Tuesday, November 9, 2010


When asked about his book, Airborn, Kenneth Oppel replied:

“I’ve long been fascinated by airships. To me, they seem almost miraculous. A luxurious passenger vessel bigger than the Titanic, yet lighter than air. They were the biggest objects ever to fly. What if airplanes hadn’t been invented? In the world of AIRBORN, airships rule the skies.”

Airships are one of those few things in the world that are self-explanatory: they’re ships in the air.  Instead of sea, they ride on wind, air currents and, in Oppel’s world, a lighter-than-helium gas called “hydrium”.  Just like ships, they  have crews, with all the usual ranks, such as cabin boy, officer, captain, etc.; even the men who repair the canvas covering the airship are called “sailmakers”. 

In Airborn, the airships are the best of the sea and air worlds; carrying cargo and people both, they serve any purpose that the mind can think of.  Naturally, of course, the more popular use for them is cruise liner-variety passenger-ships such as the Aurora; sure, their travel-time can be seven times slower than the rate of a modern airplane, but they do it with such style and convenience that nobody would care. 

I may not fly often enough to be earning Skymiles, but I’ve flown enough to know that planes are cramped, uncomfortable, and a pain in more places than one.  In fact, the talk of airships actually begins to make you wonder not “what if”, but “why”.  The answer is painfully simple: the USS Akron and the Hindenburg.   Their tragedies forever decided the fate of airships, reducing them to what we know today as blimps and zeppelins; and revealing the note of accuracy behind Oppel’s ironic comparison of airships and the Titanic.  In hat tip to this, Airborn is haunted from beginning to end by the death of a sailmaker who was blown away in a storm.