Unmortal: Behind The Scenes With 'Unmortal', Pt. 1: The Origins

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-12-09 16:00:00-05:00 No comments

In the time leading up to the release of my new novel Unmortal, I'll be making a series of posts to serve as an extended introduction to the book — its origins, its influences, its themes, its setting and characters. Enjoy.

(See all entries in this series here.)

In the weeks while I was winding down work on Fall Of The Hammer, I set about digging into my archive of future ideas for what to work on next. This is less a case of taking out something shelved there and just getting to work on it as it is seeing how the ideas stored there have been bouncing off each other and alchemically reacting since I last turned my back on them.

Maybe someday I'll write this.

Most conspicuous among those ideas was Absolute Elsewhere, a still-unformed story about what would happen if humanity acquired matter transmission, used it to spread throughout the universe, and then lost it. I'm still tinkering with the core of that idea as a separate concern, but back at the time when I was dinking with it in a somewhat different form, I spent some time thinking about the worlds that might exist in such a space. One was much like ours, and the other was profoundly not.

Under my feet opened up a rabbit hole about the constitution of that not-like-ours world. What came most to mind was a place something like the magic-plus-technology worlds of the latter Final Fantasy games. Those revolved around some basic conceit about the way their world was powered, and so I set about looking for something similar.

In Japanese mythology there is the idea of a spirit that can imbue an object with a life of its own. I thought, what if something like that had existed as far back as prehistory, but over time humanity had learned to control the process? That is, instead of just constructing a lantern, you also manually infuse it with a lantern spirit so that it can do your bidding? Light up on command and never run out of fuel? And why limit ourselves to only preindustrial artifacts?

It took about seven seconds for me to realize this idea was way too big for its original container. Too big, and far more interesting than what I'd been trying to shoehorn it into, to boot. Absolute Elsewhere was then in such an unformed state that any sufficiently developed part of it was likely to threaten to break off and become its own thing. It seemed I was going to end up writing a fantasy story, not SF.

Then I realized something else about the idea: it might start as fantasy, but it might evolve into something more SF-ish. It would begin with a conceit better rooted in fantasy, but the development of the idea seemed more suited to cyberpunk, really.

Now I knew I was onto something.

As I wrote about the concept at the time:

... [this is] an extension and expansion on some of the flavor of setting I explored in Hammer — a fantasy-type setting but with notions about how to regard the setting drawn more from SF than other fantasy.

The best way I can put it is, the attitude that things like cyberpunk have about their settings from the inside would be interesting to explore in a fantasy setting. What happens when a world that's informed by the fantasy (subjective) worldview starts becoming informed more by the science fiction (objectiove) worldview? As my friend Steven Savage put it, what might happen if people in a Tolkien-esque universe realized they were now living in a William Gibson-esque universe? How would they deal? Would they even be able to deal?

In Part 2, I'll talk about the story that emerged from these ideas.

Tags: Behind The Scenes: Unmortal Infinimata Press Unmortal ideas writing