Flight of the Vajra: Behind The Scenes With 'Flight Of The Vajra', Pt. 1: The Origins

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-02-24 12:00:00 No comments

With the re-release of my new novel Flight Of The Vajra, I'll be making a series of posts to serve as an extended introduction to the book -- its origins, its influences, its themes, its setting and characters. Enjoy.

(See all entries in this series here.)

Somewhere along the line, I think I made a pledge to myself to try writing at least one story in every genre I can get my hands on, until either I run out of genres or I myself run out, period. Among the bases I've already rounded include space opera, and that in what I hope is a big country way. But boy, did it take a long time to get there.

(Note: Some of this has been rewritten or taken from a previous post I did on this subject, so there is some duplication of material.)

Soldiers In The Temple

Many dozens of moons ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Bill Clinton was still president, I entertained an idea for a story I then called Soldiers In The Temple. It involved a near-future war scenario, where an enhanced female supersoldier took refuge -- in multiple senses of the term -- in a Buddhist monastery somewhere. I ended up never writing the story: my notions about it were too underdeveloped, my experiences with Buddhism too shallow at the time to inform the story properly.

Still, at its core was a story I liked: a product of a posthuman future confronting an embodiment of the past, and some mutual accord arising from that meeting. I didn't want that accord to be anything as simpleminded as "not all progress is good" or what have you. Rather, I wanted to address the emotional and spiritual contradictions inherent in all our strivings: we want better things, and we make ourselves into incrementally different people to do it, but we don't always know what's good for us -- and the only spiritual authority we can draw on to tell what's good for us is our own.

Again, I never ended up writing the story. But one thing that did survive from it was the concept of the spiritual leader character -- someone of unshakable grace and deep moral fortitude. That character deserved a home somewhere.

The Noonauts

Around the mid-2000s or so, another character started floating around in my head who deserved a home. Name of Sim, no first name as of yet. His original incarnation was in an unwritten project called The Noonauts, about a "psychic engineer" who taps into the boundless imagination energy of young people to foment a kind of Children's Crusade. It doesn't end well, as you can imagine. That was another case of a story where the idea had great potential, but the author didn't have the chops to pull it off.

But Sim, the guy himself, I liked: smart, fast with his with, capable of building great things, but still in thrall to the parts of himself that thinks it knows other people too well, and is thus repulsed by them (although it's only through others that we can best understand ourselves, and so he ends up depriving himself of his last, best hope for self-knowledge). He deserved a story, like the lady before him.

Hostage Of The Empire

Here's where things really started to cook. In the late 2000s, I took the Sim character again -- now Henré Sim -- and dropped him into a wholly different story. The underlying idea was a variant on things I'd read about North Korea's program for kidnapping people from other countries with specialized technical knowledge and using them as forced labor, both intellectual and physical. In this story, Sim was a starship designer (much as he is in the final product), enslaved by Continuum, a highly homogenous, post-human civilization. The plot would have involved Sim being sent by Continuum back into the universe at large, but beyond that I didn't have much save maybe for the way the two parties hard-nosed and blackmailed each other into getting what they wanted.

The Ship's Goddess

This was the name for another idea I flirted with in conjunction with Hostage. The preistess/nun character of Temple got reincarnated again into another kind of character in a new setting. Here, she was the human component of a human/AI dyad used to pilot starships. Every ship had its "goddess", and a whole separate belief system and practice path had sprung up around this. Of this I retained almost nothing save for, again, the character herself. And the name: Angharad.

A Thief Among Princes

Here's where things really began to take shape. Henré and Angharad had been knocking around in my head in separate places for some time; what really kicked off Vajra for me was the realization that they belonged in the same story. They complemented each other, and so they deserved to be driving each others' developments.

I was still married to the idea of Henré being an ex-starship designer. But instead of being slave labor, he was a pariah: he'd left his original career after it fell apart around him, and descending into the underworld to sell his skills to the highest bidder. My original cold open had him pulling off a Lupin-esque super-criminal stunt with the help of a teenaged sidekick, also an outlaw. That character eventually became Enid in the finished story, and in time she turned the dyad of Henré and Angharad into a triad -- the good, the bad (well, sorta), and the spunky.

So what was the Big Heist Cold Open? Stealing and transporting a suspended-animation pod (shades of Outlaw Star, for those keeping score at home). Turns out the pod contains Angharad, the pontiff of the universe ... who's been on ice and missing for decades. Adventure ensues.

Tempted as I was to use that opening, it didn't click for me. Some of that was because I was painfully conscious of how I'd pinched it from other places, piecemeal. But also because I wanted a different flavor to the character -- someone who isn't a criminal per se, but fell from favor because they tried to do the right thing and got punished for it, and now lives in a limbo from which they are plotting an exit.

Now, I had a foreground. But what was the background all this took place against? What kind of universe, and to what end?

In the next installment I'll talk about the other ideas that blended into this one, and how they came together to give Vajra its first proper form.

Tags: Behind The Scenes: Flight Of The Vajra Flight of the Vajra creativity projects writing