Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[writing|process] Alternating Current - a proposal for a novel I'll probably never write

Just for fun, and to make [info]jackwilliambell happy, I'm posting here a rather old outline for a novel I'll probably never write now. It's called Alternating Current. It's about Nikolai Tesla and Harry Houdini coming back from the dead to wreak vengeance on an immortal Guglielmo Marconi for stealing Tesla's secrets.

Note that this is a rather old outline, from a time before I'd sold any novels, and I've never tried to market or write this book, other than a couple of short stories drawn from the backstory. Enjoy this for what it is, an early-career Jay Lake idea that never made it into production, and a mediocre example of the art of outlining.

Alternating Current
a novel proposal by Jay Lake

The Story

Nikola Tesla has escaped from the afterlife into the present day, aided by Harry Houdini and a sixteenth century Scottish priest, Oliver St. Clair. From his hidden volcano base in Venezuela, a superannuated Guglielmo Marconi emerges to challenge Tesla.

Tesla and Marconi fight a series of increasingly destructive battles using their respective secretly-developed superweapons. Armed with the Spear of Longinus, a powerful Christian artifact, Houdini and Derryn Corph (a former servant of the Welsh god of the dead) join forces to defeat the titans of invention as the two great and vengeful men wreak havoc over New York City with coruscating death rays.


The Supporting Characters

Oliver St. Clair is the last rector of Rosslyn Chapel, secret refuge of the Knights Templar after their dissolution in 1312 and home to their greatest treasures -- the Holy Grail and the Spear of Longinus, that pierced Christ's side while He was on the cross.

In 1592, the Scottish presbytery forces St. Clair to break the altars. He takes the Spear and flees into exile in Wales. In 1600, the deposed Welsh god Hagfan tricks St. Clair into surrendering the Spear. St. Clair is slain and sent to Annuvin, the Welsh afterlife, a dank world devoid of souls due to the Christianization of Wales.

Hagfan is the Welsh god thrown down by the god Arawn in the fifth century. He has remained in Wales ever since, with his few loyal servants such as Derryn Corph and the Koblynau -- Welsh goblins. Seeking a return to power, he secures the Spear of Longinus, but as a Christian artifact it does him no good.

Hagfan takes the Spear and emigrates to America with Welsh miners in the nineteenth century. Tesla begins his experiments in broadcast power at Colorado Springs in 1899, attracting the god's attention. Hagfan meets Tesla, bargaining for a corporeal form for Derryn Corph and greater power for himself in exchange for the spear. Tesla builds Derryn Corph into a steam-powered wooden bird, then betrays Hagfan, slaying him and taking the Spear. In dying, Hagfan transfers his aspect to Tesla.


Heroes and Villains

Derryn Corph (Welsh for 'corpse bird') is Hagfan's loyal servant of yore. Traditionally a psychopomp, guiding the souls of the dead to Annuvin, she has become his lieutenant.

After Tesla embodies her and slays the god, she flees back to Pennsylvania, where she hides in the Alleghenies with the Koblynau until Tesla's return from Annuvin. She takes to the air with the aid of some ordinary mortals and eventually joins forces with Houdini to defeat both Tesla and Marconi.

Guglielmo Marconi, Italian engineering genius and supposed inventor of radio actually misappropriated Tesla's wireless patents. In 1937, he fakes his own death to secretly battle the rise of European facism.

Ensconced in his secret volcano base in Venezuela, Marconi goes on to develop functional immortality, antigravity -- also stolen from Tesla -- and numerous beam weapons, single-handedly driving the UFO craze in the second half of the twentieth century. All the while, Marconi maintains his connections with world governments, supplying research and exotic weaponry at need.

When Tesla reappears, Marconi is forced to engage him in an effort to protect the old Italian's own secrets. Their fight quickly becomes personal due to Tesla's old grudge, and is eventually the ruin of Marconi.

Harry Houdini (Ehrich Weiss) is history's greatest magician. During an underwater escape in the Hudson River, he goes awry and is trapped beneath the ice. His mother's voice guides Houdini to the hole in the surface. Later, he learns that she had died that day.

Houdini spends the rest of his life searching for a medium with true powers so he can once more talk to his mother, debunking those he discovers to be frauds. Even his pointless and untimely death in 1926 at the hands of a Canadian athlete does not interrupt this quest. Houdini merely uses his amazing powers of escape to travel through the various afterlives, still searching for his mother.

Houdini finally stumbles on Tesla sitting in Annuvin, alone except for Oliver St. Clair and the Spear of Longinus, which Tesla brought with him into death. Houdini is able to use the Spear as a key to unlock the gates of Annuvin. He finally escapes death, bringing Tesla and St. Clair with him.

Once in the world of the living, Tesla seeks Derryn Corph, intending to set the stage for his new triumphant return. He and Houdini quarrel, driving Houdini and St. Clair to escape with the Spear and ultimately ensuring Tesla's downfall.

Nikola Tesla is the Serbian-American engineering genius who invented alternating current and radio. In life he was cheated of millions by Edison and Westinghouse both, before leaving the world of power generation behind to pursue his dream of broadcast and the World System, a sort of early 1900's version of the Internet.

He meets and slays Hagfan while on that project. Possession by the aspect of the god unhinges Tesla, who returns to New York to fritter away his life on exotic secret projects and money-making schemes. In his secret underground laboratory on Long Island, Tesla builds endless prototypes of aerial transports, death rays and the like, but never brings the plans to fruition.

Obsessed by the Spear of Longinus, Tesla finally dies, an old man friend only to the pigeons. To his great surprise, his soul descends to Annuvin, home of Hagfan, where the Spear has no power. He meets Oliver St. Clair, whom Tesla quickly bullies into submission.

They are eventually freed by Houdini, enabling Tesla to embark on his ascending rampage of vengeance and conquest until finally defeated the courage and fortitude of Derryn Corph and Harry Houdini.



This story roams across time, through Wales, Venezuela and across the United States, to a mythic clash of modern titans of engineering. In the end, simple virtues and strong hearts, along with a strong dose of luck, prevail over scientific genius and butter grudges.

Oliver St. Clair is the reader's view into the story and the characters, constantly questioning from the perspective of an educated man of his century, but Derryn Corph is the true hero who rises above her limitations and risks everything to save a rationalist modern world that does not even accept her existence.

Alternating Current is an exciting tale of life, death and world-spanning pride set against humble courage.

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Tags: alternating, books, process, writing
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