Idiot Genius Nabs 5th Award

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We’re proud to announce another book award for Richard Due’s Idiot Genius series—this time from Writer’s Digest (for middle grade & young adult). This is the 5th time Idiot Genius has been recognized this year. We’re so proud we typeset a new first page!

Flying Devils and the Marine Screw Propeller

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First, it’s worth mentioning that most inventors and innovators who are credited with being the “first” to invent something are almost always not the first: they just got the credit for it.

Remember the Black Fez Axiom:
“History is always older.”

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Telling the difference between science and what looks like magic has never been easy.

Take the Age of Sail, for example. Even though air is invisible, it was easy for people to understand what made ships move through water. All they had to see were the sails filling with air.

The same was true for the first steam-powered ships, which used giant paddle-wheels to propel themselves through the water.

But all that changed in 1836, after Swiss inventor John Ericsson proposed towing a barge carrying members of the Royal Admiralty around the Thames River using twin marine screw propellers powered by a steam engine.

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The people watching the event from the shore were not only amazed, but highly confused. Where were the sails? Where were the paddle wheels? Certainly some black magic must be at work! Spectators, and even some able seamen, posited “flying devils.”

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A John Ericsson propeller. circa 1840s

Ericsson’s first propeller ship was a steam-powered tugboat, the Francis B. Ogden. It was 40 feet long, 8 feet wide at the beam, drew 3 to 5 feet of water, and was capable of towing a barge at 7 mph—which is exactly what Ericsson did. But afterwards, the Lords of the Admiralty he’d invited for the ride were completely unimpressed—they even told him they didn’t care for his design!

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John Ericsson

Ericsson took his second ship, the Robert F. Stockton, a much larger oceangoing vessel, to America, in hopes of getting a better reception. Which he did.

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Early steamships still relied on sails for long voyages.

 

Further readings:

Iron Thunder: The Battle Between the Monitor & the Merrimac by Avi

Monitor: The Story of the Legendary Civil War Ironclad and the Man Whose Invention Changed the Course of History, by James Tertius Dekay

A History of the Growth of the Steam-Engine, by Robert H. Thurston, A.M., C.E., 1907. (free download)

Bonus fun: Click HERE

Willa Snap’s first illegal memoir: Idiot Genius: Willa Snap and the Clockwerk Boy.

Bringing Willa Snap’s Clockwerk Dress to Life

Once we decided to attend Balticon 52, it was a pretty short jump to: Let’s make Willa’s Clockwerk dress!

But how?*

Well, as luck would have it, we have a costume designer in the family. In fact, Meredith was there from the beginning. After reading an early draft, and after pincushioning me with questions, she dashed off—within minutes—the first design sketch of the dress. She then sat at my side, answering my questions, as I converted her sketch back into words. (Meredith was 14 at the time she drew this sketch. She’s now in her second year at Rutger’s University, pursing a BFA in costume design.)

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(please pardon the refrigerator magnets)

Years later, working from a newer draft, Carolyn Arcabascio created a quick napkin sketch, in color, to see if she was on the right track. (She was.)

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The dress appears twice in Carolyn’s many illustrations for the book. Once in black and white:

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Chapter Twenty-One: Villa da Vinci

And once in color, on the cover:

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(detail from the cover)

At this exact second, Meredith is ordering all manner of supplies for the dress, which will be modeled at Balticon this May by two Willa Snap impersonators.

My plan over the next few months is to document Meredith’s progress as she brings Willa Snap’s Clockwerk dress to life. Consider this installment #1. Watch this space.

*All of the above is, of course, complete nonsense. The simple truth is that CeeCee da Vinci swiped the original dress pattern from Clockwerk Couture in the Clockwerk burg, Nimet relayed the pattern to me, and I delivered it to Meredith. There’s a longer version (as you might imagine), involving a midnight burgling, a dozen of Aunt Mila’s Clockwerk cats, a defective Smith & Blazooski mini stun cannon, and the careful deployment of ten balls of yarn (work with what you have). And if Willa ever figures out what we’ve all been up to . . . well, as Nimet would say, “Tanrı yardımcımız olsun” (Heaven help us).

Midwest Book Review

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The folks at MBR released a review of Idiot Genius: Willa Snap and the Clockwerk Boy today! We’re really excited to post it here!

Idiot Genius: Willa Snap and the Clockwerk Boy pairs lovely illustrations by Carolyn Arcabascio with the first book in a satisfyingly original, compelling series for ages 9-12, introducing Willamina Gilbert Snap, an eleven-year-old who discovers there’s a force keeping the world from destruction – and that force is comprised of Idiots.

She should know: she’s apparently one herself, and her destiny is to never see home again – among other things.

Idiot Genius: Willa Snap and the Clockwerk Boy represents Willa’s “first highly illegal memoir” and details her venture into Grandeur, a city of time-traveling dragons, talkative cats, and scientific discoveries unknown to Outside.

There’s a lot to relish about Idiot Genius: Willa Snap and the Clockwerk Boy; not the least of which is an approach that offers much food for thought about the structure of Willa’s world and the science and psychology behind it: “The problem is that geniuses – both capital G and small g – either think you understand everything they’ve said as perfectly as they do, or that you’re as dumb as dirt. It’s one of their biggest flaws.”

From the baristas’ strange brewed creatures (“a hermit crab the size of a basketball, a foxlike cashier wearing a hat and vest, and a small winged dragon perched in a cage, preening its bright green feathers“) to devices that rent unused brain space, Willa sweeps readers along. Sentient Clockwerks, a cat-run curiosity shop, and steam-powered rhino cabs coexist in a setting the author describes as “polypunk.”

It’s unusual to see such sci-fi depth and detail in a title directed to young adults, but this is precisely what makes Idiot Genius: Willa Snap and the Clockwerk Boy such an appealing production: the characterization is solid while its fantastic setting will intrigue ages well beyond its intended 9-12-year-old audience.

Time vortexes, ghosts, and the costs of navigating this odd world make for a complex but thoroughly engrossing story recommended for young sci-fi and fantasy fans who hold a prior attraction to books such as John Bellairs’ House with a Clock in its Walls.  From its engaging drawings to its powerful message, Idiot Genius will leave readers musing about Willa Snap’s adventures long after the winding story concludes. It is highly recommended for young adults seeking something compellingly different in tone, approach, and perspective.

D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review