How Airships Worked

How Passenger Airships Worked

For years I didn’t understand the steampunk community’s obsession with airships. I understood that they were transportation ephemera of a sort and that they harkened back to a bygone era, but I always thought they were too small. This was due in large part to my misunderstanding of their construction.

I was further confused when I realized I didn’t understand how mooring masts worked. The giant spire atop the Empire State Building was initially designed to be a mooring mast, but I could never understand how passengers would get down from the gondola. Ropes? Ladders? Either way, it sounded like it would be dangerous.

It wasn’t until I read Larry Correia’s novel Hard Magic in January that I decided to look further into dirigibles. His book utilizes them a great deal, but I was having a difficult time picturing the spaces described, so I began to research. It turns out my assumptions were very wrong. Airships had decks! Passenger cabins! Lounges! Promenades! As I started asking my friends, I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my ignorance. I blame The Rocketeer.

So where were these accommodations? This surprised me as well. As the illustration below describes, they were most often inside the ridge frame of the airship itself.

A 1928 drawing by S.W. Clatworthy showing the accommodation aboard the R100
A 1928 drawing by S.W. Clatworthy showing the accommodation aboard the R100

For years, I operated under the assumption that passengers were as crammed into the tight space of a gondola (similar to military dirigibles.) But the tiny gondolas that dangled below looked uncomfortable for a long flight across the Atlantic. It turns out they were the exact opposite of cramped. When I realized they had more in common with starships, ocean liners, and riverboats, my perspective changed. They became something much more, and I immediately understood the obsession.

My research led me to The Airship Heritage Trust, which had a collection of images of the British R100, one of the premiere passenger airships of its day and similar in design to the famous Hindenburg. There you can find photos, ship plans, flight logs, and much more. If you’re looking for details, I highly recommend browsing that site.

Plans of the R100
Plans of the R100

I was fascinated by the layout, and the passion began to make sense. Below is a collection of images and some deck plans I have found relating to the interior and passenger spaces of airships. These come from the British R100 and R101 and the Nazi LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, LZ 129 Hindenburg, and LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II. I also included a photo at the end showing passengers boarding the R101 so you can see how mooring masts worked. Makes a lot more sense than what I had in my head. In some cases, I did some minor color correction and cropping to give the gallery some unity.


[!] Note: While one of the most successful dirigibles, the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin had a different layout than the others. It crammed passengers and crew into a large forward gondola that extended partly into the ship’s frame. You can see its design and deck plan here. The larger LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II moved passengers into the frame.


While airships won’t be appearing in my writing anytime soon, I now understand the attraction. They’re an ocean liner in the sky, a home to their crew, and a hotel to their passengers. They’re not at all cramped. I can see why they’d be the transportation choice for pulpy adventures. Just make sure you have your ticket.

Lessons from the Shadows

Lessons from the Shadows

Recently, I was asked by fellow author H.M. Jones if I’d write a guest post for her blog. She and I both enjoy writing darker fantasy, and I wanted to stay centered around that theme. The result was Lessons from the Shadows. Here’s how the post starts:

“It wasn’t until college that I discovered H.P. Lovecraft, but I had been reading authors influenced by his work for years, Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. The dark, weird, and mysterious always enchanted me. I was drawn to the shadows; something there tapped into my core emotions and excited me. Lovecraft and I are very different. He speaks of the “fear of the unknown,” which inspired him; for me, it was not fear but a fascination. I’m not scared of “things beyond.” When I started writing, I found myself attracted to those concepts…”

Be sure to read the rest of the post over at H.M. Jones’ blog. I talk anticipation, character, worldbuilding, and more. It was satisfying to take a moment to ponder on what I had learned since starting this process. I hope you enjoy the post (and find it useful.) We also did a little interview which is at the end of the article, if you want to know more about my literary heroes and inspirations don’t miss it.

Also, make sure to check out H.M.’s work including her latest novel: Monochrome. (Which is currently sitting on my Kindle.) While you’re at it be sure to look into her other work as well: short stories, poetry, and graphic novels.

A Riverboat's Menu

A Riverboat’s Menu

Food and food culture say a lot about a place and its people, in many ways it helps defines them. While you don’t have to go to the detailed lengths of George R. R. Martin, it’s important to have a working knowledge of the food culture in your settings. Especially in fantasy worlds. The river nations in my latest project, Coal Belly, are no exception. Since a great portion of the book takes place on a sternwheel riverboat, I spent some time looking into the preparation of food onboard. After all, I want to make sure that everything feels both realistic and natural.

Dining onboard a passenger packet wasn’t all too different from dining at a nice restaurant. Cooks serving onboard a riverboat managed to create extravagant meals of multiple courses from tiny kitchens and working with a small staff. Attentive waiters served the diners during the meal. Ingredients were usually purchased at ports of call and were varied. While every riverboat was different, pantries were often located on the Boiler Deck just off from the Main Cabin and connected by stair to the kitchen. You can see the kitchen of the Cincinnati in the photos below.

While gathering and compiling images for my Riverboat Interiors post from a few weeks ago, I found myself reading a blog entitled The American Menu. There I found the menu from the U.S. Mail Packet Princess dated 1857. This is the same vessel captured in the Marie Adrien Persac painting from the last post. I found the menu itself a fascinating window into the past, and I wanted to share. I’ve posted it below, click to view it larger.

Menu for the Str. Princess
Bill of Fare from the Str. Princess, April 19th, 1857

Henry Voight, the curator of The American Menu, had a lot of interesting observations regarding the Princess’ menu. He notes the lack of French (common on upper-class menus the mid-1800s), spelling differences, and the particular regional ingredients featured among the pound cake and roast beef. Check out his full post over on The American Menu. It’s worth the read, you can learn what “macararonia” happens to be, and get a glimpse into the diet of the Antebellum South, and discover the fate of the Princess.

Lunch in the kitchen at night (Riverboat unknown)
Lunch in the kitchen at night (Riverboat unknown)

If you’re looking for more information and photos of riverboats why not check out my post on Riverboats & Leeves. If you’d to see more of the internals of these boats be sure to look at my post on Riverboat Interiors. Likewise, make sure to spend a few moments investigating the strange case of The Masonic Ironclad. While my knowledge is not as extensive as others, I’d be happy to answer any questions folks have about anything posted above or riverboats in general, you can send me an email or leave a comment below.

My Norwescon 40 Schedule

My Norwescon 40 Schedule

Convention season is just around the corner, and I’ll be starting my year off with the fine folks at Norwescon 40 in SeaTac, Washington April 13th – 16th. This year happens to be their 40th Anniversary, which is pretty dang amazing for a regional convention.

Unlike the last few years (Norwescon 38, Norwescon 39) I won’t be running a table on Writer’s Row. I love doing it, but I wanted to take a break this year and allow myself some time to enjoy the convention. So look for me in the halls! I’m a friendly sort. Stop me and say hi! Let’s play a game or get a beer and talk shop. I’m the big guy in black.

I’ll also be on a few panels and I’ve listed out my schedule below. You can find out more about my fellow panelists by clicking on their names, links go to their respective corners on the web. (Buy their books.) As before, it’ll be an honor sitting among such talent.

Not going to lie, listing all of this out got me excited. Is it April yet?


THURSDAY, APRIL 13th

8:00 PM – 10:00 PM — Art Show Reception

Location: Art Show
Details: It’s an art show! Drink wine, eat cheese, look at art, get introspective!


FRIDAY, APRIL 14th

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM — Advanced Self-Publishing

Location: Cascade 5 & 6
Moderator: Tori Centanni
Panelists: Annie Bellet, Mark Teppo, Elliott KayK. M. Alexander
Details: 
Self-publishing 201! Already self-publishing but want to take your career to the next level? This panel is for you. Pros will discuss how best to brand your books, how to increase sales and visibility, and how to avoid the newest pitfalls. We’ll talk strategy, branding, and how to manage your career so that you have the greatest odds of success.

8:00 PM – 9:00 PM — Worldbuilding: Alien Cultures that Don’t Dehumanize

Location: Cascade 10
Moderator: Liz Argall
Panelists: Stephanie Weippert, Rhiannon HeldK. M. Alexander
Details: 
Set a Cowboy-and-Indian yarn on another planet. Swap the cowboys for space rangers and the indigenes for monstrous aliens – the premise for countless space operas of the pulp era. The metaphor was clear: Native Americans are monstrous. How do you mirror alien societies with their earthly counterparts without portraying non-Western races and religions as inhuman themselves?


SATURDAY, APRIL 15th

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM — SF/Fantasy Battle Royale

Location: Evergreen 3 & 4
Moderator: Matt Youngmark
Panelists: K. M. Alexander
Details: Who would win in a fight? A fast-paced, bracket-style, breathtakingly unscientific showdown to determine this year’s Ultimate Fictional Champion. Ready…? Fight!

7:00 PM – 8:00 PM — The Changing Landscape of Worldbuilding

Location: Cascade 5 & 6
Moderator: Brenda Carre
Panelists: Raven OakK. M. Alexander
Details: Nature is rewriting the once immutable rules of worldbuilding. There’s liquid water on Mars. Who knew? Dinosaurs had feathers. Exoplanets exist in defiance of everything we knew about planetary mechanics. What does it mean for today’s writers when the building of credible landscapes is proving a much more organic and free-flowing process than once believed?

9:00 PM – 10:00 PM — Location, Location, Location: Horror’s Unsung Character

Location: Cascade 5 & 6
Moderator: Jaym Gates
Panelists: Nathan Crowder, Evan J. PetersonK. M. Alexander
Details: 
A returning panel from last year where we discuss the importance of setting on a horror narrative, complete with favorite settings from our panel of horror professionals.


SUNDAY, APRIL 16th

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM — Urban Renewal

Location: Cascade 3 & 4
Moderator: Kristi Charish
Panelists: Rhiannon Held, Annie BelletK. M. Alexander
Details: 
Join our panelists as they discuss the common tropes in urban fantasy and the unique ways in which those themes can be reimagined for the audience.

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM — Worldbuilding: This is How the World Ends

Location: Cascade 10
Moderator: Catherine Cooke Montrose
Panelists: Rhiannon Held, Jaym GatesK. M. Alexander
Details: 
Whether you’re writing zombie horror or post-apocalyptic romance, you need to figure out how the broken world got into that state. Super virus? War? Natural disaster? Pros will talk about manufacturing the end of the world as we know it in order to give your post-apocalyptic world a solid foundation.


As usual, I’ll be active on Twitter throughout the weekend. I’m @KM_Alexander, follow me! You can preregister for Norwescon 40 here and get passes to all four days for only $65. There’s also a lot of information at Norwescon.org including details on this year’s guests of honor (Ian McDonald, Cory & Catska Ench, Ethan Siegel, Nancy Kress, and Angry Robot Books), The Philip K. Dick Awards, information on the Doubletree Hotel, and a lot more. Hopefully, I’ll see you there!