I like airships. Steampunk loves airships. Many great writers have written them into their stories, even I’ve tried to write them in my stories. I think they have a great aesthetic and are a very cool concept, but I’ve been reading a lot about airships lately and now I’m not so sure..
I’m still half way through the excellent ‘Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine’ by Douglas Botting – the fascinating account of the Graf Zeppelin’s famous circumnavigation, and that’s what got me thinking.
Along with a description of the Graf’s voyage there’s a lot of background and technical information, and fascinating accounts of how vulnerable to adverse weather airships are, how easily they were destroyed when used as weapons of war – and just how risky Hydrogen gas really is.
(Worth noting here that airships flew thousands upon thousands of hours in Germany in absolute safety for a number of years – the Germans seemed to be the only ones who could handle Hydrogen safely).
But I am sorry to say – especially as someone who really digs the idea of airships and enjoys their use in Steampunk writing – that what comes across through all the reading is that airships are, well, a bit rubbish:
hard to control, easily affected by the weather, dangerous, only capable of carrying modest payloads compared to their size and just not very practical.
Which leads me to the point:
Why do we like them so much? What is it about them that makes us stick to the idea even though most airships seen in fiction would never fly, or certainly wouldn’t be able to do the things they are described as doing.
I’ve written mine with extra science and additional properties that I hope allows for sufficient suspension of disbelief, but I’ve got plenty of work to do – more on the weather, how they are controlled, even how they fly.
I still like airships, but I think you have to be careful how you write them.
And if you're interested to read any other of my steampunk/writing related ramblings, then do pop over to http://davebartram.com or, equally, do check out http://www.litopia.com/radio/ where I often can be heard talking about stuff I don't understand and have a little blog too...