Hello, and welcome to the mini blog tour for There Will Be Phlogiston (released: 8th December), a free novella set in the Prosperityverse. Many thanks to Lisa at The Novel Approach for hosting me today!
To celebrate the release of Phlogiston, I’m also doing a little giveaway of any book from my backlist, which you can enter by entering the Rafflecopter below:
I’ve also got a scant handful of cover postcards left, so if you’d like one of those, I’d be really happy to post one to you wherever you are in the world. Send me a message via Facebook or Twitter, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And I’ll be hanging the Steampunk Flashgroup on Facebook for the next couple of days, talking about the book in more depth, and answering any questions. I hope to see you there.
Where are we?
Like about 87% of steampunk, the Prosperity stories are primarily set in (and frequently above) an alternative version of Victorian England. Many of the stories, and especially There Will Be Phlogiston, revolve around a fictional city in the north of England, known by its inhabitants as Gaslight. This isn’t its real name (I think it’s probably called something like The Great Northern Conurbation) but because it’s heavily industrialised and runs almost exclusively on coal, gas, and phlogiston, it just sort of stuck.
This probably won’t mean much to American readers, but the north-south divide in England is a theme I tend to come back to a lot. It’s always been the case that the south has had the power, the politics, and the culture, while the north has the manpower and the natural resources (also it used to be run by Vikings). Gaslight is my interpretation of what could have happened if the industrial revolution had gone a little bit differently – if the north had leveraged its position better and managed to become the centre of trade and industry and commerce that London became in the real world.
Phlogiston begins with the heroine getting engaged to a southern aristocrat, and that tension between a traditional landed nobility in the south and what could almost be seen as industrial merchant princes in the north is a continuous but low-key theme in the Prosperityverse. For what it’s worth, you can Gaslight nobility are easy to spot in these books because they’re all named after metals – across various stories, we run into a Lord Iron, a Lord Silver, a Lady Copper, a Lord Mercury and, of course, our heroine Lady Wolfram.
What was that about phlogiston?
So, phlogiston is one of several discredited chemical and thermodynamic theories, which I have crudely hammered together to build the physics of the world of Prosperity. The basic deal is that it’s a negative mass substance which is liberated in combustion reactions. It’s the primary fuel for most industry in the books, as well being used for airships and explosives. I deliberately left its exact properties relatively vague because the thing about discredited scientific theories is that they don’t quite line up with the way things work in the real world or with the way you might want things to work dramatically in an adventure story. You can vaguely think of it as being a form of elemental fire, which condenses into a useable form in the upper atmosphere. I was sort of inspired by some aspects of Aristotelian cosmology – you essentially have a sphere of earth, a sphere of water, a sphere of air and a sphere of fire, and phlogiston mining is basically tapping into the sphere of fire to bring it down to earth again. This is obviously pretty damn dangerous, not least because of the krakens.
A key event in the timeline of the books is the phlogiston rush of the early 1860s, and the hero (or rather, one of the heroes, since it’s MMF) of There Will Be Phlogiston is basically the guy who started it all, a hard-living skyminer who made his fortune in the untamed clouds.
This is a slightly controversial issue because some people feel that steampunk and magic really shouldn’t mix. Basically, another core premise of the Prosperityverse is that the universe is permeated by an intangible, otherworldly something called the aether, which is home to strange and terrible beings known generally as krakens. It’s a mash-up of actual aether theory and a kind of Lovecraftian nihilism. Essentially, the idea is that physical reality is a localised blip in a vast and unknowable aether, which follows rules that straddle the hazy boundary between magic and mad science. There are people called aethermancers, who have the power to manipulate this stuff directly—but that, as they say, is another story.
So what does this have to do with this book?
Honestly, not that much. One of my basic rules for worldbuilding is that you, as an author, need to know about five or six times as much as your audience needs to know. And most of the weirdness in the Prosperityverse is quite a distant backdrop in There Will Be Phlogiston. At its most basic level, the story revolves around an MMF triad: three unique people trying to navigate a society that stifles and restricts them. Apart from being set in city that doesn’t exist and containing a carnivorous mechanical horse, it could almost be a straight Victorian romance.
Not so very straight.
Inspired by true and scandalous tales of the Gaslight aristocracy, we present the most moral and improving tale of Lady Rosamond Wolfram.
Weep, reader, for the plight of our heroine as she descends into piteous ruin in the clutches of the notorious Phlogiston Baron, Anstruther Jones. Witness the horrors of feminine rebellion when this headstrong young lady defies her father, breaks an advantageous engagement, and slips into depravity with a social inferior. Before the last page is turned, you will have seen our heroine molested by carnival folk, snubbed at a dance, and drawn into a sinful ménage a trois by an unrepentant sodomite, the wicked and licentious Lord Mercury.
Reader, take heed. No aspect of our unfortunate heroine’s life, adventures, or conduct is at all admirable, desirable, exciting, thrilling, glamorous, or filled with heady passion and gay romance.
You can get a copy, and read an excerpt, over at Riptide Publishing.
About AJH: Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the twenty-first century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a seventeenth century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.