It is 1914. The Archduke Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated. Europe is splitting apart. The world is on the brink of war. Soaring in the sky above is a flying whale. Huh?
That’s right, a flying whale. Is there a problem with that? Don’t tell me you missed the flying whale part in eighth grade social studies? (Actually, given the dreadful state of social studies in our schools, chances are you missed everything.) Welcome to Scott Westerfeld’s wonderful “alternative history” of World War I, Leviathan. Rather than simply Great Britain vs. Germany, it is the Clankers vs. the Darwinists. The British are the Darwinists whose technology and weapons are based on creating hybrid animals, hence the flying whale. Or how about a flying jellyfish or squadrons of bats to bring down enemy planes? The Germans and the Austro-Hungarians are the Clankers, whose technology and weapons of war are machines. This is not just a war of politics; it is a war of technological ideology. Welcome to steampunk, the genre that is a hybrid itself, with an enthralling mix of past and future and fantasy, where machines – made of iron or made of flesh -- are as important as the people.