Back in Part Two of this series, I talked about the bare idea behind Unmortal, and the general outlines of the story it inspired. Here, I'm going to dive into some of the other media that influenced how Unmortal took shape and direction.
Note that this is not an exhaustive list; for all I know, there may well be others I wasn't even aware of as I was writing the book. But they are the most significant ones.
In some ways all of Unmortal began with the impulse to create a setting that owed something to the FF worlds, one where the level of technological development varied drastically across incarnations, but where there was always the presence of a kind of magic-as-tech or vice versa. It was more of a direction I wanted to head in, than a specific thing I wanted to render incarnate in the story. But that flavor/tendency/mood/whatever helped germinate a key underpinning for the whole project: the concept of the human race deriving much of its worldly power from the taming (read: enslavement) of otherworldly spirits.
But perhaps not for the reasons you might think. No, not for the cinematic cyberpunk atmosphere (although I do dig that mightily), coined in the original and expanded in the sequel, but for the concept of the human race building its future — or perhaps just a superannuated present — atop the backs of a disposable manufactured workforce. I realized in retrospect this was an idea I was paying homage to, and so I enhanced its role as I further developed the story. What I liked in particular about the sequel was how it expanded on the original idea in even more novel directions — if replicants are below humans, what ranks as below a replicant? — and gave me hints about how I could set up a social order in the world I created.
The most iconic roles and films for one of the most iconic actor/director pairs that ever worked. There were any number of stories about lone-wolf sword-for-hire types in Japanese culture before Yojimbo came along, but something about the way Toshiro Mifune embodied the role, and something about the way Akira Kurosawa put him at the center of a story of remarkable cynicism, made it one of a kind. The main characters are an homage to this scruffy wanderer, as if split into two facets, each embodying different aspects of the world they drift through.
I rewatched Kenji Mizoguchi's masterwork with friends recently, while I was in something like the second draft of Unmortal, and it struck me in retrospect how deeply I'd internalized some of its conceits about suffering under oppression — e.g., the way one human being will betray another human being without so much as a blink, because personal advantages are far more concrete than any lofty notions of the brotherhood of men. Or the way some collaborate with their oppressors, whether out of convenience or the need to smother their moral dissonance, or both.
The most realistic and unpretentious film ever made about asymmetrical warfare — guerilla warfare, terrorism, whatever the name may be. In this case, it's the Algerian National Liberation Front vs. the French police and military, and each side is seen with a clear eye. helped by the movie's matter-of-fact, documentary-esque look. This is not a "both sides" kind of thing — it's clear where the asymmetries are in each aspect of the struggle — but a way to understand how large and shapeless the problem really is. The film significantly shaped the way I handled the sua resistance/terror cells and their antagonists in the police and counterterror squads.
Senegalese author and filmmaker Ousmane Sembene is one of the best-kept secrets of the modern age, in part because most of his works are either hard to find in English or were never distributed that way. God's Bits Of Wood, his mini-epic novel about a railorad strike in colonial Senegal in the 1940s, is less hard to find than most, and for that reason well worth seeking out. Its panoramic depiction of both the colonizers and the colonized was a point of reference for me; I know I wanted to show as many levels and segments of society as he did. The book also gave me a model for how I might depict some of the moral quandaries raised in it — that compassion for all is required, while also knowing that compassion is not forgiveness -- it's about insight for us, not absolution for them.
Not all the influences on this story were so highbrow! Soul Eater had a great premise: pairs of fighters, one a wielder and the other a living weapon. The relationship between the two main characters — the Soul of the title, and his wielder Maka Albarn — came to mind often during Unmortal, although I did my best to make the flavor of the relationships in my story as distinct as I could from that one.
Next installment I'll talk about how all these blended with my existing material to create the story I have now.