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'The Balloon Never Had a Chance'

io9's latest Concept Art Writing Prompt displays its air superiority.

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A vintage image from the British Library shows a hot air balloon being melted by an aircraft.
British Library digitized image from page 203 of Hartmann the Anarchist, etc.
Image: British Library

“Sir! Direct hit! The balloon’s canvas has been ruptured and is falling to the Earth from a height of approximately 18 kilometers. They will hit the ground in approximately one minute—unless the gentlemen have jetpacks on board, there’s no chance they’ll survive the impact.”

“Fire again, lieutenant. Let’s make certain this time.”

It’s time for another io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt! It’s time to stretch out those fingers and grab your pencils, pens, and/or keyboard to create a bit of short fiction inspired by the above picture. It comes to us from the eternal treasure trove known as the British Library’s public domain Flickr archive, which is full of classic illustrations from forgotten books of yesteryear (among other wonders). This time, our image comes from an 1893 novel apparently titled Hartmann the Anarchist, etc., by Edward Douglas Fawcett—also known as The Doom of the Great City.


Wikipedia says it’s a novel about a gentleman named Mr. Stanley who teams up with the titular anarchist on his airship to destroy the city of London, eradicate society, and let lawlessness reign. This illustration from the book certainly makes it appear that Stanely and Hartmann succeed in laying waste to the city, but there’s no clue as to who the inhabitants of the balloon were or what they were trying to accomplish.

But don’t feel confined to recreating the plot of this weird old novel, unless you want to (and boy, the “etc.” in the title is just begging for some literary exploration)! Your story can be about any powerful airship-vs.-doomed balloon battle you want, or the events leading up to or after it—maybe the rest of the balloon air force is sneaking up from behind?


Get writing, and then leave your short fiction in the comments for all to enjoy, please! And if you’re dying to know the real story, the British Library has you covered (for a dollar).

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