Queen of the Iron Sands is a science fantasy, in the tradition of a planet-hopping and laser-blasting style of adventure fiction that was once much more prominent in the genre... so prominent that it nearly eclipsed the rest of the genre in the public imagination.
I'm not the first to dig in and revive this old beast recently (hey, check out Chris Roberson's Paragaea), but I hope to do so with a heavy injection of my own style and preferences into the proceedings. There's so much to adore about the old pulps... the sheer inventive energy, the slam-bang action, the wild landscapes. And there's much not to adore-- the dated stereotypes and forthright acceptance of everything from naked imperialism to thoughtless genocide, for starters. And then there's utterly linear plotting, in which spastic travelogues are spaced out with tepid action scenes ad nauseam until the author finally gives up and heaves the climactic plot device straight at the hero's head. Ugh.
Pulp fiction displays the twin virtues of energy and simplicity. Too many revivals and re-inventions, to my mind, forget about energy and stumble over themselves in their hurry to embrace simplicity. I don't view planetary romance as some sort of escape from the responsibility of writing adult characters-- and those looking for the "lone Anglo-Saxon squashes the primitive bug people" sort of story are also probably going to be disappointed.
Notes on Chapter 1: My Father Brought the Sky Home
I made a stylistic decision early in the writing of this story to strenuously avoid dialect. I am not from Texas, and I can't imagine a faster way to sink the story than to fill it with gratuitous faux-regional idiocy ("Goll-LEE shucks-a-doodle-doo!"). Some characters may occasionally drop a 'g' from the end of a word, and Violet of course may exercise her narrator's right to say whatever she pleases. And that's all, I promise.
I like Texas, though. Been there twice. Mean to go back.
Did you know, this is the first story I've ever written from a first-person perspective and the first I've ever written from a woman's point of view? Let me know how I do.
Regarding the August, 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, you can see it here, courtesy of Frank Wu's stupendously awesome art site. It would have been out of place for Violet to go on at length about every last bit of credit due for that magazine, but here in the notes I can happily point out that the artist responsible for the scene that entranced her was Frank R. Paul, whose dramatic, detailed, high-energy illustrations helped set the tone for the early years of science fiction and fantasy magazines. Frank Wu has an entire gallery of Paul stuff well worth checking out.
The cover of the October, 1928 issue may be seen here. Poor Violet actually missed an issue, and thus the middle of the three-part "Skylark of Space," but she was too young and excited to pay much attention.
Hey, Project Gutenberg has the full text of "The Skylark of Space" available right here.
One thing I should make very clear concerning Violet's opinions and recollections of her WWII service... she might not always be fair, and she might not always be in possession of all the facts. I do hope that Queen of the Iron Sands will expose a corner of WWII history to those that might have missed it, but in plain terms, I am not writing an actual history.
I believe a fairly grave injustice was done to the real-life WASPs (one of many done to hundreds of thousands of Americans who served bravely in that war... women, African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, and even the members of the Merchant Marine, who risked death on the high seas as surely as combat sailors did, but were excluded from the GI Bill), but the point of this story isn't to linger on or weigh all the factors in that vast and complicated saga. My job, in this story, is to get behind Violet's eyes and illuminate her situation.
She has a great deal to be angry about, and a great deal to be proud of... but she's not guaranteed to be right.
Notes on Chapter 2: The Red Cloud Over Texas
Jane Champlin was a real WASP and the extraordinary details of her case, as related by Violet, are quite true.
All of Violet's bitter complaints about the treatment of WASPs that died in service are also, unfortunately, completely accurate.
Minor detail... Astounding Science Fiction (which continues to this day as Analog) had a hyphen in its "science-fiction" until 1946. I felt that keeping this detail and explaining it would waste space on a complete non-issue, while not explaining it would make it look like a typo. Thus was John W. Campbell's hyphen consigned to the memory hole of alternate history. May the writing gods have mercy on my soul.
L.E. Derryberry was a famous Texas aviator and a buddy of Charles Lindbergh. I have kept him largely in the background of this story because the insertion of the DeVeres into the very real, tightly-woven strands of aviation history in Abilene has already strained them a bit. Abilene isn't some unknown mystery dirt burg I could just do with as I pleased, if I wanted to have any respect for the world that supposedly spawned Violet.
The Taylorcraft L-2 at Warbird Alley. And at Wikipedia. Violet's model is an L-2M.
This, in Violet's world, was her first appearance in an issue of Astounding. The story she speaks so highly of is "Private Eye," by Lewis Padgett, and it really is quite excellent. Padgett, incidentally, was a pseudonym for the husband-and-wife writing team of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore.
Sun Tang Red Cream Soda is still around, though much better known these days as Big Red.
Notes on Chapter 3: The Representative Sample
The section of this chapter where Violet wakes up in her cell was read out loud at Armadillocon in Austin, Texas in August 2009. The audience didn't hang me from the rafters, which is always encouraging.
"The Tower of the Elephant" is one of Robert E. Howard's seminal Conan the Barbarian stories, originally published in Weird Tales in 1933. The complete text is available from Project Gutenberg here.
The Hal Clement story Violet refers to is Needle, in which a symbiotic alien enters the body of a human boy. I didn't find that the story quite lived up to its potential, but I'd say it's worth a read. Especially for the early sections in which the alien, which isn't conveniently telepathic, must learn not only to comprehend human communication but figure out how to speak to the boy without alarming him. It's a bit of a cross between a Heinlein juvenile and an Asimov logic puzzle.
Incidentally, this might not be a bad moment to review the concept of "Genre Savvy" at TvTropes.org.
The raw dimensions and perspective descriptions of the caldera atop Olympus Mons, as given here, are almost certainly a little off (apart from the very obvious fact that the real caldera doesn't have an artificial atmosphere, forests, a citadel, etc.). What I decided to do for the sake of balancing good science and good pulp was to allow slight alterations to those Martian surface features which are so big and so cool that I couldn't bear to leave them out of the story (Olympus Mons, the other volcanoes of the Tharsis bulge, the Valles Marineris, and so forth). When you see 'em in the story, they're allowed a representation with a degree of accuracy we'll call "eh, mostly right."
The Thrail were a marauding alien race in a really awful science fiction story I started writing in my teens. I did like the sound of that word, though. Nice and sinister. At least in English... it might mean 'cupcake' in Urdu or Farsi. Anyhow, I kept it in a notebook for eventual re-use. The crap stories of our early years are often the compost heaps we use to fertilize the stuff people actually want to read years later.
Notes on Chapter 4: Triumph of the All-Sovereign
More on Fifinella can be found at this Wikipedia entry.
Violet's aircraft: The BT-13 Valiant, the AT-6 Texan, the P-51 Mustang, and the B-17 Flying Fortress. In my notes I also had her checked out on the P-38 Lightning. You can check out an authentic P-38 pilot training film of the sort Violet would have watched here; note esecially the gorgeous full-color film of low-level flight.
Byun Jae-Sun is being hyperbolic, but at the time of Violet's transport to Mars the Korean War really had been raging for about two months, and things didn't look pretty for South Korean and UN forces.
The Martian floating platforms, like their gigantic hovering swarmships, are not actually straight anti-gravity devices. They contain cells full of lifting gas; what it is and whether or not Violet will ever explain it in an aside to her imaginary reader, I haven't decided yet.
The government Sections commanded by the Exarchs are as follows: Executive, Military, Loyalty, Sciences, Order, Sustenance, Prosperity, and Culture. There are others, but those are the ones I have in my notes.
Queen of the Iron Sands is an entirely donation-supported project!