The Sterling Directive

By Tim Standish

An espionage thriller set in an alternative late 19th century London.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Why are there airships in Sterling's Victorian London?

When I was writing The Sterling Directive I had a small, dedicated group of readers who read each chapter as it was written and gave me very helpful feedback. While most of these early readers spotted right away that I was writing a counterfactual Victorian novel - some even calling it 'steampunk' - one or two of them asked me the same question: why are there airships in Victorian London?

Airships feature in the book, quite significantly in an earlier chapter, firmly embedded as part of London's industrious, daily bustle. The eagle-eyed of you may also have spotted the several airships in Andrew's excellent Sterling print (see above for a close up). But why are they there? 

Well, there are three reasons for airships appearing in The Sterling Directive:

  1. I think airships are very, very cool and my goal is to write a best seller that subliminally kickstarts a new age of airship transport. I think it might be working already.
  2. Airships are a pretty well-recognised signifier for Victorian scifi, or what is more commonly called 'steampunk'. This is basically fiction that asks 'what if the Victorians had access to a range of advanced technology?' and often results in jet-powered penny farthings, steam-carriages, mechanical computers and... airships. (See here for what wikipedia has to say about Steampunk and here for a fantastically in-depth cultural exploration by bestselling US author Jay Kristoff). I hesitate to describe The Sterling Directive as steampunk myself, because it's more gas/electric/combustion-powered and also more downbeat than punky. Maybe gas-ambient? Spark-indie? I'm not sure and maybe it doesn't matter. 
  3. The book's version of Victorian London starts with the assumption that Charles Babbage's mechanical computer went successfully into production in the 1850s. By the 1890s, when the novel is set, a computer revolution has occurred that has accelerated technological progress across the board. This means that technology appears in Sterling's timeline 10 to 25 years earlier than it did in our own, and some things even earlier. So, transatlantic airship flights that weren't a reality until the 1920s and 30s, are commonplace for Sterling, his colleagues at The Map Room, and the criminals they are trying to track down. 

So now you know why the airships are there. Who knows, one day it might help you out in the 'Agent Sterling' round of your local pub quiz!

Thanks again for all your support - I can't wait to hear what you think of Sterling's London once you get to read it. Do keep spreading the word and, if you are a twitter person, you can find me at @timstandishUK 



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