Fiction: Leviathan by Scott Westerfield (Simon Pulse, 2009)
Leviathan is a novel set in an alternate "steampunk" reality. The division between the Allied and Central Powers is much greater and more ideologically-driven than it was in our world. In place of the Allies are the "Darwinists", who have genetically engineered amazing new lifeforms ranging from bats that drop metal flechettes to massive living airships. The Central Powers are "Clankers" who are master mechanics and have build walking tanks and even huge land-battleships. The story begins just before the opening days of the war, when tensions are rising fast and conflict seems inevitable. There are two main characters that the book follows. Deryn Sharp is a midshipman aboard His Majesty's Airship Leviathan who has a secret: 'he' is actually a girl in disguise. Deryn wanted to join the Air Service ever since she was a child and decided not to let the restrictions on women serving stop her. As Leviathan sets off on a trans-continental mission to Istanbul, she must learn to blend in with the other boys while also preparing to fight a war. Meanwhile, Aleksandar Ferdinand is the son of the Austro-Hungarian prince. After his father's death, he must flee assassins and travel across the country in a battle-walker with a small crew of loyal men. Leviathan is just the start of their adventures, as several sequels are planned that will follow them through the war.
Trailer: Watch this trailer to get an idea about what Leviathan is like.
On this webpage, publisher Simon and Schuster has made a free sample of the book's first chapter available both in text and audio form.
Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan Website: http://scottwesterfeld.com/blog/books/leviathan/
Westerfeld's website and blog contain a variety of resources that expand on the Leviathan universe. It includes several other 'making of' videos, downloadable art, and updates on the progress of the sequel.
Keith Thompson's art site: http://www.keiththompsonart.com/
One of the coolest things about Leviathan is the large amount of art that fills the pages. Like a novel from the book's time period, there are several illustrations inside, including an awesome map of Europe where each country is represented by an animal or machine, fitting the book's theme. You can view some of the art, along with other works, on the illustrator's website.
Fact: Leviathan takes place in world where science took a very different course that it did in ours. While some of the technology, both mechanical and biological, borders on the fantastic, a lot of it is solidly grounded in real science and engineering. Check out the links below to learn more about walking machines, incredible creatures, and 'steampunk' design.
Mechanical Movement: Do you wonder what the movements of something like the walking tanks and warships of the clankers might be like? Check out these two movies from a real-life "dancing hexapods" competition to get an idea.
Real-Life Steampunk: http://www.steampunkworkshop.com/
Do you want to know what the 'steampunk' aesthetic is, or do you already think it's cool? If so, check out this website, which features working computers and other machines made to look like they were made a century or more ago.
Airships and Zepplins: http://www.airships.net/
While nothing like Leviathan was ever made, in the real war there were plenty of zeppelins like those used by the Clankers. Check out this site to learn more about them and other historical websites.
About Charles Darwin: http://www.aboutdarwin.com/
The Complete Darwin: http://darwin-online.org.uk/
These websites present information about Charles Darwin and his discoveries. The first has many pictures from his voyages and the second contains all of his published and private writings. Visit them to learn more about the scientist who inspired his namesakes in the Leviathan world.
Follow the Journey: http://earth.google.com/ or http://maps.google.com/
Aleksandr rides his walker across Austria and Leviathan crosses Europe. Along the way, several locations are mentioned, which correspond with real places. Download Google Earth to trace their routes and see satellite images and sometimes real photos from the ground. If you can't install it on your computer, you might also try the regular Google Maps.
Create a Propaganda Poster: On the All Quiet on the Western Front page, there are links to sites showing propaganda posters. Create your own poster, only this time for either the Darwinists or the Clankers. When you're doing that, think about how the two sides think about each other and how that would change things from the actual war posters.
Design a Monster or Machine: One of the coolest parts of Leviathan is the incredible machines and creatures that the two sides have. We only see a few of them directly. Think about what other kinds of machines the Clankers would build, or the animals that the Darwinists would create. Maybe they're meant for war on the ground or in the seas, or maybe they're part of everyday life. Once you have an idea, draw it, or write a description about how it was made and what it's for.