Dr, Charles (Chuck) Gannon, Nebula nominee and Compton Award winner, has graciously agreed to participate in this character interview with one of the main characters of his book, Fire with Fire. Chuck is a great writer, as can be evidenced by his sales and awards. He’s also one of the nicest people you will ever meet, and well deserving of his success. It was his idea to split the interview between mine and Sarah’s blog, in an effort to help both of us. If you have not checked him out (or even if you have), please go to the links just below:
This is part two of the interview. Part one is hosted on Sarah Hoyt’s Blog, and you need to go there and read that part before reading this. Don’t worry, this part will still be here. Sarah is also a wonderfully gifted writer, and her books deserve your consideration. And my minor plug for myself. Exodus: Empires at War is my major series, and it is doing very well on Amazon with 70,000 sales over 7 books and over 800 reviews. You can check out book 1 here.
And so, without further ado, here is Chuck Gannon’s character interview, in which much will be revealed about the character and Universe in his award winning novel.
Transcript of event 786: Virtua security breach, class 2, during Virtual Exchange
Human visitor, tagged “Interviewer” (identity data suppressed; see concluding access notes)
Origin-sourced precarnation Simulacrum, tagged “Corcoran”
Summary Description of intended Virtual Exchange:
“Interviewer” was authorized to interview origin-source Simulacrum “Corcoran” in Virtual Node after full debriefing and explicit agreement to observe interrogatory constraints. Intentional or unintentional compromise of the Simulacrum’s current contiguous knowledge base was established as condition which would trigger partial discontinuation and pause of the Virtual Node as warning (i.e.; “environment hazing”). Full termination occurs upon multiple compromises or disregard of warnings.
Interviewer: With that said—and thank you for unpacking what has been a much-debated matter—I’d like to return to the question that launched us into the topic in the first place. Which was this: if you had it to do over again, would you take such a hard line against the megacorporations? (A long pause.) Admiral Corcoran, would you rather skip this question?
Corcoran: No, no. Unless compelled to do so by official secrecy constraints, I hate agreeing to an interview and then hiding behind “no comments.” I’m just trying to think carefully before I answer your question, because it’s a very good one. It troubled me a lot, over the years, in fact. Frankly, I did not foresee the problems we had with so many of the non-Industrial megacorporations.
Interviewer: How did they surprise you?
Corcoran: Well, there were two key surprises in dealing with them. First of all, there was the mild surprise that they didn’t take any of the early incentives we tried to offer them to become fellow travellers. A large part of that may have stemmed from our not being able to let anyone belonging to those megacorporations inside the final tiers of secrecy, those which would have shown them what we found on the Doomsday Rock. Consequently, they probably did not realize we were trying to sweeten the pot for them when we did—and we had no way to point it out without violating our own secrecy protocols. So if the megacorporations didn’t notice our wink and then our nod, they may have missed all of our veiled overtures to be a part of the total solution to Earth’s safety, rather than an impediment. I do wonder if we could have strategized our approach to them more effectively, but the reality was that IRIS was always terribly understaffed. Optimization was usually a desideratum that we just had to leave in the dust. We did what we could and then the motto had to be, “drive on.” There was always another challenge coming, just up ahead. So we dropped a lot of balls, and threw a lot of inaccurate pitches, because we were always playing short-handed.
That inability to get the non-industrial megacorporations to realize we were trying to push some compensatory benefits their way was the small surprise. The much larger one was their sudden rush into cooperation and even, in some cases, collectivization. Witness the origins and growth of CoDevCo.
Interviewer: Because much of audience might be unfamiliar with the acronym CoDevCo, or how it related to what you call the megacorporate “rush into cooperation or collectivization,” I’m wondering if you could expand a little bit upon these topics.
Corcoran: I’d be happy to. CoDevCo is short-hand for the Colonial Development Combine. At the risk of monstrous over-generalization, it is not a single corporation, but an alliance of many individual megacorporations, coordinated to pursue the various functions of interstellar settlement and resource exploitation. One way to think of it is to draw a loose parallel to Lloyds of London. Lloyds services various large-scale insurance needs, but is actually a kind of commercial confederation, an all-purpose bourse and clearing-house of many affiliated underwriters. By combining their expertise and assets, they provide a more comprehensive and better service than they could individually.
However, CoDevCo began developing differently from the Lloyd’s model shortly after we started finding numerous green worlds. Then information leaked that we had discovered signs of past (or so we thought) exosapient presence on Delta Pavonis III. CoDevCo already had a limited infrastructure development contract for the system, but when they learned there might be exosapient ruins dirt-side, they became extremely acquisitive. They put a very sweet co-development deal in front of the European Union bloc, which, due to some log-jams in its own exploratory pipeline, was all too glad to accept.
By accepting that co-development deal, the EU allowed the camel to stick its nose into their tent. Within the year, that same megacorporate camel had not only come entirely into their tent, but pushed them out. The original EU settlement had been degraded to a neglected backwater while CoDevCo founded a new colony site exactly where the exosapient ruins had been reported, in direct contravention of the planetary accords that had been reached between the EU and the New World CommonWealth bloc. Legal battles ensued, some of which became a bit kinetic around the edges. You can ask Caine Riordan about that.
At the same time, Earth’s five blocs were coming under pressure from the megacorporations to make them a direct partner in political processes. That was problematic for a number of different reasons, not the least because such an arrangement was wholly without legal basis or standing. At the same time, the blocs were getting some pretty alarming reports of truly egregious human-rights violations in the grey world colonies that CoDevCo had established on its own.
Interviewer: Again, for our audience, could you define “grey world?”
Corcoran: Sure, although everyone surely knows what—well, never mind. So: a grey world. Simply, a world that has no native biota and is unsuitable to the introduction of terrestrial life or even xenobiota. So, it’s grey—as in “rock.” However, some grey worlds have considerable value, either as a source of raw materials or as a transportation hub. However, given the expenses of developing the more promising green or brown worlds and the fact they are the only ones that actual colonists really want to settle, the grey worlds fall into an unusual category. In terms of popular and settler interest, they are like unwanted orphans; on the other hand, they are necessary for the maintenance of maintaining shift links and a number of raw materials.
And that’s where CoDevCo comes in. They apply for a charter to develop the system and, in return, are allowed various tariffs, service fees, or resource extraction rights.
Interviewer: Sounds like a deal that leaves everyone happy.
Corcoran: Well, they would be, if everyone who enters the deal is a stake-holder. But about five years into the process of interstellar settlement, it turned out that 95 % of the grey world work force were not stake holders at all. They weren’t even conventional employees. They were extended contract workers, overwhelmingly hired from the under-developed world. And a lot of them didn’t read the fine print which attached their wages for life-support costs, and communication costs, and etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum. Just fill in the infamous “company store” clauses and you get the picture. They were in hock for the rest of their lives.
Interviewer: Why is it that CoDevCo didn’t simply go with automated systems?
Corcoran: Actually, that had been their intent from the first—and that’s how we got surprised by what happened as a result. You see, CoDevCo had always intended to run their grey world operations with 90 % automation, but they made a couple of key errors.
To start with, CoDevCo cut its teeth assisting resource extraction in the asteroid belt. They understood the difference between what humans can do—damn near anything, but not too well or too quickly—and what robots can do—a limited set of tasks but really well and really quickly. Their intention was to use humans to set up the systems on each grey world, and then move that pioneering work-force on to the next target grey world once the machines took over.
But it didn’t work out that way. Top-end automation has always been expensive. It was one of the constant limiting factors in developing our own asteroid belt as extensively as we wanted. So, when calculating their grey world bids, CoDevCo staked its profit margin on their ability to engineer and produce a new generation of better robots. And they did—or so they thought. Their new robots and automated systems performed well in tests, but they came out of the development labs late and so, were rushed through field trials on an accelerated time-table. I can’t tell if you the government contract overseers were asleep at the switch, under pressure from the blocs to give a green light no matter what, or getting bribes under the table from CoDevCo. Or some combination of all three. Whatever the reason, the amount of testing that should have been performed was not completed—particularly in establishing the per unit reliability estimates and time-frames.
Bottom line: the robots started breaking down right and left at about the same time—and not quite one third of the way through their first maintenance cycle. CoDevCo was suddenly hard up to make sure they delivered on their contracts. At that point, contract failure could have led to reversion of their development rights—and then they’d have sunk all those R&D and production costs for nothing, except as a means of ensuring their own insolvency. And in all probability, the Industrials—who had wanted those robot and automation contracts but had been passed over to keep the other megacorporations happy—would have been able to scoop up the R&D that their competitors had paid for and, using half the money and half the time, come to the rescue and look like heroes. So CoDevCo answered their sudden labor need with a known and proven alternative: humans.
But humans are expensive to use in any environment where they require almost one hundred percent life support. And that includes shipping them out on spacecraft: again, they are far more expensive to move than machines. So CoDevCo now had a way to meet their contracts, but had inherited another problem: soaring work-force costs. So while their engineers started slaving away to create a better second generation of automation and robots, CoDevCo’s accounting division started looking for belt-tightening opportunities. Some of those were in the production of cryogenic suspension systems, where they reduced the per unit cost by fifty percent. Only problem was that those units had nearly a five percent mortality rate, and a corresponding increase in function irregularities which induced neural and other physiological damage, much of which was permanent. And since returning the bodies of the deceased was not provided for in the worker contracts, CoDevCo discovered that they had an additional incentive to allow the increased mortality rates to remain uncorrected. (A long pause.)
Interviewer: I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are implying, Admiral Corcoran.
Corcoran: (Sighs.) In 2113 we learned what CoDevCo was doing with the bodies of those who had died in cold sleep, or in failed reanimation attempts: they were using them as biomass.
Interviewer: You mean—as raw materials?
Corcoran: I mean as food. It was the old axiom ‘waste not; want not’ raised to a ghoulish acme. And they had the perfect set-up to put those corpses ‘into the mix,’ so to speak. The contractual crisis on the grey worlds had forced CoDevCo to come up with some pretty fast, low-cost, low-volume solutions to housing and feeding their workers. The feeding side was particularly revolting: they installed algae vats to generate basic carbohydrates and cricket farms to generate protein. But the cycles were not self-sustaining, even though you could raise the crickets on dried algae, also. At some point, if the food-chain does not have certain high-grade additives, the nutritive value of the whole system sags—and you have lethargic workers prone to weakness, sickness, and depression. So even though CoDevCo lost one in every twenty workers they sent out to a grey world, they were able to use that lost worker to—well, “rejuvenate” the content of the algae vats. Those additional nutrients boosted production and quality of the algae, which made for bigger, more nutritious crickets that were then ground into protein flour and powders.
Interviewer: So CoDevCo had fundamentally used undisclosed cannibalism to prop up their balance sheets.
Corcoran: Well, they came up with other euphemisms for the whole process, but yes, that’s what it amounts to. It was about two years before anyone discovered it—largely because no one thought to look for it. It was so outrageous that, until someone sat down to try to figure out how CoDevCo was managing to turn a profit on the grey worlds in those early days, no one could have even imagined it. It was only discovered when folks started examining every step of that profit-generation process under an actuarial microscope.
Interviewer: And so how did this lead to the collectivizing that so surprised you in your dealings with the megacorporations?
Corcoran: Well, as you probably know from the dates I’ve been referring to, this was when the fecal matter really hit the rotary air circulator. In the space of a few months, CoDevCo had come under open investigation for its grey world worker treatment policies, and was under confidential investigation for allegations of willful malfeasance in regards to its cold sleep systems and incorporating cannibalism in its worker maintenance program. And it was in the course of the latter investigations that we discovered that CoDevCo had, as a whole, created a whole new business in which all its member entities were proportional shareholders: its Optigene Division. On paper, Optigene was a research firm specializing in all forms of genetic medicine: anti-cancer retroviruses, gene selection and amplification in artificial reproduction, telomere repair-and-refurbishment drugs. All wonderful initiatives. But, even given the research costs of these cutting-edge products and services, there was still concern about its operating costs: they were extremely—and I mean extremely—high for a firm that was supposedly concerned solely with research, not production. So we investigated Optigene and found that they had founded a number of truly off-shore laboratories and were conducting wholly ex-vivo human cloning, with an emphasis on accelerating maturation. They were trying to build a cheaper work force. And essentially, they were breaking every international accord ever signed about human cloning in order to do it.
Interviewer: And did you shut them down?
Corcoran: Well, we wanted to—but that’s where the collectivization factor starts rearing its ugly head. In one of the most flagrant examples of its ineffectuality, the UN called upon Optigene to terminate its operations and open its facilities to inspectors. Except, it turns out, that CoDevCo had bought—outright purchased, lock, stock, and barrel—the fairly isolated regions in which Optigene was operating. The land was, formally, no longer owned by the nation state which had sold it. This launched an investigation into which nation Optigene was officially incorporated in or under—and that hit a brick wall.
Corcoran: Because up until that point, the presumption of law was that all territories’ final ownership ultimately devolved or connected back to authorization under the national aegis of an originating nation. And we’re not talking about unclaimed land or oceans, here: we are talking about areas that had been legally acknowledged as belonging to various countries which then had sold those tracts to Optigene. So they all had ownership precedents.
This created singular legal and practical quandaries. The UN and the Hague both determined that the nations did not have the legal right, according to the UN, to relinquish legal control of and responsibility for any part of their territory to a non-state entity. The states in question mounted some pretty impressive counter-argumentation—ably funded and supported by CoDevCo, naturally. Meanwhile, exactly how the hell was the UN going to force the labs to be opened? Leaving aside the sticky issue of how much force to use, and whose, the situation created a double legal difficulty in securing consent: the land was either no longer answerable to the UN, or, if it was, the former owners indicated that they would terminate their membership in the UN before giving their consent. Which of course only introduced further legal tangles.
Now, while this legal brawl was up-spiraling in both complexity and shrillness, CoDevCo was evolving into an increasingly coherent and collectivized entity, driven towards that by the various external pressures and scrutiny that were being brought to bear upon it. I think this surprised us because most of us had operated under the assumption that since there is no honor among thieves, there’d be correspondingly little unity among megacorporations. And I’m not sure we were entirely wrong about that, but what we couldn’t anticipate when we made those assumptions was that we would uncover such egregious violations in CoDevCo, and that, in turn, our reactions would trigger an even stronger, and inverse, reflex among its constituent commercial entities. In short, that there is strength in numbers. Suddenly, there was no way to divide their ranks by offering sweet deals to pivotal companies that, once parted from the fold, undermined the resolve of, and scattered, the rest. Now, circumstances had compelled them to stand their ground like a ring of yaks, and had thus midwifed a phenomenon that probably could not have been brought into existence any other way: true corporate collectivism. We—the various representatives and actors of the nation states—had unwittingly forced them into an alliance so close that they transmogrified into a unitary commercial entity with unprecedented will, power, and coordinated purpose.
Interviewer: So, to wrap up the matter of the accusations that have been leveled against you, there are some who’ve anticipated that you would offer these kinds of explanations for your actions. They have dismissed such “appeals to undisclosable contexts” as “re-directing sophistries.”
Corcoran: And you believe that?
Interviewer: I can’t answer that question directly, given my role here. But let me suggest that, in making that statement, I have provided you with an opportunity to speak to those accusations.
Corcoran: (smiles) I knew you were on my side. So, let’s drop the learned discourse and get down to brass tacks. You learn that someone—or some force—is threatening everything that you know and love, all the history that led to it, and all the posterity that shall carry it on. Do you sit and do nothing? You might. Some might call that “moral transcendence:” to remain unsullied by acts of questionable morality, and to let the cosmos unfold as it will. But I’m going to borrow a bit of wisdom from folks who are known to be pretty darned pacifistic: the Buddhists. To paraphrase their perspective: to choose to do nothing is still a choice, and a choice is action.
Which, to put it in utterly immediate terms, boils down to this: we’re born into a world that may be morally neutral, but it is populated by creatures that are not. Even animals fight for their own interests. But humans are different because we can choose our moral relationship to this contentious world. Do we choose to act in pure self-interest, like a voracious wolf? Do we choose not to act at all, like rabbits that go limp when finally caught under the wolf’s paws? Or do we choose to act both for ourselves and others—like a wolfhound, ever ready to drive off the wolf?
I’d like to say I chose the latter course because I was some kind of incredibly enlightened, moral being. I’m not. It’s just who I’ve always been. I suppose it was who I was raised to be. I don’t think that I, or anyone, can right all the wrongs of the world. But that wasn’t what I set out to do when I created IRIS and carried out all the actions subsequent to that initiative. I just wanted to give this flawed, wonderful Earth of ours a fighting chance. I had seen the imprint of the wolf’s teeth sunk deep into the surface of the Doomsday Rock and, damn it, I was not going to go down without a fight. And I have to believe that most human beings feel the same way when they think about their family, their friends, their unborn grandchildren. You don’t just lie down and give up: you take the fight to the ravening wolves just as hard and as long and as unrelentingly as you can. And you carry on in the belief that someone will pick up the flag and carry it forward when you fall. Because that belief is the core of hope—and when you get right down to it, hope is the decisive tool and weapon of all humankind. Because without it, you lack the will to act, and without that will, you cannot prevail.
That said, we make mistakes. And the more responsibility that we hold, the greater the consequences when we make those mistakes. Furthermore, no fight is an unalloyed moral good. I don’t know how killing a person is ever ‘good.’ The best you can say is that it might be necessary, if it is an unavoidable part of driving off that wolf. But because some of our actions will be inherently estranged from basic morality, and because we will make mistakes, we will carry guilt away from that fight. We will wonder if we had to do all the things we did—because that is the price morality exacts, and we must not shirk it. To be able to kill or manipulate the lives of others without later qualms and regrets means, to my way of thinking, that you have become amoral, and are more likely to be aligned with the wolf than the wolfhounds. The pain of remorse is what tells you that your soul is still alive.
Interviewer: It sounds like this is something to which you’ve given a lot of thought.
Corcoran: (Smiles.) You should know; you wrote the book. So to speak. (Long pause. Confusion evident.)
ENVIRONMENT HAZING EMPLOYED AS PER PRE-AGREED WARNING. INTERVIEWER SIGNALS HIS WILLINGNESS TO IMMEDIATELY REDIRECT CONVERSATION.
FULL REINSTATEMENT OF VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT.
Corcoran: I’m sorry, I seem to have lost the thread of our conversation. What were you asking?
Interviewer: Actually, we were just wrapping up. You seemed to have a memory lapse.
Corcoran: Yes, I . . . I seem to remember things. Things that didn’t happen. I seem to know you—but I don’t. Well, I don’t recognize you. How did we meet? And where are we—?
ENVIRONMENT HAZING EMPLOYED MOMENTARILY IN ATTEMPT TO REBOOT MEMORY ACCESS OF CORCORAN SIMULACRUM TO ORIGINAL PARAMETERS.
Interviewer: (Tense) Are you . . . feeling well?
Corcoran: I’m feeling disoriented. Like I’m not quite myself…literally. (Weak laugh.)
Interviewer: (Suddenly; agitated) Admiral Corcoran, it is imperative that you try to think past your current confusion and provide me with any information you might have on the Dornaani.
ENVIRONMENT HAZING EMPLOYED AS WARNING TO INTERVIEWER
Corcoran: The who?
Interviewer: Do you remember dying, or anything that came after? Do you remember—?
VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT TERMINATED.
Summary of Event Resolution:
Custodian recommendation was to detain “Interviewer,” pending debrief. This recommendation was rejected in favor of selective reconditioning of “Interviewer.”
Consolidated Terran Republic consulate’s request for extradition have been countered with explanation that an “extensive debrief” is required by our Security Collective, which will take a considerable amount of time.
Source-origin Simulacrum “Corcoran” memory and cognition parameters currently undergoing extended analysis for detection of possible corruption.
Further case details sealed by order of Glayaazh, Third Arbiter, Dornaani Collective.
Again, thanks to Chuck and Sarah for allowing me to participate in this singular event.