Describe the ‘Scat’ universe for us.
It’s a finders-keepers universe. Earth is on its chin-straps: it’s low on natural resources and high on population. We’re already burning our way through the planet’s ability to replace the resources we use; it’s only a matter of time before we need go look for planets that have them. By the mid-22nd century, and I think I was being conservative, it became vital for man to break through the speed of light so the resources could be found and shipped. The UN incentivises the resource companies to stump up the capital needed to make that happen by handing them the mandates to run all the Earth-similar planets they found. Once the speed of light barrier was broken, these mandates gave the companies a license to print money. And, of course, they needed to protect the mandates, so they got a lot more involved in politics than they already are today. Governments are now weak, over-burdened, and compliant. Companies rule. The Lynthax Coporation is the resource company equivalent to today’s GoldmanSachs – no offence meant, of course. It pretty much influences everything, everyone – it’s unseen but ever-present in all of our lives.
Scatkiewicz is an ‘Out-of-System’ worker. He lives in a bubble, and although he works for a company, he’s fending for himself. Does your experience as an expatriate worker influence the character?
Yes. Once you live and work in someone else’s country, you become more reliant on your company. I’ve spent 20-odd years working overseas, not as a visitor but as a resident. I was what I’d call ‘corporatised’ for maybe 5 years of that. For the rest of it I was making my own way. Once you’re corporatised, you don’t rock the boat or have a show-down with your boss, not if you want to keep your job and all its benefits. Once you’re fired, you’re on your own, only you’re also without access to the local social welfare or unemployment benefit you’d normally get at home. You’re also more vested, locally: home and schools, that sort of thing, all of which cost more. Inter-planetary contract work will be more extreme, so all I’ve done is to extrapolate. Scatkiewicz works on planets that are barely habitable. He relies on his company for the very air he breathes, and it’s a very long and expensive ride back home. And with Earth being such a basket case, there’s no realistic prospect for re-employment if you’ve fallen off the corporate ladder. Once that happens, you’re knocked back to medieval times, as with most of the world’s population.
‘Scat’ follows Scatkiewicz as he gets sucked into the New World rebellion and beyond. It takes him a while to choose sides and when he does, his motives aren’t exactly pure. Why did you develop the character as you did? He’s hard to like.
For all of the above. He’s already been dumped out of the US Marines for following his conscience, and holding to his values – he’s not a very politically correct character, although he is loyal – and it’s taken him a long time to get his life back on track. He doesn’t want to risk it all again, just for a set of principles. So he’d buried his, just to cope. Even today, no one – if they are honest about it – would risk ALL that they have achieved for a group of people they hardly know, or for a cause that’s as controversial as independence from Earth: especially if it may cause wide-spread shortages on Earth; possibly the death of so many of its poorer population. Maybe the latter doesn’t play such a great part in his thinking, but with the universe being such a dog-eat-dog place in which to live, the decision to throw everything away would be a painful one. I show that pain. I put Scat through the mill. Even I was screaming for him to make up his mind. But nothing goes in a straight line. Again, that’s a hallmark of the story. Nothing ever does. Maybe in romance novels. But this is SciFi – and I’m being as realistic as my imagination will allow.
You don’t make it immediately obvious who the good and bad guys are. Isn’t that a little risky? E-book distributers only sample the first 15% of a book and we live in a Twitter-a-minute world.
Good people work for bad companies. Bad people work in good ones. It’s the same in politics as it is in war – and very definitely the same in a revolution or a rebellion. After all, not everyone funding the fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule in Syria will be a democrat. There will be business interests as well. Why would it be any different in the future? Besides, if a reader likes Petroff, I’m ok with it. In ‘Scat’, one’s actions – and where you’re finally standing when things go south – count just as much as motives. How we get there is less important. These things come out in the wash. The reader discovers these things as Scat does. No sooner.
There are several twists. One of them appears to make almost everything that went before irrelevant. Why did you do that?
That’s technology for you. As I say, the story doesn’t go in a straight line. Nor is the story-line a convenient one. If you think the pc and the iPAd have changed lives, wait until Petroff cracks the Thing’s secrets. That does change everything. And when man eventually finds out more about himself, that changes things even more. Some things are more powerful than technology. We forget that. We’re too busy tweeting.
You say your story-lines don’t go in a straight line. What do you mean by that?
I mean nothing in life goes as we originally predict. And in the future, things happen much more quickly. There are a billion unforeseen factors at play. The politics are compromised. The system is corrupt. When it’s as corrupt as it is by the 23rd century, there’s no predicting the future, or an outcome. Plus I don’t like giving my characters an ‘easy out’, or a ‘get out of jail free’ card. They live in this universe. They play by its rules, like everyone else. Besides, the story is layered. It’s a complicated universe.
Things happen around Scat, and things seem to happen to him. Why is it he doesn’t have more control over his actions, his reactions?
Because he’s human. He’s like the 99% of us. Stuff happens and you deal with it the best you can. If he comes off as being a little selfish, then walk down a corridor or two in his shoes and ask yourself – how heroic are you, really? And could you behave any differently?
He does get his way eventually. He thrives in the chaos. In real life, he wouldn’t make for a good corporate worker. He’s at his best kicking in doors and thumbing his nose up at the establishment. Trouble is – he’s unpredictable.
When is the sequel to be published?
When it’s finished. This self-publicity thing is a killer.
You broke off from completing the sequel to ‘Scat’ to write ‘Birdie Down’ and then you gave it away for free. Why did you do that?
I was experimenting. ‘Scat’ was a first attempt at anything longer than an email. It came in at 160 thousand-odd words (my emails are considerably shorter). ‘Birdie Down’ is some 60 thousand, again, much shorter, and aims to tell a single story without any loss of pace. Again, the reader picks things up as the story develops, and is made to wait before it’s possible to pick out the good guy – as in real life. The Arab Spring was hailed as a good thing for the West, until people though it might not be. To know for sure you have to let things develop, let it play out.
It also gave me a chance to focus on a single character, this time Andrew ‘Birdie’ Goosen. As a policeman, it cuts against the grain for him to kill, to rebel, to turn the established order upside down. It was a huge leap for him to rebel, more so than for Scatkiewicz. We see him make the conversion, and see his belief in the goodness of others put to the test.
It has had a good run on Smashwords in terms of total downloads, rising from bottom of the pack (around 1180) to mid-way in less than two weeks. Of course that’s just downloads. I’ve no idea if people are reading it. If you do, leave a review. I’m still new at this game, and I’m still listening.