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.

This also shows off everybody else’s skills. Karim is the team psi, and an Elect of a Bright Power, and so his thoughts and actions will be much different from the others. James Wood is the second in command and a country boy, and is most comfortable in the swamps and farms of his hometown. Will Connor is the team breacher and heavy weapons expert. Zen Tan is the hacker, drone operator and spotter. Kayla Fox is the sharpshooter and occasional sniper. Everybody gets a chance to use their special skills and knowledge in their respective stories alongside Yuri.

Kayla benefits the most from this approach. Like Yuri, she, too, is mostly seen through everybody else’s eyes. But where Yuri leads from the front, Kayla’s specialty requires her to stay in the back and out of sight. Among everyone in the team, she is the least at risk, and the easiest to overlook. Usually she announces her presence only as a voice over the radio and a precision shot from far away. With the penultimate story, Babylon Blues, seen through her eyes, the reader gets a chance to understand the woman behind the scope.

With this approach, the reader also sees the world of Nova Babylonia through the eyes of mundane people. Karim aside, they are all mortals, without superpowers or implanted ultratech. The only advantages they have are their wits, training, and government-issued firepower. This amplifies the horror aspect of the setting, and shows how regular people experience the world.

Team Black Watch is composed of (mostly) ordinary people who dare to challenge gods and monsters. They are outnumbered, outgunned and outmatched—and yet they are unafraid. Despite the huge capability gap between the Black Watch and the New Gods, they stand fast and hold the line. By seeing the world through their eyes, the reader understands the mindset of such extraordinary people, and learns what it takes to take on terrible odds—and win.

Babylon Red takes the inverse approach.

Kayla Fox anchors the series as the primary viewpoint character. She is a nomad drifting across the country. She doesn’t have anyone or anything the New Gods can threaten, allowing her to carry out missions anywhere in Nova Babylonia.

In contrast, the rest of the team have their own reasons for being where they are. They all have anchors keeping them to certain cities or towns. As for Yuri, he is on a hit list, and has to stay underground, far from Nova Babylonia.

With the series shifting across the major locales of Nova Babylonia, she keeps the reader rooted in the wider universe, serving the same function as Yuri Yamamoto. 

Unlike Yuri, however, Kayla is a secondary character.

She is a sniper and network facilitator. She is not an assaulter. She doesn’t have any personal stake in the mission beyond helping her comrades and carrying out Yuri’s final orders. She doesn’t put herself directly at risk outside of extreme situations. This does not make her a weak character, but there are better perspective characters for certain scenes.

One of the keys to telling intense scenes in a third-person perspective story is to focus on the character with greatest emotional response in the situation, and/or the most to lose. In the collected stories of Babylon Red, this character is usually the former Black Watch operator who called for her help. The operator who gets into trouble, and goes hunting for trouble.

This approach keeps Kayla in reserve, hidden from the reader’s perspective. She announces her presence with a precision shot, becoming a pleasant surprise for the reader, and a psychological shock for the opposition.

In Babylon Blues, when Yuri Yamamoto pulls out his knife or his cross, awesome things happen. In Babylon Red, I wanted to achieve the same effect when Kayla pulls her trigger.

Yuri’s absence in Babylon Red is keenly felt across the story universe. With his cross and a prayer, Yuri can neutralize occult powers and dark magic. He can’t do that in Babylon Red, not when he is far away. Without men of courage, morals and faith, someone like him, the story world is falling apart, descending into madness and war. In her journeys, Kayla bears witness to this.

Each entry in Babylon Red becomes more tactically difficult than the last. Karim is an Elect and can hold his own against other monsters, albeit with some help. James Wood has the next Sheriff of Moreno Island assisting him. Will Connor has only the gear he’s stashed away, and Kayla on support. Zen Tan can’t directly confront the opposition in his story, at least not until the end. Without the ability to neutralize superior powers, without being able to deploy heavy firepower, the team has to rely on superior strategy. They cannot hope to confront the enemy head-on and win, not without government support and most definitely without Yuri.

This approach shows how crucial Yuri is to the team, and to the struggle against the reign of the New Gods, as seen through the eyes of mundanes.

Yuri Yamamoto will return, of course. In Babylon Blues, he appears in the finale, The White Cross. It’s only fitting that he returns in the final story of the next entry, also titled Babylon Red. And this time, once again, we see this corrupted cyberpunk world through the eyes of a Christian street samurai.

Want to read his story? Back Babylon Red here!

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