This is it, folks, after eight months in the aether, Nathanial and Annabelle are heading back to Earth. Only they have one more stop to make en route – the place from which their adventures began. Luna!
Series one of Untreed Reads’ best-selling steampunk series, Space: 1889 & Beyond, reaches its exciting conclusion this month with the release of Dark Side of Luna. The epic finale brings together Space: 1889 creator Frank Chadwick and relative newcomer JT Wilson (author of well-received novel Cemetery Drive).
Here we talk with JT about his interest in steampunk…
What interested you in Space: 1889 & Beyond in the first place?
Initially, the same thing that attracted Frank to developing the series in the first place: I saw the title and it made me smile. Immediately it creates an image in your head of what the series is going to read like, as all good titles should. I’m afraid I’m a sucker for a good title and for puns, hence the amount of Robert Rankin and Jasper Fforde I’ve picked up.
A title, though, will only get you so far: the intrigue of attempting a steampunk novel was one of the things that motivated me to pick up the project. Steampunk, for me, combines two things that I’m interested in: now-antiquated modes of etiquette and chivalry is one part; a quirkily retro take on futurism is the other. I have an odd relationship with futurism: for example, as a musician I like playing synthesizers but I think that the Moog or the VCS3 (which is basically a tuned oscilloscope) are more aesthetically attractive than the latest Roland or Yamaha. In attempting to envision the modern day from the point of view of the Victorians, steampunk has a similar, slightly ramshackle, take on technology, with the added benefit of hindsight. Faced with the choice of the beautiful flying ship of Space: 1889 & Beyond or the sterile rockets of NASA (in a hypothetical situation where they both work perfectly of course), who wouldn’t choose the former? Having said this, I’m not sure how an e-book would work in a steampunk universe. Perhaps one would wind a scroll around a pocket watch or a handmirror, akin to a pianola.
What difficulties did you face in converting a Role-playing Game scenario into a fully-fledged prose novella?
Converting an RPG into a prose novel is the equivalent, I think, of playing all the parts that would normally be covered in an RPG and rolling less dice. What was trickier, for me, was walking around someone else’s universe. In my previous writing, I’ve been largely sending my characters around slightly distorted versions of the world we live in (or at least, the world I live in, your mileage may vary) and/or universes I’ve made up. In S:1889 the ‘rules’- of physics, politics, whatever- already existed. Not being from a military, naval or scientific background, learning and operating within the rules of this universe served as more of (what my day job would call) ‘a development opportunity’ for me than the fact that the universe was created as an RPG. That’s why I was glad to have the co-writing skills of Frank Chadwick, who is hugely knowledgeable about the combat forces and, obviously, about the Space:1889 universe.
Who are your favourite characters?
I’m always a sucker for feisty, impulsive female characters so it goes without saying that Annabelle Somerset was a delight to write. Of the characters indigenous to ‘The Dark Side of Luna’, I’m fond of Howard Phillips, a scientist on Luna, and Ross McKittrick, who’s Nathanial’s warden at the start of the book. Although they’re not necessarily ‘a character’, I like both the Drobates and the Saltators, both new to the series here.
Your three favourite moments in Dark Side of Luna are…?
Difficult to simultaneously answer this question and avoid spoiling the book. In terms as vague as possible: Annabelle’s early discussion with Bedford; the entry by our heroes into the City of Light and Science; the late-night conversation between Nathanial and a long-lost ally.
What’s coming next from you?
I’m currently working on two novels, the former of which is the follow-up to my 2010 novel Cemetery Drive and which should, hopefully, be out this year. I’m working on a few things here and there in addition, although nothing concrete enough to confirm here. Plus I imagine that I’ll be booed out of community centres across the West Midlands in my capacity as pro-wrestling manager and diabolical evangelical preacher Reverend Lex.
And now an exclusive extract from Dark Side of Luna…
Further down the River of Life, Folkard had identified a clue. Scattered on the bank of the river were a number of shavings from branches, together with uncoiled rope which lay discarded near a bush. A nearby small stand of tall, slender mushroom-like trees had been decreased in number by four, judging from the stumps and sign of their trunks dragged across the loose shale. The leathery branches and fronds had clearly been trimmed from them and by the shore the group found the charred remains of some papers apparently torn from a notebook. Those which could still be deciphered showed a few sketches against which were some hurried notes.
“This writing is scarcely legible,” said Folkard.
“Yet certainly it is Grant’s,” said Stone, contemplating the burnt documents. “During our work together he would often pause and scribble notes like this on the blackboard. These particular notes do not illuminate his destination, but his intentions are clear. He meant to build himself a raft, which I can only presume he succeeded in doing. He’s a resourceful fellow, it has to be said. This at least serves as confirmation that our navigation thus far is accurate. He must have attempted to cover his tracks by burning his papers.”
“Why burn them?” Folkard asked. “Why not just throw them in the river?”
“Possibly the party from which he desired to hide his intentions was down-river,” Stone said. “Perhaps there are more remains which might serve as a clue as to where he was heading.”
As he scouted around the group to search for further clues, Folkard halted abruptly. His early sensation of being watched now was backed by solid evidence: footprints differing from those of the group. They seemed fairly fresh and pointed unusually outwards from each other, which, it could be presumed, gave the walker a bent gait, clearly unlike that of anyone in the party. Someone else had been here, and recently.
“Bad things are coming,” muttered Seaman Henry in a pessimistic tone.
“I would have to agree, Captain,” said Stone, looking from Henry to Folkard. “Whoever these others are, Grant clearly considered them dangerous.”
Folkard nodded. “Still, there is little choice, men. Sooner or later we will have to confront these men―if they are men―and I would rather we meet them on our terms than theirs.”
“Can we really entertain even the possibility that they are men, Captain?” Stone asked. “I mean―God―those footprints!”
“Highly possible, Professor Stone. Who knows what sort of torturous exercises the Russkies subject their soldiers to? In any case, whether man or alien, they mean us no good or they would have shown themselves—if not to us, to the research station personnel. So everyone draw your weapons and when we move we will spread out, so if someone does fall upon us, some at least will be free of the melee and able to give supporting fire.”
“Permission to speak, sir?” asked Henry, somewhat surprisingly. When Folkard gave his consent, Henry continued. “Sir, permission to guard Miss Somerset if she stays behind? Likely to be conflict in other group. Can’t have a lady abducted.”
“Ah, and you’re suggesting that she may need someone to fight for her, Henry?”
Henry merely nodded in reply.
“Very chivalrous, Mister Henry,” said Miss Somerset.
“Yes, I do rather agree with you, Henry,” said Folkard. “Excellent thinking. I suspect the danger will be greatest for the forward party so I shall lead. McKittrick, Burroughs, you shall accompany me. Professor Stone, you as well, if you please.”
“Perhaps I might also be of assistance, Captain Folkard?” offered Phillips. “I am not yet too old for adventuring and I may have some insight that could be useful. That is, if you are amenable to the input of a civilian?”
“Very well and thank you. Miss Somerset, Seaman Henry, Doctor Staples, I would like you in the centre of the party. Chief Charles, you take Gibbs and O’Hara and form the rearguard. You’re the senior petty officer here, so if something happens to me, you’re in command, and no backtalk from any of these civilians, no matter how many doctorates they hold. Understood?”
“K’chuk,” Folkard continued, “I would be obliged if you and your men went in the centre, with Miss Somerset, to guard her and Doctor Staples in the event of an attack.”
The Selenites looked among themselves with an air of reluctance. They were communicating telepathically, as ever; it did seem, however, that K’chuk was displaying more of a desire for combat than his men. “Selenites fight if needed,” K’chuk eventually replied.
“Very well. Now let’s move out, but proceed with extreme caution.”
They walked for several hours along the river. It could not be said to be silent, as the sound of the water was always present, contained, amplified, and distorted by the narrow covered canyon through which it ran, now murmuring, now gurgling, now roaring as it dropped over a low falls or broke into foamy waves among the rocks of a rapids. But the river’s voice was so omnipresent that after a while it seemed almost to dwindle into half-heard background noise.
Something about the skeleton, the strange footprints, the burnt remnants of cryptic notes, and this seemingly-endless river combined to silence their tongues as well. None of them spoke until Stone raised his hand and cried out.
“Hallo! What’s that up ahead?”
Folkard held his hand up and the column halted. He studied the small, dark feature on the ground Stone had seen, perhaps a quarter of a mile on, studied it with eyes used to picking out the single flickering white light of a cutter from a background of a thousand stars.
“Bodies,” he said at last. “Two of them, I’d say, although we’ll have to get closer to be certain. Charles, you stay here with the rearguard and the main body. Find yourself some cover and stay put, no matter what happens, until I give you the all-clear and wave you forward. Clear?”
“Aye aye, Sir.”
“Good man. I’ll take the advanced party on ahead and see what’s what. Everyone on your toes.” Folkard cocked the hammer on his Enfield to emphasize the point.
As the captain and the four others of the advanced party drew near their objective, it became all too apparent whose bodies had been piled in such a way, and the sight—to say nothing of the stench—were enough that men with weaker constitutions would have run screaming for the surface.
“I knew those men. Captain, say it isn’t so!” McKittrick appealed to his captain, who was knelt by the bodies.
“I’m afraid it very much is so, gentlemen,” Folkard said grimly. “Ensign Challoner and Able Seaman Clements, late of Sovereign.”
“Surely this is impossible. Those men were taken months ago!” gasped Stone. “Yet these corpses are fresh. Why, they’re barely three hours dead!”
“But why keep a man alive for seven months, only to then kill him?” mused the young and nervous-looking Burroughs.
Folkard rose to his feet only to see the fresh horror that had materialised in a circle around them, seeming to rise from the sandy ground.
“This is why,” Folkard murmured, raising his revolver, “you kill them to lay a trap.” He fired the weapon, and one of the creatures spun backwards, blood and grey fluid spurting from its head. Before he could get off a second shot they were on him and knocked the revolver from his hand.
It’s been almost a month since Nathanial and Annabelle rejoined HMAS Sovereign. For Annabelle it’s been a journey of uncertainty; she had expected a happy reunion with George Bedford, first officer of the flagship of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, but instead he’s been distant. She fears it has something to do with her newfound disability. For Nathanial, however, the journey has been uneventful since he’s spent the entire time locked in the brig under the cloud of treason.
Things change abruptly when Sovereign is ordered to return to Luna, and retrieve Doctor Cyrus Grant, who has been sending increasingly confusing heliograph messages back to Earth. There is an air of uncertainty in Otterbein Base, and concern over Grant’s wellbeing. Once again he’s gone missing, turning his back on the Selenites and the British research team stationed there – leaving with creatures who are neither human nor Selenite.
A search and rescue mission is soon underway, taking our heroes deeper inside Luna than ever before. There they will discover the mysteries of the Drobates, and their amazing City of Light and Science. Annabelle is concerned that her uncle will no longer accept her, and Bedford is concerned that being on Luna once again will have adverse effects on his captain, but these things are the least of their worries. Grant is close to uncovering the answers to an age-old secret, but he is not the only one who seeks this knowledge. A creature stalks the dark underworld of Luna, a creature once human, and quite insane.
Dark Side of Luna is available from all good e-book stockist, including direct from Untreed Reads.
Space: 1889 & Beyond will return later in the year, when the series editor, Andy Frankham-Allen, and property owner, Frank Chadwick, join forces for an explosive series two première… Conspiracy of Silence!
Dark Side of Luna © 2012 JT Wilson & Frank Chadwick and Untreed Reads Publishing.
Space: 1889 & Beyond © & ™ 1988/2012 Frank Chadwick.
All Rights Reserved.