Interview 109, The Guns Above Author, Robyn Bennis

This week we are talking with Robyn Bennis, author of The Guns Above.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Robyn, it is so good to chat with you again after our interview panel at Teslacon!

Robyn Bennis: Thanks for having me!


AA: Readers may not have access to your non-fiction writings in human gene expression, neural connections, cancer diagnostics, or rapid flu testing, but now, your debut fiction book has been published. What is The Guns Above about?

RB: Just about the opposite of my scientific research. While that was about helping people, The Guns Above is about blowing people up. Josette Dupre is the newest Garnian airship captain, and she’s the country’s very first woman captain. As you might expect, this presents some problems, among them that elements of the Garnian army are trying to get her demoted or killed—whichever is most convenient. Lord Bernat is their man on the ground—or in the sky, as it happens—working against Josette from the inside.

AA: That’s a realistic setup as a steampunk story based on prevailing attitudes of our Nineteenth century. Aside from the airships, why did you opt for steampunk?

RB: Because it’s so much fun, of course! What’s cooler than steam power? I consider it a historical tragedy that the internal combustion engine proved safer and more versatile.


AA: And nowhere near as elegant as airship travel. How does The Guns Above express your vision of steampunk, and what does it add to the existing works in the genre?

RB: I like to think that I’ve written the SF counterpart to Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series and Nisi Shawl’s Everfair—attentive to history but with a splash of something else that throws the entire setting for a loop. I also like to think that I’ve brought an obsessive attention to realism that exceeds all rational bounds, as well as some pretty solid fart jokes.


AA: Haha, and everyone is 12 again when they read them! What got you started creating The Guns Above? Was it one of those fart jokes?

RB: If I’m being honest, the “what if” was more of a, “How can I incorporate these steampunk airship ideas with my love for Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series?”


AA: Ahh, I can see that influence now, looking back on it. There’s a lot going on in the story, but what are the key themes you worked on?

RB: I’m always a little hesitant to discuss themes in absolute terms, because every reader brings so much of themselves to the story, and they may find themes that I never even intended. For me, though, the central theme is discovery. That is, finding what’s beneath the surface of a political decision, the difference between how a machine acts on paper and reality, and what potential lies within a person who others automatically discount.


AA: What can you share with us about the inner qualities of the main characters, Josette DuPre and Lord Bernat?

RB: They are, as you might expect, opposites in many ways. Josette has a pretty nasty case of imposter syndrome, while Bernat approaches every new situation like he’s already an expert. They share a few traits, though. They’re both willing to endure danger and hardship to get what they want. Josette would tell you that she doesn’t whine while enduring them, but the truth is she just complains about the people she feels are responsible for the danger and hardship, while Bernat’s complains about the situation itself.

AA: It does make for some interesting situations throughout the story. Do they change throughout the story, or does the world change around them, instead?

RB: The world of The Guns Above doesn’t change much, or very quickly. Much like in our world, when you think there’s been a sudden change for the better, you want to watch your collar, because there’s a good chance someone is about to yank you back by it. Josette’s journey is learning to survive when the bastards are trying to snap you back. Bernat’s arc is a bit longer, if only because he has farther to go. He starts as a self-important ignoramus, at odds with Josette. He ends as… well, it’s not quite what you might expect, so I won’t spoil it.


AA: Haha, I stayed up till 2 in the morning when I first read the book, just so I could find out! Looking behind the scenes, what did you do keep all of the characters relatable to the reader and still be firmly realistic in the circumstances of the story?

RB: I have two strategies I like to employ to maintain reader investment in my main characters: make them witty or keep them off-balance. I kind of went all-in on both of those, for Josette and Bernat.


AA: I was constantly engaged and turning every page. There are quite a few funny/sarcastic lines throughout the book, and more than a few memorable scenes. What stands out as memorable for you now that it’s been a bit of time between initial writing and publication?

RB: As rotten as his sentiment is, I still love Sergeant Jutes berating a group of female volunteers, thinking he’s doing them a favor by trying to scare them away from the air corps. Sometimes I still think of his last comment and chuckle: “you will be shot at with rockets, and you will be shot at with cannons, and you will be shot at with muskets, and I ain’t met a bullet yet that’s shy of tits.”


Honest words for today’s world, too.

Time for a break in our chat with Robyn.

Join us next time when she talks about airship battles, research, and getting feedback.

Until then, keep up to date with Robyn’s latest news on her website.

You can support Robyn and our community by getting your copy of The Guns Above here.

Published in: on March 26, 2018 at 6:17 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. […] Read part one here. […]

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