Many would argue that there is a very fine line between drawing influence from a work, and downright stealing from it. In every single medium of the arts, there is the ability to both plagiarize and be inspired by previous works. One of the short stories that inspired me is The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, it self heavily, The Weighty Decision, a story by Al Feldstein. While I was influenced by several novels, short stories, movies, and even television shows, my goal was to draw inspiration from these works and utilize some of their features in a different context.
Rather than being influenced dominantly by one source, I gleamed valuable scraps from many different works and added them to my original material to form Escape from Asphodel. I despise cliches in literature and movies, whether they occur in dialogue, plot, or some other fashion. I wanted to prove to myself that it was possible to borrow elements of other individuals’ works and still be able to create a fresh, original story.
Humanity needs diversity to flourish. If a bookstore tried selling only romantic novels, they would soon find themselves out of business. Why? Because humans like variety. They embrace it. I was impacted equally by movies so varied as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Fight Club”. Novels within the genre of science fiction, such as Earth Abides by George Stewart, and 1984 by Orwell in spired inspired me greatly. Short stories from H. P. Lovecraft and Tom Godwin also had a hand in shaping my work.
Even mainstream zombie thrillers such as The Walking Dead and World War Z played a small part in my decision process.
Though the genre, style, medium, and form of the works that influenced me are highly varied, they all contributed to my story. I was inspired by and used elements of each work’s best aspect to create my story, one not entirely described by any genre.
Escape from Asphodel is generally character driven. The first half of the story deals primarily with Decker, the protagonist of sorts, in solitary confinement.
I decided to make Decker a man in his mid-40s. He is young enough to be physically able, yet he has enough life experience to reflect on and compare to his current situation. Decker is an intelligent man, though not a learned one. He has valuable input about the government on Earth simply because he lived under it. I primarily molded him after characters in movies set in a prison, such as “Red” in “The Shawshank Redemption”, and Luke in “Cool Hand Luke”. Decker is grizzled and rough, like Red, but also shares a good-natured spirit with Luke. Though Decker would be identified as the protagonist of the story, there is nothing special about him. He is not exceedingly strong, intelligent, or gifted in any areas which might assist him in a breakout. Unlike Luke, it is events outside of Decker’s control that result in his escape.
There is no single antagonist in Escape from Asphodel. Similar to “Contagion” (2011) and other post-apocalyptic novels/movies, the problems the characters face are not other individuals, but a pathogenic outbreak. While there is a character in Escape from Asphodel who attacks Alice (a security guard), he is not the antagonist. Rather, he is simply a diversion to make the readers some that he is the source of the disease which eventually infects everyone aboard the prison. I must, somewhat hesitantly, admit that my influences for the attack scene came from such sources as “The Walking Dead” (2010-), and “World War Z” (2013). While there were a dozen different ways of introducing the pathogen into my characters’ world, transmission by a bite added a certain element of horror not found in the other ideas I had. While the victim of the bite, Alice, didn’t turn into a zombie, the previously mentioned mediums convinced me that the human mouth was a realistic way to harbor infection and then contaminate another human being. The actual attack was not original by itself, but the revelation that the bite was not the source of the pathogen was, I felt, relatively unique.
I have always appreciated and loved a surprise ending. Movies such as “The Usual Suspects” (1994), “Shutter Island” (2010), and “Fight Club” (1999), left me reeling long after the credits rolled, stunned by the revelations in the final few minutes. My intention in Escape From Asphodel was to have a similar twist ending, in the form of an epilogue. I ended the story in such a fashion so that the reader realizes with dawning apprehension that Decker and the individuals on the escape pod are infected, and carrying the disease to Earth. This idea to end on such a depressing note was inspired by several short stories I have read throughout the years, including some by H.P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury. The ending of these stories impacted me, sometimes for days, because of their shocking and disturbing ending. I knew I wanted to create an ending that was equally impactful in my story. I started envisioning options once I had settled upon writing about an epidemic. I eventually settled upon giving the false impression that the inmate who bit Alice was the source of the disease. This was to lull the reader into a false sense of safety once Decker and the inmates left the prison.
The source that affected me the most was a short story by Tom Godwin called The Cold Equations. I loved the tone and atmosphere Godwin established.
The story took place entirely in space, which I found fascinating. Similar to 12 Angry Men (1954), the entire story took place in one small, confined area, yet the story never suffered from the lack of a varied setting. It amazed me how a story with two characters stuck in a one-room spacecraft could keep me involved for twenty-three pages. After reading that story, I knew I wanted to attempt a similar setting. However, I also wanted to inject elements of science fiction into the setting. I eventually decided upon a prison station outside the atmosphere of the Earth. Although the story takes place entirely in one room (the cell block) the setting seems exotic and new because of its location in outer space.
Another way I drew inspiration from The Cold Equations, was its lack of dialogue, interestingly enough. There was somewhat little dialogue for a story of that length. A lot of the content was the main character’s inner thoughts and his musings on the difficult situation. Similarly, in “Escape from Asphodel”, I have few lines of dialogue between the characters. Instead, I spend the majority of time describing the situation through the eyes of Decker. His musings on the situation and social commentary make up much of the content.
Part of the reason why I wrote about so many sources (and was influenced by many more that I didn’t include) is that I enjoy aspects of nearly every genre or sub-genre that exists in the literature. My goal was to “blend” inherent characteristics of multiple genres together, adding my unique content and style. In doing so, I hoped to avoid the cliches and commonplace attributes associated with each genre. Escape from Asphodel is a blending of classic literature, blockbuster movies, and my imagination.