Friday, December 7

And from Peter again:

On Dec 7, 2007, at 6:21 AM, Peter wrote:

Hm. That answers my question of where your caste system came from. I admit to having thought you were a libertarian, that's my mistake. I guess I assumed you sort of fit your own perspectives into the book under the guise of Duncan, as sort of a wise old man who could tell the answers as you know it. Knowing that you actually created the character gives me much more respect for you as an author, regardless of your political standings.

I guess he just does a great job of seeming to have the answers when he should when Hari needs a bit of a push, but I suppose that gets back to your idea of your characters rationalizing their circumstances into what they think they need. If so, nicely done.

Did you think that the 'Reality-TV-From-Hell' required, specifically, a business-based caste system, or did it require little more than unwashed masses and the rest is part of the eternal sci-fi idea of drawing lines into the future based on current problems and their evolving solutions?


A lot of people make that Stover-Must-Be-a-Libertarian mistake; one spectacularly dippy reviewer (I won't mention any names, but her initials are C. How Stupid I. M. Morgan) claimed she could tell I was a Libertarian by looking at my author photo.

Apparently it never actually strikes anyone that Duncan's good advice to Hari (essentially: keep your head down and inch toward daylight) has NOTHING TO DO with political philosophy; as for Duncan being the "voice of the author," it never seems to strike anyone that Duncan is consistently portrayed as being (periodically) ENTIRELY FUCKING BUGNUTS.

One would think someone might have noticed that Duncan gets his philosophical ass handed to him when he goes head-to-head against Tan'elKoth, who can be read as a direct personification of mystic fascism. Or that the only character who is more often right than wrong in either of those books is Deliann, who doesn't really believe in ANYTHING . . . he's just stumbling along, trying to do the right thing . . . and Caine, who doesn't believe in anything either, except that people he cares about are worth dying for.

But hey, that's the breaks.

Anyway: it takes more than the "unwashed masses" to make the Studio work, because Actors have to participate voluntarily (facing almost certain death or dismemberment -- not to mention the willingness to murder innocent people -- for the hope of economic advantage and social advancement). Unlike, say, Roman slave gladiators, who could just be given a weapon and thrown into the ring, an Actor has to play along -- has to create a character that people enjoy being, and portray that character convincingly. I could go into greater detail on the social mechanics of it, but that's the fundamental concept.

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto

Thursday, December 6

And Peter again:
On Nov 30, 2007, at 2:54 AM, Peter wrote:

I think I'm starting to get a good grip on where most of your writing comes from, so unfortunately my questions are starting to dry up into questions about suggested readings and such.

I'm still a bit curious about the caste system you used to create your future earth. It's been called dystopian, and Duncan suggests it's not libertarian, at least in the traditional sense. Yet it's based around business and exploitation, which are founded in libertarian principles as far as I can tell. The whole 'Leisureman' caste is about as libertarian as possible, and the implication of the fact that it's relatively small despite proof that advancement through the castes is possible seems to suggest that advancement is very difficult.

Some other things I've noticed about your system are that as you advance you gain the ability to simply use your power more freely (without concern for soapie intervention), and you also gain access to increasing amount of potential systematic safeguards based around your actual income. Basically, as you get higher up you can afford better protection and you automatically have implied power. As a connoiseur of political systems, I'm curious about where your system came from. I like its flavor in some ways, but in others it seems curiously and unnecessarily restrictive. Obviously you made it that way, but why?


This is a complex question. The caste system was created originally around the necessities of the novel's premise (i.e. what sort of society would have this Reality-TV-From-Hell as its #1 form of mass entertainment?), combined with a speculative extrapolation from the realities of American society -- You Are What You Do, and increased power (whether from celebrity, political connection, or simple wealth) brings with it proportionally greater immunity from legal jeopardy. Fundamentally, it is an expression of real free-market economics. In reality, there is NO SUCH THING as a "free market" -- because every privileged class organizes government (and hence, social economics) to protect its own privileges. What makes the caste system stable is that it preserves the mythology of the American Experiment: that hard work and determination enable one to rise above one's birth or social status. This is the ultimate incentive for the less-privileged classes to support the system; the dream that someday they (or their descendants) might join the ranks of the Privileged . . . so long as nobody makes waves. The caste system also arises from what I see as the innate tribalism of human nature; each caste carries its own mythology of exceptionalism (demonstrated graphically by Kollberg's disquisition on the superior virtues of Administration in HEROES DIE). The essence of Libertarian principle is freedom from government intervention. The caste system is the opposite of Libertarianism; it depends on rigorous regulation of all forms of social and economic interaction. It's a substantial mistake to characterize me as a Libertarian; I'm not. Even remotely. Duncan is (in spirit, anyway), Hari isn't. Heinlein was, more or less . . . and his Libertarian manifesto, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, is specifically referenced in HEROES DIE, with Pallas Ril taking on Heinlein's Scarlet Pimpernel persona of Simon Jester -- which leads her to cause more death and destruction than Caine could ever dream of . . .

I could go into a great deal more detail here, but the simple answer on the caste system is: I made it up.

In fact, when I originally conceived the caste system (back in the 80s), it seemed a great deal more outlandishly dystopian than it does today; now it largely appears to be a direct allegory for the emerging character of American society under Bushism: hands off the privileged, and fist-fuck everybody else.

Feel free to inquire further, if this doesn't answer your question.

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto