Germany: Sci-fi writers wax lyrical over A future world of blimps

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The Independent Online
Airships had not been invented in Elizabethan England. Nor in the early stages of the nineteenth century. This is the only way to explain the cruel neglect Zeppelins have suffered at the hands of Shakespeare and Dickens. Thankfully for blimp enthusiasts, many modern writers have built their narratives around the phenomenon of gaseous elipses flying through our skies, with varying degrees of success.

The publication of George Griffiths' The Angel of the Revolution in 1893 marked an important watershed in the development of science-fiction, and used blimps to evoke a future-worldliness. By the late 1970s a loving pastiche of this sort of writing had appeared, most notably by Michael Moorcock, whose The Warlord of the Air, forming a part of the Bastable trilogy, gave the airships a pivotal role in holding together a British empire that had avoided the fate of the historical one.

Perhaps the most successful since then, was Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights. Published as the first part of a children's trilogy in 1996, it has been translated into 17 languages. It is set in an alternative universe, where people use airships rather as we might use trains or aeroplanes. Having spent the best part of a year in the top five of the US children's sales list, it has managed to balance commercial advance with critical acclaim, winning the Carnegie medal and a Guardian fiction award.

Michael M Mooney's The Hindenburg was published in 1974. Later filmed with George C Scott and Anne Bancroft, Mooney's novel suggests the reason for the Hindenburg's explosion was sabotage, by anti-Nazi forces in pre- war Germany.

In 1981, John Brosnan produced the epicSkyship. This tale of modern technology sees a huge blimp - The Phoenix - running on a nuclear-powered generator. More recent is Pamela Oldfield's Falling From Grace, published in 1995, which concerns a budding romance within the design-and-build team on the R-101; Britain's answer to von Zeppelin's beast that went on to meet a similar fate.

- Gidon Freeman

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