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.


The Demi-Monde: Winter: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Watch him read from the book. Visit the author’s blog.




25 Comments on “The Big Idea: Rod Rees”

  1. The ideas in this book are so much like some of the ideas in the sci-fi thriller I am currently writing, but I think that’s because I fully expect such ideas to come become reality in the near future. I have mind/data interfaces in the heads of all people, and the biggest addiction in the world, which I call Meshing, is becoming fully immersed within the virtual universe of the web and no longer emerging.

  2. 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.[citation needed]

  3. It is possible that people will overcome their need for privacy as they become more and more addicted to the Internet. They will get used to the idea of strangers knowing a lot about them. On the other hand, maybe privacy will become more valued as we continuously cross paths with people we don’t like or trust. Maybe we will become even more anonymous on the Internet as time goes on and learn to not let anyone know who we are. I think social behavior patterns will change over time due to the Internet, but I think the jury’s still out on which direction they will go in.

  4. A PINC sounds a little like a BrainPal on steriods. I’m all down for reading Mr. Rees’ book, but I’d also be interested to hear John’s thoughts on what sort of impact ubiquitous civilian use of BrainPals would have in his books.

  5. I’d also be interested to hear John’s thoughts on what sort of impact ubiquitous civilian use of BrainPals would have in his books.

    Ultimately, something like the Conjoiners in “Revelation Space”, maybe?

    Ubiquitous military use of something a bit like a BrainPal brought about, well, peace forever in Joe Haldeman’s “Forever Peace” – once you’ve spent long enough with your mind linked to the minds of nine other human beings, you can never bring yourself to kill another human being again.

  6. Good point, Leonard: sloppy writing on my part. Maybe I should have rephrased to say ‘the Internet has become …’

    Re Sue’s observation: the one thing I always question is the ‘we’ who will be making the decision regarding the level of privacy we surrender or enjoy. Maybe the beast that is the internet isn’t as benign or as docile as we would wish it to be (or maybe I’m just desperately trying to find the plot of a book in there somewhere).

  7. Reddist:

    “I’d also be interested to hear John’s thoughts on what sort of impact ubiquitous civilian use of BrainPals would have in his books.”

    Maybe some other time; I don’t think the comment thread for another author’s Big Idea piece is the place for me to go on about my own books.

  8. Rod @ 11:11 A.M.

    Absolutely wonderful book. I got it when it came out, and tore right through it. Very much looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

  9. Please you enjoyed it, Ron. I’ve just delivered the fourth and final book ‘Fall’ so, editing aside, that’s the DM done and dusted – it’s been a real slog so I’ve looking forward to trying something new.

    The US cover, Sam, had something of a fraught genesis – as related in one of my blogs – but I think it came good in the end. Trouble is everyone is an expert when it comes to covers but my especial favourite is the Czech one.

  10. I see a group of people (avatars?) called Dupes and I’m immediately thinking–“what’s the scam?”

    Perhaps that’s just me….

  11. Was on the shelf of the Library where I work so I checked it out, along with 7 other titles. I too find the cover interesting.

  12. Rod & John – Fair enough! I certainly didn’t mean to distract from the discussion. And so ya know, a hard copy of Mr. Rees’ book is on its way to me!

  13. I take my son to the bookstore every weekend. He gets one, I get one. This weekend, I’m gonna get your book. Which will make it only my second Big Idea book.

  14. Rod, I’ve heard cover design can be surprisingly arduous. Not surprising when you think about it, I’m sure there are plenty of editors and designers who are varying levels of expert on the topic. Also, many readers (I myself am guilty of this) will choose a book solely on the cover. (That and the font, ha.)

    Just checked out your blog…I’m glad marketing just sent back a final version “Yup this is it.” Glad you’re pleased with the final!

  15. Hi Sam X … sorry for the delay in replying but I’m in England so I had to sleep! I am told that for a debut writer (like me) 60% of the decision to buy is based on the cover and the blurb, and tends to be an impulse thing with reviews, word of mouth, the internet accounting for the remaining 40%. So I guess it’s no surprise that so much importance is given to the cover … the trouble is it’s such an imprecise art. All-in-all though I think HarperCollins did a great job.

    Hi Paul … influences are a funny thing. All writers stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before – for instance there’s nary a time travel story that isn’t in some way a homage to H.G Wells – but you try to add your dash of creativity and, hopefully, originality, to the mix. The problem I have is that I stopped reading SF quite a while ago so all the new (and newish) writers I’ve been compared with don’t mean a lot to me (I’m just checking out Neal Stephenson for example). With the Demi-Monde I’ve tried to make nods to my influences in the books (most notably in The Demi-Monde: Spring): Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton series, HG Wells’ Cavorite (there’s an oblique reference in ‘Winter’ that nobody has picked up on), and Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’.

  16. Sounds like you might be a spiritual cousin of the excellent Rudy Rucker, Mr. Rees.

    Your story sounds like a fascinating new angle on some of SF’s best tropes. I was wondering if you’d ever read Ian M. Bank’s novel Fearsum Endjinn. ABBA reminds me of the Cryptosphere in that book.

    John, my reading pile’s getting more backed up than I-95 on inauguration day. I’ll need one of Rees’s PINCs just to assimilate the embarrassment of riches your point me towards.

  17. Hi Gulliver: as I say I’m not terribly au fait with modern SF/Fantasy (but then I suppose all SF is by definition ‘modern’), I sorta fell into it after being incensed by the rotten story underpinning the BBC’s ‘Jekyll’ (I don’t know if it made it to your side of the Atlantic: if it didn’t, count yourself lucky) and decided ‘I can write better s*** than that’. I’ll certainly look Rudy Rucker up. Same goes for Iain M. Banks but then the idea of a super-Computer controlling life, the universe and everything is a well trodden one, I just hope I’ve given ABBA something of a twist. And by-the-by, it’s Rod not Mr Rees – I ain’t been called that since my days as a lecturer.

  18. Admittedly, I haven’t seen much TV since I cancelled my cable in 2001, so if it hasn’t hit Netflix, I’m generally not aware of it.

    If you look up Rudy Rucker, I recommend either his novel Mathematicians in Love or his non-fic book The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul.

    Fearsum Endjinn can be tough going as it tends to drop you into each new character’s perspective with essentially zero context and makes you puzzle it out, but it’s worth it, in my opinion. The thing that made me think of the Cryptosphere is how it sort of corroded the uploaded minds of the dead into a chaotic, but powerful, not-exactly-conscious meta-intelligence that doesn’t so much control the world as the world and society end up becoming like a surface feature emerging out of its complex interactions with the world of the living.

    Banks also has a bunch of excellent lit-fic, of which I still think the first, The Wasp Factory is his best.

    Meant to echo the appreciation for the cover art and brilliant tagline, post-modern in a good way.

  19. I’ll try ’em out, Gulliver. I’m pleased you like the tagline … it’s mine, though I really wanted: ‘A Past that wasn’t … a Present that isn’t … a Future that must not be,’ which is more indicative of how the story progresses. It was deemed to be too long … ah me.

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