Search

Stewart Hotston

Writing, Editing, Watching and Reading

Category

Nanotechnology

A People’s War is out Dec 17!

I’m relieved to say that the team at AR have agreed to still get the second book in the Oligarchy out before Christmas. The aim is for tomorrow…although that now depends on submission processes to retailers such as Amazon. I’ll give an update to you all when it’s actually available.

However, get your fingers ready to order or download because it’s coming soon!

Stewart

Just who is David Chalmers

No spoilers here!

In A Family War, David’s a policeman. In A People’s War he shows a different side. Helena always thought it was strange that an Oligarch wound up as a policeman, even one with as broad a remit as Chalmers.

It’s worth explaining a little about the Oligarchs. They are those whose families were rich enough or powerful enough that when longevity technologies first arrived they could secure these advantages for themselves. They were and remain the 1%. There are, at the time of Helena’s story, about 6 million Oligarchs on the planet. That sounds like quite a lot of them, but it’s not when you consider the planet’s population is closer to 9 billion. These 6 million are tracked and watched for the large part, they have what the media call Adherents, or followers in today’s parlance. Adherents are those who have latched onto specific Oligarchs for whatever special properties they perceive in them.

One of my key drives in building their society was celebrity culture, not simply saturday night television or the movies but how that plays itself out in boardrooms, academia and politics. Even there it’s not really the Trump effect, it’s more about the cult of personality, the idea that the person at the top deserves to earn a thousand times what their lowest paid staff members earn. We all acquiesce in that structure and you see this in how these people at the top are venerated, deferred to and respected as if they alone are responsible for all the good that’s done and profound decisions made. I found the work on organisations by Charles Handy invaluable in trying to figure out how large corporations would engineer this kind of social structure. When I cross referenced that to Richard Sennett and Zygmunt Bauman whose work on modernity, capitalism and the workplace is superb, I realised I wanted my corporations to be miniature dynasties whose boundaries were electronic as much as they were product driven and physical.

If you’re one of just six million among 9 billion ordinary people, something strange must have happened for you to end up as a policeman. Just saying.

Image is from the film Hot Fuzz and is not my own!

Helena Woolf

Book 2 of the Oligarchy is nearly ready to go. We’re aiming for the third week of November – more on that when we have a firm date. In the meantime, I realised that I’d never really talked that much about Helena, the main character throughout the trilogy.

Helena’s an Oligarch. By that I mean she’s solidly within the 1%. Don’t hate her just yet (no…wait until you read about her and what she does before you make the decision). She’s blessed with access to technologies that the 99% are denied. For instance, she’s functionally immortal, although the reality is no one really knows just how long her generation will live. She’s benefitted from genetic therapies that mean she won’t get any of the more common diseases associated with ageing or those we might ordinarily say are heritable.

Add to that the fact that she’s had the best education, the best opportunities and you’d be forgiven for thinking she had everything going for her. A woman who might typify #firstworldproblems. Except Helena is also completely human, just like and I. Well, almost.

In the first book she discovers something terrifying about the world humanity has built for itself, about how it could follow its own logic and destroy the very thing that gives it substance. In A People’s War she’s following through on what she discovered in the first book, not least of which is that her missing father might just be the very man around who everything now revolves.

I’m showing two pictures for Helena above because she has changed her appearance more than once in the story so far. She has, via internal AIs, control over her pigment, hair colour and a limited ability to change her basic features given enough time. For me it’s a sign that in a world where you can change your appearance at will you’re not going to be worried about looking a certain way (except to be fashionable). While that doesn’t exclude racism, nor implicit bias, it does mean that people like Helena aren’t wedded to a certain way of appearing. You might comment that both the women whose images I’ve shown are beautiful (depending on your POV). I’d say, yes. Given the option, most people would probably choose to adhere to symmetry and current norms for beauty. It’s an issue I don’t tackle all that much I’ll admit, but I am very aware of what kind of messages are constructed in choices like this and wanted to highlight that this is deliberate and, hopefully, satirical.

Helena is complex (and I hope that comes across on the page) just like the rest of us.

A People’s War – Cover Reveal

It’s here. At least the cover is almost here. Lawrence Mann has done another bang up job.

This is the cover for the second book in the Oligarchy trilogy. It’s due sometime towards the end of November, but we’ll make sure there’s lots of advance warning. I am looking for a small handful of people who want advance copies in exchange for honest reviews, so please let me know if you’re interested.

The process for creating this cover was simpler than the first one – after developing a sense of the visual representation of the world, Lawrence was quickly able to capture what it was I was hoping for in this cover. It’s not a spoiler but it does represent a key scene from the book.

The story here moves on from that in the first, starting just a few days after the events of A Family War. It moves in a very different direction though as Helena heads off somewhere new for…(no spoilers, Stew!) Reasons ™.

I’ll have a proper blurb in the next week which I’ll post here too. In the meantime, enjoy the cover.

Future Perfect – why politics, culture and people matter when building a world

A Family War is set in the nearish future and, as importantly, it’s set in our world. I’ve written about world building elsewhere, about how it’s vital to think through how technology and science might impact upon the world one is building but today I want to talk specifically about the other part of world building – the people and the politics. This is a fairly dense post – I’ve had some people say to me that SciFi isn’t their thing – especially stories that are as much about the questions by which we live as they are about technology. I can only apologise and promise that the book itself is a proper thriller with running, jumping and shooting of guns. Yet underneath all that there’s a living breathing idea of how things might be.
In A Family War I was primarily driven by a number of real world concerns and non-fiction pieces. Primarily, Martin Gilbert’s harrowing history of the holocaust (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Holocaust-Martin-Gilbert/dp/0006371949) which was what prompted Helena’s story in the first place. I had read this over the course of three months and apart from the horror of the events themselves I wanted to understand just how it was that so many people went to their deaths without resisting. I always felt it was anathema to how I’d respond but then reading about tens of thousands of people who ‘willingly’ boarded trains knowing it would be the end of them – it’s not something I’ve ever been able to process (I saw willingly, I simply mean nothing more than they didn’t attack the soldiers, who they outnumbered, in a bid to live – I’m not judging, I’m simply saying I don’t understand it). I think I understand it a little bit now – with a family of my own who I might consider taking short term decisions for in case it meant that we could walk away in the long term. However, I fight with proper swords every week so I’m probably not the average person anyway.
I wanted to examine how a society built with full post war clarity about the Nazi regime could head back there. It was clear to me it wouldn’t be based on the same surface level detail. There wouldn’t be another Hitler or national socialism. Globalisation appears too deeply embedded or that to happen. Of course, by most measures we’re only really obtaining a similar level of free trade now that existed in the 1920s, so what goes around could still come around. Veering away from Nazis in the future, I decided to explore the impact of technology on human society. This fell into how tech would impact human well being, human productivity and our freedom to engage in leisure – the last of these a subject that’s only really a couple of centuries old.
Looking at productivity first, one could easily see that many people are shifted out of the middle class into lower paid and less secure jobs as machine learning optimise processes far more quickly than human/manual control could ever do. The Luddite call of ‘tech is destroying our jobs’ is never wholly wrong even if it is most often a futile protest – new jobs arise to replace the old but look at how many people you need to man a farm or build a car if you want to see how technology can impact an economy, a society and their communities. Add to that recent research by Saez, Bloomberg and Macquarie that shows that although income inequality hasn’t gotten markedly worse since the 1990s for the advanced western democracies, the middle ground has been eroded. More people work than before and they work in less secure jobs demanding fewer skills. Although the overall measure of inequality (GINI) shows a status quo, inside this data we are seeing the rich remain rich while the majority become poorer overall even while the poorest are better off now than they have been before. It a complicated picture but has some specific implications for what I wanted to write about.
Namely that tech would reduce people’s freedom to act economically even while giving them freedom to connect and express themselves. In other words a rise in freedom of self-representation would run in parallel to a decline in individual economic autonomy. For me this meant that the dividends of peace, economic growth and democracy would consume themselves as capitalist forms of governance slowly shaped the most advanced societies on the planet (be they democratic like Europe or Technocratic like China). In the end, I don’t think most forms of democracy are self-sustaining as they’re too open to being hijacked by demagogues. The US has great forms of protection from these kinds of attacks and even it finds itself twisted far away from what its founders imagined. The UK has always had a democracy designed to empower the elites but this has, ironically, provided for much stability. It too is now facing a turbulent period although the system itself does not appear to be under threat.
However, democracy can destroy itself simply through attempting to appease the majority when the majority decide they don’t want freedom of choice, movement, thought or opportunity. It may take time to get there but for most people in prosperous environments (and by this I mean they have enough food, medicine and movement to want to be left alone on a day to day basis) the pressure to protect the system that provides for the stability to deliver that prosperity is hardly felt.
In trying to arrive at the world in which Helena exists then, I wanted to undo democracy but leave behind the sense of prosperity it delivers. The easiest way for democracy to be undone is for commercial interests to undermine it – for instance corporates whose profits are large but whose products are damaging to either their consumers (eg. smoking) or the world at large (eg. petroleum). If entities in the same vein can impose proper free supranational free trade agreements – especially around how they pay tax to individual sovereigns it becomes hard for those countries to exercise any kind of influence over them. Over time they will seek to protect their goods and property (in a similar evolutionary trajectory to how nation states arose) and become principalities in their own right – but ones who boundaries are no longer physical but instead technological.
For the average person on the street it means that the following is a reasonable trajectory to the kind of society they find themselves in – democracy, increasing state strength, failing state strength, rising corporate influence, subsuming of weaker states, mutual patronage of stronger states with corporates. Can and does democracy ever come back around? Hard to say, but looking at the violence, political physical and ideological that was required to get universal suffrage in the first place it seems that once it’s gone it’s hard to get back.
So I assumed that democracy of the kind we in the UK enjoy now (of the John Hyland variety of representative democracy) faded away, replaced with a technocratic system which eventually evolved into an oligarchic system as is already observed in much of the rest of the world. This was obviously easier to justify when one considered that for the richest, life spans had increased into the centuries, so companies and influencers did not get naturally recycled by old age. As justice for most people is unaffordable, I could then implement a Rawlsian system of relative merits where as long as their immediate peers weren’t perceived to have unfairly prospered, most people would accept their lot if they were left to get on with it. One day I’ll write a system where the justice on offer is that envisioned by Amartya Sen
I’m waffling here, so a little summary before I finish up. We go from here to Helena’s world, a world of material plenty but of spiritual and social poverty for the majority quite easily. Although I’ve used the impact of technology (gene therapy, automation of skilled jobs, impact of machine learning (not even AI)), the same trajectory of declining democracy, a hollowed out society without a middle class and a corporate strength that overrides sovereign states is not one that’s hard to imagine occurring anyway.
Helena’s story is about how this dystopia comes into question, how it’s own centre falls apart. In that sense I think it’s a story for our times and I hope you do to. Book two, A People’s War will explore these issues further because Helena will face events she could not have realised were behind what happened to her in A Family War.

A Family War – Sample Chapter

Hi there. As promised a little while ago, here is the pdf: A Family War – Sample Chapter

If you like it you can get a copy here: UK or RestofWorld

In case you hadn’t seen the synopsis – the story is an action thriller set in the near future with a strong female central character.

“Helena is one of the Oligarchs, genetically-enhanced, centuries old families who rule the world. As a new world war begins, she is ordered to find a boy who could save the human race from genocide. Yet all is not as it seems; Helena finds enemies on all sides, intent on bringing about the war with all its horrific consequences. To make matters worse, Helena’s own integral AI challenges both her motives and her identity. Yet she has no choice but to accept its treacherous aid if she is to have any hope of surviving those who want her dead.”

As always, let me know what you think.

Also, as far as promotions go, is this a good way of convincing you it might be worth your time?

World Wars and World Building

Helena’s world is our world. Helena’s story is set here, on earth. She’s shifted in time, although the exact date is deliberately never mentioned – for people whose lives are stretching out into the hundreds of years what’s a decade or two?
Yet to build the future isn’t easy. For sure you can create all kinds of futures – retro futures, post-apocalyptic futures, even sterile futures. I wanted to avoid a stylised view, I wanted to create a future that felt credible, even plausible. That’s a different kind of challenge.

My goal in this form of world building was to avoid a sense of setting my story among science fiction trappings in order to give myself tools to get out of poor plotting. I will never reverse the polarity. Another element I wanted my world to have, because of the subject matter, was a sense that the people were real, that their problems aren’t ones technology can solve.

In my mind this added up to creating a world in which the technology didn’t resemble magic and formed a backdrop rather than the object of the story itself. To build that world I set about pulling together a huge file on current cutting edge science and thinking about where it could go. I put items together under a number of headings – drugs, biology, physics, computing, energy, cosmology, economics, commodities. Each of those subjects was then broken down further. For example, in physics I split out a number of areas I thought were going to be transformative including nanotechnology, fusion, metamaterials, and quantum gravity. For biology I concluded that genetic therapies, organ printing, tailored medicines and other such personally focussed developments would be transformative.

From each of these I then looked at what it would take for them to be a reality. It helps that I have a couple of degrees in the hard sciences and spent some of my life as a researcher – I hope it gives me an insight into just how scientific knowledge is generated.

All of the above is before I sat down to think about how the science would be translated into the technologies you’ll find in Helena’s world.
The technologies didn’t emerge simply from the science – they never do. Tech, just as with science itself, proceeds from the space within society in which it operates. Take one bitter example – we are running out of effective antibiotics. Not because there aren’t any more out there but because the world in which we live has created no incentives for researchers to develop new ones. Science is as much a politically and economically live activity as anything else – regardless of what some of the more naïve doyens of the community would tell you about it being dispassionate and objective.  

Hence, in order to create the tech, I had to write the future history of our world, to make it plausible. I wanted us to still be here, so there was no nuclear armageddon or any other world shattering events. Any view of the future carves out possibilities that would render it unrecognisable.

The key developments in Helena’s world were thus ones in which politics, economics and science interacted. In her story there are hints at wars waged with nanoscale weapons, poison designed to target only certain groups and other such horrors. Except the reality is that in any arms race that doesn’t destroy the participants they typically end up in a stalemate where their weapons are effectively countered. I considered her time as one in which these horrendous innovations would be neutered, obsolete.

All of this builds towards a world in which those who can will make decisions about the rest of us, who decide whether we’re fit to live or die. Such an outlook can develop quickly (you only have to watch the dialogue around refugees at the moment) into something that utterly dehumanises swathes of the population. I don’t believe technology exacerbates that process of dehumanising the other but what it does do is give us the means to act on those feelings rapidly at a scale our grand parents couldn’t have even imagined.

In many ways Helena’s world is perfect – there is enough for everyone, sickness is handled with ease, it is stable. Yet in others I explore in the story, it is far from wonderful and ripe for overturning. For me, to make that story meaningful the world I set it in had to be one we recognised even if it was alien enough to allow me to ask some difficult questions of what we believe while, hopefully, still entertaining the reader.

A Family War

A Family War is going to be my first published novel. I have the fortune of seeing it published through the small press I’m involved in, Alternative Realities. The stages to go through are many, detailed and nerve wracking, but the editing, re-writes and proof-reading are all done. 

We’re at the stage of formatting the book itself – which the awesome Matthew Sylvester is handling. Alongside that I’m working with Lawrence Mann on the cover – something I’m very excited about as Lawrence has done some amazing work (just google his name on google images – pretty much safe for work in case you were wondering). Once that’s all done the book will be ready to go. It feels like the hard part will only then arrive; will people read it and how will I help it be more than a tiny drop of water in a massive ocean?

The story is a thriller set on Earth in the future – it’s science fiction but it’s not about the science, it’s about a woman who discovers the shiny, pretty world in which she has been living is based on the misery of those around her.

Think Bladerunner meets Schindler’s list.

I have a whole host of concerns, fears and hopes about the story finally reaching the world as a book but I’m confident the story works, that the world it exists in makes sense and provides a backdrop which is interesting and well paced. Yet, in the end, I know that writing a good story probably isn’t enough for a book to survive its birth, it isn’t all that’s necessary for a story to live and take on a life of its own. So as we approach the point where I have covers to reveal, dates to talk, prices to think of and publicity to fear I’ll talk more about it – hopefully it will feel less like such cliff edge under my feet!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

Sparkonit

Science Simplified

SwordNoob

Adventures in HEMA, LARP, Archery and other activities

ebookwyrm's Blog

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

Daily (w)rite

For lovers of reading, writing, travel, humanity

countingducks

reflections on a passing life

BlondeWriteMore

The Adventures of a Blonde Writer

Writings By Ender

One Hell of an Apprenticeship

Adrian Faulkner

Writing, Editing, Watching and Reading

Fantasy-Faction

Writing, Editing, Watching and Reading

Alternative Realities

Why have virtual reality when you can have alternative reality?

1001Up

1001 video games and beyond

Fringeworks - Blogs

Writing, Editing, Watching and Reading

Shadows of the Apt

Writing, Editing, Watching and Reading

Tickety Boo Press Ltd

Quality books. Quality anthologies. Quality authors.

KnightWatch Press

Writing, Editing, Watching and Reading