The Big Idea: Rod Rees
Well, I hope you folks have had your coffee this morning, because author Rod Rees is about to get deep on you all, on the subject of the nature of reality. He’s doing so in the context of The Demi-Monde: Winter, the first in a series of books in which the real world mixes and merges with another world entirely… and neither world appears particularly safe, or sane. So, you ready? Good. Here you go.
The examination of the duality of life is the bedrock of all fiction: the battle of the sexes, the war between good and evil, the struggle between the weak and the strong and so on and so on. We take the yin and yang of life for granted … but what if ying and yang merged … what if we had to cope with a world of a uniform yin, where there was no conflict, no competition and no privacy? It’s a situation that may be closer to reality than we think, because there’s a new kid on the block intent on overturning this long-cherished dichotomy of life, and that kid’s the Internet.
Thanks to the Internet, factual reality (if that isn’t tautology I don’t know what is) and fictional reality (a wonderful contradiction in terms) are merging. BI (Before Internet) the imaginary was distinct and readily distinguishable from the real. AI (After Internet) this separation has begun to blur. For instance some individuals operating on the web take the names and personae of celebrities (living and dead), so that it is almost impossible for the veracity of a real celebrity’s cyber doodlings to be accepted or even established. And as even the most spaced-out wacko has the same ability to spout his or her nonsense on the web as do “normal” people, everything on the internet has to be taken with several grains of salt, because everything has a veneer of cyber-credulity. Consider Wiki, the most used reference resource in the world. Wiki has become so adulterated by mischievous editing that every time you use it you have to question whether what you are reading has been infected by twaddle.
The result is that as time has passed – as the Internet has becoming increasingly all-pervasive – fantasy has begun to merge with reality. On the Internet reality and surreality, fact and fiction, rumour and truth have to co-exist, but they can’t do this without contaminating each other. The result is sort of nu-reality – a faux-reality – which is simultaneously truth and lies. There was a nice phrase in a recent article in the Sunday Times by Camille Paglia about Lady Gaga (“What’s Sex Got to do with It?”) which said “In the sprawling anarchy of the web, the borderline between fact and fiction has melted away.”
Now, the idea of reality and make-believe becoming malleable and interchangeable isn’t new (Orwell explored this to great effect in “1984”), but what is different today is that it is so easy to do. The real world and the cyber-world are becoming increasingly intertwined, creating a Gordian Knot of competing realities, which are often impossible to disentangle. And that is what intrigued me as a writer.
Of course before I started merging realities I had to set them up. The dualities running through the Demi-Monde books are easy to identify. For a start there’s the Real World (our world of 2018 but with a twist and a slice of lemon) juxtaposed with the Demi-Monde (a virtual dystopia inhabited by 30 million Dupes – digital simulacra of living people). Next there’s the religious/political systems rife in the Demi-Monde which are bizarro representations of their Real World counterparts: Fascism/UnFunDaMentalism, Hedonism/ImPuritanism, Feminism/HerEticalism and so on. And then, of course, there’s the apposition of the über-psychopaths from history (Heydrich, Robespierre, Shaka Zulu et al) who rule the Demi-Monde and the more sane members of the resistance.
But setting these up is “World Building 101”: the interesting thing for me as a writer was coming up with a mechanism where they begin to merge and overlap and then exploring the consequences when they do. The plot device to achieve this came by accident. The disease afflicting a lot of writers intent on world building is the horror known as Too-Much-Exposition-itis: info-dumping so much “stuff” on the reader that the pace of the book is destroyed (and the patience of the reader along with it). In a desperate attempt to avoid this contagion I invented PINC – a Personal Implanted nano-Computer – which allows the character so equipped to automatically download information from ABBA – the quantum computer running the Demi-Monde – directly to their brain. At a stroke (sorry!) the character knew things, and I didn’t have to describe at long and boring length how they knew things.
Originally I envisaged PINC as a sort of super-Radio Frequency Identification Device, but as I was writing the story the implications of PINC became ever more interesting. So as the books progress PINC grows both in importance and in capability, and I find myself increasingly fascinated by what the implications would be if humanity was equipped with a PINC.
A PINC’d world would be one where all of humanity has instant access to the sum total of human knowledge (ABBA’s a very powerful computer!) which would, in turn, make de Chardin’s noösphere – the merging of minds – a reality. So what, I asked myself, would be the ramifications of the world adopting a political and social system based on PINC – which one of my characters calls InfoCialism – within which all the citizens of a State enjoy collective ownership of all information gathered and held by that State. As I see it the principal one would be that the traditional concept of privacy would be rendered obsolete. Everyone would know everything about everybody.
Duality would be replaced by unanimity. Individuality would be conflated into the universal consciousness.
As one of my characters in the final book of the series The Demi-Monde: Fall says:
“To face down the daemons that lurk amongst us we must allow others to see our Real Self and to do this we must embrace individuation, the process by which the individual is integrated with the consciousness of the whole. Humanity has reached its Omega Point when it must slough off the habits and the inclinations of yesteryear. From henceforth homo sapiens – knowing man – must become homo sophia – wise man – and our relationships based on understanding and not on secrecy … on openness and not privacy … on mutual support and not violence.”
That, ultimately, is the idea I set out to explore in the Demi-Monde.