Tag Archives: 2048

The American Election 2016 and the “Perceval” Future

President Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989

President Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989

When I first began working on the first novel in the Perceval series, Ronald Reagan was president and I thought he was the scariest person on earth.  He wanted to shrink the federal government in many ways but not curtail the executive power of the President. It took a long time for me to create Evan Quinn’s future world, but it grew out of watching what was happening in the world in the 1980’s and how America responded to it.  What was I seeing?

First of all, the supremacy of the military, especially in terms of the national budget and their influence on the civilian part of our government.  This has not changed.  If anything, it has increased.

Second, the rise of corporate power.  At first, this didn’t bother me, but the more I was seeing how corporations focused their priorities, the more alarmed I was.  Their power through lobbying in Washington, D. C. was growing also as politicians’ need for money to fund their re-election campaigns grew. This has not changed.  Corporations are now global, “transnational,” and some banks are “too big to fail.” Money has become a weapon of power. Campaign finance reform has become a joke.

As the years passed through successive presidencies and Congresses with different majorities, these first two points really did not change.  Several more were added, also.  For example:

A media more focused on ratings or entertainment value rather than reporting real world news.  This focus has only worsened over the years.  Now, I have stopped watching some “news outlets” because they are doing such a poor job of reporting real world news (except disasters or terrorism to foment fear) and have begun using British and Canadian news outlets.  Some friends are doing the same thing.  It’s very interesting to get a more objective perspective on my country, especially the American government and politics.

President George W. Bush delivering his second inaugural speech

President George W. Bush delivering his second inaugural speech

There’s been a growing obsession with national security because of terrorism (the terrorists won a long time ago because of our fear which is what terrorism is all about), as well as with law enforcement in terms of cracking down on crime and cracking down on police misconduct. We stop supporting and protecting human rights at our peril as a society and country, but there have been violations of human rights in the name of security and fear of terrorism. Isn’t it only short steps away from allowing a police state to occur within America’s borders?  We must continue, as individuals, to speak out against these developments.

We also now have a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who does not have a background in democratic leadership, i.e. in local or state government, and has not established that he is a staunch supporter of democracy and its processes.  He is a businessman, accustomed to leading in an authoritarian way and having the final say.  Listening to his demagogic speeches is a scary experience not only because of his egocentric view of the world, but also because of his threatening nationalist words, racist words, sexist attitudes, lack of knowledge or experience in diplomacy, and his violent words.  When I was working back in the 1980’s on the novel, I envisioned just such a candidate winning a presidential election because he pandered to fears of terrorism, of “invasion” from the south, of economic failure.  He closed both our northern and southern borders, increased the powers of law enforcement on local, state, and national levels, and with the help of those in Congress who agreed with him, managed to re-structure the American government to suit is authoritarian needs.

Donald Trump (Photo: Inside Edition)

Donald Trump (Photo: Inside Edition)

I think it would be a good idea for all of us to remind ourselves of the characteristics of fascism (Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism from Rense.com) and realize that we are already living some of them today.  I think it’s also important to research the presidential candidates and their experience and knowledge of democratic leadership.  It’s a good idea to seek out alternate news sources, trusted sources, especially outside the country, that can provide a more objective view to help us to take a step back, or out of, what is happening in order to give it a hard examination with calm minds, not fearful minds.

In the Perceval series, because of the presidential election of 2016, America ends up an authoritarian dictatorship that pays lip service to such democratic institutions as the Supreme Court, the Congress, elections, and the Constitution with its essential Bill of Rights.  Of course, the government in 2048 has perverted the rule of law to suit its own needs and Americans live in a police state.  America has split into regional factions, and a civil war is in progress. Corporate America controls much of the government in Washington. The rich are now overtly in control of American life, and the other 98% work for them just to survive.  As a result, America looks very much as the USSR did in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  It pains me deeply that we are quite possibly at the same political crossroads in 2016 I had imagined years ago.   At least I’m not the only one noticing what’s happening.  And I sincerely hope I’m wrong about the result.

For more reading about Donald Trump and the 2016 presidential campaign, I suggest the following links:

I find The Weekly Sift especially helpful in finding a more objective view of what’s happening this year in America.

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Spy Swap

This past week, on a runway outside of Vienna, Austria, America traded, without intrigue or fanfare, ten Russians who pled guilty to spying for Russia for four people who had been imprisoned in Russia for spying for America .  The FBI’s assessment of the Russian spies as incompetent reduced the tension surrounding their discovery and apprehension.  These particular Russian spies had not sent any major American secrets to Moscow because they were not placed in American life to be able to make the contacts and connections necessary to obtain American secrets.  The swap for the four in Russia occurred with incredible speed and efficiency.  We may no longer be in a Cold War with Russia, but elements of that war remain.  However, whether friends or enemies, it is usually in the best interests of nations to keep an eye on what other nations are doing, especially how it relates to them. 

Espionage will never disappear.  We’ll continue to have political espionage as well as corporate, military, industrial, and economic espionage.  There are all kinds of spies. 

I watched the developments of the last few weeks with great interest.  Espionage is an element in the Perceval novels.  Writers of fiction spy on the human condition.  Researching espionage presents interesting obstacles.  I was once told that if you ask a CIA operative (agents are those people who work for CIA operatives and are “civilians”) if he or she works for the CIA, that operative would deny it, and if he wasn’t an operative, he’d still deny it.  In fact, operatives would use deflection techniques to distract you from even thinking along those lines.  There are two kinds of political spies (in general): those with diplomatic cover and those without it.  All the Russian spies just swapped had no diplomatic cover.  They were “illegals” or NOCs (Non-Official Cover).  Because NOCS have no official or diplomatic cover, they risk far more, including their lives in some situations, than spies with diplomatic cover. 

In Perceval, one character, Bernie Brown, who will also appear in the subsequent four novels of the series, is a CIA officer with diplomatic cover.  He is the Assistant Cultural Attache at the US Embassy in Vienna.  The Cultural Attache, Bernie’s boss, is the CIA Station Chief.  (There is a joke among spies about cultural attaches at Embassies that deals with these people not sharing culture but stealing it.)  If these two characters were the only spies, my job as a writer would be relatively easy regarding research.  But there are NOCs also, not all of which are political spies.   In 2048, the geo-political landscape has changed somewhat, but not much has changed as far as espionage is concerned.  Every country has its spies in every other country.  Because America’s borders are closed in 2048, NOCs generally work also for the Commerce or Trade Councils.  As far as the Austrians are concerned, every American is a spy.  Even Evan Quinn.  Or is he?  Not likely….

Back to the recent spy swap and the ten Russian spies caught in America.  A few reports I read expressed concern for Moscow — “What were they thinking?” — and the quality of the spies they send to other countries.  If these totally incompetent Russian spies are any indication, we have nothing to worry about, concluded the reports.  I disagree.  Remember, good espionage employs the fine art of deflection.  What if those ten were the distraction so that someone else…?

High Tech vs. Low Tech in PERCEVAL

Recently, I attended a science fiction and fantasy group meeting — we all love science fiction or fantasy or both or a blending of the two — in which we discussed what our world would look like if tasked with creating a science fiction world for a story.  This is harder than it sounds.  In science fiction, the storyteller needs to consider things like what the level of gravity is; are the characters on a planet, asteroid, spaceship?; what the society is like; and what kind of extraterrestials will the humans encounter, or maybe there are no humans in the story.  The storyteller must adhere to all the known laws of physics, chemistry, biology, etc., which doesn’t mean, of course, that they can’t be stretched or turned upside down.  What pleased me about our discussion was that technology really didn’t come up much, and starting the world creation process with a main character, building a world around him or her, was a good thing. 

Most stories set in the future or on another world involve technological advances from the robot maid in The Jetsons cartoon to computer cognition in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Other futuristic stories ignore technology, e.g. George Orwell’s 1984 or P.D. James’ Children of Men.  In my sociological science fiction novels set in 2048 (not that far away), I realized that I wanted to focus more on people and their lives and not make technology a character that takes over the story.  I wanted this future world to be familiar and comfortable for readers but incorporate some futuristic things, e.g. the movement to abolish money, the extensive rehab options available for those addicted to technology. 

In Perceval‘s 2048, computers are appliances that run houses, cars and business systems, but they have one major vulnerability, i.e. their need for electricity.  Take away the electricity and there could be millions of computers with the latest software but they’d be useless.  How would people in the future deal with this vulnerability?  Create and manufacture batteries that last longer per charge?  Would the current challenges of creating batteries for electric cars influence creating computer batteries?  Maybe.  However, I was thinking along these lines: I’ve had the experience of arriving at a doctor’s office for a check-up when their computers were down.  They no longer had access to my medical record.  The doctor wrote notes on paper with a pen.  They didn’t even have back-up charts in paper form.  Now, what if the power had been lost completely with no restoration in the near future?  Low tech holds certain advantages, and I wanted to show that in Evan’s world. 

In the America of 2048, the America that Evan Quinn has been living in, the New Economic Party elite use technology to oppress and control people.  The NEP controls access to computers, the internet, cell phones, televisions, even electric typewriters and photocopiers.  When Evan arrives in Europe, he’s astonished by the accessibility of high tech, but he doesn’t really like it.  He sees technology as a threat to him and the life he wants.  He knows and understands the advantages of low tech living and he’s happy that he has the choice of how high or low tech his life is. 

Like today, banking and commerce are computerized.  Computers run cars and houses even more than today, although people can choose to drive a car manually and program the house computer for minimal or complete use or somewhere in between.  Cell phones exist in all forms, sizes and variety of services, but photo, recording and video capability have been outlawed (with the help of digital camera manufacturers who didn’t appreciate the competition in the end) in response to their illegal use for spying, harrassment, defamation, etc.  I have worked hard to show that high tech is taken for granted in 2048 and in the background of life, similar to today’s TVs, refrigerators, microwave ovens, etc.

While Evan prefers low tech life, he recognizes that high tech can be very helpful to him.  He observes in Europe a love-hate relationship that people have with high tech, and that some people prefer virtual reality to physical reality.  Evan’s one belief that threads throughout the Perceval series is that people are low tech and are most effectively dealt with in low tech ways….

The Nitty-Gritty: Organizing the Perceval Series for Consistency, etc.

Since March 2008, I haven’t written much on the Perceval series of novels due to the interference of life concerns and issues.  These things happen.  Recently, ideas for the series started to trickle into my mind as if saying, OK, maybe it’s time to return to Evan’s story.  But I’m in the middle of a job search, and even as the desire to plunge back into Evan’s story wrestles with the need for money to pay the bills, I’ve recognized a need to at least write down the ideas and fill in the outlines of the last 3 novels so that when I return to them, I won’t be completely lost.  The first thing that goes is consistency….

Why, oh why am I writing a series?  It’s hard enough to insure consistency in character and details in one novel, much less in five.  The idea of writing Evan’s story as a series has felt inevitable to me and makes sense in terms of his development arc.  Each novel presents a different problem for him to solve on his journey to freedom.  That journey has interior and exterior paths, physical and emotional manifestations.  Evan meets a lot of different people along the way, some friends, some enemies.  I’ve discovered, too, that something he learns in novel 2 ends up playing a prominent role in the climax of the series in novel 5.

I can appreciate what J. K. Rowling must have gone through in maintaining consistency throughout her Harry Potter series.  I’m about halfway through my series and have already discovered that I need to do something to keep details consistent and characters straight.  Having one character change his identity was a brilliant idea but sometimes confuses me!

So far, my preferred method involves working files for each novel in which I keep notes about that novel, outlines incorporating important plot points and character details and research notes.  I have a character file in which I keep all my character prep work and a master character list with summaries and descriptions of each character, broken out by novel.  And then I have a master file for the entire series that holds outlines, geographical and political information and notes that pertain to Evan’s development arc and how various people and actions relate to it.  Each novel also has its own research file for things relevant only to that novel.  And I have a separate “future world” file in which I keep all my ravings and notes about Evan’s world, and my lengthy descriptions of America and Europe in 2048.

My impulse is not to worry about consistency too much until I have first drafts of all the novels.  I’ve laid the groundwork for staying on top of the consistency issue now, and that’s probably the most important thing.  I build each novel on the previous one, so Evan’s experience is cumulative and the world changes as he changes.  I think of the five novels as sections in one long novel.

The fun side of this challenge is being in the middle of my imagination’s way of creating.  For example, I have in my mind what the climax of the series is, which characters are involved and where it happens.  The location was unusual enough that I needed to set it up, i.e. how Evan or any of the characters might know about its existence.  It hit me one day while working on the first draft of novel 2 that I had a perfect opportunity in that story to set up the unusual location for the climax.  I was amazed that my imagination recognized the opportunity, saving me a lot of grief in the future, plus the fact that my imagination had already been playing with the climactic scenes for several weeks before I saw the opportunity.  I just love it when my imagination is having fun.  And I’m grateful.

Trust the process.  By trusting the process, it’s possible to let go and let the ideas and work flow.  When I need ideas for maintaining consistency through the five novels, I trust my imagination to be there for me…..

Freedom of Choice

Americans want choice.  Anyone might conclude this by walking through retail stores, grocery stores, or gazing up at the marquee for the neighborhood multiplex.  We want choice in our health insurance options, our presidents, our cars, and where we live.  Try taking our freedom of choice away from us — just try! — and our high decibel response will drown out any rationale offered for depriving us of our choices.  Everyday, we make choices about what clothes to wear, what to eat, etc. and decisions about how we will conduct our lives. 

Years ago before the USSR disintegrated before our eyes, I met a Russian family that had immigrated here.  They’d been here long enough to be overwhelmed by the number of decisions required of them and the plethora of choices they had.  They didn’t know what to do.  Their way of life in Russia had been controlled, their options limited, the beauracratic red tape endless.  They knew how to work that system to get what they needed.  They assumed life in America would be the same.  Sometimes it is, but for the most part, they were overwhelmed by the number of decisions and choices required of them.  One said to me, “I come here and I feel that I have lost all my experience.”  He was afraid of making the wrong choices.

The America of 2048 resembles more closely the USSR of 1948 than the America of today, with some Capitalistic twists.  Evan Quinn is told where he’ll live, where he’ll work, what doctor he’ll see, whether he’ll own a car or not, where and when he can travel, and so on.  The New Economic Party government (the parent) treats him (the little child) well as long as he does what he’s told.  His life is fairly simple as a result: he eats, jogs, goes to work, sleeps.  Ownership and/or use of personal computers, televisions, telephones, vehicles, and most of the electronic gadgets we’re used to today are restricted and monitored closely.  Only those lucky enough to be in the NEP elite or favored by them have unfettered access to what we have access to today.  The borders are closed.  Everyone must carry a government-issued chip (RFID) somewhere on his physical body, usually embedded under the skin, that contains all essential personal information available for police to track or scan at any time.  We’re accustomed to thinking of orchestra conductors as a glamorous bunch, well off; but Evan is poor, wears old, fraying clothes, and haggles on the black market for books and music as well as food. 

Europe in 2048 is much like today, a blending of the future and the past in the present.  The amount of choice available to him shocks Evan, confuses him, and he gravitates to what he knows in order to gain his footing in this new place.  Through him, I’ve tried to show a culture and society that believes “the next big thing” is great but they’re happy with the last big thing, too, and they’re not about to throw it out.  Landline phones provide the security that cell phones cannot.  Even though homes are run by computers, including locks and security, people can have another lock installed in their front doors operable only by a metal key, or an “old fashioned” security system.  They have the choice.  As a result, “old” things that still work, have value, are not deemed obsolete and discarded.  Evan buys CDs and DVDs but his home computer is perfectly capable of downloading and saving music and movies he wants.  He has a landline videophone at home.  He doesn’t like cell phones and carries only a very basic model, one that only makes and receives calls.  No text messages, no video or photos (at this time, Europe has outlawed phones with video/photo capability), no internet, no games.  He doesn’t need a PDA.  E-mail drives him crazy because he lets it pile up.  He continues to receive postal letters from colleagues all over the world, read paper newspapers and bound books. 

Choice, a precious thing to hold and never let go.  Evan gradually assimilates into the Europe of 2048 and exercises his freedom of choice although the American government tries to continue to control him….