Tag Archives: alternate history

Author Interview: Laurel Anne Hill

Author Laurel Anne Hill is an award-winning author of science fiction, fantasy, steampunk and horror. Many of her stories inspire readers to choose the way of worthiness.  Laurel is a fellow Broad Universe member and costumer with whom I’ve shared many a rapid fire reading with.  Please welcome her to No Wasted Ink.

Laurel Anne Hill for EWL Back CoverHello, I’m Laurel Anne Hill, author and former underground storage tank operator. Really! My day job for many years included environmental health and safety at a pharmaceutical research and development facility. I grew up in San Francisco with more dreams of adventure than good sense or money. My close brushes with death, love of family, respect for honor and belief in a higher power continue to influence my writing and my life. I’m blessed to have a loving husband and four wonderful children.

When and why did you begin writing?

I started writing before I could read. Stories created themselves within me I’d tell them to my older sister and she’d write them down. I’d illustrate my tales with pictures from comic books and magazines. My sister loved to write her own stories, too. I admired her and still do.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I was very young, I don’t think I understood the concept of being a writer. At some point in elementary school, I knew writing was what I wanted to do. I had a story published in the children’s section of a major San Francisco newspaper when I was eleven years old. Then I knew I’d become a real writer. The story, “Nancy Saves the Day,” was horrid, or course. Heck, I didn’t know the conventions for creating quality prose. I still read the piece every once in a while, to laugh and remind myself of how far I’ve progressed.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

A Life-Saving Mission

A mystical vision of an airship appears to fifteen-year-old Juanita in 1894. The long-dead captain commands her to prevent California’s thrown-away people—including young children—from boarding trains to an asylum. That institution’s director plots murder to reduce the inmate population.

Spirits watch over Juanita. But who is she? A mystic in love who holds life sacred? Or a ghost-possessed railroad-saboteur?

To save innocent lives Juanita must take lives of the corrupt. How can she reconcile her assignment with her belief in the sacredness of all human life? And will she survive to marry her betrothed?

Juanita sets out despite inner trepidation to sabotage the railroad. Her ancestor, Billy, guides her. Then bit by bit, she discovers the gut-wrenching truths all of her dead family neglected to reveal.

Ghosts, Goggles, Guns and Grit

Come visit Juanita’s world—an alternate nineteenth-century California—where spirits meet steampunk, where both love and anger emanate from beyond the grave.
What inspired you to write this book?

In the early 1990s, I had a dream about an elderly woman riding a train. The train headed toward a disreputable asylum where inmates died of neglect or even by euthanasia. The attendant placed an abandoned baby in a basket on the adjacent seat. The woman realized the baby was her great-granddaughter and escaped the train. With a broken foot, she carried the infant many miles. This dream became the basis of a short story, never published.

Where had the dream come from?

First of all, when I was a teen in the 1950s, my beloved maternal Swedish grandmother had paid the hospital bill for the birth of one of my sister’s sons. The bill had cost Grandma much of what she’d possessed. Grandma had died in 1989. In the early 1990s, my memories of her remained close.

Next, a month before I birthed my daughter in 1979, I’d fallen and broken my foot as I left work in San Francisco. My husband, David, had expected to meet me on the other side of the bay. Cell phones as we now know them didn’t exist. I hadn’t wanted to worry David by not showing up when expected. I’d walked on a broken foot, taken public transportation and traveled thirty miles to reach the train station near our home.

Third, and quite important, before I’d married David, I’d worked for him in a hospital laboratory. The hospital performed lots of abortions, including many late term. I’d believed in the right to choose, and still do. Yet stacks of plastic specimen containers containing pickled babies left a sour taste in my mouth. After all, I’d hoped to birth a child of my own someday.

That fateful night of dreaming, my pro-choice beliefs had gone head-to-head with a pro-life type visualization. In the story that emerged, a woman who’d married into a Mexican family declared her own opinions. I had no choice but to accept her challenge to tell the tale of the baby she saved. Only years later did I discover the inspiration and tragedy associated with my paternal Mexican great-grandmother’s life. I’d never met her. She’d died over twenty years before I’d been born.

Do you have a specific writing style?

My stories tend to be plot driven, although I try to stay close to my point-of-view characters. I like to “show” rather than “tell” whenever I can.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

I’d gone through a number of potential titles during the writing process. When I sent my manuscript to Sand Hill Review Press, I’d entitled the novel “Woman of the Light.” That title hadn’t worked for the editor, so I chose The Engine Woman’s Light. I wanted potential readers

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

What we do can make a difference in the world.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life? Some experiences are based on events in my own life, as explained above. Also, I’ve hiked, camped, run rapids, ridden horseback and operated a steam locomotive.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring? I love the work of many authors, such as Neil Gaiman and Graham Joyce. I think, however, the work of children’s authors have had the biggest impact on my life. For example, Elizabeth Foster, author of Gigi: The Story of a Merry-Go-Round Horse, showed me the magic created when blending imagination with the reality of world conditions and history.

If you had to choose, is there a writer you consider a mentor? Why?

My mentor is Charlotte Cook, a writer, editor and dear friend. She has the ability to read a story and determine with ease what makes the piece work and what doesn’t.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator? Julie Dillon,

Julie Dillon, winner of the Hugo and Chesley awards, designed the cover of The Engine Woman’s Light. I love the vibrancy of her art, and her breathtaking ability to portray diverse women protagonists.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

If you love a story that’s not working, don’t give up on it. Put it away for a while then take a fresh look. Read each page, then ask yourself if the text invites a reader to turn the page, and why?

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you for reading my work! All the characters living in my head thank you as well.

EWL cover proof 2 RGB (4)_001Laurel Anne Hill
Orinda, California


The Engine Woman’s Light

Cover Artist: Julie Dillon
Publisher: Sand Hill Review Press,


Scifaiku – Sentential

Scifaiku - Sentential


ancient stone circle transcends
center monolith stands as sentential
a touch slips you between times

*poem first published in Far Horizons Magazine – October 2015

A Scifaiku by Wendy Van Camp
Illustrated by Wendy Van Camp

Scifaiku poem is inspired from a famous time-travel story of science fiction literature.

The Blurry Boundaries of Historical Fantasy by S.A. Bolich

alternate history

Whether they know it or not, fantasy and science fiction fans loooove history. The genre is riddled with it, from stock pseudo-medieval settings to warped Victorian-age steampunk to alternate histories such as Harry Turtledove’s long speculation about what would have happened if the South had won the American Civil War. From the study of history and clashing cultures we can draw plausible conclusions about what life might be like in the future or on distant worlds, where human needs and human nature will be tested by new technologies, new environments, and new cultural constructs.

With so broad a playground to romp in, how do you tell if what you are reading (or writing, for that matter) falls into the category you think it does? Various fan groups thrive on infighting over “proper” labels for various works. Tags such as steampunk, historical fantasy, and alternate history raise certain expectations in readers hunting through bookstore catalogs. Disappointing those expectations can result in the reader tossing the book and never reading that author again. That is a shame, because the overlap between subgenres using historical settings is real and often fuzzy.

Steampunk is all the rage just now, sparking elegant trends in convention attire and wildly imaginative takes on steam-based technology. This genre fails without that technology; the best of it goes far beyond the near-obligatory airships to imagine the profound impact of these steam inventions on society. The setting is generally Victorian, usually pre-World War I. That war, of course, may never happen in steampunk worlds, where individuals and governments seize on the steam-powered tools that have reshaped 19th century society to bend history in new directions. Alternate history is often, therefore, a major element of steampunk.

Alternate history envisions a whole new reality, which requires a good shove at a critical historical juncture. This often involves time travel, either planned or accidental. Eric Flint’s 1632 uses alien intervention to displace an entire West Virginia town into the middle of Germany at the height of the Thirty Years War. L. Sprague deCamp’s Lest Darkness Fall sends a witness to Mussolini’s Italy from 1938 back to ancient Rome, where his intervention prevents the Dark Ages. Sometimes the new version of history grows organically from actual history. In Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories, England’s King Richard I (Lionheart) survives the siege of Chaluz, thus eliminating at a stroke the reign of King John, Magna Carta, the Wars of the Roses, and the entire sweep of British, French, and European history. Change can be also sparked by the introduction of new technology, as when Turtledove provides Robert E. Lee’s army with AK-47 rifles against the Union army’s muzzle-loaders.

To count as alternate history, the change must be lasting and sweeping. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court fails this test because, while Hank Morgan’s arrival at Camelot certainly affects Arthur’s mythical court, it does not affect “actual” history in the long run. This brings us to historical fantasy, which offers limitless choices for writers and readers. Garrett’s Plantagenet Europe uses magic, which, to an alternate history purist, blurs the lines quite a lot. Fortunately, history has room for a nearly infinite list of subgenres, from gaslight fantasy (Victorian era that combines “straight” history with a magical overlay, much like urban fantasy) to Weird Westerns, which can combine science fiction, magic, or steampunk with the Old West, to the SF of Connie Willis’s time-traveling historians. While the bulk of such stories use western history as the catalyst, writers such as Futaro Yamada, Ryo Hanmura, and Hiroshi Aramata have “altered” Japanese history and imagined all sorts of magical historical mayhem.
The one immutable rule of using history to drive a story is that it must be plausible. The ramifications of changing a critical moment in time must be logical and hold together as a construct across economic, cultural, and geographic boundaries. Changes large enough to alter the course of one town’s history must necessarily affect the region, the country, and eventually the world, because a town does not exist in isolation unless it is some version of Brigadoon. Even the most magic-laden “straight” historical fantasy needs to get the setting right, because true history lovers will cry foul when writers get it wrong.

We can argue about the lines between historical subgenres, but in the end, it all comes down to: is it a good story? Vampires in the Old West, Mongols in London, persecuted witches plotting their own Reformation—why the heck not?

Author SA BolichS. A. Bolich’s books often open quietly—but don’t be fooled. By page 10 you may be hooked so thoroughly you’ll forget to get off at your bus stop. Her worlds are lived-in, magical, sometimes mind-bendingly exotic, always historically accurate, and inhabited by people who reach out and grab us by the throat and make us care about their problems. A historian, former military intelligence officer, and lifelong horsewoman, she writes everything from “straight” and alternate history to fantasy and science fiction, filled with characters who remain in your heart long after the book is closed. Her novel, “In Heaven’s Shadow,” well illustrates the blurred lines between “straight” history, magic realism, and paranormal, blending a poignant ghost story with the struggle of a living magic-wielder to find acceptance in a straight-laced Virginia village at the height of the Civil War. She is currently working on an alternate history/fantasy series that uses a fresh twist on the Salem witch trials to spark a fascinating and arcane version of the Civil War. Find out more about S. A. Bolich and where to find her work at www.sabolichbooks.com, or follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/s.a.bolich or www.facebook.com/sue.bolich).

Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon

Book Name: His Majesty’s Dragon
Author: Naomi Novik
First Published: 2006

Naomi Novik was born in New York in 1973 and raised on Long Island. Novik learned to read at an early age and her favorite books were by J.R.R. Tolkien and Jane Austen. She studied English Literature at Brown University and did graduate work in Computer Science at Columbia University. She became involved in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide, but soon realized that she enjoyed writing books more than creating video games.

Novik’s first novel is His Majesty’s Dragon which is the beginning of the Temeraire series. She has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Several of the Temeraire novels have gone on to be New York Times bestsellers and the books are options by Peter Jackson to be turned into a movie or television series in the future.

She is a member of the board for the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), an organization dedicated to the promotion of fan fiction, fan videos, and real-person fiction.

Novik is currently a resident of Manhatten and is married to entrepreneur and author Charles Ardai. They have one child.

“And we must still try or we would be leaving our friends to fight without us. I think this is what you have meant by duty, all along; I do understand, at least this much of it.”
― Naomi Novik, His Majesty’s Dragon

His Majesty’s Dragon begins in the year four (1804) during Britain’s struggles in the Napoleonic war with France. This is a tale of alternate history where dragons are alive and well and an accepted part of the landscape. They come in many sizes and breeds. Some spit fire or acid, others can turn on a dime in the air. When a dragon hatches, humans “put it in harness” in order to control the creature and use it for the war. Each dragon imprints on a human who becomes it companion and Captain.

The HMS Reliant captures a 36-gun frigate during battle and the crew discovers that a dragon egg was being ferried within. Captain William Laurence declares the dragon egg a prize. The egg is about to hatch and Laurence gathers his officers together in the hope that the hatchling will imprint on one of them. The small black dragon with unusual six spines on his wings chooses Captain Laurence, much to his chagrin. Laurence names his new charge “Temeraire” after a second-rate French ship that was also captured and brought into service for England. The name means “reckless”.

Laurence and Temeraire are inducted into Britain’s Aerial Corps. Laurence is used to the Royal Navy where the world is spit and polish formal and he is much respected as a ship’s Captain. He is in for a shock by the change of his status when he joins the Corps. The Captains who do battle with their dragons are an informal lot and the Corps itself is looked down upon as the least of all the branches of service. Still, despite the hardship to his character and career, Laurence develops an affection for the young dragon. He learns that Temeraire is a Chinese Imperial dragon, one that is meant to bond with an emperor and is the second most rare type of dragon in the world. Only a Chinese Celestial, known for its powerful breath of “divine wind”, is more rare.

Life in the Corps takes adjustment, but Laurence and Temeraire train together to become a battle unit. He and his dragon adopt a flight and ground crew that supports Temeraire in his care and during battle. Laurence also meets the mother of one of his crew, Jane Roland, with whom he develops a relationship.

During the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), Napoleon’s navy and aerial strength is diminished. The moral of the Captains and their dragons is high during this victory for England, but during their celebrations, a Captain and his mortally wounded dragon arrive at Dover with important intelligence. Napoleon does not plan to send his troops by sea as expected, instead he will send them by air using transports hauled by dragons. This news ends the celebrations as the Captains prepare their dragons for combat, knowing that they will be outgunned and outnumbered.

Laurence and Temeraire fly out with their formation to meet the French aerial armada, their mission is to destroy the transports. It is the final test of their team: The young dragon who is deemed unlikely to develop a breath weapon and the former seaman transformed into a flight captain. Can they meet the challenge ahead and save Britain from Napoleon’s armada? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

His Majestey's Dragon Book CoverI’ve been a fan of books about dragons starting with McCaffery’s creations on the planet of Pern. I am also a huge fan of Jane Austen and Tolkien, so when His Majesty’s Dragon came on the bookshelves in 2006, I purchased a book immediately. I was transported into a “flinklock” world of the battles between Britain and France due to Napoleon’s rise to power in the early 1800’s. There was one little change in the history of this book, dragons were real and a part of the art of war, much like elephants were used in battle in India and other South Asian countries throughout history, but these giant creatures have wings.

Novik has a way of blending the fantasy elements into the details of her alternate history story that make these ideas seem natural and believable. The tale is mainly about the relationship between Captain Laurence and the dragon Temeraire and how they become comrades in arms and close friends, but the world building that surrounds these two characters is what makes the book shine. There is somewhat uneven pacing in places. I found the training section to be slower than the progressive battle scenes with the dragons and their onboard crews shooting with powder guns at the enemy. The romance between Laurence and Jane Roland was less than to be desired and perhaps could have even been cut out.

My favorite parts of the book is when Temeraire is a dragonet onboard the HMS Reliant and the budding relationship he has with the Captain of the ship. The antics of the young dragon are incredibly cute, rather reminding one of training a new puppy. I enjoyed the Aerial Corps where the conduct is casual and more modern than Laurence is used to and WOMEN are also Captains of the fighting dragons since one of the breeds will only accept a female as its bondmate. It gives a modern edge to this 19th century tale that is a breath of fresh air. (Forgive the pun.)

His Majesty’s Dragon is the first of a series, the final book coming out in 2016. Novik is an excellent author and sure to please fans who would not mind a little fantasy and dragons mixed in with their historical regency era fiction.

The Temeraire Series:

His Majesty’s Dragon (2006) / Temeraire (UK)
Throne of Jade (2006)
Black Powder War (2006)
Empire of Ivory (2007)
Victory of Eagles (2008)
Tongues of Serpents (2010)
Crucible of Gold (2012)
Blood of Tyrants (2013)
League of Dragons (forthcoming, 2016)

Steampunk: Learning the Genre

Nathan Fillion in Steampunk GarbA popular subgenre of science fiction and fantasy is known as steampunk. It features steam-powered technology with the decorative sensibilities of the 19th century Victorian era. Steampunk stories can also be considered a sort of alternate history where the British Empire continued on to be a major power in the world and their empirical style of culture and manners still hold sway in a future world.

It is often thought that the origin of steampunk as a genre began with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The stories of the adventurer explorer or the gentleman inventor who travels through the world or in time via their abilities and education and bring British culture to other peoples is a trope that is common in many steampunk stories. While Wells and Verne were certainly part of the inspiration of steampunk as a genre, they were writing alternate history or true science fiction of their times. In other words, looking to how the future may be based on the technology of their own times, much as science fiction writers do today.

The origins of steampunk was actually back in the late 1980s with a trio of authors in Southern California. Tim Powers, James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter were a group of friends that met to talk about their writing. They developed a style of science fiction that was influenced by victorian fantasies of the past and taking it to the next level. The name for what they were doing came about when Jeter wrote a letter to Locus Magazine in 1987.

Dear Locus,

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I’d appreciate your being so good as to route it Faren Miller, as it’s a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in “the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate” was writing in the “gonzo-historical manner” first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps.

—K.W. Jeter

If you look at the “gonzo-historical” books of these three authors, such as Power’s Anbuis Gates, Jeter’s Morlock Night, or Blaycock’s Homunculus, you will see that while all the novels are flavored with the Victorian era’s culture there is no fixed time period or even technology. Steampunk is not about the aristocracy, although they are often present and it is not always about steam powered gadgets either. Sometimes the Victorian idea of the supernatural takes precedence. If you tire of Steampunk stories that feature nothing but airships, goggle wearing heroines or characters that go around with steampowered batman belts, fear not. Look at the origins of the genre and you will discover that these conventions did not appear until much later.

Today, the term steampunk can refer to any of the clothing fashions, jewelry, and art objects that have a particular Victorian flair. Steampunk design emphasis’s a balance between the form and function, somewhat like the arts and crafts movement did, there is a blur between the line of tool and decoration. Examples include computers keyboards and electric guitars that are redesigned to employ materials such as polished brass, wood, iron and leather with Victorian conventions, rejecting the norm of current day industrial designs. Many of the costumes feature corsets and goggles, the color brown, or antiqued British military uniforms.

The best way to learn more about the genre is to read books by the three original authors and then expand out to newer authors of the genre. It will gain you a better balance about the genre and help you avoid falling into the cliches that have developed over the past ten years since the genre has gone more mainstream. Below are some of the places that I frequent to keep up to date with the steampunk movement.

The Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles
This is an active forum where all aspects of steampunk are discussed. Clothing, art, music, writing and events. If you are looking for examples in costuming or simply want to know where the local steampunk groups hang out, this is a good place to start.

The Steampunk Empire
This online community is one of my favorites. The forums, photos and places to connect with fellow steampunk enthusiasts are many. I learn about new conventions from this site all the time.

The Gatehouse: Online Dieselpunk and Steampunk Magazine
I’m new to this magazine, but I like what I see. It covers more of the literary side of steampunk and goes into what steampunk and dieselpunk are. I find it a good resource for writers wishing to enter into the genre and for readers who want to learn more about the origins of what they are reading.