Today I am honored to welcome author John Jackson Miller as a guest on the blog. He is a prolific writer who often inhabits the world of Star Wars and the realm of comic books, and his fantastic new novel Star Wars: Kenobi, just released on August 27. Below, John talks about trains and the ever-present links between the future and the past. Thanks, John!
STEAMING INTO SPACE: RAIL TRAVEL & THE WORLD OF OVERDRAFT
The Golden Age is twelve, or so says a friend of mine. I don’t know whether I was born too early for steampunk to be a part of my adolescent reading diet or if I just missed it, but my consumption always ran to hard science fiction of the Arthur C. Clarke stripe. I was interested in how theoretical gadgets worked, I suppose — but I hadn’t yet made the connection with existing mechanical conveyances of the past.
Enter my son, years later, who is just a year past twelve — and he’s proven to be the exact opposite. The kid has been train-crazy since he was a hatchling. I think I’ve gone to more model railroad shows than science fiction conventions since he got interested. He absolutely knows his stuff — the tour guides at the train museums listen in wonderment as he explains the workings of their own equipment to them. And he’s let it fire up his imagination.
To wit: it is his mission in life, he says, to figure out a way to replace the world’s diesel engines with new steam trains—which he intends to make both greener and more efficient than the machines that superseded them. He’s also planning to reestablish the defunct railroad that once went by our house. (I’m not sure I’m ready for the noise!)
Given all of that, I fully expect that steampunk fiction will be up his alley as he’s growing up, just as I was myself obsessed with Clarke and my other love, Star Wars. I think that’s what’s great about speculative fiction: it doesn’t speculate only in a single direction. There are plenty of onramps for readers’ imaginations.
It was partially his interest in railroads that inspired me to develop a rail-like aspect for interstellar travel in my SF novel for 47North, Overdraft: The Orion Offensive. The tale — which follows the misadventures of a conniving 22nd century stock trader whose failed scheme lands him on the farthest frontiers, trading to dangerous aliens while under the grudging guard of a team of high-tech bodyguards — is set in a universe with some peculiar physics. Only units of matter a little larger than a railroad car can travel between stars — meaning that interstellar commerce easily integrates with the container-traffic system that railroads gave us in the 19th Century. Large starships have to be broken down and shipped piece by piece: it’s a Lego kind of galaxy!
And Overdraft borrows some commercial dynamics from an earlier time, still: since there’s no instantaneous communication in that world, it shares much in common with the age of sail. They never know whether an expedition made it until someone returns with news. It’s a fun story — and while it’s obviously quit a bit different from my major hardcover release, Star Wars: Kenobi, from Random House/Del Rey, that one, too, has some callbacks to the past. Set during the earliest days of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s desert exile, there’s very much a western flavor to the novel.
So it’s definitely fun to mix up past, present, and future on the page. I’m not sure what the real future holds, but if you see a clean, green steam train picking you up in a couple of decades, I’m hoping my son has a piece of the action!