Unmortal: Behind The Scenes With 'Unmortal', Pt. 4: The Story

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-01-17 12:00:00 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 my previous installment in this series, I talked about the major influences on my forthcoming novel Unmortal. Here, I'm going to talk about the way those influences came together to form a story.

If I run down the list of influences on FOTH in the last post, each has one of two things to contribute: atmosphere, and ideology.

If I got back far enough into the fossil record for Unmortal, it was originally spun off from a completely different project, Absolute Elsewhere. That story featured, among other things, a Final Fantasy-esque setting, but which remained largely undefined and underdeveloped. I don't know if it was that underdevelopment that caused me to take a good hard look at the story and tell myself that part was best broken off and made its own thing, but one way or another that's what happened.

The Final Fantasy franchise has always had magic and the concept of the life force as a central conceit in each of its incarnations. To that end, I told myself, it might be best to have some other large, central conceit at the middle of this story, whatever it was going to be — something that gave the universe an axis to revolve around, as it were. The idea of "one big normative thing" as the foundation for a story is a basic SF&F rule, something I'd been conscious of since Alfred Bester wrote it largest in his books all those years ago (The Stars My Destination, The Demolished Man, etc.)

This need to find a core conceit was like a magnet; it attracted any number of things to it from the rest of my brainpan. One such idea revolved around how human beings have a tendency to assume they're the master of any domain they exist in — the domestication of animals, the consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources, and the subjugation of anyone not identifiably in the in-group. My big leap of inspiration was, what if the ones subjugated were not human or animal, but spiritual beings? Perhaps along the lines of the yokai of Japanese folklore?

That idea right there gave me a plan for how most of human history might have unfolded: for a long time we were unaware of the presence of these other beings (the "sua"), in the same way we went for aeons without knowing how to work with fire. Then came the discovery, and soon after that, the domestication — the idea that if these things existed and could be brought into our world, it was for the sake of our exclusive benefit.

One thing that stuck with me from Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 was the notion of humanity having gone for so long with the assumption that there would always be slaves and masters of some kind, and that humanity progresses when the mere idea of such a thing becomes exposed for the abomination that it is. But before that happens, humanity will find every excuse, and use every means, to use slavery to further its ends. It doesn't matter if the slaves are created wholesale or summoned from the great beyond; the attitude held towards these beings is what matters. Sua in human eyes are second-class citizens, even after steps made towards their emancipation.

The other thing that stuck with me from BR/49 was how all this was explored by way of a noirish story and environment — from the bottom up, as it were, not from the top down. I decided early on I wanted my story to begin at street level and work its way up, and it needed a protagonist who worked in that vein. Rather than use a protagonist template from that story, I went with one from another story with roots in noir: Yojimbo. The lone swordsman. Well, not totally lone — the swordsman, and his sword, human and sua, each partners with the other.

Other dimensions I wanted this story to have, moral and political dimensions, were informed by other works: Sansho The Bailiff; and The Battle Of Algiers and God's Bits Of Wood respectively. The former was about the way we tell good from evil by giving it power; the latter two were about the struggles between colonizers and colonized, and how the fact that moral ambiguities exist in those struggles does not mean good and evil do not also exist.

At the bottom of every story I write, I want there to be something fun to read, and I always want that fun to be a complement to the story's concerns and not a distraction from it. When I talked early on about the relationship between the two main characters, a friend remarked how that sounded a lot like Soul Eater, in a good way. I took the comparison to heart, and found ways (as in that property) to make the action complement and enhance the themes instead of just flank them.

Next time around I'll talk about the roster of characters I created.

Tags: Behind The Scenes: Unmortal Infinimata Press Unmortal influences inspiration storytelling