Steampunk Week: When Honolulu Was An Airship Port by Maura Anderson

When Honolulu was an airship port…
By Maura Anderson

I’ve been a long-time lover of steampunk, being a science fiction and fantasy reader since childhood and I’ve been very excited by the recent surge of interest in steampunk as its own genre. I was already working on a steampunk/urban fantasy moshup full-length manuscript but when I had the chance to write a gay erotic steampunk story for a Sasha Illyvich and Sizzler Editions, I jumped on it.
But where to start….

I knew I wanted to write a military-based steampunk but I didn’t want to push it all the way back to Victorian times. Instead I wanted to embrace a world closer to the current year but one in which society and technology had taken turns different than those taken historically. Because I enjoy and am pretty familiar with maritime lore, I decided it would be fun (and sexy) to use airships as an offshoot of the navy and integrate a lot of naval lore into them. Not a new idea (airships are almost as ubiquitous to steampunk as goggles) but one I wanted to explore. There is a lot of ritual, tradition, and stage dressing in the naval realm, especially if you look toward the Victorian era. I could also carry over the manners and mores of the time but infuse them with some more modern sensibilities.

Once I had that sort of concept in my head, I could not shake it. Instead I started to get a peek at my characters. Those of you that have read my gay romances know I’m considered a “sweet” gay romance author so it’s probably no surprise that I ended up with two men who were lovers and were separated by the fact they are on different sides of a seemingly insurmountable divide.

But a lot of steampunk is setting and I needed something more interesting than just staying on a ship, no matter how cool and steamy the ship may be. I needed a compelling view of the world these two men live in. I knew I wanted a port setting for their “reunion” and briefly considered my home town of Seattle but it didn’t have the richness of sin and horrible deeds I wanted. San Francisco was much closer to the flavor but I wanted something that was more politically independent and more exotic.

Then I went into research mode. Whenever I do that, a part of my brain seems to latch onto assortments of facts and then build them into “what if” scenarios. After a bit of poking and searching, I decided to take the Republic of Hawaii and mix its importance to trade in the days of sail because of its trade winds with the vice and corruption that was rife in ports like San Francisco. Opium dens were a natural because there was historically a rich opium trade and dens in Hawaii in the Victorian era. I also knew I wanted to not make the world in this story too pretty, too clean or perfect. Hawaii is often portrayed in modern days as a vacation paradise with pristine beaches and bikinis and I wanted to show it through the lens of the Victorian port-of-call and with slums, thieves, press gangs, opium dens and drunken sailors.
And, after all, if you were a gay naval officer and visiting a port known for its carnal pleasures, wouldn’t you seek out the better of the two gay “clubs”? One of my heroes decides to try to exorcise his demons and regrets by seeking out some company in the club – only to wake up a prisoner instead.

Be sure to check my website for updates of when this anthology is available and I’m working on the full-length sequel to this novella. My website is http://www.realmsoftheraven.com.

- Maura
———–
Impressed
© 2010 Maura Anderson
Coming soon from Sizzler Editions as part of the “Riding the Rocket” anthology.

Cage stepped out of the boarding house he’d taken a room in, one of the less disreputable ones in this section of Honolulu, and carefully blended into the stream of bodies flowing down the worn wooden pedestrianway. A frisson of excitement—or tredipation, perhaps—heated his belly. Six long years since he’d last visited Honolulu port but the smells and sounds brought back the events of his last visit as if it were yesterday. The memory of the most intense pair of peridot-green eyes he’d ever seen sent a pang of loneliness through him. Harland’s eyes.

He could do nothing about the British airship captain and the fact their loyalties were at odds, even if their bodies were in exact agreement. Pining for him did no good, though he’d tried for a while, but it was time to put aside his obsession with the other man and move on with his life. To help that cause along, he’d made sure he had time to look for some temporary companionship during this lay up. He needed someone to take the edge of the loneliness that seemed to envelope him like a cloak these days, even if only for a few hours.

Eyes squinting against the bright afternoon sun, even under the unfashionably wide brim of his palm fiber hat, Cage pressed himself against the railing of the narrow pedestrianway to dodge a weaving pair of men making their way down the street past him. Despite the thick miasma of wood and coal smoke, not to mention the faint, sweet tang of opium, he could tell the two had not even taken the time to bathe before seeking out the seedier areas of the airship port and each other.

If their frequent pauses to grope each other and exchange clumsy, wet kisses were anything to do by, the two men didn’t seem to be at all bothered by either their own odor or the amusement of a few of the more interested onlookers. They disappeared into the doorway of the by-the-hour boarding house several doors back. The scarred wooden door swung out and then quickly back shut again after admitting the two men.

A breeze would have been welcome to clear away the remaining musk of their sweaty uniforms. Wool wasn’t the best choice in the tropics at the most temperate of times and today was far from temperate. The few natives foolish enough to be out in the thick heat of day were dressed in loose linen for comfort in the summer heat. Unfortunately, Cage was not free to go as simply dressed as the natives. Even out of uniform, there were regulations that must be obeyed.

Cage eased back into the press of traffic on the pedestrianway. A strong shove pinned him back against the pitted brass railing, the impact almost but not quite disguised the feel of fingers easing into the pocket of his civilian overcoat. A quick grab gained him possession of the thin wrist of a Hawaiian urchin attempting to pick his pocket. Unrepentant, if not overly skilled, the small boy twisted out of his grip and disappeared into the crowd, bare feet silent on the boards of the pedestrianway. He would likely seek out a more lucrative—and less aware—victim, since Cage’s pockets were already empty before the pickpocket struck. Only a fool kept his papers or money anywhere accessible in this port.

Careful to slouch a bit and avoid any military mannerisms he could, Cage wiped his sweaty forehead with a plain handkerchief before he tucked it back into his sleeve. He made sure to scuff the heels of his boots on his way to the establishment he frequented here in Honolulu as well. There was no signs or advertisement for the Persimmon Palace, not even an address. Just a door you had to know the location of and a man on guard against those without membership or sponsorship.

The doorman was the same huge native man he’d seen at the door for over a decade. He still didn’t know the doorman’s name or whether he was even able to talk. His dress never varied either. He wore a pale linen tunic, loose trousers and palm fiber sandals. They were clean but never varied in style or color. The doorman could have been a stone statue if he’d only had more expression on his face.

“Mr. Kamaka is expecting me.” Cage removed his hat and waited while the doorman assessed him as if he’d never seen him before. Dark, suspicious eyes slowly ran from the top of his tousled curly brown hair to the toes of his worn boots.
Cage had been careful to wear no part of his American Airship Navy uniform, nothing that would cause word to go back to his commanders and nothing that would cause problems with any representatives of navies of various other countries. Few things were so frowned on as those who caused too much official attention from foreign powers in the neutral Kingdom of Hawaii and Mr. Kamaka was known to quickly do whatever was necessary to remove that attention from the Persimmon, no matter the reason it happened in the first place.

Finally the doorman gave a curt nod and stepped aside to open the door to the Persimmon just wide enough for Cage to slip through it before shutting it firmly behind him.

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