Posted to AO3 my Wayback Exchange and Be The First! fics. The challenge reveals won't take place until April and May — I'll post the links then — so at least this time I'm not precisely cutting it close. (The risk, of course, is that I'll suddenly decide the fics are awful and I have to rewrite everything.)
They were both tricky, though. The Wayback Exchange one because I had to work my way around, or rather with, a very important piece of canon with all sorts of consequences and implications for the story I had to write. The Be The First! story was difficult not due to an excess of canon (there's only a handful of issues), but rather because a couple of details in there, if taken seriously (under Watsonian conditions that I think I can assume but aren't spelled out by the source material) force you to do a huge reframing of the whole situation. It feels weird to do that in the *first* fic in a fandom, but you do what you have to do.
It's a very nice, very reasonable, and actually not at all a niche request, but the more I thought about it (after reviewing the source material, which wasn't at all a disagreeable task), the more I realized that it's an unexpectedly tricky one. So I ended up going to bed late because I was jotting down notes for something of a "bible" for the fic, copying the idea from series/comic books/etc. — not something I usually do.
Anyway, I think I have it. It's not really a solution to the unique trickiness of the specific scenario, but rather an enthusiastic embracing of it. I hope it works for the requester. (Well, first I hope I can make it work in the text...)
After a lot of false starts, I think I have a draft of my PROJECT AZURE fic, which I hate. I like the scenario and the atmosphere, but I don't think it wants to be a story. So I ended up writing a dialog scene, which is the spiritual opposite of the setting, and also not something I good at.
Well. The deadline is on October 25th, so I might as well send something.
Problem is, I have no idea of how. Where's Stanislaw Lem now that we have nonhuman actors everywhere?
Prohibition: A few things work out a bit earlier than expected, and by 1905 there are working electronic computers. WWI begins earlier (everybody thinks computers will give them the edge), and is equally destructive, but it also ends earlier. By 1917 Edison Electronics has made the New York-Berlin-London market the fastest, biggest stock market in history. In 1918 the Blitzkrieg Crash takes almost everybody by surprise (not Poincare, whose work on chaotic dynamics guided the investment strategies that made him one of the richest men in America after the crash). Unemployment soars; Edison Electronics factories making prototypes of "office computers" are torched down by angry mobs.
The Computer Prohibition Law passes: no (civilian) computers are allowed in the US.
But people of all sorts have tasted the forbidden fruit, from greedy businessmen to dreaming scientists. The demand exists, and when there's a consumer, the market finds a way.
The year is 1921, the place is Chicago, and if you need something smart, Al Capone is your guy.
I reread today Eliot's Four Quartets, and — besides or perhaps contributing to a greater enjoyment of them than the previous times — I noticed for the first time how science-fictional they are. Not in the sense of belonging to a closed category of SF works, but rather as attempting what these days we recognize as a very strongly SF goal, the explanation and exploration of atypical modes of thought and being. That this can also be described as philosophy isn't a counterargument; Zeno's parables would be kick-ass short SF stories, and I side with Borges' incredulous enjoyment of philosophical theology as sophisticated and wildly creative world-building and world-explaining.
PS: God (heh), how awkwardly convoluted is my writing tonight. Sorry about that.