This week our guest is Peter Hansen whose story First Watch was reviewed by Cole here yesterday. Peter is here to talk about the inspiration behind his story. Over to you Peter!
Sea and Sky: Building a World for “First Watch”
In its first incarnation—the germ of an idea that let me start plotting—”First Watch” was a steampunk story set in the mid-nineteenth century. A sort of Sea Wolf on an airship, with a bloodthirsty captain and a crew that had to be turned to mutiny. The story that I wound up writing, though, was a very different one: A post-WWI dieselpunk story, on a submarine, with Lovecraftian horrors prowling the deeps. Part of this is just plain Rule of Cool, and part of it came from my excitement at touring the USS Growler (alas, not period!) with a buddy of mine. The largest part, though, came from reading political theory. Therefore, I hope you’ll indulge me while I put on my Pretension Hat for a sec to explain where “First Watch” came from.
Carl Schmitt’s Nomos of the Earth claims—persuasively, I think—that in the twentieth century, our normative understanding of how the world is organized starts to shift. At one time, the sea was the source of military mobility and power; the great colonial empires were all primarily coastal, and the great imperial forces were pronouncedly naval. (Schmitt makes a lot of other claims, too, but these are the relevant ones.) These qualities provided a framework that helped people organize not just who they were going to subjugate next, but also what laws would apply, and where; they produced spaces of lawlessness in the open water that we still romanticize today.
The rise of air travel—and more importantly, air warfare—changed all that. It changed the way people thought about boundaries and maps and lawful spaces, and it changed the way people thought about where and how war happened. This is a point that I think steampunk raises cogently, with its emphasis on Victorian airship pirates: If we follow Schmitt’s reasoning, in the Victorian period, the air remained a space as lawless as the open ocean. More lawless, perhaps, because at least a system (however imperfect) existed for regulating the sea. Lawless spaces+snazzy vessels=pirates.
When I decided to take this out of the nineteenth century and move it into the twentieth, I was thinking about the Great War as a kind of cusp—a period when the nomos was shifting, and with it, our understanding of what war was. You can see this in the shell-shock of veterans and the rise in spiritualism and occultism after that war: People didn’t know the world they were in, when the war ended. They went looking for horrors or wonders in the spaces between heaven and earth, because they wanted to order those spaces and make them safe again.
“First Watch” is a story about those horrors, and how they creep into the parts of our world that we’d made orderly. On the battlefield, in the space between two long trenches, those horrors feed on the men who fought for the integrity of boundary lines. On a vessel regulated by rank and hierarchy and the neat division of watches, those horrors are in command.
Excerpt From First Watch
The dog watch shaded into the first watch, and at the eighth bell, Edouard Montreuil put aside his pen and rose from his bunk. He locked his letter carefully in his sea chest, then buttoned his shirt collar up against his throat. A useless gesture, he knew—it’d be undone for him within the first moments—but he took pride in small signs of resistance.
The other men on first watch went to their stations at the observation deck or the con, and the night crew of engineers went aft to spell the men in the engine room. Edouard walked with them, as he always did, and they ignored him, as they always did. They, too, had their reasons for serving on the Flèche; better not to ask what debts a fellow crewman was repaying beneath the waves.
They’d been submerged for three days now, and the air was thick and hot and stale. The engine room hummed faintly. Behind their tight steel cages, the electric lights gleamed white and steady.
An assistant engineer on dog watch gave Edouard a worried look, and he raised his chin at the pity in it. “Go to your bunk, Valancourt,” he said. If he didn’t have the rank to enforce the order, neither did Valancourt have the will to stay. The crew knew why he passed through the engine room to the captain’s cabin night after night. If they didn’t, it was only willful ignorance.
He ducked his head and slid through the aft portal sideways, like a long-limbed crab. Stork, Ruiz had called him back in la Légion, when they’d all been looking for new names. All long legs. For a moment, Edouard stood in the narrow passage between the officers’ quarters and the engine room, remembering the way the sun had beat down on his brow inAlgeria and the way Ruiz had laughed. He passed the alcove where the officers bunked, and rapped on the door of the captain’s cabin.
“Come in,” said a voice from inside—inside the cabin, or inside his own head, he’d never been able to say. It made his ears ache; it made his blood heat and his heart thrum in time with the engines until he thought his skin would burst.
He turned the handle and swung the door open, then shut it behind him. Closed away the light of the engine room, and closed himself into the darkness.
“Sir,” he said, and swallowed against the constriction of his collar. “Reporting for duty.”
“Good,” said the captain, and a limb like a wet cable fell cool and slick upon Edouard’s wrist. His lips found Edouard’s throat, sharp teeth catching there as he undid those carefully-closed shirt buttons.
A second mouth brushed over Edouard’s ribs, tongue wet with a viscous fluid that chilled his skin. A third latched at his hip, needle-teeth scraping, seizing. “Very good,” said the captain, against his throat and chest and hip, as his boneless fingers wrapped slowly over Edouard’s cock and coaxed it hard. Edouard’s skin crawled, but he willed himself still.
Two of those hungry mouths smiled, and the third whispered, “Then let us begin.”
Thank you to Peter for that very interesting post and attention grabbing except! You can find Peter at the following places:
Email address: email@example.com
Website URL: http://peterhansenfiction.weebly.com/
Twitter: P_HansenWrites ( http://twitter.com/P_HansenWrites )
Goodreads Page: http://www.goodreads.com/peterhansen
Don’t forget that with all the Riptide reviews and guest posts there’s a chance to win! Leave a comment for Peter today and you can win your choice any one backlist book from Rachel Haimowitz, Aleksandr Voinov, L.A. Witt, Brita Addams, or Cat Grant (excludes new Riptide releases). Good luck!