It is part of the “Decline of Europe” series and zooms in at the first IP war in the alternative reality of 2027.
The contest: We See a Different Frontier
“We see a different frontier” is:
[…] a colonialism-themed anthology of new stories told from the perspective of the colonized, titled We See a Different Frontier, to be guest edited by Fábio Fernandes and published by The Future Fire.
The main characteristics (bold added by me):
We See a Different Frontier will publish new speculative fiction stories in which the viewpoint is that of the colonized, not the invader. We want to see stories that remind us that neither readers nor writers are a homogeneous club of white, male, Christian, hetero, cis, monoglot anglophone, able-bodied Westerners. We want the cultures, languages and literatures of colonized peoples and recombocultural individuals to be heard, not to show the White Man learning the error of his ways, or Anglos defending the world from colonizing extraterrestrials. We want stories that neither exoticize nor culturally appropriate the non-western settings and characters in them.
What the fuck? I should not write this story
I skipped the first notion of this specific call for submission as I am a white male, 40 years of age, born and raised in a small Dutch village.
The only “strange” cultures I know is mostly from eating at Chinese, Indian and African restaurants (and the minimum of travelling and even less immersion in other cultures).
Submitting my story for a non-whites cultural thingy basically feels wrong. Who the fuck am I?
On the other side: a prolonged call for submission might indicate that the size of their current stack really sucks. And that there is not enough material to fill the publication.
So: last week I reconsidered the call for submissions and I decided to write “The 2027 IP wars”. (Now — Oct. 8, 2012 — called/renamed to: “Freedom: the 2027 IP wars”)
I deciced to turn “who am I to…blah, blah, blah?” into: “Fuck it, let’s try and see if I can pull this shit off.”
I intended to write an “angry story” by doing the exact opposite: leaving the anger to the reader (see below how) instead of putting that anger explicitly in the writing. If you end the story feeling pissed off, or you started feeling the tears well up at several parts, I succeeded. (Rubs hands together satisfied.)
If you see the city and the people and feel the culture happening (working on that now), I succeeded in not making a complete idiot of myself as well.
Girl living in Lusaka, Zambia, witnesses the first beginnings of the so called “First IP war” which happens mainly between China and the United States, with Africa as its playground.
We see how the main character gets involved, get imprisoned, brainwashed and tortured and comes out again victoriously.
The angry part? Think of a world in which your own “Caucasian” world has been colonized and warped and fucked over by your own culture. And how much you yourself (when living in either Europe or the United States) might be fucked over in equal parts. Think “1984” but then written in 2012. In the edits I had to drop some stuff, so not all might come out as well as intended.
Like working with explosives
While editing, removing around 2000 of 9000 words to get at least close to the 6000 words limit, I found several times like I was mixing chemicals to create explosives. “Bump this and that will untangle and/or blow”
Getting away with it or not?
The story touches some very extreme topics like torture and the more unwelcome aspects of religion, including using brainwashing methods.
While I normally think I might get away with several things, I felt I had to balance things a bit more here as this is about a culture I read 4 web-pages online about. Who is talking? What is the main message? Where is explosive content effective and where will it simply ruin the story as a whole, making it an unintentional pamphlet for a cause that does not exist in the country I use as a vehicle and nobody there cares for?
To keep myself from putting my foot in the fire I chose a main character does/did not give a shit about these (political) topics.
I unfortunately had to cut quotes from Buddha and Lao Tzu as — while they felt good when I inserted them — did not connect enough to the story when I edited it. Instead I used the quotes to tell what is going on outside of the point of view of the main character when she is imprisoned.
I could also not use the possible fact that Zambia with 80% of its school going population indeed showing up is probably more literate than Great Britain that has a 20% illiteracy under its population. That is 8 million people, which is more than 50% of the current population of Zambia (13 million in 2010.) Facts are fun.
The IP wars
As summarized in the story:
The “IP wars” are a misleading term. This war, your war, is about slaves, power, resources and trade. This ‘war’, our ‘war’, is about freedom. Freedom to find our own way. Freedom to use whatever is there. Freedom to grow as people, as a nation.
Even the word “war” is misleading.
We simply reject you. We reject whatever claims you think you have over us.
We no longer want your culture, your religion and your interference.
Find your resources elsewhere.
Understand that simple message and there is no war at all.
— The People of Zambia, Uganda, South Sudan, Namibia, Nigeria to the rest of the world; June 14, 2027
Brief backgrounds and intro:
It is 2027. In an alternate reality, Zambia — one of the outsourcing-countries of the Republic of China — is one of the countries right in the middle of an IP (Intellectual Property) war between China and the United states.
Food prices have been tripled due to boycotts. In each family there is at least one person/relative dying of cancer due to the lack of proper working conditions related to specific chemical agents (See this article in the NYT for more inspiration on that subject).
Shopping streets are dominated by European and American brands. Religion (in cities) is dominantly Christian.
When you do R&D for a big Chinese company, you earn slightly more than someone working in McDonalds, “but at least you can do what you have studied for”.
We enter the story world when a large scale set of suicide bombings take place in Christian churches (see this article for the source of that idea) and American and European based retail-shops. Within minutes white press people are on those locations to report the bombings with live or semi-live reports.
News covers mainly the white people who died: tourists and believers who went there to either pray or visit the churches. Strangely enough, even when the identities of the bombers becomes known, the fact that they are from outside of Zambia is not mentioned. The impression is that the bombings were done by “Anti-Christians”.
In brief: things are quite shitty.
Themes, inspirations and elements
- Different types of colonization, including economical and cultural: by brands and multinationals
- The common people in Europe and the United States of America are still slaves and fucked over left and right, even though they think they/we are not
- One-sided/biased news reporting
- Spin-doctoring a war (see this article on “Weapons of Mass Destruction” for the thing that was the first reason and did not exist after all. Alsos htink of the conspiracy theories behind the Twin Towers thingy) against the people of a nation
- Rewriting future history, pointing at one of the concepts that runs as a background item through the “Decline of Europe” series: “what if you can forecast the future and then change it?”
- Brainwashing, Guantanamo bay and (American) Christians using institutes like the army to convert the world
- Denial of local Culture
- Disability as a means of torture (remember the “able bodied” part?)
For my doing I kept it quite simple 🙂
At this point in time I am editing. The rough body is there and feels quite OK. As I wrote from a human point of view, instead of “female”, “black”, “Zambian”, “lesbian” and at a certain point “paralyzed” I now have to weave in just enough cultural elements.
Rewriting dialogs and some interactions. See below.
- Most people tend to follow a very indirect form of communicating. One Zambian described her fellow citizens are being “conciliatory”, which tends to be a very apt description. People will almost never say no flat out; in no’s place you may find an exaggerated pause, or something to that effect.
- People avoid having to be brutally honest, instead choosing to broach sensitive topics by referring to them in the metaphorical sense, or the third person, as it is removed from those communicating.
Personal space / touching
- Generally speaking, an arm’s length or a bit less of personal space is appropriate during conversations. Personal space tends to be less between members of the same gender.
- When two people of the same sex are talking, light touching is acceptable. It is common for two men (or two women) to walk hand in hand in public. This does not have any implication on their sexual preferences; it’s just a sign of friendship and closeness.
- Indirect eye contact is very important. When a young person looks an elder in the eyes it is usually seen as disrespectful.
- Between equals of the same sex there is usually no problem with making direct eye contact.
- Women greeting Women– A warm handshake with the right hand is common in most situations. Handshakes may linger and men often hold hands throughout the conversation. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation, just a sign of friendship.
“Selling Jesus” is one of my “creep up” kind of elements. Even if and when you know it is there, (and now you do) it should feel “dirty”. Like really, really, really: “I need to wash my hands afterwards” dirty when you read it in its full content.
“What are you doing?” I ask, fear slowly drifting up through the cloud of numbness and love.
“We are going to sever your nerves just above the third vertebrae,” he says.
The fear explodes. I black out for a moment, then recover, hearing myself scream.
“No! No, no, no, no.” repeatedly, like an animal, primal.
Creeping up on you:
I get lifted on the wheelchair. I scream: “Jesus, no, no, no, no, Jesus, God save me,” crying and screaming as they take me away and yet another part of my spinal cord is severed.
Here, even more:
It is the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me: this woman touching my face, the feel of her warm, dry hand on my skin, her standing so close I can smell the scent of her body, the scent of her skin. She is like the Virgin Mary to me.
We pray. Then I am wheeled back to my white cell for more hallucinations and more surgery.
While this is her opinion earlier in the story:
“Catholic church denounces and vilifies everything that makes us human. Pentecostal, New Apostolic Church and Seventh-day Adventist denounces and vilifies reality itself on top of that. To me they all represent organized systems of mental disorder.”
Mickey Mouse, Barbie, Baby Born, Wall Mart, Best Buy, Saturn, Media World, Lidl, Penny Market, Prada, Zara, Gucci, Douglas, Starbucks. McDonalds, Burger King. Roman Catholic church, Anglican church, Pentecostal church, New Apostolic church, Lutheran church, Seventh-day Adventist church. Siemens, Dell, IBM, Nokia, IKEA.
All of my life I kind of accepted the slow creep of all these companies and brands. I had black Barbie and black Baby Born. We ate every Sunday with our parents at McDonalds after the church visit. My furniture is from IKEA.
Related to the “Zambian” culture, my research starts now. I kind of take this approach of: “I have no fucking clue” and weave my way around it. For instance: how do you describe a Dutch person? There is no such thing as: “typical Dutch” on the one side (like there is no such thing as: “typical Italian”) and in most cases the real differences come out when conflicts and specific emotional things happen or specific taboos are hit.
In most instances I avoid my entire ignorance by making my characters outsiders. Where “typical” behavior clarifies things, I simply try to make it as casual as possible.