Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tesla: What's Your Inspiration?

Now that we've settled on the theme of technological progress for Tesla, I'd like to brainstorm sources of inspiration: books, movies, comics, or any other form of media. Here are a few of my picks. What are yours?

Phil and Kaja Foglio are, of course, no strangers to Magic. Their magnum opus comic, Girl Genius, is a steampunk epic with equal doses of adventure, romance, and mad science. Their fictional Europe features brilliant inventors called "sparks" who create fantastic and powerful vehicles, constructs ("clanks"), weapons, and other bizarre devices. Sound familiar? The pacing of the comic slackens around the time the protagonists enter the sentient castle, but the first several chapters are action-packed. Check out the Slaver Wasps: they're straight out of Yawgmoth's daydreams.

This comic series is the brainchild of Jeff Smith, famous for his lighthearted fantasy series Bone. RASL (short for "Romance At the Speed of Light") is a much more serious work; it follows the adventures of a dimension-jumping art thief whose past is catching up with him. Many of the comic's scientific ideas are based directly on the works of real-life mad scientist Nikola Tesla. Although the core of the story is Rasl's personal journey towards redemption, it's also a cautionary tale of wild new technologies misused by a power-hungry government.

Neal Stephenson won both the Hugo and Locus awards for this spiritual sequel to Snow Crash. Although flashy nanotechnology takes center stage, the novel also deeply explores its effects on society. Social class, ethnic identity, sexism, economics, and the clash of cultures are all impacted by the availability of nanotech. Underneath the characters' personal struggles lies the question common to all these works: who controls and profits from scientific progress?

And now I turn it over to you: what fictional works involving technological progress serve as your inspiration for Tesla? Let's share some favorites!


  1. Yay, steampunk recommendations thread! :D

    My favourite piece of steampunk prose is probably Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy. In an alternate history where Darwin discovered how to manipulate DNA (which he called "life threads") and the Axis powers built kerosene-burning mech walkers, a plucky Scottish girl dresses up as a boy to join the British Air Force (who fly genetically-engineered lighter-than-air organisms called "hydrogen breathers") and ends up serving as a midshipman on board the Leviathan, an entire floating ecosystem. The books follow the political consequences of Archduke Ferdinand's assassination and the war that follows in this alternotech setting, where each country around the word uses "Darwinist" genetic engineering, "Clanker" steam- or diesel-powered machines, or both. Fantastic plot, characters, twists, and utterly delightful technology all around as well. Nikola Tesla is a major character in book 3.

    I also enjoyed the Airborn-Skybreaker-Starclimber trilogy, but that's rather more pulp-y.

    I recently read a book with the great title Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain. It's set in present-day, following the 13-year-old daughter of two of Los Angeles's most prominent superheroes, as her superpower of Mad Science emerges and she tries to become a superhero, and things don't work out quite the way she planned. It's "slightly steampunk" because her power is building bizarre implausible machines in just the way Agatha Heterodyne's is.

  2. I'll add a second vote for the Airborn series. I had thought of its setting as alternate history rather than straight-up steampunk, but it does have some very steampunk-y elements, and it does a great job of using the technological / social situation to propel its story forward.