I’m a dystopian novelist who is really much more of an optimist than might appear. Out of all the countries in the world, I think a major U.S. strength is its ability to rebound. The danger is the great ideals the country was built upon can slip away after several generations. My novel centers on a world where that has happened.
In today’s world, the welfare state has become an environment of “what have you done for me lately” and the rich have simply gotten richer because of reckless monetary policy and massive deficits. As a country, we need to think more of our future instead of the immediate self-gratifying present. As the character Hassani says, “We are living in a world where moral climates have no atmosphere.”
Technology is coming that will create a wave of change as we enter an era where biotechnology, autonomous cars, drones, and robotics will take off. As a country, we need to be well positioned for it in terms of a workforce, and if that requires importing brain power, we should do it. The Cause, on the other hand, leverages some of these upcoming technologies such as drones and the DARPA BigDog and projects them into the future dystopia.
How would you categorize your debut novel “The Cause”?
The Cause is a brainy, dystopian thriller (how about that for a mouthful?). If you like to make comparisons, it’s a cross between 1984, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and The Hunger Games. Both a literary agent and an editor told me The Cause doesn’t fit into a clear category, and that might hurt me. Perhaps they are right, but what I really care about is telling a damn good story. I’m glad Roundfire books decided to take a chance on me because I didn’t want to dumb it down or slice away the action. It is what it is. I wouldn’t lump it in the airplane-read Thriller category. It has plenty of action, but the characters are absorbed with their own deaths when put in dangerous situations. Fear is in their heads, and they’re quite emotional about it. A lot of thrillers present the protagonist as superhuman, therefore the narrative is less realistic forcing a greater leap of faith. The Cause also takes you on a journey eight years into the future with a government that is more ominous than the one we see today.
Tell us a bit about The Abattoir, the black ops camp where the protagonist Isse Corvus goes?
The extract of Chapter 4 is just after the protagonist, Isse Corvus, steps into The Abattoir and accepts the challenge of a fight from the leader Seee. The Abattoir is run by an off-the-grid Blackwater type of outfit that doesn’t answer to the CIA because the training they are giving is unlawful (not everyone comes back alive). The SERE camps of today are vaguely equivalent, yet much tamer compared to the gladiator rituals going on in The Abattoir. So if you imagine a CIA infiltrated by revolutionaries (or terrorists depending on your view) who are themselves CIA, then this is the type of men The Abattoir is breeding. The revolutionaries are sleepers waiting to be activated. This isn’t discussed in the novel but it’s the obvious implication of what is going on. Seee, the leader of the camp, is training these elite field operatives whom he has already profiled for a future event he believes is necessary to wake up Americans. Those who don’t fit with the program are either sent away early or done away with later if they don’t seem to be “adjusting”. Seee needs Isse Corvus for a reason I won’t disclose, but he decides to throw the dice anyway, throwing Corvus in the Pit like he would anyone else.
What’s the biggest secret about the book?
It’s really literature in disguise. There’s poetry to the violence perhaps. It’s the beginning of a revolution, and revolution is dirty. As Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” I love that quote because it is so visceral, describing “The Cause” perfectly. There is a sense of chaos in an effort to return to order.
It’s set only eight years into the future because I wanted to keep it topical. I wanted the reader to associate with issues today that will become even more relevant in the future: militarization of the police force, state surveillance, robotics, drones, the thinning middleclass.
What do you think of the publishing world?
Writing something for money is transient, writing something meaningful that sticks with a reader is forever. I have trouble understanding why any author would want to forego the latter for the former, but it seems to be happening all of the time where books have become a commodity. Publishers are equally as guilty. I think Ursala Le Guin sums of the situation perfectly when she says:
“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality. Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship…. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.”
Exactly. Profit isn’t the name of the game for me, and it certainly wasn’t why I wrote this book. I hope readers take away a bit of a message with The Cause as I feel it is an important one as we move closer into the future I portend.
RODERICK VINCENT is the author of the upcoming Minutemen series about a dystopian America. The first novel, titled The Cause, was just published by Roundfire Books on November 28th, 2014. He has lived in the United States, England, Switzerland, and the Marshall Islands. His reviews and short stories have been published in Ploughshares, Straylight (University of Wisconsin, Parkside) and Offshoots (a Geneva publication). For more information, visit: www.roderickvincent.com