I’ve been blogging on the Orbit site about evil, and it came as something as a shock to me to realise quite how dark is my own soul.
In real life, I’m pretty cheerful, and inclined to look on the bright side of things. My glass is always half-full, not half-empty; though, if it’s a Friday night, not for long. And a lot of the stuff I write tends to have a lot of humour – and indeed downright silliness – in it.
But there is, in my underlying assumptions, a dark cynicism about humankind.
Not all humans – just some. The pack leader humans. The policitians, financiers, arms dealers, drug barons, gang bosses. I accept there are great differences between each of those groups – though if you had a choice between sending a drug dealer to jail for a year, or a senior banker, which would you choose? But these are Alpha People – many of them Alpha Males, though not all – and I hate them.
I hate them because they are predators, in a society which cries out for less predation, more cooperation. Sometimes they are posh twits, who have inherited all their money and power; sometime they earn their dosh and power the hard way.
But even the posh twits are smart. They know how to protect their own position, to cling on to power. And so we have a wickedly divided society rife with injustice, and beset with crises – the near-collapse of the financial system, global warming, and an expansionist war of dubious legality in Iraq in which we, the British and American peoples, have been forced to be complicit.
Wow. Lighten up Phil!
Of course, most of the time I write fun stories in the hope that others will think they are fun to read, or hear, or watch. I’ve written dark political thrillers for radio – including one richly-researched piece on military interrogation, and another piece on industrial disasters. But even those ‘polemical’ plays are full of humour, with characters who engage with each other, and hopefully engage the audience.
I wrote a gruelling piece about a psychophatic murderer for BBC Television; but though based on truth it was, at the end of the day a thriller – and hence, meant to entertain.
Writers are part of the showbiz world – we’re not here to preach, or to spread doom and gloom.
Nonetheless, my life experiences, and my readings of history, have left me with the conviction that, if the predatory pack leaders get to lead, there is no limit to the horrors of which humans are capable.
And that’s why, in Debatable Space, I have the Cheo presiding over an empire of evil in which all the human species are embroiled, and hence complicit. I don’t think – as some have suggested – that the people of the future will be more evil than we are. But they will be just as easily led. The great thing with technology is that it makes the job of the evil dictator easier than ever before; and so, in my far future dystopia, it only takes one evil man to stain with evil all of humanity.
In Red Claw, I expand on this concept. If you are born into an evil empire, will you challenge it, or just accept it as ‘the way things are?’ In my nasty future, most people go along with it. They are taught, as children, that this is what you must and must not do. And if they rebel, as young adults, they will regret it briefly, before ‘vanishing’.
This is the story of the Hitler Youth, projected into a future universe.
Some readers have questioned the credibility of the main premise of Red Claw – this isn’t a spoiler by the way , it’s stated fairly clearly from the outset – namely that the humans on this alien planet intend to terraform it, killing all indigenous life.
That, I concede, is a terrible thing to do. But unlikely?
I think not. If humans want to colonise space they have to find planets which are a) Earthlike in every respect with an oxygen-rich atmosphere or b) similar to Earth in terms of size and distance from the sun, and with water in abundance, in order to be readily terraformable.
Perhaps really nice humans would choose to terraform barren planets like Mars – or gas giants like Jupiter. But it would be easier, and more economic, to colonise the planets which are colonisable.
And which therefore are almost certain to already have life.
This is the unstated but omni-present assumption of my Future History; given a choice between the easy way and the hard way, humans will always choose the easy way.
Or at least, they will if they are led by predator pack leaders.
Bankers are a classic example of predator pack leaders. All political commentators agree that the astonishing and imbecilic and utterly selfish behaviour of bankers in the US and UK and around the world is the product of ‘group think’ - the tendency of tightly-knit groups of people to become so obsessed with agreeing with each other that they lose sight of reality. But I prefer to think of it as ‘pack think’ – the pack thinks only of itself, and its own welfare. And, frankly, the banker pack are doing very nicely.
George Bush was also a predator pack leader. He didn’t get himself elected to the post of President – he was helped to power by a cabal of powerful people, many of them Texan oilmen. And he did his best, throughout his Presidency, to protect the interests of his pack. And in that – though in nothing else – he succeeded triumphantly.
I wrote Debatable Space out of rage at the Bush years; I wrote Red Claw out of rage at unfettered predator capitalism. So be warned: these are dark dystopian visions from a man with a lot of rage.
But also – fun. Writing is fun, reading is fun; it’s the rest of life that’s scary as shit.
If you enjoyed this post, you might find these others interesting: