Steampunk Week 2012

Rockin’ That Steampunk

In a world lit only by fire
Long train of flares under piercing stars.
I stand watching the steamliners roll by.

That’s the first stanza of “Caravan,” the opening track of Clockwork Angels, the new album from rock supergroup Rush – introducing listeners to the steampunk land of Albion. The concept album tells a fantasy adventure of a young man’s journey across a landscape filled with mechanical contraptions, alchemical coldfire, steamliners, lost cities, a strange carnival, pirates, a rigid Watchmaker and a “freedom extremist” who called himself the Anarchist.

In a groundbreaking crossover project, I wrote the novel of Clockwork Angels in close collaboration with Neil Peart, the lyricist and drummer for Rush. The twelve songs give snapshots of the story, like scenes in a movie trailer; but music is different from prose, and there was so much more to tell, and the characters and settings needed room to grow.

I have stoked the fire on the big steel wheels
Steered the airship right across the stars

I’ve known Neil Peart for more than twenty years (a friendship that began, appropriately, when I acknowledged the fact that my first novel Resurrection, Inc. was inspired by the Rush album “Grace Under Pressure”). We wrote a short story together years ago and had been looking for a larger project to merge our different creative toolkits. Clockwork Angels became that project.

Neil had read my first forays into the steampunk genre starting in 1989 with Gamearth, featuring Jules Verne, steam-engine cars, hot-air balloons, and even a steam-powered atomic bomb (of course, back then nobody called it steampunk). As he began thinking of the new album and the story behind it, Neil had visions of a steampunk world and a grand adventure. He asked me if I thought steampunk would last.

I was a guest author when DisneyWorld revamped and reopened Tomorrowland in 1997 – giving the whole setting a steampunk makeover (again, of course, nobody called it steampunk). “The future the way it should have been,” with brass and ducts, spinning gizmos, and a lovely Jules Verne sensibility. The retro-future design took visitors to a magical, sense-of-wonder version that delighted the crowds. Yeah, I knew this sort of thing was going to be around for a long time.

Rockin That Steampunk

Clockwork angels, spread their arms and sing

Synchronized and graceful, they move like living things

Rush released the first two tracks as the cornerstone of their previous worldwide concert tour, the Time Machine tour, and as a taste of things to come, their sets and drum kit were all designed with a steampunk flair. During a day off between gigs in Colorado, Neil stayed with us, and he and I climbed a 14,000-ft mountain peak, during which we plotted the real framework of the novel. Afterward, I had enough to get started.

Rockin That Steampunk

I helped as a sounding board as Neil created some of the scenes, characters, plot twists. Clockwork Angels became a full-on adventure with exotic settings and interesting characters, villains, dreams, and imaginative scenes. He wrote lyrics, and I applied my plotting and worldbuilding sensibilities to the background world.

The Watchmaker ruled the land with utmost precision, even scheduling rainstorms to the minute – a rigid, inflexible order that spawned its opposite, the mayhem-loving Anarchist. The main character, Owen Hardy, is a dreamer from a small town who watches the daily steamliner caravans go by, heading to fabled Crown City with its amazing Clockwork Angels in the city square. And legends of far-off lands, the lost Seven Cities of Gold, the fearsome Wreckers who lure innocent ships to destruction on reefs. He jumps aboard a steamliner, running away from home, intent on finding his own adventures – and he certainly finds them, and he also finds himself at the center of a struggle between order and chaos and at a nexus of many possible, parallel worlds.

Neil sent me the lyrics of the songs as he finished them so I could add more details, tie the threads together. Then, in January I heard the rough tracks of the album – not just the words, but with the added dimension of music, Geddy Lee’s vocals and bass, Alex Lifeson’s guitars, Neil’s drums. And that was like adding rocket fuel and a match to my imagination.

I wrote Clockwork Angels: The Novel in a furious burst, chapter after chapter, sending drafts to Neil each day, rewriting as he made comments or suggested new scenes or characters. Hugh Syme, Rush’s long-time artist and designer, interpreted the songs with illustrations for the CD booklet, and also read parts of the draft novel, adding imaginative artwork—the clockwork gypsy fortuneteller, the explosion of the alchemy college, the patchwork steampowered scoutship over a stormy sea—and all of those details went into the final drafts of the novel.

Canadian publisher ECW and Tor Books released the hardcover (complete with full-color illustrations); Neil Peart himself narrates the unabridged audiobook.

Readers can enjoy the steampunk fantasy adventure with or without listening to the album, but together—I hope—the album and the novel have a synergy that makes the experience greater than the sum of the parts.

In a world where I feel so small, I can’t stop thinking big.


You can win a copy of the book, signed by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart right now! Enter the sweepstakes here.

Kevin J. Anderson is the author of over a hundred novels, fifty of which have appeared on national and international bestseller lists. He is best known for his work in the Dune universe and Hellhole with Brian Herbert, his own Saga of Seven Suns and Terra Incognita series, and the Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series.


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