Guest Post: Spidermilk by Konrad Hartmann
Spidermilk opens with Eddie Stover and his business partner, Sylvia, riding on an elevated maglev train through a future version of Philadelphia. Through the windows they gaze upon a mixture of gaudy lights and burned desolation. Lon Sarver, in the editing comments for Spidermilk, mentioned imagining Vangelis playing during this scene. The notion got me thinking. What would a soundtrack be like for the novel?
Joy Division came to my thoughts. Perhaps the band’s bleak, strange magic reminded me of the mood I was trying to create, a sense of horror within urban decay. I remember watching a documentary about the band, and one member described the crushingly dismal setting of post-war Manchester, living for years without seeing trees. But maybe I was reminded of Ian Curtis’ seizures. Eddie Stover suffers from seizures brought on by a brain implant, a black market device used to block out a particularly traumatic memory. Eddie must either endure the seizure side-effect, or live with the constant recollection of his horrific past. Curtis faced the prospect of crushing depression as a medication side-effect or dangerous seizures without the medication.
It unsettles me a bit when I find a detail like that. I want to think that I made everything up myself. I want to believe in my own imagination, my own unique vision. When does inspiration turn into imitation?
I start to catalog elements in my story. Spidermilk includes the element of chemically-enhanced breast milk. Well, isn’t that like milk-plus in A Clockwork Orange? Why, the film even shows milk dispensed from the breast of a manikin. Did I steal that?
Spidermilk features a private investigator and artificial humans. Well, isn’t that like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?/Blade Runner? Am I stealing someone else’s setting?
The character Abigail seems a bit like Virginia in the film Spider Baby, and wasn’t that about a crazy family? And isn’t the Colony like a crazy family?
And the Spindekal cult originates on Mars, spiders from Mars, see, now I’ve ripped off Ziggy Stardust!
Nothing seems to belong to me. Everything seems borrowed. I expect myself to yield some pure spark of unique genius, untainted by influence, and scorn myself when it doesn’t blaze forth.
But can I expect creation to work that way? In creating wine, one doesn’t seal off a sterile vat of must and expect it to ferment without the introduction of yeast. The juice must be contaminated with a living organism in order to become wine. And our thoughts sort of work the same way. Continuing the wine analogy, I recently learned the French word terroir, which I understand to mean the combination of environmental factors that influence the quality of wine grapes or other agricultural products. So, grapes that grow wonderfully along the Rhine might not do so well in Key West, for example.
Literature, and other creative products, seem to also respond to the environment of origin. Would Joy Division have sounded the same had the band grown up in Southern California? How much of the sound came from the gritty time and place of its beginnings? One can think of many examples of artists whose work at particular periods reflects the level of experience and influences of a certain setting.
Maybe I fall into the trap of believing myself exempt from my environment, immune to what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced. But it isn’t very realistic to believe myself free of the culture in which I live. Nor is it entirely desirable to wish such a thing. Why should I not embrace that which influences me? Why should I not accept as generative material that which kindles my dreams and imagination?
In my more rational moments, I can look at things like milk plus. Yes, A Clockwork Orange used this, but was it sometimes created by a lactating woman intentionally receiving a bite from a spider that had been fed crickets that had been fed hallucinogenic mushrooms, all as a part of a cult ritual based upon the worship of a set of spider Gods? I think I added something to the concept.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner both pursued the notion of androids serving humans, but examples of androids predate the novel. As both film and novel influence me, both were also influenced by earlier forms. In my story, LifeMates exist with limited intelligence, a form serving to replace or supplement human relationships. Eddie Stover begins the story as a man unable to stand contact with real humans, and relies on LifeMates for his needs.
The character of Virginia from Spider Baby obsesses over spiders, yet I think the femme fatale connection with spiders predates the film. I’m thinking of “The Spider,” by Hans Heinz Ewers. And Spider Baby seems highly influenced by Arsenic and Old Lace, without being derivative. I explored the conception of the spider as a central theme of a religion. Hopefully, I added something new to the concept.
No concept exists in a vacuum. Nor can we fail to absorb our experiences, incorporating them into our imagination. Maybe we can view ourselves as the product of what we’ve seen and done and heard. But maybe we can also see ourselves in that strange chaos stream of ideas and dreams that is culture. I spoke earlier of an imaginary soundtrack for Spidermilk. Since writing the novel, I started exploring some of the music on Bandcamp. I’m not fluent in the terminology of electronic music, but I did find a number of interesting projects tagged with terms such as “retro electro” and “dark wave.” Many of the songs recall the soundtracks of horror and science fiction movies from the 80s, synth-heavy music referencing Vangelis or John Carpenter. Listening to artists such as Perturbator, Dan Terminus, Gost, and Ron Cannon, I can easily imagine constructing a soundtrack for Spidermilk from their songs. I wonder if inspiration isn’t so much the act of exploring influences as it is tapping into a shared power source.
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