Real People, Alternate History

by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Most of my characters for Wild Cards have been invented entirely from
scratch – which isn’t easy, especially when I’m trying to come up with
interesting superpowers in a landscape already populated with a host
of them. There are times when I envy the early superhero writers,
the first ones to invent heat vision or spidey-skills.

But it’s a different challenge altogether when you’re creating a
character based on a real person. When George and Melinda told us
that we were going to be setting some Wild Cards books in England,
though, I knew immediately that I wanted to work with Alan Turing. I
pitched the idea, and thankfully, they said yes.

My husband is a mathematician (a topologist), and I consulted with
him on the character development. The real Turing led such a
fascinating life, with his work during the war on the Enigma project,
playing a pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages that
enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements,
including the Battle of the Atlantic. Some claim that his work
shortened the war in Europe by more than two years and saved over 14
million lives.

But he led a tragic life too, persecuted for his sexual orientation by
the very government he’d so valiantly served. Turing was prosecuted in
1952 for homosexual acts, and accepted chemical castration treatment,
with DES, as an alternative to prison. Turing died in 1954, 16 days
before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning, generally attributed
to suicide (although the known evidence is also consistent with
accidental poisoning).

With Wild Cards, I wanted to give Turing a happier ending to his
story, but I also anxiously wanted to do justice to the character. My
alternate version of Turing is infected with the Wild Cards virus, and
turns into something of a living computer – which could easily have
become a reductionist farce. The challenge was to give Turing the
mental abilities of a computer, able to calculate odds far more
quickly than a human ever could (which would prove surprisingly
useful in combat situations), while hopefully maintaining his

Did I succeed? Well, our Alan Turing appears briefly in Knaves Over
Queens, so you’ll get a taste of him there. And he’s integral to the
forthcoming mosaic novel, Three Kings. So soon, you’ll be able to
read and judge for yourself. Turing’s story ended up far more complex
than I’d originally planned. I think that’s a good thing!