Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Steampunk Contraptions of Dreamwielder

Diversion Books has put book one of The Dreamwielder Chronicles on sale for 99 cents in all ebook formats through September 13, 2016. To celebrate, author Garrett Calcaterra talks about the steampunk-inspired vehicles and contraptions in the series that have captured readers' imaginations and make the books stand out from so many traditional epic fantasies.

When I first started planning Dreamwielder, I knew I wanted it to move beyond the generic medieval fantasy setting. I don't know that I purposefully set out to make the book have a steampunk aesthetic, but a confluence of influences led me in that direction.

One of those influences was reading the work of steampunk progenitors James P. Blaylock, Tim Powers, and K.W. Jeter. Readers might be surprised, however, by how few steampunk gadgets and gizmos are actually in the works of those three authors. Modern steampunk has really gravitated towards having tons of cool steampunk gadgets and vehicles, but that's not the case with Blaylock, Powers, and Jeter. Sure, there are airships and time machines in there, but their work is more about the dingy, early-industrial setting of the Victorian era, and that's what I was interested in.

Artwork by Patrick Williams
The most stereotypical steampunk contraption I included in Dreamwielder is Siegbjorn's airship. His ship achieves buoyancy the same way a hot air balloon does, with...well, hot air. The only unique aspect to the ship is that the fuel source Siegbjorn uses in the furnace is hand-made by sorcerers.

In book two, Souldrifter, I introduce a new breed of airships. These airships achieve buoyancy the same way modern blimps do, with alpha ether (aka helium). They also have outrigger sails that are used to propel the ships forward with the aid of sorcerers known as stormbringers.

Another big influence that led me to adding steampunk components to The Dreamwielder Chronicles was my time working as an industrial hygienist, particularly my time monitoring the processes of oil refineries and then my stint doing air monitoring for cleanup workers during the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Artwork by Patrick Williams
I saw firsthand the devastation that our reliance on fossil fuels leads to, and with that in mind I created the dark city of Col Sargoth. To Emperor Guderian, the city is a triumph of human ingenuity over nature and magic, but as the reader quickly learns, it's actually a once proud city that is now ravaged by industry run amok, with coal smelters belching out black smoke that blots out the sky and covers the buildings with soot.

Emperor Guderian's other "triumph" would be his war wagons. These steam-powered, armored wagons are essentially a steampunk version of tanks, and they prove to be unstoppable by traditional means of combat, as our heroes discover in Dreamwielder. The war wagons also play a role in Souldrifter, but to a lesser extent.

The last big influence on the steampunk aspects in Dreamwielder is the work of two more authors: Mary Shelley and Octavia Butler. Shelley's Frankenstein is the classic tale of humans taking technology too far by meddling with life itself. I played with this theme, but by adding magic into the mix of technology and life.

Artwork by Patrick Williams
The Dreamwielder Chronicles is first and foremost a fantasy series, so it's no big surprise that my steampunk aspects are blended with fantasy aspects. This is most apparent with the scenthounds—part human sorcerer, part hound, and part mechanical compass. Readers also get glimpses of a past war where other hybrid abominations were created by magic. In fact, it's these creatures that led people to abhor magic and allowed Emperor Guderian to come into power in the first place. Readers will get to see more of these hybrid creatures in book 3 of the series, which I'm in the process of writing. 

As for Octavia Butler, her novel Wild Seed was a big influence in creating my character Wulfram, the shape changing sorcerer who hunts our hero, the dreamwielder Makarria. Although, now that I think about it, shape changing isn't really a steampunk aspect, so I'll leave it at that!

Garrett Calcaterra is author of The Dreamwielder Chronicles and other works of dark speculative fiction. To learn more, visit

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