Steampunk: the Engineer in the Writer

by | Jan 21, 2014 | Behind the Pages, Worldbuilding | 0 comments

The Mad Tinker's Daughter: Rynn's Rifle Drawing

As I wind my way through the final stages of getting The Mad Tinker’s Daughter ready to publish, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on my choice of setting.

Continuing in my Twinborn Universe, which previously consisted of the worlds Veydrus (medieval) and Tellurak (renaissance), I’m introducing the world of Korr (post-industrial revolution). While the Twinborn Trilogy was strictly a two-world affair, the greater Twinborn Universe extends well beyond, and I intend to continue exploring it, in this case by the introduction of a plot that includes a world that was uninvolved in the events of the Twinborn Trilogy.

I hadn’t set out with this as a goal, but what I ended up developing was a second-world steampunk setting, heavy on the gadgets and light on the wardrobe (though tinkers tend to go for coveralls and goggles).

What Is New About Korr?

Korr is a world where humans lost the great war that decided the destinies of the major races. Rather than exterminating the humans, the victorious kuduk race kept them as slaves. In the centuries that followed, humans improved their lot in fits and spurts, drip-fed by the kuduks. As the The Mad Tinker’s Daughter begins, freemen and slaves among the humans are roughly equal shares of the population.

What sort of world did the kuduks fashion for themselves, with the labor of their human underclass? A world where magic is scarce, the greatest of the cities are underground, and where technology makes such communities possible.

The kuduks themselves cannot work magic. The daruu, a progenitor race small in number and influence, play a vital role in the society that the kuduks created: they maintain the magic of old, and create what little new magic enters the world. Sorcerers were one of humanity’s advantages in the great war, and in victory, the kuduks chose to stamp out the heritable trait among the humans as best they could. A few humans pop up from time to time, but are either killed or enslaved to fill the daruu role on the cheap for their kuduk masters.

The Deeps

The deeps — the underground cities of Korr — are where the engineer in me bubbled to the surface. The kuduk prefer life underground. While there are necessities of resources that require above-ground settlements (farming, lumbering, etc.), one of the key points of the world-building was to make the underground communities plausible. Metropolises of the late 19th Century had technology that allowed such large population to live in close quarters. The deeps needed solutions that would work for those sorts of populations buried under layer upon later of rock.

As an engineer, a lot of the problems sounded solvable with sufficient technology. The fun part was taking a more primitive approach and using technology from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries.

My Technology Rules:

  • No petrol/gasoline
  • Electricity (called “spark”) is being developed, and is in common use for a few applications, mostly lighting
  • Coal is the common source of steam
  • Magic is used sparingly, since it is expensive to hire daruu to replenish and maintain (humans can be used for simpler jobs, but their owners charge a lot, too)
  • Printing and newspapers exist
  • Radio has not been developed
  • Both lighter- and heavier-than-air flight exist, but require varying degrees of magic
  • Train (“thunderail”) is the common mode of long-distance overland travel
  • Ether and an equivalent to penicillin exist, and are the cutting edge of medicine

With these in mind, I conceived of a city of multiple underground layers, natural caverns, carved tunnels, elevators/lifts, and stairways. The layers themselves contained multi-story buildings, as well as structures carved into the rock.  Between these inhabited layers, there were sub-layers of access tunnels, sewer lines, and plumbing of every description. In short, I envisioned a three-dimensional rats’ maze of passages, like the veins and arteries of a living being.

I wanted to avoid the trap of making simplifying assumptions that couldn’t be supported by the technology available, so I asked myself some basic questions about life in the deeps:

Q: How do people get around?

A: Foot travel is most common. There are also trolleys, lifts, and — for longer distances — the thunderail.

Q: How do you feed a large underground population?

A: Farmland above ground provides much of the food for the deeps. It is transported in via the thunderail.

Q: What about lighting?

A: Older cities have oil or gas piped to lamps throughout the city. Ventilation shafts throughout the city maintain a positive airflow, bringing fresh air into the city keeping the fumes from rendering the deeps toxic. Modern cities have either partially or completely converted to civic spark lighting (the ventilation systems are still in place for general sanitation and industrial smoke).

Q: What jobs do people have in such a city?

A: Except for certain industries, much the same as you’d expect to find in a late 19th Century city like London or New York. There were banks, cobblers, newspapers, eateries, government offices, theaters, factories, and most anything else you would expect from that sort of city. Mining was also common however, and workshops of a technological sort were somewhat more common. Certain industries, many related to weather (no one sells umbrellas to an underground population) or the keeping of large animals (you don’t want grazing animals in grassless environments) were non-existent. In the above-ground settlements (called “skies”) you could find many of these industries serving their own needs.

Writing What I Know

To explore this world, I chose characters whose skills I could relate to: tinkers. Cadmus and Madlin Errol (as well as their respective twins) are inventor, mechanic, and engineer rolled into one. They work with their minds first, then their hands. While I always look to research the elements I add to my worlds, the research I did for my tinkers was far more in-depth. I didn’t just want to make sure their inventions sounded plausible, I wanted to make sure I could describe them in detail and have them pass muster by people with a technical background.

Yes, I admit that using magic for integral components throws off the math, but when I considered Rynn’s ventures into designing spark-and-aether weaponry, I wanted them to be based on sound principles and reasonable components. To that end, I designed them. First, I conceptualized what a coil rifle make within my tech rules could look like. Then I roughed it out using 3D software. After that, I tried to figure out what pieces she could have scavenged to make it, and adjusted the design to use those parts. What I came up with for her original coil rifle is the image you see at the beginning of this post.


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