Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cog Noscenti

April 14th saw the long-delayed arrival of Stupefying Stories 1.5, or, as many have taken to calling it, AIFKAF (The Issue Formerly Known As February). My short story, Cog Noscenti, graces the cover. Yay for me!

I’ve already fielded questions about the cover, and no, I didn’t do the cover painting. This was the formidable David Goodman. I have done my own painting for it, though, and may post it later.

Cog Noscenti came about from a brief premise sent to me by the magazine’s publisher, Bruce Bethke. Could I write a story wherein Abraham Lincoln somehow survives his assassination attempt? Sure, I replied. No problem. Ah, optimism. The problems started immediately.

Of course, the most obvious problem (beyond a hole in the head) was an unspoken question: what would he do? There is little more depressing than a revenant without a goal. So, Lincoln is rebuilt, ala Steve Austin, and sets forth to do...

...what, exactly?

This was a dilemma. I didn’t really want to get dragged into the gritty world of Reconstruction in the South, as that didn’t seem to suit the tone of a Six-Thousand Dollar Man (cost-adjusted, of course). Like Batman’s gadgets, Lincoln’s technological resurrection hinted at a larger strata of agents, able to provide precision machining, medical skill, and a visionary mission that is intact before it is needed. For Lincoln, it would need to be secretive, yet dynamic, able to respond to the unforeseen circumstance of his assassination.

And where there is one secret society, isn’t there always another?

The initial musings I had for the story, swirling in my mind long before I began writing, was that those who had rebuilt Lincoln had done so to serve some secret, illicit agenda of their own. The story would show Lincoln’s confrontations with each, all in differing circumstances. But that, I quickly realized, was not only somewhat cliche and dull, but would require a lot of exposition explaining each motive, and how they all intended to use Lincoln originally. I entertained this idea for just a few hours before abandoning it.

Loaded with uninteresting baggage. Been there, done that, steampunk or not.

And that left me... where? Right back where I started. This, I realized, might have to be a bit more convoluted. I like convoluted.

So we now have an implied team of super agents, each drawn from history, though we only see a few on-stage in this tale. We have a secret society and its nemesis, mirror images of each other but differing in goals and methods. The story should move quickly, but not bounce around too much, and thus I have a chronological salad of events, tied together with a “present” in Paris.

And lots of historical research. Strange as it may seem, this short story took more research than any other project I’ve written. Every character, date, and location is drawn from history. Every reference and object. Every technological implement (except for the steam-borg augmentations) are historically appropriate. There was, in the middle section of the story, a sequence where I’d was checking this or that source with every new sentence. It was slow writing indeed.

In the end, I’m pleased with it, and, as is my habit, I set it up so I could write more stories in this world. Who knows what Lincoln could have done next?

1 comment: