Monday, July 23, 2012

Fluid bed boilers are currently on my mind now as I decide the best way for my steampunk airship (the Horizon) to achieve liftoff. A simple question to my dad about steam engines lead to a half hour discussion replete with far more information than I could intake in one sitting, but the gist of the conversation is that conventional steam engines are far too inefficient for use in an airship. This pretty much summarizes what I have discovered so far with research and what the good folks at have said (to writ, a functional airship that would be of useful service is probably not possible), but fluid bed boilers show some promise.

According to the denizens of wikipedia, fluidized beds hold solid fuels in suspension as jets of air blow upwards during combustion, creating a volatile mix of solids and gas which churn about and create much more effective heat transfer and chemical reactions.

This would all be perfectly understandable to someone with an engineering mind, but alas I have a Master's in medieval English literature. If you need to know what letter the International Phonetic Alphabet uses to designate a velar lateral approximate or are positively aching for a concise summary of the Battle of Hastings, there I can help you. But this strange new steampunk world of thermodynamics, Kpascals, and mean efficient pressure is all quite startlingly bewildering and dazzling in its novelty, so much removed from my normal study of verb tenses and obscure historical facts.

Yet, an expert in steampowered engineering I am determined to become because I deeply desire the steampunk trilogy I am plotting out to have a fairly solid grounding in reality. Much of the steampunk literature I have read so far neatly skips over quite a lot of questions that demand answers, the main one being, "So just how does that work?" While an occasional willing suspension of disbelief is part and parcel of any good piece of fiction, I am determined that my trilogy will make a decent attempt to answer these questions and be fairly grounded in reality. I don't wish to simply scatter gears, goggles, and steam liberally throughout a plot and call it steampunk but marry art and science, fantasy and reality into something lovely and unique.

As the Horizon slowly takes shape in my brain, I have been earnestly seeking out answers to questions such as...
   - How much does she weigh?
   - How fast can she go?
   - What fuel is she using? How much of it does she need?
   - Does she run 24 hours a day?
   - How much weight can she take on?
   - Who does she need as crew and what jobs do they do?

All of these questions and more are demanding research and thought and daily I come up with more ideas to consider. For example, I recently decided that her captain, Gavin Roberts, is a prodigious reader with a natural knack for languages. He has a library on board but to save on weight, he has removed all the covers and unnecessary pages from his books. This somewhat reminds me of my backpacking days when I would purchase a waterbottle simply because it weighed a half ounce less than another one, and I am realizing that weight, weight, weight is going to be the name of the game with the Horizon.

This is the start with much more steam, engineering quandaries, and load distribution problems ahead. All which will require copious amounts of research. My former graduate student soul is dancing merrily in anticipation of reviving a long and profitable relationship with UNO library.

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