Chris Roberson, author of The Dragon's Nine Sons, has blogged a history of the Celestial Empire, his alternate universe in which the book, along with Three Unbroken, is set.
The Celestial Empire began, as all good things must, in a hotel bar. At the 2001 World Fantasy Convention in Montreal, anthologist and editor Lou Anders invited me to submit a story to his Live Without a Net. On the flight home, I outlined a story entitled “O One,” which featured a conflation of an incident from Richard Feynman’s autobiography Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! with the story of John Henry and the steam engine, set in an alternate history heavily inspired by Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor. In the story the emperor of a China which rules the entire world and who now wishes to conquer the heavens is visited by an inventor from Britain who has come to demonstrate his steam-powered difference engine. The story ultimately appeared in the anthology, and went on to be nominated for a World Fantasy Award and to win a Sidewise Award.