More murdercopters, but this time they’re French

I’m fascinated by early helicopters — and the people whose brains created them.

I get planes. It’s pretty easy to look at a soaring bird and extrapolate that if you made a contraption with the right kind of wing, a human could use it to glide like a hawk.

But the whirligig motion required to make rotorcraft fly isn’t as obvious. Whose brain thought, “If I attach propeller blades to a blender and hold it above my head, I’ll probably fly and also maybe not die?”

Ridiculous and terrifying murdercopters are my favorite genre of aircraft.

Longtime newsletter subscribers may remember the little buddy that sparked my interest: Lewis C. McCarty Jr’s Aerocycle.

You can see those pics here.

You might also remember that the aerocycle made an appearance in Heat Death (Bulari Saga 4). I polled you all, and the result was that you wanted to see one of my characters ride a similar deathtrap. You sadists.

Well, I have a whole batch of wild rides for you today.

Jessie stands next to a human-sized astronaut made entirely of LEGO bricks.
Jessie stands next to an astronaut made of LEGOs

My husband and I have spent the last week in Paris. We’ve seen all the usual hits: the cheese shops, the Eiffel Tower, the wine bars, Notre Dame, the bakeries, and, of course, the National Air and Space Museum of France.

If you’re interested at all in early flight, I highly recommend this museum.

The French were pioneers of flight — starting with hot air balloons in the 1800s and progressing to dirigibles, then some very fanciful personal glider contraptions.

Many of the original prototypes are on display at the museum, giving you a fascinating look into how humanity took its first baby steps into the air — and into orbit and beyond.

(I like this one that’s inspired by bat wings.)

A human-sized pair of bat wings made out of wood and canvas.
This seems legitimately fun to fly.

There’s a fantastic rotocraft display, as well as an entire hall dedicated to modern prototypes.

It was in the helicopter hall that I first learned about Raúl Pateras Pescara de Castelluccio, an inventor from Argentina who created this nonsense:

An open-cockpit helicopter with two sets of rotating blades — except the blades are double-decker and made of canvas.
So many blades! So close to your head!

This experimental Pescara helicopter was built in France in 1925, This is his model 2F, which the plaque explains climbed to 2.5m, flew for more than 10 minutes, and covered 1,160m in a closed circuit.

That’s over a kilometer, slightly faster than you could walk it — but with a much bigger adrenaline rush.

I mean, look at that thing. Can you believe it flew?

I can’t — but there’s actual video! This is a slightly different model than the one in the French Air and Space Museum, but it’s wild.

As always, I find inspiration for my science fiction in my travels — and that definitely includes the visits to air and space museums. Blood River Blues (Nanshe Chronicles 2) took inspiration from an exhibit on Alaskan bush planes at the Boeing Air Museum in Seattle.

So don’t worry — I’ll try to figure out a way to include a Pescara murdercopter in a future book. 😉

(For more French murdercopter photos check out my post on Instagram.)

I’m off to eat some more cheese and continue butchering the French language beyond recognition!

(French people have been very polite and helpful about both of those pastimes so far.)

I hope you’re having a lovely week, and not strapping a mini helicopter to your back.

A mannequin in a flight suit, wearing a "jet pack" made of mini helicopter rotor blades.
At least he’s wearing a helmet.

Or, do.

I’m not gonna stop you.

But please do send me video.

Introducing my new series: The Nanshe Chronicles

I’m about to head on my first international trip since before the pandemic, and I’m beginning to immerse myself in the process of exploring a new city and culture.

I used to dream of being constantly on the move — road trips with the wind in my hair and the open highway stretching out in front of me, backpacking adventures stumbling into small towns and new sights, life a constant stream of new and fascinating experiences.

Like most people, my travel plans in 2020 were shunted down the road by the pandemic — but that didn’t stop me from exploring.

Because near the end of 2020, I began writing the Nanshe Chronicles.

I’d spent the previous three-ish years working on the Bulari Saga, which takes place almost entirely in the city of Bulari. I enjoyed immersing myself in the world, but I was itching to hop on a ship and start exploring the rest of the Durga System.

As a writer, my world building process is basically to make things up as needed to serve the story, rather than creating a world from scratch and layering story over it. I’d mentioned dozens of places, but didn’t know much about them. I knew a few facts, but I didn’t know how these places felt.

When I started working on the Nanshe Chronicles, I knew I wanted to do the exact opposite of the Bulari Saga, when it came to location. Instead of diving deep through the layers of a single city for five books, I wanted each book of the Nanshe Chronicles to take the reader — and me — to fantastic new locations.

Like any science fiction writer, I draw on what I know in order to write what I don’t know. I thought it would be fun to share some of the real-life travel inspirations behind locations in the first three books of the Nanshe Chronicles.

Let me take you on a tour.

Nanshe Chronicles 1: Lost in the labyrinth at San Jose, CA

A plucky space ship soars towards a menacing space station on the cover of Ghost Pirate Gambit.

In book one, Ghost Pirate Gambit, the newly-minted crew of the Nanshe are still learning to trust each other. I needed to send them out on a job — and into a physical location — that would put them under enough pressure that their deeply-locked secrets would break out. A place designed to test them physically and psychologically.

What better inspiration than the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA?

My Grandma Kwak instilled in me a longstanding fascination with ghost towns, houses with turrets, and the Winchester Mystery House — so when I got a chance to go during WorldCon one year, I jumped at the chance. Instantly, I knew how I was going to use the visit in the novel I’d just begun starting to plan.

(I wrote a longer post about my visit over on Patreon.)

The house, if you’re not familiar, was built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of firearms magnate William Winchester. As the story goes, after the death of her husband and newborn in 1881, a medium told her that she should leave her home in New Haven and travel west to construct a home for herself and the spirits of people who had been killed by Winchester rifles.

Supposedly the medium told Sarah that the way to placate the spirits was for the home to be under construction continuously — for the hammers to never stop ringing.

She moved to California hired workers, and from 1884 until her death in 1922, her mansion was continuously under construction.

In Ghost Pirate Gambit, Auburn Station is the fever dream of a long-dead space pirate who thought if she constantly kept her station under construction it would keep her safe: airlocks that open to nowhere, halls that corkscrew dizzily, corridors that dead-end without warning.

And plenty of boobytraps to keep out unwanted visitors. 😉

Nanshe Chronicles 2: From Canaima, Venezuela to Aguas Calientes, Peru

A plucky space ship hovers over a verdant planet on the cover of Blood River Blues.

Just after college, I spent six months living in Santa Elena de Uairén, Venezuela, working as a carpenter and volunteer coordinator for a small local NGO.

Santa Elena is on the edge of Canaima National Park, which is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen in my life. You can stand at the edge of a cliff and look over the brilliant emerald canopy of the Amazon rainforest as far as the eye can see. You can climb the tabletop mountains (tepuis), hike rivers made of pure jasper, and see the tallest waterfall in the world.

And while the tourists gawk, the locals are doing their best to scrape by in a place so remote that — unless you’re incredibly wealthy — the nearest airport is an eight hour bus ride away.

I drew on my time in Santa Elena de Uairén for Nanshe Chronicles 2, Blood River Blues. In it, the crew touches down in New Manila for a job that has them facing down old ghosts as they con their way into racing the famous Liluri Star Run.

Part of the race takes place deeper in the mountains of New Manila — and anyone who’s been to Machu Picchu will probably recognize where I took inspiration for the town of Moie. Aguas Calientes is the spot most tourists overnight in before trekking or bussing up to Machu Picchu: it’s a lovely village set into the cliffs of a deep mountain ravine, with a river tumbling through the middle. I tapped into the visuals of the town as much as the frenetic tourist energy it exuded when writing about Moie.

Nanshe Chronicles 3: Scarred hearts and scattered bones in Alba de Tormes

A plucky space ship floats by a hot pink gas giant on the cover of Cursed Saint Caper.

The locations in Nanshe Chronicles 3, Cursed Saint Caper were inspired less by a physical place I’ve been than a single line I wrote down on a Post-it:

“Dendera, temple of dreamers.”

I don’t remember why I wrote that down, or where I heard about Dendera. I didn’t research it at all — I didn’t want to. Something about the idea of a dreaming temple sparked my imagination, and I didn’t want to tie it down with reality.

In doing some quick googling now, I find that Dendera was an Egyptian temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor, and supplicants who visited the temple could stay in special quarters where they could commune with the goddess in their dreams.

Coming from a Christian background myself, the idea of a dreaming temple brought to mind Christian mystics like Sta. Teresa de Ávila and St. Julian of Norwich. I’d seen Sta. Teresa’s heart at the convent of Alba de Tormes, carefully preserved in an ornate reliquary; I remember studying it, searching for the scar where she’d been pierced by the arrow of Christ’s love.

Did I find the scar? Hard to tell. Was Sta. Teresa’s experience real? It was to her, and in my mind that’s the important bit.

I’ve stood in sacred places like Alba de Tormes and read the writings of people who truly believe they’re channeling the divine. But I’ve also come across plenty of con artists and self help gurus who are only trying to channel other people’s money.

No matter your religious or philosophical tradition, people will try to use faith to make a quick dime on people who just want to trust.

It was that dichotomy of holy and scam, divine and con artist, true faith and shell games that inspired me in this book. The crew of the Nanshe will need to unravel truth from fiction in their own dreams as they tackle a con artist. This job takes them from the glitz and glamour of Artemis City to the mystic, unsettling quiet of the distant gas giant Bixia Yuanjin.

Introducing the Nanshe Chronicles

When I wrote the very first book set in the Durga System, Starfall, I had no idea the adventure I was about to set out on.

I didn’t know how much readers were going to resonate with the main character, Starla — and I had no idea how much I would eventually become intrigued by the story of her parents, the notorious Raj and Lasadi. 

I was worried when I began writing the Nanshe Chronicles. I’d spent years living with the characters and stories in the Bulari Saga, and meeting the crew of the Nanshe was odd at first. 

Lasadi doesn’t trust that easily. Jay doesn’t give up many secrets. Raj and Ruby seem like open books on the surface, but then you find out they’re only showing you select pages. And Alex is still figuring himself out — let alone learning how to share himself with others. 

Slowly, though, I began to find my way into this first book. Then the second. Then the third. Eventually, the crew started to open up to me, and I started to realize they were something special.

As I write this, I’ve finished the first three books in the series, along with a prequel novella, and I feel like I know this crew pretty damn well. 

I’m having a blast writing these books, and there are plenty more adventures to come in this series!

Stay tuned for more sneak previews and goodies as we get closer to the launch date. I can’t wait to share this new adventure with you!

If you haven’t already, go pick up Artemis City Shuffle for free and start on the adventure!

How to get your hands on Ghost Pirate Gambit

Right now you can pre-order Ghost Pirate Gambit in print, ebook, and audio directly from me. I’ll be launching this book into Kindle Unlimited on May 24th, but if you’re not a KU reader, don’t worry. If you’ve pre-ordered from me, you’ll get to read the book before it goes into Kindle jail. 🙂

Don’t forget to add Ghost Pirate Gambit to your Goodreads list!

Would *You* Ride the Murdercopter? Y/N

Two weekends ago, my husband and I met my parents at the Evergeen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, OR.

He and I have been there a couple of times before. It’s best known for housing the Spruce Goose, as well as having an epic water park with a Boeing 747 perched on the roof, with water slides coming out of the escape doors.

(Too fun.)

But my absolute favorite . . . um . . . “flying apparatus” at the museum is this:

Image is of a helicopter where you're standing above two sets of counter rotating blades, kind of like a segway mixed with a blender

It’s known alternately as a “heli-vector” or an “aerocycle,” but neither of those names makes it sound at all like a machine where you’re essentially suspended like a carrot above the blades of a food processor.

I prefer to call it a murdercopter.

And I love this thing.

I mean.

Look at this amazing photo (from the informational plaque) of the inventor, Lewis C. McCarty Jr., riding it in a full-on suit and tie.

Image is a man in a full-on 1950's suit and tie, riding the deathcopter with a lake in the background, with a very stern look of concentration on his face.

I love his expression. He’s like, “I told all you all it would fly, but did you believe me? No. Well, this flight is for you, you hacks, you cretins.”

Or maybe he’s just holding on for dear life and trying not to let the panic show.

Either way, Lewis is killing it.

The aerocycle was intended to be an easy-to-operate machine that anyone could pick up with less than 20 minutes of instruction, and designed to be used for reconnaissance and transport over hazardous areas like mine fields.

To steer it, you were meant to simply shift your weight — like on a road bike or a segway.

Basically, it’s a flying segway.

It’s magical.

I want one!

Let’s read more about it!


Oh. Wait.

The plaque at the Evergreen museum notes that the aerocycle “had a tendency to kick up rocks and debris at the pilot. What’s more, the wooden rotor blades flexed at high speeds and collided, causing them to shatter and the platform to drop like a rock.”

Like a rock, you say?

The museum goes on to note that, “Amazingly, test pilot Capt. Selmer Sundby survived two such crashes before the Army terminated the program. Sundby was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his work.”


I might wait for the next model to come out….

Wikipedia has some more information on this marvelous deathtrap.

But my favorite thing I found while searching out info is from this September 1955 issue of Flying Magazine, where the aerocycle is described with the glowing, dewy-eyed praise of someone who has never seen the counter-rotating rotors blades collide and shatter and drop the platform and operator “like a rock.”


I’m a bit obsessed with this thing.

What do you think?


Is the murdercopter a terrible idea, or a brilliant one in need of further testing? Would you raise your hand to try one out?

And — most importantly — should I figure out how to include one in my next book?

Let me know in the comments!