In the previous installment of this series, I talked about the twenty-something-year path Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned took from concept to completion. Here, I'm going to talk about some of the other properties and influences that fed into it and shaped it.
Well, of course. (See my previous post for why.) But again, not for any of the reasons you might expect. I doubt anyone would have made the connection between that story and this one unless I'd spelled it out explicitly.
We all know this one. (I hope!)
I saw GoodFellas when it first appeared, and at first I wasn't expecting much. Movies about the mob weren't my thing, but the movie had been singled out by Roger Ebert as one of the year's best, and his description of it did nudge me that much more towards it. By the time it was over I had a new all-time favorite. Much of the movie's efforts go towards showing how the world of the mob was so self-enclosed, and that was an ingredient I drew on heavily for this book.
So was another feeling, one Ebert wrote about in reference to the scene where Henry and Karen Hill cling to each other as their world disintegrates: "They have made their lifetime commitment, and it was to the wrong life." The main character and his wife have a lot of that: they may have picked the wrong path together, but at least they have each other.
Written by James Cameron and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, this is another of my favorite films, one of the few successful examples of a mainstream cyberpunk movie that doesn't simply treat the material like a giant special effect. A former cop turned small-time criminal (Ralph Fiennes) hustles "clips", recordings of sensory experience obtained by way of a technology originally intended to replace the body wire (c.f.: "The street finds its own uses for things"). He gets mixed up in a plot that apparently involves the L.A.P.D. killing a politically outspoken rap star, a storyline that unfortunately has not aged as poorly as I hoped it would.
Much of what I drew from Strange Days was, as with GoodFellas, flavor and atmosphere, but also the idea that technology tends to experience its fastest and most extreme tests in the hands of criminals.
Keanu again! Truth be told, I originally had no reason to want or be interested in what looked like yet another hitman-comes-out-of-retirement-to-settle-unfinished-scores story. What tilted me back in my chair over this film was not just the ferocious practical stunt work, but the phantasmal, near-mythological criminal underworld created for the film's universe. I was doubly thrilled to see John Wick Chapter 2 follow that particular vein even more deeply. Rather than just copy that explicitly, though, I decided to just let the flavor of it work its way into what I was doing.
Years before Strange Days, there was Brainstorm (1981), Douglas Trumbull's treatment of the same core idea. Husband and wife scientists (Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood, who died during production) invent a machine that can record and play back human experience, but get caught up in various machinations when one of their colleagues (Louise Fletcher) records her own death and a power struggle ensues over the tape. It's not a bad movie, and the visuals are staggeringly creative (although the variable aspect ratio cinematography doesn't really work on TV), but it's also very old-school SF in its storytelling. That said, elements of both its visuals and its plotting fed back into what I was doing — especially the idea that technology augments what we are and what we put into it, but only rarely creates anything truly new.
The now-classic Japanese pop-culture franchise, about a former Shogunate assassin making a second life for himself, was only something I realized fed into this story once I was more or less done with it. Some of that is in the form of accoutrements — the way the hero is outfitted by his boss with garb and weaponry that's reminiscent of this series, for instance. But in other cases it's about themes — e.g., if the old world is dying out and a new world is being born, what people will be needed to bring that new world fully into existence? And who will stand in their way to turn back the clock, or try to seize that new world for themselves?
In the next installment, I'll talk about the actual story and characters that developed from all of this.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind