Frank Talking

I am very pleased to introduce you all to Frank Chadwick, creator of the Role Playing Game Space: 1889. He joins me here to discuss his unique perspective on the success and longevity of Space: 1889.

Andy Frankham-Allen: Frank, you’re the originator of Space: 1889, and after twenty-odd years you now have a unique standing in ‘steampunk culture’. What pulled you to steampunk in the first place, and how did this lead you to create Space: 1889?

Frank Chadwick: I was drawn to steampunk before there was such a thing, or at least before the moniker existed. Although I was an avid reader as a boy, film really was the principal hook which snagged me. The series of Victorian science fiction films released in the 1950s and 1960s were a major influenceJourney to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, First Men in the Moon, The Time Machine, Master of the World, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mysterious Island, and that amazing Czech film The Fabulous World of Jules Verne. Interestingly enough, I never cared for the 1953 film version of The War of the Worlds, probably because they updated the story to the Twentieth Century. For me, the story was about walking tripods and British troops fighting back with Maxim guns, 18-pounders, and steam-powered ironclad rams. Hovering Martian ships with force fields just didn’t get the job done for me, although having Sir Cedric Hardwick give the opening narration was a nice touch.

A second set of influential films were those of the British colonial experience, particularly the early romanticized view of it: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, King of the Kyber Rifles, Gunga Din, Errol Flynn’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, the 1939 version of The Four Feathers, Khartoum, and of course Zulu. I’ve probably left a bunch out, and a lot of French Foreign Legion films played into this stream as well, but these were the big ones.

The Hammer films of the 1960s, particularly the Frankenstein outings were a final group of films of considerable importance. Although tame by today’s standards, there was something dark and sexy about them which played well to an adolescent in the 1960s. Beyond that, Peter Cushing’s Frankenstein broke new ground for mad scientists. No longer the leering, wild-eyed maniac, he played Frankenstein as the most logical and sensible person in the film, at least by his own lights. Cushing’s serious professional approach to the material cranked the willing suspension of disbelief quite a few notches higher as well, and there is a very important lesson to be learned in that: always respect your material.

Now, how did that lead to the game? First of all, the name. Back in the mid-1980s the board game publisher SPI used to feedback a lot of speculative titles, most of which were never produced. One such proposed title was a board game to be called Space: 1889, which (as I recall) was actually going to be a board game of an alternative World War I in the Martian colonies. Nothing ever came of the idea and so SPI dropped it, but the title tickled my imagination. All those film influences, along with a dash of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series and flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, started bouncing around up in my head.

Brass railings and steel boilers, British colonialism, the limitless possibilities and perils of science unleashed, the elegance and understated sexiness of the Victorian/Edwardian era, and flying ships – it proved an impossible combination for me to resist.

A F-A: As an aside I will definitely agree with you about the 1953 version of War of the Worlds; they seemed to be somewhat missing the point of the story, a fault that continues to this day, with the exception of Jeff Wayne’s musical version – a major inspiration on my involvement in steampunk now.

So, now we know what led you into steampunk, and from where the initial seed of Space: 1889 came. Can you tell us some more on how the initial idea led into the RPG; indeed, how did you go about creating an RPG and what kind of pitfalls were you met with initially?

FC: From the beginning my ideas on the game were ambitious, perhaps to a fault. To me the essential defining characteristic of Space: 1889 was flying ships, particularly the match-up of steam-powered armoured gunboats against wooden-hulled wind-and-muscle-powered Martian cloudships. As a result, the first product, which was the set-up for the role-playing game, was Sky Galleons of Mars, a board game with plastic playing pieces. That project was very nearly the reef upon which the entire game foundered.

At that time the tooling for plastic pieces was unbelievably expensive, really beyond the resources of Game Designers’ Workshop, my publishing house, unless many tens of thousands of copies could be sold. We had no expectation that sales would be that high, but I knew of an experimental process coming on line which allowed for much less expensive tooling – essentially a cast tool made from a master – and a contractor who had worked successfully with it before. Unfortunately, deep into the project the contractor crapped out and left us with some half-finished moulds, which I ended up driving around to several machine shops for finishing. The fact that the mould material would only respond to EDM milling complicated things, to say the least. The scramble to get those plastic pieces done seriously delayed the launch of the game and ate into my development time on the role-playing game. So the biggest pitfall came before the role-playing game itself.

As to the overall game concept, one of the first and smartest things we did was bring in the artist David Dietrich to consult as conceptual art director. For about a week we sat around the office, I talked about my concept for the game, he added ideas as well, and we brain-stormed, me with words, he with drawings. The entire look and feel of the game had as much to do with his work as anyone’s.

My organizational concept for the game was clear from the beginning. I wanted a lot of background in the product, because it was a genre unfamiliar to a lot of gamers at the time. The mechanics, on the other hand, I wanted to be as austere as possible. GDW had a reputation at the time for doing role-playing games with highly involved (some would have said ‘over-wrought’) game mechanics. I thought we needed to break that mould here and make sure the rules did not get in the way of the characters and the world. In retrospect I may have gone too light on the rules; that has certainly been a criticism of the game. But honestly, I think if I had to ere, I did so in the correct direction. The game world remains very accessible to people, and that was always my intent.

A F-A: Space: 1889 has been around for over twenty years now, and it has appeared in various forms. What have been the highlights for you personally?

FC: Winning the Origins award for the game right out of the gate was nice, but what has pleased me more is the longevity of the game. Whenever it’s mentioned online, you always have people chiming in with recollections of their campaign and how much fun they had with it. I mentioned on my blog a while back that the year it was launched the game also received a couple of awards from the Academy of Game Critics, which was a casual collection of folks in the industry who met at Origins to give out humorous awards of a negative sort. Space: 1889 won the Strontium 90 Award the year it was released for ‘the game with the shortest half-life’. The fact that over twenty years later the game is not only still around, but is growing in strength, has been a source of genuine delight.

But the real highlight so far has been writing fiction in the world. As you know, I completed a novel, The Forever Engine, early this year and am shopping it to publishers as we speak. I loved writing it as it gave me an opportunity to not only revisit the world, but add a lot of depth and texture to what was essentially a sketch presented in the original game. That novel is set on Earth. Then in May you approached me to write the fifth entry in the first season of Space: 1889 & Beyond, and doing so turned out to be a major rush! My story is the only one in the first series set on Mars, and Mars was always my favourite Space: 1889 world – as pretty much anyone who has played the game can guess. That let me re-address the relationship of Earthmen to Martians, the interplay of the different Martian races, the mechanics of how cloudships work, and a lot of smaller things. It let me add loving depth to those things without doing damage to the original material. Always respect the material.

A F-A: In 2005 Space: 1889 took its first major step beyond the bounds of RPG, with the full-cast audio plays produced by Noise Monster Productions. How did this come about? What influenced your decision to allow the property go beyond the role playing game mould?

FC: John Ainsworth of Noise Monster Productions contacted me in, as I recall, 2004 with the idea for a series of audio dramas. He already had a solid track record producing Doctor Who audio dramas, and he clearly intended these to be quality products from the very start. As I mentioned before, I was always anxious to broaden the coverage of the Space: 1889 universe, provided the product in question was of a high quality and respected the source material. There wasn’t much question of that in the case of Noise Monster, so I was happy to license them and I was delighted with the results. And, of course, the fourth release brought you to the project, so who knows where we’d be today without that?

A F-A: Indeed.

Steampunk is going through something of a revival now; as a genre it is growing from strength to strength. Space: 1889, likewise, is also going through something of a revival. Do you think these two things are linked? And if so, why do you think it’s happening now?

FC: Great question. Way back in 1990 or 1991, a hobby retailer told me what he thought was wrong with Space: 1889 as a commercial game – and he was retailer who liked it. He said, ‘Space: 1889 gamers are born, not made.’ What he meant was that for people to ‘get it’, they almost had to have grown up with the same set of films and books I did. It was hard to sell them on the aesthetic of the game without them. He wasn’t entirely correct, but there was a germ of truth in it.

The thing about a role-playing game is that it is very well suited as a gateway to a genre, but not nearly as well suited to establishing a genre. If you look at successful role-playing games, all of them enabled players to interact with a genre they already understood and enjoyed, either from literature, film, or graphic novels. At the time Space: 1889 came out, it essentially was the genre, and by itself it was tough to make headway against other genres. That it did anyway speaks volumes, I think, about the intrinsic coolness of Steampunk. Still, it was always an uphill struggle without supporting film or print entertainment support.

We tried to push the genre, in part through the Noise Monster audio dramas you were part of, and in part through several attempts at film tie-ins, each of which faltered due (interestingly enough) to market downturns at the critical point in the projects, which left the investors insufficiently liquid. (Damn that dot-com bubble!)

What made a real difference has been the gradual addition of film and fiction works from other sources; Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine were early examples. There were bumps along the way. The spectacular failures first of The Wild Wild West and then of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen temporarily sucked all the oxygen out of the room for Steampunk films. But the genre has built steadily until, within the last few years, it has finally reached critical mass and become a self-sustaining chain reaction.

So the revival of Space: 1889 is absolutely related to the explosive growth of the Steampunk movement. Before it, most Space: 1889 fans were born, not made, but those days are gone.

A F-A: Finally, moving on to the current eBook series, Space: 1889 & Beyond. As the creator of the property, what are your hopes for this series? What would you like to see it achieve?

FC: There’s a lot of talk lately about what is and isn’t Steampunk, as opposed to classic Victorian Science Fiction. Usually those conversations make me think people are arguing about a distinction without a difference, or trying to create a fault line where none really exists. Here’s what I think Steampunk ought to be about, and what Space: 1889 & Beyond should address in the coming years:

The inescapable and irresolvable conflict between progress and safety.

The friction between changing technology and established social order.

The superiority of hope over despair, and of resistance over surrender.

Most importantly, the recognition of courage as the essential prerequisite for all other virtue.

How’s that for a start?

A F-A: That’ll do nicely, and is certainly something which I, as line editor of the series, will see addressed in some form or another.

Well, thank you, Frank, for your time, and for creating Space: 1889 in the first place. Long may it live. 🙂

There’s more ‘Frank Talking’, this time with Frank and I talking about how Space: 1889 & Beyond came to be, my own take on ePublishing, and where will the property go from here. Please do go and check it out.

Space: 1889 & Beyond will be launching any day now, and is available from Untreed Reads Publishing and Frank’s own story will be released in November. Follow all the latest news on the official Facebook page.

Space: 1889 & Beyond – exclusives!

Okay, so been rather busy of late. Let me tell you, anyone who thinks getting a series of eBooks together is easy – you’re very much mistaken. Still, on the plus side, the brand new steampunk eBook series based on Frank Chadwick’s RPG Space: 1889 is almost good to go.

Series one will be a six-book series, running from August through to December 2011, written by yours truly, K. G. McAbee, Mark Michalowski, L. Joseph Shosty, Frank Chadwick and J. T. Wilson! The series features artwork by David Burson, all set in a wonderful cover template designed by Steve Upham (who made the cover for my award nominated novel, ‘Seeker’ – more on that later!).

There’s much to be excited about with this series, both from a creative point of view and a personal point of view. On the personal level, I am very proud and excited by the fact that for the first time since 1989 the official logo for the entire property has been redesigned, under my direction. The new logo was designed by Steve, and fully approved by Frank. Creatively it’s been awesome to work with some of the best cult authors in the business (and already, prior to the launch, I am receiving many requests from even more well-known authors who wish to be involved in the following series). It seems people are baying for new steampunk adventures, and I’m convinced that Space: 1889 & Beyond is going to be huge.

So, to help pave the way, I have, first of all, some background information on the series’ leads;

  • Nathanial Stone; 26-year-old Nathaniel is from Putney, London, originally. He has two elder brothers, an elder sister and a younger brother. Only his younger brother, Edwin, maintains any level of contact with Nathaniel, since his elder siblings are highly jealous of the special treatment he received due to his status as ‘child prodigy’ of the family. He was borne of the Honourable Reverend Ronald Stone and his wife, Elspeth, and was raised a firm believer in God. Nathanial excelled at all the academic classes in school, and was soon moving on to bigger things, quickly earning himself a place at More House College, Oxford. While there he found in himself some strange desires. He resisted his urges, and over the following years came to believe that somehow God had made him wrong, a fact he confided to his dean (one Reverend Earnest Matthews). His path of science brought him into conflict with his father, who could not understand how science merely explained the how of God’s Creation, and thus lead to better understanding of God. By the time we catch up with Nathaniel he is well-respected in the fields of science, something of a genius, known for his work in physics and chemistry. He has a very deductive brain, and often makes great intuitive leaps in his experimentations. Nathanial has joined the Naval Construction team, and has perfected a more delicate Aether Propeller Governor with the help of the Director of Naval Construction, Sir William Henry White, which has been installed in the new prototype Sovereign Class Aether Flyer, the HMAS Sovereign
  • Annabelle Somerset; The young niece of Cyrus Grant, and the only daughter of his sister, Joan, and her husband, Ezekiel Somerset. At the age of twelve, Annabelle’s parents were killed near Silver City, Arizona, and she was captured by Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apaches. She lived with Geronimo’s band for the next two years until she was released. Since that time she has lived with her uncle, to whom she has become extremely devoted. She carries with her a well of grief and guilt over her parents’ death, still blaming herself to some degree. This guilt often drives her into being over protective towards those she loves; it can be both a strength and a weakness. Annabelle is a very strong woman, an adventurer at heart, very much a woman ahead of her time. She can hold her own against most men and refuses to be beaten into submission, falling into the role of servant like so many other women of her time. But she is not adverse to using her feminine wiles to get her own way, and often leads Nathanial into some trouble of other. Her two years of life with the Apaches have left her courageous and self-reliant, with little patience for men who consider her weak or incapable of looking after herself. Although she is loathe to admit it, initially, Annabelle is developing a soft spot for Nathanial, and the enforced companionship soon develops into a mutual friendship based on respect and trust…
  • Doctor Cyrus Grant; Private inventor from Arizona. A cranky man of sixty-one years, with wild hair sprouting from the sides of a mostly bald head. Given to wearing spectacles on account of his short sightedness. Grant’s contraptions gained him quite the reputation among the rancher’s he helped out in his native Arizona, and those who have followed his career. No one was quite prepared to believe that he’d actually created a device which would allow acrobatic manoeuvres close to the lunar surface. His initial design was faulty and failed to work at all, and he barely managed to escape Luna’s low gravity. Upon returning to Earth, in January 1888, he was contacted by a British scientist, Nathaniel Stone, who worked with Grant to develop the aether propeller governor. They both thought they were working in secret, but the British Empire became aware of their activities, and watched them from afar. Grant did not like the closeness developing between Annabelle and Nathanial, and so sent Nathanial packing and Annabelle off east to college, finishing off the governor on his own. He assembled a team to help pilot the newly refurbished aether flyer, which he christened the Annabelle, and set off for Luna, unaware that his niece had secretly returned to Arizona and smuggled herself aboard. He soon got over his anger at her, and she became a fully pledged member of his team…
  • Captain Jacob Folkard; Forty-seven years old, Folkard is captain of the prototype aether battleship, the HMAS Sovereign. He is well-liked by all who serve under him, previously having been commander of the aether frigate, the HMAS Raleigh, and he is highly regarded by his superiors. His staunch patriotism and exemplary career in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy have led him to his appointment to several key positions. His latest is a result of a very high recommendation from Rear Admiral Herbert Cavor. Captain Folkard is undaunted by the perils of aether travel, and has a thirst for adventure, and is known for his wicked sense of humour. A rare thing for captains, who are known for their straight-laced behaviour. He makes a point of learning all the names of his crew, and will often put them in difficult positions to test their character. He takes his role as captain of the most advanced aether flyer very seriously, and will not allow anyone onboard who does not show some strength of character. Only the best are granted the privilege of stepping on his ship.
And, as an exclusive to this blog, an excerpt from the forthcoming first novella, ‘Journey to the Heart of Luna’… (NB* Scene one will be released to various blogs over the next week, however scene two will only be exclusively available on this blog – no point being the editor of the series without there being some perks, right?)



IT WAS impossible! Aether flyers were not, by definition, designed for a crew of one, a fact that Annabelle Somerset felt with ever increasing dismay as she raced from the control to the navigation station. Just getting the Annabelle (yes, God bless her uncle, he had named the flyer after her) out of the gorge had been hard work. Starting up the boiler single-handed, then rushing the length of the flyer to the control room to check the instruments to make sure the water was creating enough steam, then back to the engine room at the rear of the flyer to set out the rocket engines her uncle had designed especially to combat the awkward gravity of Luna.

She cursed Tereshkov once more, and squeezed her eyes shut for a brief moment.

 I have to do this, she continued to tell herself. She had survived much worse. Annabelle almost laughed at that. Living for two years amongst Geronimo’s band of Chiricahua Apaches had tested her when she had been a mere slip of a girl. She had survived that, and she was certain she would survive this. That she had no choice was beyond question; there was no other left who could get the message to Earth. Uncle Cyrus’ life was in the balance and she could not allow herself even a moment of weakness in her endeavour. She had let her parents down, and she refused to let history repeat itself with her uncle.

She was not a little girl anymore, and the Russians be damned!

Instruments were laid out before her on the navigation station; some of standard design like the orrery, a mechanical analogue of the Solar System, and an astrolabe which allowed precise measurements of the planets positions; others were of her uncle’s making, and these she did not even know the names of. They were recent creations of his, and her decision to join the expedition had transpired late in the day, ill affording her the time to study these new inventions. Annabelle was no expert at reading the standard instruments, but she understood enough from having watched Blakely at the station to ascertain the current position of the Annabelle. The flyer was barely a kilometre from attaining a low lunar orbit.

She scrambled across to the control station once more, almost colliding with the bulkhead as the flyer shook around her. The damage sustained to the aether propeller by the Russians was too much. When she had first set her eyes on the propeller she had been certain she would never be able to navigate the flyer, despite the relatively unscathed nature of the aether propeller governor. She was fortunate the Russians did not recognise the governor for what it was, or they most certainly would have found a way to remove it from the Annabelle, and if not the whole apparatus then certainly they would have taken the diamond that served as the aether lens. Without it the governor would have been less than useless.

She gripped the aether wheel, a small ratchet-operated wheel that controlled the aether propeller at the rear of the ship, and turned it slightly. Annabelle looked out of the window and was elated to see the distant shape of the Earth, and before it, barely a speck in the depth of space, Her Majesty’s Orbital Heliograph Station Harbinger.

When she had first happened upon this plan with K’chuk she had hoped to be able to pilot the flyer to Earth; it was a difficult task, one fraught with many dangers, but the odds were not insurmountable. Upon seeing the damage rendered by the Russian okhrana, Annabelle knew she would have to adapt her plan. Obtaining a lunar orbit was the best she could hope for, but it would be enough to put the Annabelle in a position relative to the Harbinger. It was operated by the British Empire, and that served her purposes perfectly, as the help she required was located in England and not her native America.

She turned to the heliograph apparatus and was just about to start tapping in her coded message when her eyes espied a most terrible image through the port window. Annabelle’s finger paused over the key, and her eyes stared wide. Its iron clad surface reflected the light from the Sun, rising from Luna like the Great Beast of Hell.

“No,” Annabelle hissed. “This cannot be the end.”

So, she determined, it would not be. The Russian flyer was closing in, its gun ports no doubt opening as she looked, her mind trying to catch up with the increasing beat of her heart. Uncle Cyrus’ flyer was not a warship; he was an inventor, and his flyer echoed that. It was designed for exploration, not for battle. Any armaments it did have were minimal, and even if Annabelle were able to get to them in time, she doubted greatly their effectiveness against a fully armed Russian ironclad.

Annabelle turned away from the approaching flyer and focussed her attention on the heliograph before her. She began typing out her message, praying that the orbiting station would pick it up and relay the message with haste.


THE ADMIRALTY; it was always good to be back at the Ripley Building, Captain Folkard mused to himself. This was the first time he had been called there as a captain, and so the occasion was even more prestigious than usual. He had not been in Whitehall for several years.

Folkard had since been given his new command, the first in a new class of aether battleship, and with his command came a promotion to captain. Serving as commander of a frigate was one thing, and it certainly gave him much experience of the aether, but they were living in dangerous times and as such his request for battleship command had finally been granted.

Folkard knew he was thought of highly in the upper levels of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, but he did try not to entertain the scuttlebutt of the ratings, which almost always happened to filter its way up through to the officers’ mess. Thus, when rumour had reached him that he was being considered for command of Her Majesty’s Aerial Ship the Sovereign he chose to ignore it; a singularly difficult task considering the topic.

He had yet to see his new ship, although he had spent the last week going over the blueprints, familiarising himself with design and layout. It would not do for a captain to ask directions on his first day. He had been hoping to visit his ship today, see George Bedford once again, and begin the shakedown cruise. He was en route by train to Kent for that very purpose when he had got intercepted, and speedily transported back to London on the Intrepid. Clearly the mission the Admiralty had for him was of paramount importance.

Folkard looked down at the respirator mask and goggles that sat in his lap. The downside of being in London, of course, was the amount of gas and debris in the air. Breathing fresh air in the City of London was a thing of the past, and it seemed that the darkness of night only served to exasperate the problem. Still, he would be in the aether soon, and would be breathing air freshly oxygenated by the plants in the greenhouse of the Sovereign.

He looked up from his lap as the door next to the chair on which he sat opened. Folkard immediately stood to attention and saluted. He had expected to be greeted by an aide, not by Lord Chillingham himself. Chillingham looked Folkard up and down and let out an hmm. Folkard was not sure if it was an hmm of approval or an hmm of distaste. Lord Chillingham’s eyes gave nothing away, as they were wont to do. Things must be pretty rum if the Lord Minister Overseas feel the need to attend the briefing, Folkard mused, holding his salute.

“As you were, Captain Folkard. Please enter.”

“Yes, sir,” Folkard said, and walked passed Lord Chillingham and entered the board room of the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty.

Space: 1889 © & ™ Frank Chadwick 1988,2011

Logo Design © Steve Upham, 2011

‘Journey to the Heart of Luna’ is © Andy Frankham-Allen & Untreed Reads LLC, 2011


Space: 1889 & Beyond is published by Untreed Reads Publishing,

and the first series begins late August 2011.

You can now buy the season pass, and save 25% directly from;

The Unreed Reads’ Store

It’s all about The Pride

Soon I shall be releasing all kinds of fun news about the upcoming Space: 1889 & Beyond series, but before then, a guest post from Joe Glass…



I write to you now from my bedroom with a glass of wine!

The Pride is a six-issue mini-series that hopes to expand the diversity of superhero comics, by featuring an all LGBT superhero team who figh for everyone. They fight to improve representation of their community, but that doesn’t mean they are just gay heroes. They are heroes for everyone, who just so happen to be LGBT.

It all came about because I was sick of seeing what few LGBT characters there are in comics relatively stuck in the background. They’ll come in, make a big statement (usually about them being gay or whatnot) and then will barely be seen again, whether through repetitive delays and cancellations of their books, or literally by appearing in the background, with little or no lines or action in the story. LGBT characters became an ‘issue’, trotted out now and then to seem current or relevant, and then quickly discarded when there was too much attention.

Similarly, most minorities face the same kind of backlash in comics. Look at how many reacted to the recent announcement of the new Ultimate Spider-Man. Minorities are sorely under or misrepresented, and when they do appear it’s to extremes of spectacle and negative reactions that are borderline or outright offensive.

The Pride aims to be diverse and open. The heroes are here, and they are queer, and they don’t give a damn ’cause they’re still gonna save the day. It’s about showing that you’re just as good as anyone else, and taking pride in who you are.

At the moment, the comic series is set to start with issue one out November 2nd, and we’ll be published through Deadstar Publishing.

We’re looking to improve distribution and marketing though, and to do this, we need help. We have set up on Indiegogo, and are looking to raise money to market the series and also increase and improve distribution so the message gets out further, wider and louder. It’s also a great way to preorder your copies, especially if you’re based outside of the UK. You can find us on Indiegogo at

Also, me and my co-writers on my other project, Stiffs, will be appearing at Cardiff’s Comic Guru for a signing Saturday, August 20th 2011. We’ll be signing a special, limited edition Stiffs/The Pride preview comic which features an original The Pride story!

Oh Dear Me…

I am terribly sorry, once again I have neglected this old place. I really am quite awful at blogging. Therefore I shall do an update soon, let you all know of the fun and games that have been going on lately. In the meantime, why not have a look at the cover for my new eBook, due this month…