From the Depths: On Inspiration

A thought occurred to me this morning as I listened to the audiobook of the excellent novel Finch by Jeff VanderMeer. The book is a bit of a recasting of the hardboiled detective trope, placing the detective in an alien world where…well, easier to show you the Amazon description, because the plot itself is not what I’m here to discuss:

In Finch, mysterious underground inhabitants known as the gray caps have reconquered the failed fantasy state Ambergris and put it under martial law. They have disbanded House Hoegbotton and are controlling the human inhabitants with strange addictive drugs, internment in camps, and random acts of terror. The rebel resistance is scattered, and the gray caps are using human labor to build two strange towers. Against this backdrop, John Finch, who lives alone with a cat and a lizard, must solve an impossible double murder for his gray cap masters while trying to make contact with the rebels. Nothing is as it seems as Finch and his disintegrating partner Wyte negotiate their way through a landscape of spies, rebels, and deception. Trapped by his job and the city, Finch is about to come face to face with a series of mysteries that will change him and Ambergris forever.

The plot itself is a fascinating one, full of twists and turns, little hints that seem like they won’t amount to much but of course turn out to be very important. And VanderMeer…well, there’s a reason he’s an award-winning novelist. I admire his style a lot, and see something I can aspire towards long-term in what he writes.

But again, that’s not really what I’m here to discuss, except in a roundabout way. What really made me want to write this entry was noticing just how much the concepts in the novel inspired me. Seriously. I’m making slow progress through the audiobook because it seems that every hour or so, I get these great ideas for future novels or short stories or, hell, even blog entries. None of these ideas are copping VanderMeer’s concepts, or even borrowing from them, which makes it all the more amazing to me. I can’t remember a novel causing this kind of reaction in me since…hm. Perhaps one of the Dark Tower novels? My most recent reading of Clive Barker‘s Imajica?

As an example of how this process works, we don’t actually see what it’s like to live day-to-day as an average joe in their society, but it began to occur to me how claustrophobic and terrifying it must feel to the average person, to have this utterly alien force appear, dominate your culture, and have ripped out the roots within six years of their appearance. Of course I was aware of how this is a parable of our own cultural hegemony, especially with the differing levels of oppression, from the overt form of physical threats and disappearing people to the more insidious levels of introducing new drugs and dependencies.

Thinking about this made me think of how it would apply to a different type of fantasy society made my brain begin to spark. What would this sort of situation playing out in a more swords-and-sorcery fantasy world look like? What if the invading force wielded highly superior technology, to the point where it would appear to be magic to the invaded culture, which led to thoughts of cargo cults. What would a cargo cult look like in that world, and what if a character from the more advanced invading force ended up hiding out in that cargo cult?

Now, I have no idea if I’ll ever pursue this idea, but it’s tucked away in my folder for further development, and if I do ever come back to it, I’ll continue to refine the idea, typically combining the character’s personal history and predilections to fine-tune the story so that it may bear little resemblance to what you see above. But you get the idea – the kernel of a larger idea was borne from just noticing that one little aspect of VanderMeer’s story. That isn’t the first idea that’s arisen from such a reading, either. I’ve come up with at least three new novel ideas that are sitting and waiting for my subconscious to catch on to them.

Does anyone else experience this with certain novels? When I look back at the list of my most influential novels, it occurs to me that many of those novels had the same effect; I’m curious what books have had that effect on others.

And it is, after all, Friday. Some music for you. I cannot get this song out of my head lately, so why not?

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  1. I love how this writer inspired you so much! How exciting! Those are the moments we crave so often as writers/dreamers/livers of a creative life, and so often they allude us! But you have found a portal with this writer! Hooray! Maybe he has other books and will continue to inspire you! Yay! Its great to connect! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Let it Ride: Feeling the Process | Shaggin the Muse

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