Chris Wooding is a London-based author of sixteen books which have been translated into twenty languages. He’s won various awards and has been published around the world. He also writes for film and television. This month, Titan books published The Iron Jackal, the latest book in his steampunk series Tales of the Ketty Jay.
About six years ago, I had an idea for a story called Retribution Falls, about a ragtag bunch of inept sky pirates, all of them refugees from their own pasts, hanging together because they had nowhere else to go. I wanted to tell the tale of how a crew came to be forged from the most unpromising materials, and how this insignificant bunch of semi-alcoholic dropouts would go on and change the world.
But if I wanted to put pirates in the sky, I needed to put ships there, too. Among the fighter craft, huge frigates ploughed through the clouds, bristling with cannon. In order to keep them aloft, I needed aerium, an ultralight gas kept in ballast tanks, capable of lifting the largest loads.
Slowly, surely, the world began to be built around aerium. The land’s politics and history revolved around the struggle for aerium resources. The mindset of the civilisation was shaped by it. And what I ended up with was a world with a level of technology roughly approximating the dawn of the 20th century, except that the science of flight and aircraft manufacture was far more advanced. All of this was basically an excuse for me to write a ton of badass aerial dogfights, with machine guns blazing, while listening to Iron Maiden’s Aces High at full blast.
My publisher loved it when I showed it to them. But they told me one thing: for God’s sake, don’t ever call it steampunk. It’s a death sentence on the bookshelves. Call this book steampunk, and nobody will buy it.