Airship Ambassador: Hi Tony, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Tony Pi: It’s a pleasure to be here.
AA: Your work has been published in Ages of Wonder, Abyss & Apex Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies Magazine. You were shortlisted for the 2009 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and have been a finalist (a few times) for the Aurora Awards. Now, your story, Our Chymical Seance, is part of the Clockwork Canada anthology. What is it about?
TP: Set in a grand railway hotel in Canada Northwest, Professor Tremaine Voss visits his friend Sir Cesar De Bruin, owner of Chateau Banffshyre, who invites him to a suspicious seance in hopes that he could prove it a hoax.
AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?
TP: My adventures featuring Professor Voss are set in a parallel history where magic collides with technology, in an era when the wonders of cinema and paleontology begin to captivate his world. Steam and clockwork work very well alongside magic for the feel I wanted in the series.
AA: Sounds like a world where magic and technology could be complimentary instead of in conflict. What was the motivation for creating Our Chymical Seance?
TP: When Dominik told me about Clockwork Canada, I knew I had another story to tell about Professor Voss, whose interest in fossils would have brought him to the Canadian Badlands. My research on Alberta led me to read up on the history of the Banff Springs Hotel. And when I saw Dame Angela Lansbury on stage as a medium in Blythe Spirit, I knew I wanted to write about a seance.
AA: With those as a foundation, the story is already off to grand start. What can you share with us about the main characters, Tremaine and Madame Skilling?
TP: Professor Tremaine Voss has a doctorate in Aigyptian archaeology and magic, but his fascination with sphinxes and the cults that worship them has also made him an expert in fossilized lion hybrids (such as manticores and merlions). He also has an old injury in his left leg that requires him to use a walking stick. Unfortunately life seems to mirror fiction, as I recently suffered a similar injury as my protagonist, forcing me into a cast and eventually a cane for several months. I suppose the upside is that I now understand Tremaine’s plight much better.
As for Madame Skilling, she’s a spirit medium whose secrets are her own, and it is not my place to divulge them here.
AA: Hopefully you healed relatively quickly. Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story?
TP: Madame Skilling’s mysterious seance device, the Ektoptikon, is key to the story.
AA: After reading the story, the Ektoptikon might be a fun steampunk item to build! What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Our Chymical Seance?
TP: In this world, fabulous creatures exist. However, lion hybrids are extinct, and only fossil records exist. One such lost species is the calygreyhound (a cat/deer/eagle/lion monstrosity), whose fossils are abundant in the Badlands. The city of Calygrey is named after them.
The world is very much in an era of exciting change. Advances in alchemy have brought film technology from black-and-white to colour, but sound-on-film still eludes them. Other innovations changing the world include clockwork cinema projectors, empyreumatic trains, limbeck lifts and more.
AA: What kind of back story is there for Our Chymical Seance which didn’t make it into the final book?
TP: Aside from the worldbuilding from my other stories, I had considered what the Canadas would be like in Tremaine’s world. I wish I had time to explore Montraal and Huronto, for example, or to linger in the luxury of Chateau Banffshyre and convey how important these majestic railway hotels were in their heyday to those travelling across the continent.
AA: Might there be more stories with Tremaine or Madame Skilling for readers to enjoy?
TP: Definitely. I enjoy returning to Tremaine’s world now and again, and there are already many ideas I have in my back pocket.
I definitely look forward to reading those!
We’ll pause here in our chat with Tony. Join us for the conclusion when Tony talks about writing, Toronto, and other interests.
You can support Tony and our community by getting your copy of Clockwork Canada here.