Blog No. 352
Warning. Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t read The Neon Heart, yet (and why not? It’s great) you may want to hold off on this one. Though, maybe it will entice you to buy the book and give it a read, so what do I know?
As September approaches and my focus shifts to the next book in The Synthetic Albatross Novella Series, I’ve been thinking more and more about my previous novellas. Then, I realized that I hadn’t done a behind the writing for Neon Heart (or I did and I forgot). So, I figured, now would be a good time for one. A long time ago, I didn’t really like reading that much. I would enjoy certain books and when I found one that tickled my fancy, I would devour it, but getting me to read wasn’t easy. Then one day, when I was watching Blade Runner for probably the fifth or sixth time, I noticed at the end of the credits that it was based off of a book. (I’m getting somewhere, just stick with me). I had read some Star Wars books, but other than my love for sci-fi movies and television, I didn’t really know much about the genre. (The literary genre at least). The book at the end of the movie was called, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and trying to get a copy of that thing when the only bookstore I knew of was the Coles at the mall was not easy. I had to endure countless bad jokes and confused faces.
Eventually, I convinced an employee at Coles to order it for me. If you haven’t read any Philip K. Dick, his novels are pretty good, but his real magic was with short stories. I read Androids, then found Man in the High Castle, before getting one of his short story collections and completely losing myself in it. Several other books followed, and all of them stuck with me in one way or another, but one book (not even my favourite) found a place in my head and grew roots. The book was Ubik. It’s a wild story about a group of psychics (telepaths and precogs) who are employed by companies who use their powers to spy on and prevent spying from each other. There’s also a lot of stuff about death and half-death and a product called Ubik that keeps you from fading away into nothingness, but it keeps degrading into more primitive versions of itself. Like I sad, wild. The ideas of psychics as hired guns interested me, though. There’s a big plot point in the book about a woman with the ability to block precogs (people with precognition) and while that was interesting, one throwaway line (that I probably don’t even remember properly) stuck with me. One of the group of psychics was not particularly powerful, but had at one time blocked several very powerful psychics on his own. It was that one idea that stuck.
Of course, the word Esper is directly taken from Akira, a Japanese Manga and Anime and one of the most successful and influential animated movies, not only from Japan, but ever. I’m not sure if that’s the origin of the word, but it’s the first place I heard it and I’ve seen it used in many other places since. (The possible origin I found was Alfred Bester in his 1950 short story Oddy and Id). So, I used it too. It’s a bit of an odd shorthand, but it works for me. Initially, the story was intended to have a lot more to do with Espers. I’m not sure of the first spark of the idea, but by the time I knew that I wanted the story to be the second novella, I had developed it into more of a desperate run into a place filled with mind readers and telekinetics. In fact, here’s the description I had in my notes:
Gleaners (mind readers) and Shades (blockers). Guy has to take a group of shades into the center of a huge building complex to get something. Mind readers and other telekinetic/telepaths live there.
Pretty basic. The time travel device (and its dubiousness) came in later. I knew I needed a MacGuffin (an insignificant object that is important to the plot/characters) so the characters had a reason to go into what became the Wall. I also knew that I didn’t want the main character to have any powers of his own and I wanted to explore the idea of a less powerful psychic having a moment of greatness. I’m not sure I got that moment, but stories go the way they do, sometimes, and I have little control over that.
The Wall was a creation for The Thinking Machine (the impassable structure that Zed skirts around) and when I realized I wanted to do Neon Heart next, I beefed it up a bit (and did the crossover moment). The idea of Corporations controlling everything isn’t new, but it had been on my mind for a while. I have tried to write a story called I Dreamt of Space a few times (with little success) and it is driven by ruling corporations. I wanted to expand the view from Thinking Machine and dealing with a ruling class that literally exists above the Earth seemed like a cute way of doing that. (I’m a little proud of that one even though it’s a bit trite). It gave me the opportunity to play with the interconnectedness of the series, though.
Continued in Part Two