1936: A madman calling himself the Master of the Air threatens to let death and destruction rain down upon New York City. No one take him seriously, until an airship taxi suddenly explodes the very next day. But was it an accident or sabotage? Police Captain Justin O’Grady and the masked vigilante known as the Silencer both investigate the case. But it’s a race against time, because the Master of the Air has already set his sights on a new target: The Zeppelin Imperator, the largest airship ever built…
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Some background information:
- Flying Bombs is 8600 words long. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published elsewhere.
- This is the second story I wrote about the Silencer, a masked vigilante in 1930s New York. The first story is Countdown to Death, also available in e-book format.
- Every writer of Steampunk, Dieselpunk and other retro-futurist genres gets to write at least one airship story. Flying Bombs is mine. I initially wrote it for an airship themed anthology, but was rejected.
- The brothers Hans and Heinrich Piel were named for Harry Piel, a well known action film star of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich.
- There’s not a lot of Constance in this one. However, she gets a lot more to do in the other Silencer stories.
- This is the only Silencer story which gives an actual date, since it takes place on February 5, 1935. The date was carefully chosen to put it a week before the USS Macon crash and about a year and a half before the Hindenburg disaster.
- There never was a Zeppelin named Imperator. By one of those lucky coincidences that occasionally pop up to help historical fiction writers, the ongoing numbering of the Zeppelin airships has a gap between LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin and LZ-129 Hindenburg due to a projected sister ship of the Graf Zeppelin that was abandoned in 1930 in favour of the Hindenburg. Hence the LZ-128 designation was available for my fictional Zeppelin Imperator.
- I’ve taken some liberties with the design of the Imperator, as no German Zeppelin was ever equipped with a hook-on mechanism for a small plane. There were some trials carried out during WWI as well by the Americans aboard the LZ-126 Los Angeles and later on the Hindenburg, but no German Zeppelin was ever regularly equipped with a parasite aircraft. This particular feature only existed aboard the American airships USS Macon and USS Akron as well as the British R33. However, I had to find a way to get the Silencer aboard the Imperator and this is better than having him climb up a mooring rope.
- However, the other technical details about the Zeppelin design are as correct as I could research them.
- Flying Bombs includes references to the use of German Zeppelins for bombing raids in WWI, the USS Shenandoah, USS Akron and USS Macon disasters, the airship Los Angeles, which was built by the Zeppelin company for the US Navy, the R101 disaster and also foreshadows the Hindenburg disaster at the end.
- How to deal with the swastika painted onto the tailfins of all German Zeppelins post 1933 was something of a dilemma. On the one hand, I couldn’t just ignore it. But neither could I have Richard break out into lengthy ruminations about the dangers of National Socialism, because Flying Bombs is set in February 1935, barely two years after Hitler came to power at a time when very few people, either in Germany or abroad, could accurately gauge the danger posed by the Third Reich. Even the infamous Nuremberg Laws, which forbade marriages between Jews and non-Jews and denied various other basic civil rights to German Jews, were not passed until September 1935, seven month after the story is set. In the end, I did have Richard express his worries about Hitler and the Nazis, because Richard Blakemore, both in his Silencer and civilian pulp writer identity, has probably had contact to expatriate Jews and therefore can be assumed to have a somewhat different perspective from the average American at the time.
- Alas, the villain of this story did turn out not to be politically motivated at all.
- There was never an airship taxi service, neither in New York City nor elsewhere. But similar services were a staple of near future science fiction in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. Here is one example.
- The Millennium Tower never existed. However, in this case wrecking a fictional building was preferable to using a real one. Never mind that the only skyscraper that was ever actually equipped with an airship mooring mast is the Empire State Building. And I could hardly wreck that.
- The clock whose strikes herald the airtaxi crash belongs to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, a stunning beaux arts building completed in 1909 that was the tallest building in the world for a few years. I have no idea whether the clock really strikes, though.
- The cover image is digital art by James Steidl a.k.a. jgroup via Dreamstime.
- The original cover may be seen here. The cover image is a historical photo of the airship LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, digitally altered. My grandfather Adolf Buhlert Sr. took this photo from his balcony, when the Graf Zeppelin visited Bremen during her trial flights in the fall of 1928. You can see the original photos and a bit of background information here.