This is a thrilling time for me. As I finish up the last edit on the manuscript of my novel Pyramid of Babel this month, I find myself thinking back over the often difficult, sometimes exhilarating process of writing and editing.
The journey of conceiving, creating and evolving the background, structure, story and characters was surprising in many ways. I learned an enormous amount about what I myself wanted to convey, as well as how best to achieve it, and more appreciation for the art and craft of storytelling.
One interesting aside—at least, I find it interesting—is that I’ve probably learned almost as much about storytelling from analyzing filmmaking and thinking about writing scripts as from fiction books. And my influences and inspirations for the novel were cinematic almost as often as they were literary. Take this partial list, for some idea:
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
- Brazil directed by Terry Gilliam, and other Gilliam films
- Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang
- We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
- Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott (cyberpunk future film noir! I was influenced by classic film noir, too)
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Ray Bradbury’s short stories and Fahrenheit 451
- Idoru and other stories by William Gibson
- The Third Man directed by Carol Reed
- Darren Aronofsky’s film Pi
- David Mack’s Kabuki series
- Greek, Biblical, Gnostic and esoteric mythology, and traditional stories
- traditional epics like Homer’s Odyssey (especially for intricate internal structure and references)
- the Robin Hood legend
- They Live directed by John Carpenter
- the film Run Lola Run
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- Jack London’s Enemy of All the World
- Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron
Other major influences: internet politics and conspiracy theories, real-life events and politics (especially since 2001), clubs and underground subcultures, dystopian-aesthetic music such as Haujobb’s Freeze Frame Reality and many more, and lots of reading I’ve done in philosophy, economics, social thought, etc. And the real city of New York, of course—my main setting, or at least New York as I’ve re-imagined it 75 years from now, sort of a cross with Washington DC.
In the end, to fulfill my ever-changing ambitions for the book would stretch a few years worth of obsessive work over 7 years. It would attempt to maintain accessibility of visceral moments and familiar concepts but deepen them with layers beneath to reward the reader for investing attention and thinking about the book, and add some real intellectual meat from time to time by introducing ideas that might be unfamiliar to readers (from perspectivism, to complexity sciences, to Austrian school economics). It would take a form originally based on short-story vignettes to also encompass epic literature’s complexity, breadth and cast of characters.
It would draw upon, recombine and even reverse some conventions of the dystopian storytelling tradition, political satire, black humor, and the cyberpunk sci-fi genre and other genres, as well as experiment with some original ideas (original to my knowledge, at least). As time went on, the background work I did emphasized future technology less, while symbolism and mythology became more central, in keeping with my preference for science fiction as future myth—really about introspection, human psychology and spirituality— instead of geek fantasy with technological toys.
Ultimately I discovered that to realize an experimental vision for a novel of ideas that was up to productively-high philosophical standards as well as my artistic standards for originality and craft was more challenging than I ever imagined. I almost didn’t pull it off. There were many times I doubted the project or my ability to do it justice.
Fortunately, I was tenacious and—although I took time off to work on several other projects as well, such as Rising in Words—kept returning to it.
I didn’t give up on fulfilling everything I wanted to achieve and I believe I have finally done so. It’s immensely gratifying to be on the other side of that struggle and to be proud of the result. I hope readers get half as much out of the experience as I have.