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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

WITHOUT BLOODSHED by Matthew Graybosch

Welcome to Without Bloodshed by Matthew Graybosch, available from Curiosity Quills Press! Since I love talking about world-building, I had some specific questions about his Starbreaker universe.

1. Tell us about the Phoenix Society and its role in the world.
The Phoenix Society claims to be a non-government organization (NGO) formed and financed by a consortium of businessmen and corporations at the beginning of Nationfall (a worldwide social/economic/political collapse caused by widespread use of a piece of psychiatric nanotechnology called "The Patch" -- as in a software patch on human nature -- that caused the deaths of 90% of the human population). Its mission is to protect the survivors of Nationfall and help them achieve a second Renaissance by upholding individual rights, the rule of law, free commerce between individuals, a total ban on state-sponsored mass violence (war), and a ban on militarized police forces. Under the Phoenix Society, cops are lucky to be permitted the use of swords.

In practice, the Phoenix Society acts as a meta-government. It governs most of the governments running the city-states left over from Nationfall, and finances their operations due to a ban on taxation on individuals' wages/salaries/property as a violation of individual rights. The Phoenix Society gets its funding from a variety of sources: donations, revenues from businesses owned by the Phoenix Society's executive council, and by extorting money from businesses and corporations that pay workers a fixed wage and keep the difference between the wages paid and the value created by the workers' efforts as profit. Sole proprietors, partnerships, and worker-owned cooperatives are exempt from this extortion.

To enforce its dictates, the Phoenix Society employs a paramilitary corps of Individual Rights Defense officers (as opposed to Law Enforcement officers) popularly known as Adversaries after an ecumenical council branded them a Satanic force inimical to God and the faithful. While the Adversaries do indeed uphold individual rights by diplomacy and force of arms, they also find themselves used as enforcers, sent to bring corporations and businesses employing workers back into line if they balk at handing over half their profits to the Phoenix Society.

The Society also backs the mutual-aid societies that serve the same functions as government-run welfare programs currently in existence.

2. Did any real-world organizations inspire it? What sort of research did you do while building the Phoenix Society?
I started with a "what if". I wondered what an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union might do if it could punish abuses of power and violations of civil rights on its own, instead of seeking redress through an "independent" judiciary whose judges were paid by the same government most often responsible for the abuses and violations the ACLU sought to redress.

I also drew upon the human-rights efforts sponsored by the United Nations; careful readers will find references to a "Universal Declaration of Individual Rights", which is modelled on the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I changed the name because while AIs aren't human, they remain entitled to the same rights as human beings.

The Phoenix Society's enforcement arm retains several parallels with American law enforcement: its use of a variation on the Miranda warning, its militarized nature (real-life SWAT teams might use AR-15s, but Adversaries usually carry Kalashnikovs), and its brutality.

I also drew upon the Vehmic courts of Westphalia (part of Germany), which placed themselves above established local authorities and gained a reputation for meting out secretive and deadly justice.

I originally intended the Society as an organization that punished abuses by religious authorities and government officials, fit for a right-wing libertarian fantasy setting, but realized that private businesses, especially corporations, often get away with the same abuses we fear from the church or the state because "if the workers don't like it, they can quit and work for somebody else". For consistency's sake, I had to expand the Phoenix Society's mission to handle abuses of power no matter who commits them.

Oddly enough, my personal politics also shifted leftward as I thought through my setting.

3. What's one fun bit of world-building that you're glad you put in this story?
I had a bit of fun coming up with Port Royal, which started as just a rip-off of a real-life BitTorrent site called The Pirate Bay. I ended up expanding it into a bastardized distributed republic formed by the world's various Pirate Parties and the people who run Wikipedia and Wikileaks.

There's also heated streets and sidewalks; no more nonsense about plows and salt every time it snows. The streetlights are shielded and tinted red to avoid drowning out the night sky with light pollution. Just about every home uses Tesla points for wireless power transmission to appliances, instead of wall outlets and plugs.

And I've got Lunatics arguing over how best to preserve the Apollo 11 landing site, and whether it's worth preserving at all. What more can you ask?

Back cover

“All who threaten me die.”

These words made Morgan Stormrider’s reputation as one of the Phoenix Society’s deadliest IRD officers. He served with distinction as the Society’s avenger, hunting down anybody who dared kill an Adversary in the line of duty. After a decade spent living by the sword, Morgan seeks to bid a farewell to arms and make a new life with his friends as a musician. Regardless of his faltering faith, the Phoenix Society has a final mission for Morgan Stormrider after a dictator’s accusations make him a liability to the organization. He must put everything aside, travel to Boston, and prove he is not the Society’s assassin. He must put down Alexander Liebenthal’s coup while taking him alive.

Despite the gravity of his task, Morgan cannot put aside his ex-girlfriend’s murder, or efforts to frame him and his closest friends for the crime. He cannot ignore a request from a trusted friend to investigate the theft of designs for a weapon before which even gods stand defenseless. He cannot disregard the corruption implied in the Phoenix Society’s willingness to make him a scapegoat should he fail to resolve the crisis in Boston without bloodshed.

The words with which Morgan Stormrider forged his reputation haunt him still.

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