The Allure of Doctor Manhattan
When publishing a new book, the inevitable question arises of where the inspiration was derived. With my latest, Oh Great, Another Vampire Book, inspiration was drawn from Doctor Manhattan, a character from Alan Moore’s classic, The Watchmen. His origin story involves a tragic lab accident where Jon Osterman, a nuclear physicist, becomes trapped behind a ldoor where he’s zapped with high levels of radiation. He disappears and is presumed dead.
During the course of Osterman’s transformation into Doctor Manhattan, his partially formed body appears out of thin air to frightened co-workers. What a crazy thing to imagine! Eventually he fully manifests into Doctor Manhattan— a bald, blue man who can float and teleport himself anywhere in the universe. His name is a reference to the Manhattan Project, as his abilities lend potential to the U.S. military.
Doctor Manhattan is not subject to the same physical laws that govern humans; he has complete control of atomic structure. This in essence gives him god-like power that’s difficult for the public to interpret. I love the idea of someone with completely new abilities. I imagined this new person in the form of a young woman. A pretty one no less with blond hair and a high I.Q. There’s a crucial scene in The Watchmen where Doctor Manhattan loses his temper while being interviewed before a live television audience. When he’s accused of causing his former girlfriend’s cancer diagnosis, he shouts, “Leave me alone!” before making people in the audience disappear. This of course leads to fear and intense scrutiny.
The Watchmen takes place in the Eighties during the zeitgeist of the Cold War. I imagined this level of public scrutiny occurring now in our current media landscape. It’s an idea that factors heavily into the plot of my book. There’s a lot of room to play around with this idea since my “goddess” character, Sara Fielding, is a young, physically attractive, white woman. She’s a student at Boston University studying journalism, hailing from an economically privileged area outside Boston. As one can imagine, terms like white privilege, toxic feminism, and witch are bandied about. She is admired by many, but also sexualized and dismissed. (Someone even goes so far as to create porn based on her!) Making matters more complex, I placed her on the Autistic spectrum, presenting itself in extreme literal thinking and difficulty reading others.
I’m fascinated by the notion of a fictional character slowly journeying into the “heart of darkness” to alter oneself on a fundamental level. It’s a theme I found very well done in the character of Walter White from Breaking Bad. He starts off as a beloved high school chemistry teacher, then eventually embraces the persona of “Heisenberg.” This means literally and metaphorically donning a black hat to become this ruthless chemist of meth.
Herein lies a central theme in my book. Can a person possess great power and still remain connected to humanity? I say they cannot. And that's exactly what I wanted to depict in great detail— slow, disintegrating moral change undetectable to the character’s point of view. It was my goal to illustrate an oft-overlooked concept from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. To show “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” It’s a grim theme, this gradual transformation. One that precludes a loved one looking on in horror at what became of the person they once knew.
Diane Hunter is the author of Oh Great, Another Vampire Book. Visit her at dianehunterauthor.com