Monday, June 28, 2021

Babylon Through the Eyes of Mundanes

 

When embarking on a new series, I have a simple rule: do something new. With the Babylon series, I wanted to play with perspective in storytelling.

Babylon Blues has one main character and five viewpoint characters. While Yuri Yamamoto, leader of Team Black Watch, is the star of the story (and the series), he doesn’t actually take centre stage. He is seen through the eyes of the rest of his team members, as he operates alongside them.

This keeps Yuri shrouded in mystery. He doesn’t talk about himself to others. Little by little, he reveals himself through his words and deeds, interpreted through the eyes of the viewpoint characters. This is especially pronounced from Karim Mustafa’s perspective: as the team rookie, he knows nothing about Yuri and Team Black Watch, and his first mission leaves him on the edge of being overwhelmed. Through the eyes of his team members, Yuri Yamamoto is as mysterious and as deadly as the New Gods—maybe even more so.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Architecture and Horror

 

Architecture is the visual language of habitation. Through design, colours, shapes, textures, the architect reveal the aesthetics of his soul, and the values of his times. In fiction, architecture establishes setting, tone, mood, history, culture. It evokes atmosphere by provoking the audience.

And it tells you what characters can, cannot, must and must not do in a space during a tactical situation.

With the Babylon series, I intended to pay special attention to architecture. More than just a playground of destruction, architecture was a way for me to show the influence of the New Gods in the world, to emphasise the dark and oppressive environment, and to illuminate spots of hope.

Inspired by this thread from Mencius Moldbugman and the pro-traditionalist tweets by Wrath of Gnon, I began with a simple rule. Traditional architectural styles and designs at the human scale signal sanctuary, sanctity, and dignity. Places that follow this aesthetic are areas that stay true to the human soul. Ultramodern and unnatural architecture evoke feelings of disgust, confusion, and fear. These are the places occupied by the New Gods.

ArchoShanti is a prime example of the first style. Following the principles of arcology design, the district is extremely dense and ecologically low-impact, but it is also designed at the human scale. Walkability is paramount: pedestrian streets and paved alleys connect every point of the district to every other point. Buildings are four to five stories tall, tall enough for a person to comfortably take in with a single glance. Bicycles are common, but cars are rare. High population density is achieved through narrow streets and mixed-use complexes that combine residential and commercial spaces. Signs and decorations add a human touch to the streets and buildings.

Vernacular architecture takes advantage of local materials and knowledge, building in harmony with the local environment and human needs. Reflecting local culture, it represents time-tested aesthetics that have lasted for centuries. In the context of Babylon, vernacular architecture also represents aesthetics that have survived the corruptive influence of the New Gods.

Moreno Island, off the coast of Babylon, demonstrates this. The city of Saint Lucille and nearby towns are almost entirely designed according to American architectural principles. The roads are long and wide, buildings are dispersed, and in Saint Lucille, high-rises violate human scale with casual ease. In residential areas, in the farms and the swamps, shotgun houses and American-style barns predominate.

Traditional architecture is architecture that nurtures the human soul. In Babylon Red, they are places of rest and healing. But they are not safe spaces.

The New Gods and their minions are everywhere. Every incursion into a traditional space is nothing less than an invasion. They may come as an army of watchers, as a squad of killers, or as real estate developers seeking to remake prime property, but their purpose is the same: to further degrade the human soul. Every foray feels like a violation, a breaking of unwritten rules, and is all the more outrageous for it. It reinforces the idea that nothing is sacred to the New Gods, that they will not stop until they consume all in their path.

The construction of buildings is intimately and unconsciously linked to human biology and psychology. Gazing upon a deformed building creates the same feeling as gazing upon a deformed body. The New Gods pervert and corrupt the souls of men, which is reflected in external manifestations. Horrific architecture signals the presence of horrors, and their intentions for humanity.

Brutalist structures are buildings shorn of all identity and distinguishing features, leaving only raw materials and bare facades—a reflection of what the New Gods plan to do to humanity. Gargantuan buildings crush the human spirit under their mass and size. Repetition of elements, such as windows and cookie-cutter homes, erases individual identity, transforming the space into a cancerous tumor-like mass, with each window or each house simply one aspect of a larger fractal horror.

Hybridized materials, clashing colours, and smashed-together styles immediately evoke feelings of forced conjointment, distortion and parasitism. It is the idea of two separate things being stitched together to create something worse than both. Weird angles, distorted lines, and crazed spirals evoke feelings of mind and body being compressed and contorted until they break.

The headquarters of the Babylon Police Department was designed around these ideas. A sprawling spire of painful angles and weird shapes, it was supposed to be a beacon of law and order in a beleaguered city, but in reality, it is a nerve center of demonic intrigue. Everyone who climbs the career ladder becomes as warped and twisted as the building itself, becoming puppets of the New Gods. The few good cops that remain in the city do their best, but are outnumbered and outgunned by the legions of cultists and monsters stalking the streets. The cops handle street level crimes and inconvenient citizens but leave the New Gods alone, plunging the city into a permanent state of anarcho-tyranny.

The name Babylon recalls the infamous Tower of Babylon. In the Bible, all the world’s people spoke one language, and gathered in the land of Shinar. They decided to build a tower tall enough to reach Heaven. To punish their hubris, God scattered the peoples across the face of the Earth and confounded their language. The Talmud adds that the top of the tower was burned, the bottom swallowed by the earth, and the middle left to decay over time.

Nova Babylonia is the inverse of this story. The New Gods took the scattered peoples of the world and concentrated them in the region of Babylon. While there are other peoples and nations, the city of Babylon contains the most diverse concentration of peoples in the entire world.

The multiple architecture styles in this series are a reminder of this long-ago trauma. Different architectures exist side-by-side in uneasy cohabitation, reflecting the unnaturalness of the world, and the enormity of the powers that created this situation.

The city of Riveria fuses Japanese and Western aesthetics in a schizophrenic mix. The many districts of Babylon have their own architectural styles, revealing the histories of the people who had settled the region—and the corrosive influence of the New Gods. Many places and names of key locations within the world are lifted from real-world places, reinforcing the idea that the city of Babylon is an abnormal place created by the artificial concentration and mingling of separate peoples.

The external appearance of a building brings out what lies inside the heart of the builder. Some of the finest horror creators in the business understood the power of architecture. H. P. Lovecraft’s imagery of cyclopean towers, strange angles and shunned houses linger in the mind long after you close the book. Uzumaki by Junji Ito uses the motif of the spiral to signal a descent into madness, while The Town Without Streets employs malevolent architecture to mark the plunge into horror.

With Babylon I tried to do something similar, evoking horror through architecture. As to how well I succeeded, you can find out here in the IndieGoGo page for Babylon Red.

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Machinations of Lesser Gods

 

The New Gods dominate Nova Babylonia, but in their shadows skulk a host of lesser powers. Tutelary deities, minor spirits, demons and other creatures, they squabble among themselves to sweep up what little the New Gods leave them. Following the cataclysmic events of Babylon Blues, these lesser powers have a chance to step into the spotlight. In Babylon Red, the members of Team Black Watch find themselves contending with such powers—alongside the New Gods.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Case for Polylithic Evil

 

Most stories keep things simple. There is the side of Good, represented by the protagonist. There is the side of Evil, represented by the antagonist and his minions. Postmodern fiction tries to spice it up, with gray versus gray or gray versus black morality. Having just two sides is the norm. If there are multiple factions, expect them all to have varying shades of darkness, in the name of ‘realism’ and ‘grittiness’.

Reality paints a different picture.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Babylon Red Chapter 1 Preview



The IndieGoGo campaign for Babylon Red has reached 38% of its funding goal! To celebrate, here's chapter 1 of the exclusive novel!

Monday, June 14, 2021

Ingredients of Action Horror

 

Action horror. A fiction contradiction if there ever was one.

Action stories are about agency: the character’s ability to act on the environment, to overcome all odds, to destroy all foes in his path. Horror relies heavily on a lack of agency: the inability to directly confront the horror, and with it, the despair that comes from receiving the attentions of a creature far more powerful than yourself. Both genres are at odds with each other.

But only in postmodern fiction.

Robert E Howard deftly wrote stories of adventurers, monsters, and bloody battles between them. C. L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry was a warrior and a sovereign whose adventures pitted her against the supernatural. Even H. P. Lovecraft wrote tales of mere men confronting cosmic horrors—and winning.

To understand the ingredients of a successful action horror story, we must reject modernity and embrace the weird tale.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

BABYLON RED is live on IndieGoGo!


The New Gods have won.

The Special Tasks Section has been disbanded. Nothing can stop the New Gods from unleashing Hell on Earth.

Or so they think.

Fighting from the shadows, Team Black Watch wages a desperate war to keep cosmic horrors at bay.

But this time, Yuri Yamamoto is in exile.

Without a mystical crusader on their side, how can they stand against cultists, bloodthirsty monsters and false gods?

Find out in BABYLON RED!

BABYLON RED is the sequel to my cyberpunk action horror collection BABYLON BLUES. This time, we follow team sharpshooter Kayla Fox in her travels around Babylon, helping her teammates take on the New Gods.

Following the events of BABYLON BLUES, the New Gods have been weakened. The Temple Commission has purged the worst of its pawns in the government. But they are still powerful, and they are still the rulers of the world. However, in this power vacuum, minor Powers are stepping up onto the stage. We saw a hint of it in THE WHITE CROSS, the concluding chapter of BABYLON BLUES. Here in BABYLON RED, we see firsthand the rise of these lesser gods.

The STS dared to make a stand against the New Gods. For their sins, they have been placed on their hit list. Without the government to protect them, they are scattered, isolated, and vulnerable. But they are not afraid. And they will not stop fighting the gods until their dying breath.

And until Yuri Yamamoto returns, Kayla Fox will hold the line, alongside her brothers in Team Black Watch.

BABYLON RED comprises of 5 linked stories. 4 of them were previously published on Hive and on my blog. The last is exclusive to the collection.

Ready to return to Babylon? Check out the IndieGoGo campaign here!