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The Lazarus Experiment – Research and Notes workplace images

The Lazarus Experiment has been a different story to different people. For myself it was ostensibly a pulpy affair – a straight forward revenge thriller – under the guise of being an alternate history / science fiction piece. The idea that fired the story’s exceptionally well received first part was that as far back as the 1930’s there were researchers actively trying to make death a mere obstacle to overcome as opposed to an inevitable end to our lives.

Robert Cornish, mentioned in the introduction of the story, was a real person. He really used a see-saw style machine to bring dogs back to life. He really got a death row prisoner to volunteer to be experimented on in 1948 and was really refused permission though I have never quite found the explicit reasoning for it. The Soviet Union is well known for having done extensive work on encouraging animals back to life after having their heart and brain stopped. They most famously are remembered for transplanting one dogs head onto another. In 1943, Soviet researchers did present their findings to American researchers in New York. You can view a video reputed to be showing such experiments on Youtube. Whilst the original inspiration came from a Daily Mail excerpt of a science book long forgotten, in the process of writing I actually found an archive of old Time magazines including this story about Mr Cornish and this one about the Soviet presentation. For any kind of writer, primary materials such as the Soviet video and Time magazine is like catnip for writers. It allows us to drape a veil of credibility over our fiction and discretely kick at reality beneath, reshaping it to our vision.

Of course, the experiments that were conducted have directly led to the incredible advances we have now in medicine. Heart patients once chilled can have their pulmonary system stopped for more than 90 minutes before being gently warmed and revived. An average of ten minutes seems to be the rate for being revived after death without brain damage, though again this can be extended in circumstances of extreme cold (a drowning for instance in a frozen lake). The story then, whilst reading as quite fantastical is actually a fast and loose play with facts. Providing just enough information to intrigue without so much that connections with modern medicine are made. It helps that, unlike how Robert Cornish planned, Doctors these days do not use hoovers to bring you back after dying on the operating table.

Who is to say whether or not some Nazi or Allied scientist considered the practical applications of their research in the way expressed in the story? It would appear a logical wartime move, particularly in a non-religious society. The lack of moral and spiritual restrictions in place on the Nazi’s fostered a hideous corpus of research and skills that were exploited by the Americans and Soviets after the Second World War.

Robert Cornish, if your wondering, was quietly asked to vacate the premises at the University of California Institute of Experimental Biology following the amount of press coverage he was attracting though he continued to receive independent funding. All his surviving dogs were brain damaged.

For a first time attempt at writing a serial (for the purposes of writing a longer short story than I have done in recent times) I am very proud of the results but also conscious of several lessons. In the first instance, the reaction on Facebook, Twitter and the Blog was wonderful. In the space of a month I had accumulated at least 50% of the views the blog had taken over the previous half year. The statistical comparison of views on each part of the story shows I have lost some of those initial readers, suggesting that the second part of the story was not strong enough to retain readership or that I did not promote it as effectively.

The sheer pleasure of writing to beats and to a larger word count than previous has fostered a surge of creativity in myself. I am quickly filling my Moleskine notebook with outlines of ideas and returned to previously dismissed projects with renewed enthusiasm. By trying to hit in and around that thousand mark and finish each thousand with a cliff-hanger I tasted some of the high excitement that pulp can deliver and I hope people really enjoyed the pace of Lazarus in that context.

I have also been able to detect and recognise my own writing voice in the work as a result of spending so much of the last month on this work and looking at the ideas for further stories. The themes of death, purpose, loyalty and power hold strong to me. They can manifest themselves in many different ways – the Lady Medusa, The God Particle, For Daniels Benefit and The Lazarus Experiment show that I can tackle the same themes in different environments. I need not confine myself to a genre, but can dismiss such boundaries to build my stories on their own terms.

The Lazarus Experiment is not a perfect work, but I think it lends itself to my pulp leanings all the more for it. Forget your rules, just jump on in and enjoy the ride in reading or writing. Action is everything. Internal or external, keep things happening. I hope to be back with a further serial in about a month’s time which is currently under the working title of ‘The Harvesters” and will be a more obvious work of science fiction set on two distant moons.

My favorite comment received on the story as a whole was provided by Andrew Brown who kindly beta read the final finished piece. He said;

“Given how fantastical the scenario is, you’ve managed to make it feel entirely normal and possible – never while reading am I doubting what’s going on”

This is probably a note for all writers reading this blog – you can break all the rules, you can make the world as fantastic as you want, but keep the story human at its core and your readers will buy it. Despite the bells and whistles of reanimation, Lazarus is the story of one mans quest for answers and ultimately revenge.

I will be getting the completed story proofed hopefully and then be offering the whole thing around to see if I can get it published. Until next time, I thank all of you for reading and sharing your comments and hope to continue sharing stories with you all.

UPDATE: Parts II, III and IV have been taken down due to moves to publish the story. I hope to bring you more details as and when I can. I thank you for reading.

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Posted by on January 30, 2011 in On Writing


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