We love stories about magic, and we love sci-fi stories with cool tech. What happens when the two combine? Well, “Love and War Aboard the Peregrine Zircon,” for example! Read on for Issue 046 author Laurel Beckley’s expert melding process.
LSQ: This story was exciting from the get-go, a blend of not only love and war (as your title states) but technology and magic. How did adding magic affect your dieselpunk fantasy, ramping up the stakes?
Laurel: I got the idea from this wild movie called The Final Countdown
about a (then) modern-day aircraft carrier that somehow travels back in time to December 6, 1941. There are so many stories about magical sailing ships, why not a magical aircraft carrier?
There are no “big” magics in my world—much of it is small or made larger with collaboration, like a weather circle or operating the engine room—and because warfare is a never-ending game of one-upmanship, it made sense (at least, it does to me) that magical naval battles would end up marrying air- and sea-power like this as a form of power projection. I tried to work the magic in as organically as possible to fit with the technology, tactics and mindset, along with countermeasures to combat the advances in magical technology (for example, the shimmer blocking scrying capabilities).
LSQ: You were able to cleverly incorporate tension and foreboding by using Reva’s intuition. I love how the other characters trusted her gut and believed her instincts, not having to prove this part of her (especially not at 97% accuracy). What gave you the idea for this kind of personal magic? Does intuition translate personally for you in the real world?
Laurel: I wanted to write a naval battle story about someone who wasn’t in a stereotypically sexy military role (pilot, gunner, combat arms, etc), but who was instrumental nevertheless (and a little magical). There are fantasy books with seers and mystics, but I needed something a little more nebulous, because Reva wanted to become a pilot and they’re probably not going to let a seer pilot an aircraft (a mid-flight vision would be disastrous). The fact that Reva’s magic manifests as something like cramps was an homage (of sorts) to the woman’s intuition cliché, menstrual cramps and stress-based ulcers—and to the phrase “Make a decision, Lieutenant!” which features in many a young officer’s nightmares.
I’m a fairly gullible/non-intuitive person (even when taking into account the fact that intuition and common sense are subjective), so Reva is a bit of a wish-fulfillment, in that she has magical intuition that will lead her in the right direction—if she listens to it and interprets it correctly. She is already capable, but her magic gives her an edge that adds to her credibility.
LSQ: The tactical details are very specific and interwoven seamlessly with your world. Do you have a military background or just know how to spin a good story?
Laurel: I was a captain in the Marine Corps and have no naval experience beyond one summer on a landing ship dock (or LSD, which is an amphibious warfare ship that launches amphibious boats from its well deck—super cool, by the way—and in my ship’s case, helicopters from the flight deck) when I was an NROTC midshipman. They had no idea what to do with a Marine Option and I had no idea what to do on a ship, so they stuck me on the bridge with the navigators and I bumbled my way around for a month.
That summer in no way prepared me to write a story about an aircraft carrier, nor am I well-versed in naval warfare. To prepare, I toured the USS North Carolina (a battleship, not a carrier); studied up on the USS Enterprise (of WWII fame, not the interstellar craft or the first nuclear carrier) and battle group composition; pulled inspiration from tactics used in the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Coral Sea; grilled a retired Navy friend who served quite a few tours on carriers; and conducted online searches that probably have me on several watchlists. Once I felt I had a decent-ish handle on the basics, I took all that information and tweaked it to be *magical*, with many liberties on condensing/rearranging things to work within the narrative (and probably quite a few errors, too).
LSQ: If you were going to categorize your story into a specific genre, what would it be? What were the major influences to write it the way you did?
Laurel: I’d call it dieselpunk fantasy with a dash of space (high seas?) opera. Although aircraft carrier might feel modern, the terminology, equipment, layout, etc., are all based on WWII-era craft.
My major influences for this piece are We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett (a YA fantasy re-imagining of the Soviet Night Witches that marries magic and tech and is super cool), Once a Hero by Elizabeth Moon (a Marine who writes military space opera and often features non-infantry/combat arms-centric main characters), and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (okay, really the entire Vorkosigan series, where the main message is that losing your heart’s desire isn’t the end of everything but is a redirection instead, but in this particularly book I finally found out what Ivan did for a living, which was sorting, compiling and ordering information according to priority). And, of course, The Final Countdown.