I was going through one of the rougher patches that life like to throw our way, and I’d just finished writing a protagonist who had become a rather obnoxious houseguest inside my own skull.
In the midst of bumping through the rough patch, a writer friend called me to cheer me up and we had one of those free-associating conversations that can only happen between two people suffering from EID (Exploding Idea Disorder), which will no doubt be a recognised personality disorder in the next few years. Somehow we ended up with women flying paragliders to water bomb a pub. I have no idea how we ended up there and I can’t remember where we went from there, but somehow it implanted the germ of an idea.
Suppose these women had nastier enemies than a pub full of barflies, and more dangerous weapons than water bombs to fight them with.
OK, I thought, but why there would be a gang of well-armed paragliding women in the first place? One of the joys of writing in the SFF field is not having to slot an idea into the real world. I could build an entire world just for the idea to make sense. I invented Terraform Dee, a planet where a natural disaster had thrown a human colony back several stages in its development. The vicissitudes of their history had left one group of women with a monopoly on silk, which they used to make their paragliders.
Silk is always going to be a valuable commodity so if they wanted to keep their independence, they’d have to fight for it. If they’d been winning, it could only be because the Silken had developed a warrior culture that nobody else wanted to mess with. I modelled the Silken largely on the Spartans, who developed one of the most martial cultures in history in order to suppress the slaves they depended on. It was an aspect of their culture that was somehow overlooked by the screenwriters of the film 300.
Throwing in a few odds and ends from other cultures, such as the recruitment practices used by the Ninja, the silk armour that Genghis Khan is reputed to have invented and a caste system drawn from a few different cultures, and I had my paragliding culture.
Now I needed someone to pit them against, which meant finding another way for someone to get airborne. I didn’t want to follow our own aeronautical history, so I decided the planet would have had no life on it until it was terraformed, hence no fossil fuels.
I found my answer in Fritz von Opel’s brief love affair with gunpowder rockets. After driving a rocket-propelled car at 70mph, he had a rocket-propelled glider built. The Opel RAK 1 used technology simple enough that it could have been invented a couple of hundred years earlier, if anyone could find a pilot who didn’t mind strapping themselves into a firework.
As the video below shows, a rack of gunpowder rockets did not make a particularly good powerplant. Von Opel took several attempts to get airborne and when he finally did manage to stagger into the air, he landed so hard that he wrote off the glider. It wasn’t a promising start for Terraform Dee’s first fighter plane, so I had them launched from the top of a volcano. Between the altitude and the geothermally-powered steam catapults, it should be able to at least perform a few aerobatics before it ran out of altitude.
I’d had a lot of fun building the world, but that didn’t give me a story. Now I needed a character to lead me through the world, so I sat down with pen, paper and coffee and threw ink around until Persia marched on to the page. If you’d like to meet her, she’s in the preview.
Flight of the Silkworm is available in Kindle format.
Flight of the Silkworm on Goodreads.