15 September 2013

The System Revisited

This is a brief essay I wrote about The System 2014 and its main characters Arthur and Devi. The System was a story I wrote in 2003/2004 and on the tenth anniversary I decided to do a reboot of the story, since the first time around I had hard deadlines and had to make a lot of cuts and compromises to the story to get it done. Now I'm looking to do things right. Enjoy.

There is a fine line in creating something that is completely alien and creating a character that is different enough yet the reader can still identify with so as to make for a more compelling story. The world of Harmonia is not like the other worlds in The System. Earth 776 - the primary world in the original story - and Earth 774 are very similar, but Harmonia is as alien as any world gets. The challenge is to make it recognisable enough that the reader will identify with Devi and yet so totally different that when Devi goes to Earth 776 she has to take a lot of time adjusting to all the changes.

In the first half of The System the hero, the Kosmic Vishnu, the Atlas, Arthur Strife, started from the bottom. Even though he is literally the most important being in the universe, and his existence is vital to the survival of the System, he really gets no love. Not only must he struggle for everything he has, he must struggle for his very life. The entire universe is literally set up to try to kill him, to test him, to see if he is indeed the Atlas, the only one capable of using The Heart of The System to its full potential and keep Oblivion from destroying all existence. He is a poor outcast who is constantly fighting, constantly having to prove himself, and just when he thinks he can finally rest another challenge rears its head and he has to face it too. Finally, when he seems to succeed, he leaves Earth 776, and that's where the original story ended. In the reboot we learn that he went to Harmonia, which he sees as the ideal world full of the most advanced beings who understand the energies and principles underlying the System, and it is here that he will begin the new revolution to wake everyone up.

The second half begins with Arthur in Harmonia, freeing a race of living crystals from the physical god emperor Hyperion and looking to train a successor because, somehow, he has lost touch with The Heart. A whole fourth of the story is devoted to exploring this world and familiarising the reader with these strange creatures to make Devi and her rival compelling characters for the final struggle.

Devi cannot be further from Arthur in their histories and in the challenges they must face. Arthur possesses unspeakable Kosmic power and yet he has to fight tooth and claw every step of the way to rise above his station and claim his divine birthright. He's an outcast, he's living off the charity of the few friends he has, the few people who actually show him love and understanding. And it is only through a series of intense, existential crises that Arthur is able to fully come into being Atlas.

Devi is just the opposite. She is born with innate power and privilege. Singled out by the supreme being, she never has to work for anything in her life. Her every need is instantly fulfilled to make sure she can devote all her available time to understanding how to use her powers. The first time she really has to do anything is when Arthur gives Hyperion his power back to test what Devi has learned as sort of a final exam before ascension.

The importance of why she must go to Earth 776 to find The Heart, the importance of the extreme difference between the two worlds, is precisely to compensate for the missing experiences in Devi's life. She understands the god-level aspects of her job, but it's all just theoretical; there is nothing real, nothing compelling her to move forward except her desire to be the best at everything. What's missing for Devi is precisely what made up the early part of Arthur's life, which is the struggles of powerlessness and depending on the kindness of others to survive. You can't be the messiah unless you care for other people, and you can't care for other people unless you understand other people, unless you understand their struggles, their hardships, their triumphs. She must intimately come to know the people she is serving, in all worlds, to love and embrace them as Arthur had to, and that is why she must be dropped in an alien world where all her powers are basically useless. Unless she is busted down to normal and has to learn to crawl back up to the top through this connection with other people, all her understanding of how to use Kosmic energies is worthless. Remember, it is The Heart of The System, not the Intellect of the System, that is the supreme power in all existence, and without that union of wisdom and compassion, the role of Atlas cannot be fulfilled. Whereas Arthur started with compassion and had to learn wisdom, Devi begins with wisdom and must learn compassion, and with that the story comes full circle in a way I couldn't have done in 2004 when I first wrote it.