's circumstances forces her to defy all conventions in order to return to Mars in order to save both her brother and the plantation. To do this, Arabella must pass as a boy on the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company with a mysterious Indian captain who is intrigued by her knack with automatons. Arabella must weather the naval war between Britain and France, learning how to sail, and a mutinous crew if she hopes to save her brother from certain death.

View the amazing Youtube book trailer for Arabella of Mars here.

Enter to win the giveaway for a copy of Arabella of Mars here 

Without further ado, we welcome David D. Levine!

Hey, You Got Space Travel In My Historical Drama!

My novel Arabella of Mars is set, as you might guess from the title, largely on Mars. But most of it takes place in 1813. How -- and perhaps more important, why -- did I go about combining space travel and history?

I've been a space nut since I was a little kid. But even though the cool NASA hardware -- thundering rockets, high-tech materials, lots of blinking lights -- was always one of the most exciting things about space, I've also always had a hankering for a simpler time. The idea of a literal Wagon Train to the Stars has always been appealing, and I love stories in which space travel is accomplished with much lower tech. Examples include The Shadow of the Ship by Robert Wilfred Franson, The Ragged Astronauts by Bob Shaw, Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder, and "A Relic of the Empire" by Larry Niven. My own short story "Ukaliq and the Great Hunt" combines rocket plants, like Niven's stage trees, with genetically engineered beings whose artificially created culture -- based on the Inuit -- allows and indeed requires them to voyage into space with a Neolithic tech level.

Arabella of Mars combines my enthusiasm for space, my interest in low-tech space travel, and my love of the seafaring adventure novels of Patrick O'Brian into what I call a "Regency interplanetary airship adventure." The initial idea was simple: it's an alternate universe in which the solar system is full of air and travel to Mars and Venus can be accomplished by sailing ship. Sailing ships imply a historical time period (or equivalent fantasy world), and I quickly settled on the English Regency, which is rich in dramatic possibilities and fabulous outfits. But I didn't want this to be a fantasy, or set in a secondary world; I wanted it to be, as much as possible, hard science fiction... using the science of the Age of Reason. Basically, this would be an alternate history... a novel that's completely historical except for that one teeny-weeny change of filling the sky with air. And that meant plenty of historical research.

One of the things that occupied far too much of my attention during the worldbuilding phase of the project was nomenclature. There were dozens of Martian proper nouns to make up, which required making some decisions about what sounds would be common in the Martian languages. Places on Mars would require names as well; I couldn't use names like Syrtis Major and Chryse Planitia because in real-world history those weren't assigned until much later than the Regency. Instead, I figured the English would name places on Mars after royalty and military heroes and mangled versions of the natives' place names, the same as they did everywhere else. The terms "zero gravity" and "free fall" sounded too much like NASA, and after some reading of period scientific journals I came up with the term "state of free descent," which sounds like something Benjamin Franklin might have said. And the rotary sails at the back of the boat -- sorry, "stern," -- could likewise not be called "propellers," so I coined the name "propulsive sails," or "pulsers" for short (this sounds pretty modern but is actually in keeping with the linguistic conventions of period, as I understand them). Most of the other naval equipment was named, as new stuff usually is in the real world, by applying an existing word to something vaguely similar. For example, the small aerial vessel used to ferry people between ships in midair -- basically an open frame of rattan with a small four-sail pulser and a few sails for steering -- is called a "cutter," even though it is physically nothing like the correspondingly-named seagoing boat.

Another aspect of worldbuilding on which I spent more time than I probably should is the mechanism by which these aerial ships are launched, propelled, directed, and navigated through the airy deeps between planets. I must confess that, even though I am an Analog writer, I did not do the math, and indeed much of what I've described couldn't possibly pencil out. But I did give it enough consideration, applying what I know of real-world physics, that it feels real to most readers... and I hope I've left out enough details that even physics-savvy readers will be able to suspend disbelief.

I also gave quite a bit of thought to the politics and economics of this world. Would Brittania rule the airlanes as it did the waves in the real world, or would France -- which, in our history, invented the balloon first -- dominate? I decided that there were a number of economic and technological factors that favored the English, which was good because it kept my alternate history from being too alternate. And what could justify the great expense of an interplanetary voyage? The history of India and China suggested that it would be based on otherwise-scarce resources. Perhaps Mars produces an exceptionally strong, lightweight wood which facilitates the building of aerial ships? (This, of course, creates a Catch-22, which I resolved in my novelette "The Wreck of the Mars Adventure.")

But mostly I did a lot of research. One thing about the Regency is that, thanks largely to the popularity of Jane Austen and Patrick O'Brian, there are plenty of primary sources and good secondary sources online. And the amazing thing about historical research is the truly weird facts you find. For example, when I found out how sailors of the period made sure every member of the crew got a fair share of the food, it was just too strange not to put in. I swear, sometimes the weirdest stuff in the book is not the Martians but the stuff I got from real history.

So the answer to the question of how you combine historical fiction with space travel is the same as any other worldbuilding question: you do your research, you steal as much as you can from the real world -- which is stranger than anything you can make up -- and then you fake the rest, using what you've learned from your research as a basis.

If you do a good enough job, people will buy it -- in both senses of the word.


Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Okay. This has me rather curious about the book. This is the first I've seen of it, so I'm going to look around more. Thank you!


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