Last weekend, we took my daughter to my in-laws’ house for a sleepover with her cousins, and that left Kate and I some time to revisit Philadelphia’s historic center. It was also the first time I returned to Philly since setting part of my novel in an alternative version of the city.
My Philadelphia is set in 1779, but more importantly, it’s set on the Jovian moon of Ganymede. Instead of crossing the Atlantic to get to the New World, my characters cross the Void to get to a plethora of New Worlds. Hence, sailing ships in space.
So here are a few pictures of the real Philadelphia, along with a few snippets of the book, to try to give you a feel for what I’m up to. For me, it’s fun to see how the first capital of the United States of Ganymede measures up to today’s city. Oh, and as a bit of stage setting, Lt. Thomas Weatherby of HMS Daedalus and his colleagues are visiting the city under unusual circumstances, to say the least.
Weatherby stumbled slightly on the cobblestones of the streets, his balance poorly aided by the manacles he wore and the darkness surrounding him. Truly, he had little idea how Capt. Morrow walked so straight and tall, even while at musket-point, or how even Finch could navigate the darkened streets of Philadelphia with seeming grace. For his part, Weatherby simply wished for nothing more than to turn around and hit the Ganymedean soldier who prodded and pushed him along the streets at musket point, but he was under very strict orders to cooperate fully with the ruse….
And yet Weatherby found himself surprised at the neat and orderly city before him. Philadelphia’s streets were broad, the buildings almost uniformly brick. There were many parks and open spaces, and a cheerful bustle of late evening activity as the Daedalus “captives” made its way toward the Pennsylvania State House, led by a proud John Paul Jones and a cloaked and disguised Benjamin Franklin. The taverns seemed particularly boisterous, and there was a steady stream of people about – even a few free Venusians, it seemed – doing business under Jupiter’s unblinking eye. The gas giant was much further away than it was when they had tarried at Amalthea, but it was still at least ten times larger in the sky than was the Moon as seen from Earth. Next to it, tiny Io was an angry crimson dot, Europa a small white snowball.
It took but ten minutes for the “captives” – Morrow, Miss Baker, Finch and Weatherby – to arrive at the Pennsylvania State House. It struck Weatherby as too small and parochial to be the very epicenter of planetary rebellion, but it did have a certain charm regardless. It was but two stories tall, primarily red brick, with a pitched slate roof and a tall, white wooden bell tower. St. James Palace, it was not.
Some things haven’t changed in Philadelphia since 1779. It’s still pretty boisterous; Kate and I took these shots Sunday morning, and we saw a fair number of broken beer bottles that spoke to the previous night’s revelry. More importantly, the city’s done a decent job of preserving a lot of the historic buildings, though admittedly the recession hasn’t been kind to businesses there. Of course, there are plenty of differences, from power lines and cars to nearby skyscrapers and the on-ramp to I-95. But the city still has enough historic character to inspire.
And when I get good enough at photoshopping, you might see that shot of Independence Hall again — with Jupiter looming in that upper right corner.