oneirophrenia: (Contemplative Doctor)
I'm writing the introduction to what may evolve into a short novel or novellette about a world completely controlled by the various forms of the undead, of whom the strigoi, a.k.a. upirsi or "vampires," are clearly the top rung since they are the only form of undead who can enter the "postmortal" state without having to physically die...which usually results in brain damage and other forms of wounding. The other forms of undead, the "reanimates," are much further down the social ladder. Ghuls, while allowed to hold titles and property in strigoi society, are clearly seen as little more than franchised halfwits good for "middle-management" kinds of tasks, since they do not share as badly the extreme strigoi affliction to light, though they do not need to live in complete darkness. (Of note: strigoi are not just poisoned by sunlight, but by all forms of multispectral light, even moonlight [hence the reason they call the moon the Son of the Sun]...and so they usually live underground, in vast complexes lit--if ever--only by burning compounds that produce very weak, reddish light. They get around by echolocation, like bats.) At the bottom of the undead ladder are the zombi (singular: zomb--pronounced "zohm"), which are just corpses reanimated through various semi-scientific procedures to use as brute-force labor, soldiers, and the most menial of servants such as scuppers to clean out the strigoi blood gutters. The zombi are completely mindless but can be programmed to do simple tasks by means of assorted "clickers," small metal devices installed in their brains to feed them constant commands.

So where do mortal humans fit in? Well...strigoi have to eat. As do ghuls. And the mortifacs need a steady supply of dead meat to process into zombi. But there are always a lot more mortals than postmortals, so how do you keep them from revolting? Simple: you make them part of society. Most mortals live vaguely feudal lives as tenants on land controlled by the strigoi and ghuls who live beneath them in the Lower Eighth (subterranean catacombs, basically). The strigoi employ a medical staff to keep their food supply healthy, and to harvest blood, though some strigoi are fairly close to their tenants and will often visit various favored mortals personally for a quick bite of an evening. The strigoi often reward the efforts of their tenants with conversion to strigoi: it is, obviously, quite the honor to be made postmortal and allowed in to the vast byzantine "lower crust" of society living in the World Below. Mortals that don't quite make the grade are eventually converted into ghuls--which some higher-up mortal families consider a vast insult. Those who never make the grade, for any reason, are either fed to ghuls once they die, or shipped off to the mortifacs.

The strigoi (and ghuls) learned centuries ago that they have to drastically limit their numbers, or they will outstrip their food supply again (this led to what is now known the Starveling Years)--so they are very selective in whom they allow to join their ranks...and they viciously punish any mortal made postmortal by any means. There are a small number of "wild" strigoi who occasionally sweep down on an unsuspecting mortal and...well, do the deed. Once these "unlawful" converts are discovered, they are quickly staked out for the sun. This is, also, a popular way for the strigoi to seriously screw an enemy's favored mortal successor or follower: convert him unlawfully and then let strigoi law do the rest. No mercy is shown at any point for strigoi or ghul who do not display the appropriate seals and lineage scars. Strigoi society is built upon incredibly strict rules.

Ohyeah, and the entire Empire of the Subterrene Regency (which is the primary undead "kingdom," if you will), is completely covered by a thick cloudcover known as the Pall, maintained by bizarre strigoi science, which blocks out a lot of light and makes it possible for ghuls to go about in the reduced daylight. Beyond the Pall are the Rivals, or competing kingdoms, mortal empires, and so forth.

Strigoi society is being modelled after the Russian and French courts of the mid-18th Century, with heavy doses of Renaissance Venice: overly dramatic, horribly labyrinthine, sick with plots and conspiracies, and very, very decadent--in the sense that the entire civilization is finally unravelling at the seams, but everyone refuses to acknowledge the fact, hiding it beneath a constant, shaky veneer of court life, intrigue, pleasure- and war-mongering. The ghuls want more power, and there are separatist cabals working in abandoned catacombs to create plots and escape routes to create their own sub-subterranean world. There are, of course, mortal men--religious fanatics, mostly--who want free of the undead once and for all, and mortals desperate to earn the favor of the lords beneath their feet. There are enemy vampire nations who may need to be thwarted (and you'd better damn well believe those terms will show up in this work), Rivals involved in all manner of light-terrorism, and a coalition of nihilist strigoi berzerkers who want to spread vampirism as if it were a plague in order to bring the entire world down into I Am Legend-ish chaos. Oh, and did I mention the strigoi Church, who celebrates the awakening to post-mortality of their crucified lord Yesu by partaking in the body and blood of mortals?

Basically, what I want to do here is create a completely immersive world of the living and the dead--something that isn't fantasy, per se, because there is NO FUCKING MAGIC(K) ANYWHERE in it (though there are a few moments of esoteric "science" and "biology" just to make it all work), but is modelled more on Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuse, Joris-Karl Huysmans' Au Rebours, and Patrick Suskind's Das Parfum...with a little bit of China Mieville and steampunk tropes thrown in just because I'm a sucker for steam-driven cars and daguerrotypes. One thing I really, really do not want to do is overload this thing with court politics a la Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy, because court machinations bore me to fucking tears. They will only be present in this work to back up and explain what is happening to the main characters. This thing will be primarily plot-driven, and will certainly feature a good big of Things Happening--by which I mean violence.

And, ohhhhhhhh yes, the strigoi will be extremely faggy. What I really want to do here is poke a sharp stick in the eye of Anne Rice and all the other writers who have over-Romanticized the character of the vampire over the centuries. My strigoi will all act like drunken French poets and courtiers, will wear huge gaudy wigs and vast gowns, jackets laden with silly medals and ribbons, oversized Cavalier hats and lace, lace, lace, lace, lace. But. Underneath all that finery are bodies shriveled into grey, scaly-skinned rat-like nosferatu. Mouths full of dry gums save for two sharp, pointy teeth to puncture veins (you don't really need molars or any other teeth when your diet is entirely liquid). Tiny, shrivelled eyes which actually vanish or are removed in very, very old strigoi and huge, crenellated ears. The strigoi navigate through the dark by squeaking like bats deep in their throats, so many of them can't even speak in voices audible to other humans anymore. And they are far from horrendously strong: the really, really, really, really old ones can barely move, they're so atrophied. But, boy, are they a bunch of stuck-up fucking fops and dilettantes! You'd be, too, if you knew you'd live at least two thousand years and can barely be damaged by anything other than...well, light.

The ghuls aren't much more glamorous. They're all hideously thin and look like anorexic heroin whores...except for their gigantic jaws filled with bone-cracking teeth (their diet is, remember, dead bodies) and oversized, muscular hands originally used for digging in the clay under graveyards. If anything, they are even more pretentious than the goddamned strigoi whom they ape almost mindlessly. "Ostentatious as a ghul" is a common phrase. Ghuls are not as allergic to light, but most of them still only come aboveground after dark; those who come out in daylight ONLY do so under the Pall, and are usually slathered with skin creams or wearing heavy, concealing clothing and, sometimes, masks.

Zombi are...well, they're zombies. Most of them look like dried-up old dead bodies, though there are various specialist kinds, usually found in military applications, that can be built from the remains of many dead people and/or animals. Zombi often have clickers jammed into the skulls: little metal boxes that feed constant instructions to their host brains...as long as they're wound up (they click for each instruction cycle to let overseers know they are working). Zombi do not eat brains or attack the living--unless they are, for some reason, programmed to do so. They just work or do whatever they've been built to do until they literally fall apart, though decomposition has been slowed greatly in recent years by the introduction of embalming fluids, refrigeration, and various chemical means of retarding putrefaction. You can reasonably expect a well-built reanimate to work for approximately two years before it needs to be replaced.

Let's seeeee...what else? The title of the work is, tentatively, Mortivorti--which is the name of the social code/constitution of the undead society: the vast number of rules, codes, and customs that strigoi society has evolved to manage itself properly after the Starveling Years. The story will almost certainly revolve around a certain mortal who, just as he is to be inducted into strigoi society, is given a very unlawful conversion by family enemies--which means that he must now be hunted down and removed with great prejudice by the society that would've been welcoming him in just a week later. Our boy is not without resources, though, as he was a soldier fighting in one of the endless, money-making wars against Rival nations--so he knows a thing or two about survival. And it just so happens that vampirism really seems to agree with him: his body adapts very quickly, and with the help of some strigoi friends who want to use him as a weapon in a power play against some rival house, is trained to become something of an assassin. It's still kind of vague, but working out the details of the story are a lot of fun.

Oh, yes. One more thing. Frank Herbert's Dune is also a major influence here.

OK, I'm going to finish that prologue now. I'll probably be posting more world-building info here in the next few days, so y'all can maybe help me focus this bitch a little bit better...or contribute neat social quirks or historical allusions which I might be missing!

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oneirophrenia

April 2007

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