Friday, April 12, 2013

Thoughts on Apocalyptic Organ Grinder

With the release of the Hydra edition of Apocalyptic Organ Grinder coming up, I've had my head in that world quite a bit lately. For me, it’s an intriguing place to be. I like the way the crumbling skylines of Old World cities rise above the forests, the abandoned buildings overtaken by unchecked growth. I like the history this world has, the traditions and customs that have sprung up over a century and a half.  I’m fascinated by the burgeoning settlements and tribal villages hidden within the wilderness.  The new edition allows me to explore this world in a little more detail and it's also got me thinking about another book. Not so much a sequel as an exploration of characters who were referenced in Organ Grinder but whom we never actually met. But, as usual, I digress. This post wasn't meant to be about a planned future book, but the one which already exists.  So without further ado, here are a few random thoughts concerning the novella. 

The Gabriel Virus:  In the book, the Gabriel Virus is released upon an unsuspecting world by a cult hell bent on ushering in Armageddon.  One of the symptoms of the virus is that it causes large, pus-filled blisters to form on the skin of the afflicted. If the blister ruptures, new blisters will form anywhere the pus touches (which is another way the disease is transmitted).  This symptom was inspired by a chemical called CET. When I was 19, I worked in a chemical plant which produced the stuff.  It started as a foul-smelling concoction we brewed in reactors until it became a slurry; next we ran it through a centrifuge to extract the liquid and used a scraper to turn the remaining solids into a powder which was then loaded into drums for shipping.  Every part of this process was dangerous.   If the liquids got on you, you got softball-sized blisters filled with noxious pus which would then cause other blisters to form if there was any seepage. During centrifuging, gasses would escape if you opened the sight glass and those gasses would also cause the blisters.  And yes, the final powder form would cause blisters as well.  The shit was hard as hell to contain; even operators who had nothing to do with the production of CET started getting these blisters, causing management to take increasingly drastic control measures. By the time I left the job, a special room housed the centrifuge and we were required to wear what we referred to as "marshmallow suits", which were the exact same things the CDC uses when working with Level IV pathogens.  Before leaving the room, a mixture of water and bleach rained down upon us while another coworker scrubbed our entire bodies with a long handled broom. The suits never left the enclosed production area… and yet other workers continued getting the burns.

Tanner’s Sweeper Uniform:  While patrolling the areas around his settlement for the infectious carriers of the Gabriel Virus (derogatorily known as Spewers), Tanner Kline has to take precautions to make sure he’s not infected.  He wears a Tyvek suit with duct tape sealing the gaps between his gloves and boots. This was also inspired by my chemical plant days.  Before going to the marshmallow suits, this was our standard attire for working with CET.  The only difference is that Tanner wears a particle mask, whereas we were required to don full-face respirators.  Which, of course, means that I could often be found walking around and breathing super heavily while humming The Imperial March from Star Wars.

Lila:  In the novella, Lila is a huntress for The Tribe of Clay (or, as Tanner would say,  a Spewer). She is strong and brave, honors the traditions of her people, and lives as one with nature.  However, her heart simmers with hatred of the Clearskins (a derogatory name for the Settlers), which also makes her extremely volatile.  She was partly inspired by my all-time favorite Doctor Who companion, Leela, and her name is a vague homage to that character.  The spear Lila carries is adorned by a serpent coiled around the shaft.  This came from my days as a practicing pagan. I’d made a ceremonial pipe from a length of bamboo and Fimo and decorated it with a clay snake coiled around the stem.

The Title: I like the title for this book because (like The Dead & Dying), it has dual meanings.  On the one hand, the organ grinder can be thought of as a machine which chews up human organs and spits them out as something entirely unrecognizable from what it started out as. This is shown in Tanner’s surreal nightmare sequence when he sees hearts, lungs, pancreas, and kidneys falling into a meat grinder. However, there’s also the more traditional definition of "organ grinder": someone who plays a barrel organ. The barrel organ has a pre-programmed song which is played when the grinder turns a crank.  In my mind, both Lila and Tanner are barrel organs and the society they live in is, in fact, the grinder. Their actions and reactions are dictated by societal fears and prejudices, which is their "song".  As events symbolically turn the crank faster, the tempo increases until it reaches the final crescendo.  

Oral History:  The novella begins with a fairy tale Settlers tell their children, explaining how the world as we know it came to an end.  Originally, I had no other oral history sections planned.  But as I worked on the tale, I realized it was important to provide some backstory which would further explain why these two societies had such fear and mistrust of one another.  To maintain a balanced perspective, I chose to have half of the history related by the Settlers and the other half from the Spewers’ point of view.  My wife, son, and I used to live way out in the middle of nowhere; it was a twenty minute drive to the nearest paved road and even further to the closest town.  We lived with my mom, stepdad, and younger siblings in an old farmhouse which had been converted into a duplex.  At night we’d sometimes sit around a bonfire, listening to Native American lore from a CD my parents owned.  It was these experiences which led to the cadence and style of the Spewers’ oral tales.

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