So, today in the workshop, I've been giving more thought to a concept of how to develop a story or poem regarding an Alternate History of the Lao Secret War through a Lovecraftian Zombie Steampunk lens.
Do we start it with Herbert West and his pals making a sidetrip to French Indochina? Or perhaps young Herbert West tried sourcing components for his serum from Lao botanicals in 1920s?
Because the mandate is to take it in new directions and to keep it subversive, punk and more than a pastiche, we need to consider alternate perspectives of how we could see the incident. Possibly, can we see it from the perspective of a shaman or Lao doctor at the time?
Where might we jump in with such a story?
"...he soon saw that the perfection of his process, if indeed possible, would necessarily involve a lifetime of research. It likewise became clear that, since the same solution never worked alike on different organic species, he would require human subjects for further and more specialised progress." appears close to the beginning, and provides us some clues of where we could take it, although the more likely point would be when West goes traveling after World War I.
The additional challenge is: What can we say interesting regarding this this material? At the present moment, I would say explore a Theravada Buddhist approach and worldview in counterbalance to West or his predecessor's assertion that life is a mechanistic, comprehensible process. As I discussed in a recent poem of mine, "Digging for Corpse Oil," we might find the initial attitude towards someone like West's experiments are not strictly prohibited or horrific to the locals, so what would it require for them to take a dim view of such experiments? Or, how might they succeed where West and similar researchers fail?
Would French colonists or other foreigners be supportive, disruptive, or instigators? Or, should the story completely bypass them entirely and give the Lao more agency in this? What might prompt someone to explore reanimating the dead? Is it a response to the Jiang Shi tradition, or is there another reason why Lao might see the need to have a reanimated corpse around, even if it means unlocking forbidden knowledge?
How would the sudden presence of both steampunk technology and Lovecraftian process impact the path towards the Secret War for Laos? Would it avert it, or who would we see scrambling to master the science and magic first? Would the shamans of the various tribes suddenly become politically very valuable? But what would the cost of their alliance be? Would there be charlatans trying to get in on the act, who pay the ultimate price when their skills prove ineffective?
The story of the Toad King Khankaak who speaks of magic that humans abused until almost all life was wiped out might be an interesting legend to work with as we press forward with this. The Lao belief that the dead eat the vapors from food offerings might also be something to bear in mind while incorporating steampunk elements.
So, where do we add a truly transgressive taboo and where do we root horror from a Lao perspective? What are the unspoken customs and traditions that Lao would be horrified at seeing violated, without descending into mere gore?