Zeppelin Mania: In Those Days, Giants

The Graf Zeppelin Over Rio

On the Graf Zeppelin 

Hugo Eckener (translated from the German by Douglas Robinson)

I have always felt that such effects as were produced by the Zeppelin airship were traceable to a large degree to aesthetic feelings. The mass of the mighty airship hull, which seemed matched by its lightness and grace, and whose beauty of form was modulated in delicate shades of color, never failed to make a strong impression on people’s minds. It was not, as generally described, ‘a silver bird soaring in majestic flight,’ but rather a fabulous silvery fish, floating quietly in the ocean of air and captivating the eye just like a fantastic, exotic fish seen in an aquarium. And this fairy-like apparition, which seemed to melt into the silvery blue background of the sky, when it appeared far away, lighted by the sun, seemed to be coming from another world and to be returned there like a dream…

The mighty hull indeed! The Hindenburg weighed 236 tons, was 13 stories tall, and was nearly as long as 3 football fields. The 7 million plus cubic feet of hydrogen was sufficient to run an ordinary kitchen stove for several hundred years.

The 17 huge gas cells of the R 101 used the intestines of a million cows to provide the leak-proof lining.

However, not only were the ships of behemoth dimensions, so were their hangers. The Goodyear-Zeppelin hanger in Akron, Ohio was so huge clouds sometimes formed and a soft rain would fall.

And as Dr Eckener wrote, those giants of the sky were like something from another world, a dream world. They were exotic silvery fish of immense size and fairy origin.

John R McCormick’s account of seeing the Graf Zeppelin when a young boy fills me with envy. Here it is in part:

Out of the Blue

…I was a little uneasy. Something wasn’t quite right. Suddenly I realized why. We were alone, absolutely alone, and surrounded by a profound silence. That whole land, usually so full of sound and action, was empty and still. Even the animals were quiet. There was no wind, not the slightest breeze.

Into that remarkable silence there came from far away the smallest possible purring, strange and repetitive, gradually approaching, becoming louder — the unmistakable beating of powerful engines. I looked to the west and at first saw nothing. Then it was there, nosing down out of the clouds a half-mile away, a gigantic, wondrous apparition moving slowly through the sky.

“Grandma!” I screamed.

She was out of the kitchen door in an instant. I pointed to the sky. The great dirigible was very low, perhaps because the captain was trying to find some landmark.

There is a wonderful opening scene in the movie Star Wars. A great starship is passing very low and directly overhead so that one sees only the underside. That underside moves deliberately and interminably on and on until at last it is gone. The Graf Zeppelin, moving ever so slowly above us, was like that. We saw every crease and contour from nose to fins. It was so low that we could see, or imagined we could see, people waving at us from the slanted windows of its passenger gondola.

We stood entranced. Slowly, slowly the ship moved over us, beyond us, and at last was gone.

The above accounts and information are taken from one of the books in my library: The Zeppelin Reader: Stories, Poems, and Songs from the Age of Airships, edited by Robert Hedin. A fascinating book. Highly recommended!

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Zeppelin Mania: My Library

The LZ-114 completed after WW I, turned over to the French, and renamed Dixmude.

Many of you are aware of my love affair with the airship and the rigid airship in particular.

Some of you have made comments on the seeming dearth of information on the airship. Well, Virginia, I’m here to tell you that isn’t necessarily so. There’s quite a bit of material out there. One just needs to know where to look.

To that end, I thought I’d share with you today the portion of my library dedicated to books about airships. Because inquiring minds want to know! The list below is divided into non-fiction and fiction.

If you have any additions, please let me know. Questions and comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

My Airship Library


  1. Airship: The Story of R.34 – Patrick Abbott
  2. Airships: Designed for Greatness – Gregory Alegi, et.al.; concept and artwork by Max Pinucci
  3. USS Los Angeles: The Navy’s Venerable Airship and Aviation Technology – William F. Althoff
  4. Airship on a Shoestring – John Anderson
  5. Hindenburg: An Illustrated History – Rick Archbold (text) & Ken Marschall (illus.)
  6. Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine: The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of Air Travel – Douglas Botting
  7. The Giant Airships – Douglas Botting
  8. TransAtlantic Airships: An Illustrated History – John Christopher
  9. The Zeppelin Story – John Christopher
  10. Zeppelins of World War I – Wilbur Cross
  11. Zeppelin Hindenburg – Dan Grossman
  12. Airships in Peace and War – R. P. Hearne
  13. The Zeppelin Reader: Stories, Poems, and Songs from the Age of Airships – Robert Hedin
  14. The Log of H.M.A. R34 Journey to America and Back – E.M. Maitland
  15. Inside the Hindenburg – Mireille Major (text) & Ken Marschall (illus.)
  16. The Hindenburg – Michael M Mooney
  17. Giants in the Sky: A History of the Rigid Airship – Douglas H Robinson
  18. LZ129 Hindenburg – Douglas H. Robinson, with scale drawings by Richard Groh
  19. My Airships – Alberto Santos-Dumont
  20. Schütte-Lanz Airship Design – Prof. Johann Schütte
  21. Slide Rule – Nevil Shute
  22. The Great Dirigibles: Their Triumphs and Disasters – John Toland
  23. Airship Saga: The history of airships seen through the eyes of the men who designed, built, and flew them – Lord Ventry & Eugene M. Koleśnik
  24. Jane’s Pocket Book of Airship, ed. by Lord Ventry & Eugene Kolesnik
  25. Zeppelin: The Story of a Great Achievement – Henry Vissering
  26. Airship Aerodynamics Technical Manual – War Department
  27. “Zeppelin’s New Age of Air Travel” in Popular Mechanics, July 1994
  28. “Blimps: Billboards in the Sky” in Smithsonian, June 1998


  1. Airship Nine – Thomas H. Block
  2. With Airship and Submarine – Harry Collingwood
  3. Seize the Wind – John Gordon Davis
  4. Lester Dent’s Zeppelin Tales – Lester Dent
  5. Death on the Empress – Stuart Harper
  6. Goliath – Richard Turner
  7. Beyond the Rails – Jack Tyler
  8. Wings of Fury – R.N. Vick

My Own Novels

  1. The Moscow Affair (From the Files of Lady Dru Drummond, Bk 1)
  2. The Golden Fleece Affair (From the Files of Lady Dru Drummond, Bk 2)
  3. Take to the Sky (The Rocheport Saga, Bk 7 – forthcoming)
  4. Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch
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My Notable Reads of 2016

We are three days into the new year. There are 355 days until Christmas. Just in case anyone was curious. Most of us aren’t quite yet looking in that direction. We’re still making the adjustment from 2016 to 2017, still writing 2016 half the time on whatever we need to date. So I’m going to take one more look back at 2016 before I shove off on my 2017 adventure.

For me, 2016 was a good year. Especially in the reading department. I read some really great books and stories. There are a lot of good writers out there. I mentioned a few in a previous post. Classics, new releases, traditionally published, and self-published. In fact, I was very impressed with most of the self-published books I read.

At the end of this post, I give you my list of 2016 reading material in case you want to check out some of the great reads I came across; links are included where available.

Today, I want to highlight for you what I thought were the best of the lot, the cream on the milk.


I read a lot of non-fiction in 2016. Most of it was in the form of online articles as part of my research for my books. I did, however, read two non-fiction books out of general interest in the subject matter.

The more enjoyable of the two was E.M. Maitland’s The Log of HMA R34: Journey to America and Back. This book is a day by day and sometimes hourly by hourly chronicle of the historic 1919 round trip flight of the rigid airship R34. The R34 was the first aircraft to make the difficult east to west flight across the Atlantic from Europe to America and was the first to make a complete round trip. Her flight demonstrated that trans-Atlantic commercial flight was possible.

Commodore Maitland’s style is at once informative, lively, witty, and entertaining. Making it an excellent travelogue.

The book is available for free and every airship enthusiast and armchair traveler should have a copy.

Short Stories

I love short stories. Perhaps more than novels. Even in a good novel, my interest at time lags. Especially when the author hits a dull patch of road, which inevitably happens. Sometimes even with the best of writers. Rarely does that happen, in my experience, with a short story. Even a mediocre one.

All of the short stories I read this past year were good. The ones of exceptional merit (aside from generally recognized classics) were

Wasteland” by R Entwisle

SoulWave” by RR Willica

The Garden and the Market” by Richard B Walsh

The Room that Swallows People” by G Jefferies

Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn

Of those five excellent tales, I do want to single out “Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn. It is an exquisitely lyrical story of terror that is replete with haunting atmosphere, incipient dread, and unrelenting suspense. It is by far one of the most well-crafted stories I’ve read in a long time.

But do check out the other 4 on the above list. They are all well-written, imaginative (especially “SoulWave”), and prove that indies can give us a story as good as any publisher or magazine editor can.

Short Story Anthologies

Anthologies are at best uneven. Even if the stories are by a single author. No one is consistently at his or her best. And that goes without saying for the 4 anthologies I read.

On the whole, they were good and are worth getting. The one I enjoyed the most was The Spike Collection by Martin Skate. Mr Skate’s hilarious slice of life vignettes are highly entertaining. A collection not to be missed.


The two dozen novels I read were a mix of speculative fiction, mysteries, humor, horror, and historical fiction.

There were two clunkers in the lot: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, and The Time Machine by HG Wells.

The Verne novel was my third reading. The first time, when a kid, I love it. The other two reads were as an adult. The old translation was ponderous and boring. The modern translation was better, conveying some of Verne’s humor, but the story remained dull and boring.

The Wells story was my second time through. Dry as two day old toast. Endless description, little action, and the only character I cared about, Weena, the author did not. Thoroughly and hopelessly dated. The movie was better.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute was at times slow and almost dull. And then Shute uncorks the most emotionally moving conclusion I think I’ve ever read. It literally had me sobbing. Powerful is wholly inadequate to describe it.

John Wyndham’s cozy catastrophe, The Day of the Triffids, was at once a testament to the dangers inherent in our monkeying around with Mother Nature and to our penchant for creating weapons of self-destruction — as well as to our unrelenting will to survive and better our lot. A classic and deservedly so.

There were, however, a few books that were on the top of the pile. Books that were thoroughly entertaining or thought-provoking. Well crafted tales that prove the Big 5 publishers do not have a corner on giving us good books.

These indie authored gems were

Banana Sandwich by Steve Bargdill

Wasteland by Steve Bargdill

Daddy’s Girl by Ben Willoughby

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom

Bargdill’s two books are dark and gritty mainstream novels that give us plenty of food for thought. At the same time there is humor and hope. Well crafted. The Big 5 are missing out here.

Willoughby’s ghost tale is suspenseful and has a happier ending than many such tales. For those who like their terror not so dark, Daddy’s Girl fits the bill perfectly. Willoughby’s style is lean. Not excessive. He gives us just the right amount to produce the desired effects. I’m looking forward to reading more from this guy.

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom has one of the best titles I’ve come across in a long time. But the goodness doesn’t stop there. We get a hilarious, at times thought-provoking, good old-fashioned whodunit and a memorable protagonist in Kadence MacBride. Croom is a very good writer and I’m looking forward to reading more of Kadence’s adventures.

Don’t miss any of these novels. Really. Don’t miss out.

Hopefully I’ve sown a few seeds for your 2017 reading. Let me know what you’ve read. I’m always looking for a good book.

The Bibliography


The Log of HMA R34: Journey to America and Back by EM Maitland

How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen

The Journal of Submarine Commander von Forstner by Georg-Gunther Forstner

Short Stories

Curse Upon a Star” by Sylvia Heike

Goodbye, Sunshine” by Sylvia Heike

The Red Lady’s Wedding” by Deina Furth

The Otherlife” by Dot Dannenberg

The Adventure of the Fatal Glance” by August Derleth

Wasteland” by R Entwisle

The TNT Punch” by Robert E Howard

The Highway” by Ray Bradbury

Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

The Garden and the Market” by Richard B Walsh

“Test Piece” by Eric Frank Russell

Bone White” by Sarah Zama

SoulWave” by RR Willica

Confession” by Micah Castle

The Room That Swallows People” by G Jefferies

Ghost Carp” by G Jefferies

Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn

Short Story Anthologies

Defiant, She Advanced: Legends of Future Resistance, ed. by George Donnelly

Oriental Stories: Five Complete Novelettes by Robert E Howard

The Spike Collection by Martin Skate

Den of Antiquity by Jack Taylor, et al


Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Banana Sandwich by Steve Bargdill

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Wasteland by Steve Bargdill

After London, or Wild England by Richard Jefferies

Daddy’s Girl by Ben Willoughby

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Time Machine by HG Wells

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Deluge by S. Fowler Wright

The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom

Beyond the Rails by Jack Tyler

Perilous Ping by William J Jackson

Killing Floor by Lee Child

Die Trying by Lee Child

China Trade by SJ Rozan

Start Right Here by Martin Skate

Concourse by SJ Rozan

This Doesn’t Happen in the Movies by Renee Pawlish

Reel Estate Rip-Off by Renee Pawlish

Mandarin Plaid by SJ Rozan

Dawn by S. Fowler Wright

Dust and Kisses by Dean Wesley Smith


Mincemeat Pie Update

I made my mincemeat pie using Crosse and Blackwell mincemeat. I have to say None Such brand is better. The saving grace was the brandy butter. 🙂 Brandy butter is easy to make: cream together butter, sugar, and brandy. Voila!

Until next time, happy reading!!

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Zeppelin Mania: LZ-1 and R-34

LZ-1 Aloft

The LZ-1 in Flight Over the Bodensee

One hundred sixteen years ago today, at 8:03 in the evening, the LZ-1 slowly floated upward from the surface of the Bodensee and made history. The first successful rigid airship had taken flight, realizing the dream of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. For 17 minutes, the Count and four others flew over the lake; until engine trouble and the jamming of the pitch control device forced the airship to land.

The flight was an inauspicious beginning to the dream that has fueled the imagination of men and women ever since. For who hasn’t wished he or she could float in the air just like a cloud and at the same time have the ability to go not only where the wind wishes but to also go where the wind does not wish. For 116 years lighter than air travel has captured our imagination as the airplane never did. The luxury of the Hindenburg has never been equaled by any aircraft before or since.

But today is not only the anniversary of the first flight of the first zeppelin, it is also the anniversary of the realization of the dream of intercontinental flight. In 1919 airplanes first flew across the Atlantic from west to east. However they could not do so in one hop, they had to stop and refuel in the Azores. Or are they made the short flight from Newfoundland to Ireland. Also airplanes did not have enough power to make the east to west flight across the Atlantic against the prevailing winds.

That all changed at 1:42 AM on the morning of 2 July 1919 when the British airship R-34 lifted off from Scotland; her destination being Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York. On board were 30 persons. The captain was Major George Herbert Scott, the most skillful British airship pilot. The ship was a near copy of a captured German World War I zeppelin and was a magnificent vessel. Her sleek streamlined hull was 645 feet long and was filled with nearly 2,000,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas.


She was a military vessel and had no creature comforts. In order to serve the crew hot meals on the flight, a metal plate was welded to one of the engine manifolds and the food cooked on it. Off duty crewmen slept in hammocks suspended between the girders. A somewhat perilous endeavor, for if one had the misfortune to roll out of bed he would find himself plunging through the thin fabric covering and on to the ocean far below.

The senior officer onboard was General Maitland, who was the driving force behind Britain’s airship program. He was a popular officer and had devoted his career to innovative flight of all kinds and he was a great believer in the rigid airship. Just before the R-34 lifted off, Maitland wrote in his logbook, “What more wonderful or more delightful adventure could anyone be called upon to undertake?”

Groping its way over the Scottish hillside in the dark and heavy cloud cover, the R-34 headed west and at 5:25 AM, two hours after the sun had risen behind the ship, the R-34 passed the last island off the north Irish coast. The great adventure had begun.

Twelve hours into the flight, when the airship was well out to sea, Aircraftsman Second Class William W Ballantyne revealed himself. He had been cut at the last minute to save weight, but was so eager to make the trip he stowed away. In the afternoon another stowaway was discovered onboard, Wopsie the cat. Ballantyne’s action very nearly jeopardized the voyage. Weight is critical on an airship. His 200 extra pounds deprived the ship from carrying that weight in fuel, which as it turned out nearly caused the voyage to end in failure.

When the airship had just gotten underway, General Maitland described the experience as follows:

When flying at night, possibly on account of the darkness, there is always the feeling of utter loneliness directly one loses sight of the ground. We feel this loneliness very much tonight; possibly owing to the fact that we are bound for a totally unknown destination across the wide Atlantic.

But the necessity of work soon dispelled any feelings of loneliness. The airship required careful flying because of the darkness and the heavy cloud cover, which, when the sun rose, became a heavy fog.

Lunch on board the airship was beef stew, potatoes, chocolate, and water. Not five star, but a hot meal is always welcomed.

In the evening, as the temperatures fell, Major Scott increased the height of the airship to 2000 feet. For a time, the R-34 flew through a heavy cloud bank and the crew found themselves in a dream-like enchanted setting over the ocean. One person recorded it this way, “We feel in a world of our own up here amidst this dazzling array of snow-white clouds. No words can express the wonder, the grandeur, or the loneliness of it all…”

And thus the R-34 flew on into the night, heading for America.

Tomorrow, we continue the adventure. Stay tuned!

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Zeppelin Mania

This past Tuesday I wrote about the flight of the world’s first airliner — the LZ-7 Deutschland.

That post was a prelude to a series I’ll be writing throughout the rest of the year chronicling the triumphs of the rigid airship. More commonly known as the zeppelin, after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin who built the first successful rigid airship.

Airship Types

There are three types of airship. Here is a diagram:



The earliest type was non-rigid, what we call a blimp today. There is no framework to maintain the shape of the envelope. The shape is maintained by gas pressure.


The second type of airship is the semi-rigid, like the new Zeppelin NT. The semi-rigid has a frame to maintains the length. Gas pressure maintains the width.


The famous Norge which crossed the North Pole in 1926.

The third type is the rigid airship. The shape of the envelope is held in place by a framework. The lift gas is contained in bags (called cells) within the framework.


The ZR-3 USS Los Angeles

Why The Rigid Airship Is Better

The problem with non-rigid and semi-rigid airships is that they cannot be built large enough to be commercially viable. Blimps proved of value in anti-submarine warfare in World War II, but they and semi-rigids can’t carry sufficient cargo to be of large scale commercial use. The new semi-rigid Zeppelin NTs are basically used for advertising and sightseeing excursions.

The rigid airship solves the problem. The frame provides shape and strength and can be scaled up as large as the vessel needs to be. The rigid airship made the dream of long-range strategic bombing and intercontinental flight a reality.

Tomorrow is a double anniversary: the first flight of the first zeppelin and the start of the first east-west crossing of the Atlantic by air and the first round trip trans-Atlantic flight by an aircraft. An auspicious day indeed!

So get a glass of bubbly ready. Tomorrow we party!

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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The World’s First Commercial Airliner

Today is an auspicious day in aviation history. One hundred and six years ago, the world’s first commercial air flight took place by the world’s first commercial aircraft. The LZ-7 Deutschland took off from Dusseldorf, Germany with 24 passengers on board. She was owned by the world’s first airline company — the DELAG (German Airship Transportation Corporation).


The LZ-7 Deutschland in flight

The Deutschland was, at the time, the largest aircraft that had ever been built. She was 486 feet long and 46 feet in diameter. Her gas cells were inflated with 683,000 cubic feet of hydrogen and she had a useful lift of 11,000 pounds. The airship had a crew of 8 or 9 men and had room for two dozen passengers in addition to some cargo capacity.

The passenger cabin was enclosed and had windows for viewing, was paneled in mahogany, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl.


The Passenger Cabin of the Deutschland

The zeppelin was powered by three 125 horsepower Daimler engines. Her top speed was just over 37 miles per hour and her cruising speed was 33 miles per hour.

By contrast, the world’s first mass produced airplane, the Wright Model B, could carry, aside from the pilot, one passenger or a small cargo — and nothing was enclosed. The plane was completely open. The Model B flew at an average speed of 44 miles per hour.


Wright Model B Biplane

“A Three Hour Tour”

On that beautiful Tuesday morning, 106 years ago, the LZ-7 Deutschland rose into the sky. Twenty-three journalists were on board, along with DELAG director Alfred Colsman. The passengers enjoyed a light breakfast of champagne and caviar shortly after take off. What a delightful way to start off a  three hour sightseeing tour.

Note: Breakfast was not served on the Wright Model B.


Interior of the Deutschland’s Passenger Cabin

“The Weather Started Getting Rough”

Captain Kahlenberg, formerly of the Prussian Airship Battalion, was relatively inexperienced and committed several judgement errors. Most airship crashes were due to such errors of judgment. For his, Kahlenberg was sacked and the Zeppelin company began emphasizing safety first.

Kahlenberg’s first mistake was his failure to get a weather report before take off. His second was to fly before the wind towards more picturesque scenery. When he suddenly found the wind had dramatically increased, he also discovered he couldn’t fly his underpowered airship into the wind and return to base. And it was a situation made worse by the failure of one of the engines. Kahlenberg found himself, his passengers, and crew pushed along by the wind and he was unable to do anything about it.

Having no radio on board, Captain Kahlenberg frantically dropped notes to the ground asking local Army garrisons for assistance in landing the giant ship. And all the while, the wind pushed the Deutschland towards the towering thunderheads over Teutoberger Forest.

“The Giant Ship Was Tossed”

By late afternoon, the airship was being driven rapidly along towards its rendezvous with destiny. The crew was helpless to stop the relentless drive towards the oncoming thunderstorm. And when the zeppelin at last collided with the storm front, the updrafts caused her to shoot up to 3,600 feet. During her rapid and wild ascent, hydrogen was automatically valved from the swollen gas cells. Finally, heavy with rain and with insufficient lift gas, the airship plunged to earth and crashed into the forest pines.

Unlike the Minnow of Gilligan’s Island, in spite of the crew’s best efforts, the Deutschland was lost. The nine hour ordeal was over. However, unlike a modern airliner crash, there were no fatalities and the only injury occurred to a crewman who jumped from the airship and broke his leg.

Safety First

Certainly not the way an airline company would choose to start out operations. Count Zeppelin, though, made changes, lots of changes, changes that resulted in German airships having the best safety record the world has ever seen.

The DELAG, in its four years of operations before World War I, carried over 34,000 passengers on over 1500 flights without a single injury.

After the war, the safety record continued with flights by the Bodensee, Graf Zeppelin, and Hindenburg. And as spectacular a disaster as was the tragic burning of the Hindenburg in 1937, the loss of life was relatively small. Twenty-six percent of the passengers and crew died. Compare that with 100% loss of life from the increasing numbers of jet airliner crashes today.


Passenger air travel became a reality 106 years ago today. And while the first flight ended in the destruction of the airship, no lives were lost.

The Graf Zeppelin flew over a million miles without a single casualty and many of those miles were as a passenger aircraft.

The next time you board a jetliner and squeeze yourself into your seat and have a complimentary drink, think of the flight of the Deutschland. They had room to walk around and enjoyed a breakfast of champagne and caviar.

The LZ-7 Deutschland

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Cozy Catastrophe Review: The Rocheport Saga


The Rocheport Saga is my contribution to the cozy catastrophe subgenre. Freedom’s Freehold, the sixth book in the series, is available for pre-order, and the entire series is on sale for 99¢ per book until the 13th of June. Do get your copies now, if you haven’t already. They are available at the retailer of your choice.

Without even knowing what a cozy catastrophe was, I wrote about Bill Arthur’s attempt to preserve the accumulated knowledge of the human race in the wake of an overnight virtual annihilation of humanity. Taking as a general guide Stewart’s Earth Abides. And so it was quite by accident I incorporated all the features that make a cozy a cozy.

The Rocheport Saga is a sprawling work. It covers one man’s lifetime: from his late 50s to his death at 103. It is the second “novel” I wrote and the first after I came to the realization I was a pantser who had a liking for the “plotless” novel. By which I mean to say, The Rocheport Saga is very much like most of our lives: we have story arcs, picaresque adventures, but very little in the way of plot. Most of us, myself included, live from day to day. We don’t plot out our lives. Sure we have our plans. Most of those end up as merely wishes.

Kazuo Ishiguro, in his novel An Artist of the Floating World, summed it up quite well, I think. Most of us, at the end of the day, find ourselves to be, for all our dreams and efforts, ordinary people in extraordinary times. We give it our best to be great and usually fall far short.

That is why virtual life is so popular. Whether that virtual life be novels, games, TV, movies, social media, or a façade carefully maintained as though we were actors and actresses on a stage. Virtual life allows us to be great. It gives us the chance to be winners.

All literature, in my opinion, is ultimately fantasy. It is wish fulfillment. We want to be the hero who succeeds at the quest. Or to be the man or woman who finds true love. Or perhaps that one person to succeed where others can’t and thereby receive the recognition and adulation we know we are all entitled to.

The Rocheport Saga is no different. It is fantasy masquerading as science fiction. Because, let’s face it, what are the odds of a Bill Arthur surviving such a cataclysm and being able to guide and hold together such a rag tag group as that in Rocheport? Probably nil. And yet, we all would like to be Bill Arthur. I know I would.

Why? Because he is not like us. He is underneath it all an extraordinary man who gets to live in extraordinary times. He is the quintessential nobody who rises to the occasion when the occasion presents itself. Which is a key feature of the cozy catastrophe. He and he alone is capable of leading the people of Rocheport and ultimately of Missouri. The stuff of which dreams are made.

In The Morning Star, we meet Bill Arthur. He is searching for a home. The urban areas are too dangerous for his liking. Along the way, he meets Mert, Mel, and Sally. They are the beginning of his blended family through which his dream eventually comes to fruition.

Book 2, The Shining City, finds the inhabitants of Rocheport doing what it seems people do best: fighting. There is war and Bill’s group eventually wins, but not without loss. For war only comes with loss.

The losers of the civil war in Rocheport are very poor sports and in the next two books, Love is Little and The Troubled City, our hero has no end of grief in his attempt to ensure the group’s survival and accomplish his dream of a return to high technology and for everyone to live by the Golden Rule.

By Leaps and Bounds, Book 5, sees a turn. On his way to a libertarian republic and living by the Golden Rule, Bill disbands Rocheport’s communal way of life and makes everyone responsible for his or her success or failure.

In Book 6, Freedom’s Freehold, Bill, in the face of dangerous external and internal forces, as well as personal crises, continues his technological advance and his desire to implement a libertarian republic — that best form of government which governs not at all, as Thoreau wrote.

Just as Europe emerged from the Dark Ages to realize the world was a very large place, so too does Rocheport emerge from its isolation to find there are many little communities like itself.

Bill embarks on building a telegraph network to link together likeminded cities. He builds steam-powered cars and trucks for travel and trade. And for long distance exploration and trade, he builds a steam-powered airship.

The forthcoming books will chronicle the ever growing world in which Rocheport finds itself. The question always being will Bill and his dream remain in the center of that world and will Rocheport truly become the shining city set upon the hill.

The Rocheport Saga is the cozy catastrophe on a grand scale. I hope you enjoy it.

Comments are welcome, as always. Until next time, happy reading!

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The Wonderful Machine Age: The Daring Young Men in Their Flying Machines #2

Airships. Those behemoths of the sky. Gentle giants that fill us with awe. That still inspire us to dream of their return some 78 years after the end of commercial airship flight. Oh, how we love them!

Yet, given today’s scale of economics, they are on par with the dinosaurs. The giants are gone and all that remains are those semi-lighter-than-air Zeppelin NTs. Something akin to watching birds and seeing in them the gigantic might of the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the monstrous bulk of the Brachiosaurus.

Many books have been written about airships and many more will undoubtedly be written. They capture our imagination. They were the first flying machines to prove the feasibility of flying through the air with the greatest of ease. I’ve written previously on airships. Check out my guest blog post at The Old Shelter for additional information and pictures. This week and next, I’ll tell a little more of the history of those marvelous lighter than air machines.

On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers inaugurated heavier-than-air powered flight. Their initial flight lasted 12 seconds and the plane flew 120 feet. Their best effort of the day was a 59 second flight, for a distance of 852 feet. Certainly not an auspicious start when compared with the first powered airship flight in 1852 which traveled 27 km (17 miles). Nor when compared with the first zeppelin flight in 1900, which lasted 17 minutes and covered a distance of 6 km (3.7 miles). Clearly, the airship and not the airplane was the wave of the future.

However, World War I changed the picture and changed it dramatically, as wars often do. Airplane performance increased substantially. So much so, the plane proved itself superior to the airship in short distance operation. Mostly due to cheaper operating costs and speed. But for long distance flights, the airship was still king.

From the moment the Montgolfier balloon ascended into the sky in 1783, people started figuring out ways to make the balloon steerable and capable of free flight, independent of the wind.

The first powered flight of an airship occurred in 1852 when Henri Giffard flew 27 km (17 miles) in a steam-powered airship. He flew from Paris to Élancourt. However, the wind was too strong for him to make the return flight. He was, however, able to make turns and circles to show his airship was fully controllable.

Here is a picture of the model in the London Museum:


Thirty-two years later, Charles Renard and Arthur Constantin Krebs, in the French army airship La France, made the first fully controllable free flight. The airship was powered by an electric motor. The La France flew 8 km (5 miles) in 23 minutes and was able to fly against the wind to return to its starting point.

Here is a photo of La France:


The first fully controllable air dirigible 'La France', designed by Captain Charles Renard and Lieutenant Arthur Krebs, at Chalais-Meudon. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In the early years of the 20th century, while Count Zeppelin was experimenting with rigid airships (vessels with gas cells contained inside a framework that gave the envelope or hull a fixed shape), Alberto Santos-Dumont was building and flying non-rigid airships (vessels with no framework, relying on gas pressure to maintain the shape of the envelope) in France. He was so successful, he started an airship craze. Soon everyone was getting into the act. Everyone wanted an airship. One of the most ambitious of these early airship men, was journalist Walter Wellman. In his airship, America, he made two attempts to fly to the North Pole and in 1910 attempted to fly across the Atlantic. You can read about his exploits on airships.net.

Here is a picture of the airship America:


Non-rigid airships are limited in size due to the inherent instability of the envelope or hull. If too long, they may develop a kink should gas pressure become insufficient to maintain the shape.

The solution lay in giving the envelope some manner of framework to keep its shape. A semi-rigid airship has a keel to prevent buckling, gas pressure maintains the envelope’s width. A rigid airship supports the envelope with a framework. The lift gas is contained in cells within the framework. The largest airships we’re rigid in design, due to their inherent structural strength.

Enter Count Zeppelin. For the airship to be a successful passenger liner, cargo hauler, or military vessel, it needs to be able to carry a lot of weight and fly a great distance. The Count understood this and focused on the development of the rigid airship. From 1900 to 1911, numerous improvements were made and lessons learned on how to build and fly rigid airships.

The world’s first airline, the DELAG, went into operation in 1910 and in 1911 the LZ 10, Schwaben, joined the next year by the LZ 11, Viktoria Luise, was making regular flights between German cities, as well as pleasure cruises. By July 1914, the DELAG airships had flown 172,535 km on 1588 commercial flights, carrying 34,028 passengers. With no fatalities.

Here is a picture of the LZ 10:


During World War I the Germans built 90 airships, 73 of which were by the Zeppelin company. All of them were destroyed or turned over to the Allies. What the war revealed was that the rigid airship did not make for an effective strategic bomber. Its strength lay in reconnaissance, cargo hauling, and long distance flight.

A Schütte-Lanz airship, Zeppelin’s main competitor:


Perhaps the most spectacular achievement was by the LZ 104 (Navy ship L 59), known as the Africa Ship. On November 21, 1917, the LZ 104 took off from Bulgaria carrying 15 tons of supplies for the beleaguered German East Africa Army. On November 23, Lieutenant Commander Bockholt received an abort order and the ship returned to Bulgaria, arriving the morning of November 25.

The LZ 104:


The LZ 104 had flown over 6800 km (4200 miles) in 95 hours and had enough fuel for another 64 hours flight time. It wouldn’t be until 1938, when a modified Focke-Wulf FW200 “Condor” made the 3728 mile flight from Berlin to New York City, that trans-Atlantic commercial plane flights began to be conceived of as possible by land-based airplanes. I think it significant that LZ 104 could have flown from Berlin to New York with ease. In fact she could have flown for another 500 miles to Detroit, Michigan or Charlotte, North Carolina.

After the end of World War I, the airship was the only aircraft capable of trans-oceanic intercontinental flight. Next week we’ll conclude our look at the airship, one of the most marvelous machines of The Wonderful Machine Age.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #37

Last week we stopped in the middle of Rand Hart’s rumination over von Osler’s offer of a sweet pile of deutsche marks to make a simple delivery. Today we continue his ruminations and finish the chapter. It’s quite a bit over 8 sentences, however I just couldn’t see dragging out the scene for one more Sunday and post a mere 6 sentences next week. I hope y’all don’t mind. 🙂

He pursed his lips. If he was lucky, he might be able to get in some poker or backgammon on the Miami to Rio flight and sweeten the job even more. There were usually at least a few high rollers making the trip. It wasn’t every day he got the chance to make this much money from a simple delivery. Once he got back to the States, there’d be plenty of time to enjoy his great big pile of cash.

Hart turned his attention back to the German. “Five thousand for tickets and expenses.”

Von Osler considered for a moment and then agreed. “Fifty-five thousand to ‘run my errand’ I believe you Americans say.”

“We say that.”

Hart looked out the window of the giant airship. The sky was blue with a big old cumulus cloud drifting along. The ocean was calm, placid even.

“Okay, Mr von Osler. I’ll do it.”

This brings chapter one of Rand Hart to an end. I’ve finished the story and am now in the process of editing and at present it is with the beta readers. The tale is a 21,000 word novella. At present. I’m hoping to publish in October.

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #36

Von Osler wants Hart very badly to be his deliveryman, as we saw last week:

“I have a person who will make the delivery. But…” Von Osler shrugged. “He is not as skilled, creative, or lucky as you are. With you…? Let us say it is like having four jacks instead of four eights.”

Are 53,000 deutsche marks going to change his mind from spending some time at home? Hart turns the offer over in his mind:

Hart turned his gaze towards the window and the ocean beyond. He’d been hoping to spend some time at home. Enjoying his money. Now, however, fifty-three thousand deutsche marks were staring him in the face. And just to deliver a little box. By noon on the eleventh. He wouldn’t have much time. Probably have to catch a red eye out of La Guardia or Floyd Bennett tonight for Miami and then a three day flight on a Pan Am clipper.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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