Railhead isn’t even out yet, and it’s already being re-imagined! My publishers OUP have commissioned some artwork from leading illustrators and concept designers. It won’t be in the book – it’s for use online and as projections in the Railhead stage event I really need to be sorting out – so the artists were told to interpret the book as freely as they liked, rather than produce literal illustrations. The pictures will be shared on various different blogs over the coming days. I’ll post updates on Twitter and Facebook, and a link here to all the posts once they’re all up.
One of the interesting things about Jaguar’s Mortal Engines concept design project is that he has only read the first book, so he doesn’t know any of the backstory and extra details which I developed in Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices, A Darkling Plain and the Fever Crumb series. His version of the development of Traction Cities, which I posted here a few days ago, isn’t quite the same as my version, with the Nomad Empires and their motorised castles inspiring the development of London. And his version of Airhaven has a different history, too, which results in a rather different looking structure from the one I described in the book. Jaguar says that he imagined the people of Airhaven didn’t have the technology to float their entire city, so they modularised it and got the various bits airborne one by one.
As with many of the images he’s shown me, I don’t mind admitting that his version is much more visually interesting than mine.
Here are three of his sketches and one big, breathtaking painting (which you can click to enlarge). The text is the ‘official’ history of Airhaven as recounted by Jeremy Levett and I in our patchily-available e-book The Traction Codex.
Airhaven was a flying town at which airships from all over the world could dock to trade, provision and refuel. It inhabited a curious middle-ground in the long feud between Traction and Anti-Traction, enjoying friendly relations with all both the League and the major towns and cities of the Hunting Ground; although very definitely a mobile city, it was not technically a Traction City and caused no damage; its existence was thus not an affront to Anti-Tractionists.
It began as one of many caravanserais built among the high passes of the Shatterlands to cater to airships making the journey from the Middle Sea to the Hunting Ground. As the air-trade developed, these competing caravanserais moved further and further up the mountainsides (air-traders always preferred to anchor at the highest ones rather than waste gas, fuel and time descending to those at lower levels). This stepping-stone contest of climbing hill-towns went on for many decades, and did not stop when the caravanserais eventually ran out of mountain; they attached gas-balloons and large tethers so that their establishments could actually hang in the sky above their mountaintops, to be hauled down to safety in poor weather. Airhaven was the first to take this process to its logical conclusion by attaching engines and cutting its tethers, becoming, in effect, a gigantic, slow-moving airship.
A number of other towns followed its lead, including Kipperhawk and Stratosphereham, but by 1000 TE Airhaven was the only one left, the others having variously drifted into volcanic ash-clouds, crashed or found themselves undone by the unfortunate combination of flammable gasbags and drunken Tractionist-versus-Anti-Tractionist gunfights.
Remember the amazing Mortal Engines concept art by Jaguar Lee which I posted here a few months ago? Well, he’s still at work, and has just sent me some comics pages which fill in a bit of the books’ backstory – from the Sixty Minute War, through the development of larger and larger tanks and tracked vehicles to the appearance of the first Traction City. (They’d also make a great title sequence for a Mortal Engines movie – the way they hint at so much history in just a few images reminds me a bit of the credits sequence of Miyazaki’s Laputa – Castle in the Sky. And talking of unlikely flying cities, Jaguar has also done some work on Airhaven, but I’ll save that for next week.
And while you’re looking at these, you could have a listen to some music by Adam Wheeler, inspired by a recent re-reading of the Quartet. Dramatic and earbending, it’s based on the sound of a Traction City rumbling by.