Ergo Sum Afterwards
Hey everyone, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed "Ergo Sum" as much as I enjoyed writing it. A lot of the locations are based on the area I grew up in, the Delaware Valley and northeast corridor between New York City and Washington DC. The fact this region is the heart of the American commercial and political hub made it a good setting for a technothriller involving byzantine conspiracies.
If you like this book, I recommend checking out the following: "Neuropath" by R. Scott Bakker, "Blindsight" by Peter Watts, the "Ghost in the Shell" anime, "Snow Crash" and "Diamond Age" by Neal Stephenson, "Daemon" by Daniel Suarez, and the "Deus Ex" series of videogames. Some nonfiction inspirations are "Global Guerrillas" by John Robb and "The Long Emergency" by James Howard Kunstler. Classics of strategy, like Sun Tzu and John Boyd, are equally relevant.
Subconscious: Neuroscience, weapons, and asymmetric warfare were my main inspirations. Much of the neuroscience presents some rather interesting implications to society. The researcher Benjamin Libet studied the neuroscience of free will and consciousness, and others have followed in his footsteps. Interestingly, researchers found the subconscious mind had already made decisions up to 10 seconds before the "conscious" mind ever did. The fastest possible reaction time between noticing an event and responding is roughly 200 milliseconds, but consciousness can add delays of hundreds of milliseconds (essentially doubling the response time). The conscious mind constantly bottlenecks the flow of information from other parts of the brain, and easily gets distracted. Libet's research estimated that the conscious mind could handle about 20 bits per second, less than a small note or index card. Also interestingly, alcohol and fatigue can reportedly allow for more creativity, due to the conscious mind "slipping" in the information that it lets through.
Innate Glitches: The brain is a miracle; a miracle it works. The reactions of a person can also vary depending upon mood. Biochemistry affects neurochemistry through hormonal and physiological signals (and vice versa). The human brain is not a thinking machine. It is a feeling machine that happens to think, and rather poorly, at that. There are innate flaws in the function of human brains, known as cognitive biases. The image people have of themselves is often different than how they really are. The brain is used overestimating one's own proficiency at various things and underestimating the time actually needed to complete a task. Many people succumb to wishful thinking and believing they are exempt from low probabilities. The optimists tend to over-inflate the probabilities of something positive happening, even though depressed people, cynics, and realists are often more "realistic" in their chances. Even knowing psychology and neuroscience does not help, any more than a fish realizing it's wet. (This is known as the observer bias.)
Heartstrings: Empathy and feelings for people are believed to be tied to facial recognition. Face to face contact has improved many jobseekers' chances of employment, as it is harder to turn down someone once a face has been matched with a name. This is why people might not care about a news story about a war in some distant country, but be more emotionally affected when tragedy strikes someone in their immediate social circle. People also tend to listen to those who talk the loudest, even if they do not know what they are talking about. Politicians and advertisers have long used deception and wishful thinking to get people to subscribe to their "brand." Such "loyalty" in politics, religion, and other areas can easily lead to people excluding all outsiders as non-people. Deception can displace reality, as the brain "rewards" the rejection of information that does not agree with its worldview. Self-righteousness can become as addictive as narcotics, and certain "true believers" seek out opposing creeds not to discuss, but to get the neurological "high" from agreeing another viewpoint to compensate for their own insecurity. Isn't it amazing that despite this we've come as far as we have, technologically and socially?
Older Guns: Many of the guns used in the story are based on existing models. By the time of "Ergo Sum," desktop manufacture has allowed small arms to be produced at extremely low cost. While maniacs with heavy weapons are a risk, there are things that could be made in basements even today that make deranged individuals with machineguns seem quaint. Some assault rifles and submachineguns can literally be manufactured out of scrap metal, with only the most basic tools. From "zip guns" to "Chechynan firecrackers" to the arms of the Khyber Pass to guns made in Brazilian favelas, homemade weapons are hardly new. Some designs, such as the British Sten and infamous Kalashnikov family of rifles, can literally be made from scraps. I imagined the weapons used by the Cause include homemade firearms of that style, pressed into service alongside scavenged and captured weapons.
Newer Guns: The League, Commonwealth, and more advanced factions rely on nanofabrication for firearms. These weapons are often built in the style of older guns (often to ensure reverse compatibility with existing parts and accessories), but may use a combination of electronic ignition and conventional mechanisms to fire. Caseless ammunition or rounds using advanced polymers are used instead of brass casings, although these guns are often able to accept "conventional," plastic, and caseless ammo types (although not always interchangeably). Bullpup firearms are common, especially due to the close-quarters combat most of their firefights take place in.
Influences: Vincent Thorndike's pistol is a descendant of the Glock family of pistols with features from the Heckler and Koch USP (such as polygonal rifling, external hammer, and a conventional safety), and his rifle is a combination of the Steyr AUG A3 and Tavor TAR21 with an under-barrel grappling hook launcher and winch with fullerene cables. His weapons are similar to the standard gear used by the Commonwealth, so he could use his specialized gear on captured enemy gear in a pinch. The common submachineguns and machine pistols are designed as high capacity bullpup PDWs (Personal Defense Weapons) in the style of the FN P90 or Calico submachineguns. The shotguns commonly used are based on the Benelli M3, able to switch between pulp action and semi-automatic fire. The light machineguns commonly used are based on a bullpup version of the Singaporean Ultimax system. Lan's pistol is based on the Mateba Unica 6, an automatic revolver (a weapon where the recoil cycles the cylinder instead of a spring and has the barrel at the bottom of the cylinder to better compensate for recoil). Her Gungnir sniper rifle is based on a bullpup version of the Barrett M82 "Light Fifty," chambered in .50 BMG (also known as 12.7x99mm NATO). Her rounds are based on existing technologies, including "smart bullets" able to adjust their course in midflight.
Ammunition: Even the electric rounds Vincent uses are based on "wireless taser rounds," currently being developed for use in a shotgun. Each round deploys fins to slow it, and has electrodes and a battery that applies the electric charge via electrodes. Other less-lethal rounds he's tried are "pancake" rounds, plastic bullets that flatten in the air and can knock down a target, and tranquilizer rounds, simply bullets loaded with an anesthetic that can disable foes in less than a minute. Each had problems. The pancake rounds had problems at longer ranges. With tranquilizers, the dosage can determine if someone lives or dies based on their body composition. Sometimes, they may be combined with an internal pistol in the round that captures propellant gasses (for added stealth) and/or use a reduced gunpowder charge to lower the velocity (although this has problems cycling the action of firearms designed for more powerful rounds, requiring modification).
Manufacturing Technologies: Desktop manufacturing technologies and automated assembly tools have advanced significant by the time of this story. Most rare-earth materials are scavenged from old products and landfills rather than mined. Nanotech "shredders" allow for almost any material to be reduced back into feedstock and recycled. Nanotech fabrication allows the cheaper production of metamaterials and fullerenes. Most batteries in this era are based on carbon nanotubes, graphene, and other fullerenes, which do not require the expensive rare earths of current technologies, can hold a charge for longer periods, and can be recharged in special wireless recharge areas or from motion "scavenging devices" or ambient power.
Gadgets: Augmented reality is common in this era, for recreational and military use. It allows the real and virtual worlds to merge, making hacking and electronic warfare more important. Information warfare gear typically includes gear able to passively observe changes in nearby electromagnetic spectrum on frequencies commonly used for communication, and amplifiers to pick up and broadcast signals and electronic attacks. The thermoptic camo depends on metamaterials for its cloaking capacities, being able to radiate heat and reflect light due to its negative refractive index. Terahertz vision devices can see through thermoptic camo, although some techniques can make the image less clear. The grappling line is based on a fullerene-based rope able to hold significant amounts of weight.
Centralization: Highly centralized structures also tend to be highly stratified. From ancient empires to feudalism to the Soviet Union to gangs to the current tangle of financial institutions and governments, centralized oligarchies offer benefits to the few at the top at the expense of those below them. Even if run by an adept elite, they must still depend on less-adept subordinates. When the distance between the leaders and the bottom of the society is minimized, the elite are likely to understand how most in their society live. If the difference between the top and bottom is too great, the elite becomes out of touch with reality. Highly stratified societies can be prone to catastrophic failure and instability, as people look outside the power structure for alternatives. Vestigial elite may persist for years, even after they're effectively removed from most decision-making. The Roman Empire was effectively dead long before the last western Emperor was dethroned. The Soviet elite had long been displaced by corrupt officials and gangs as the effective powers on the streets, even before the Soviet collapse.
Commonwealth: The New Columbian Commonwealth is a corrupt state emerging in a similar manner from the vestigial American government, designed to retain the privileges of the elite corporate and political parasites that crashed the old system. The exact difference between corporate and government elites is pointless in the Commonwealth, as many companies require government contracts and bailouts and many politicians hold financial stake in those companies. The Commonwealth is not merely a fascistic police state or even kleptocratic banana republic in the classic sense. It is more effectively run as a neo-feudal regime, with fortified towns and cities holding its citizens and those outside being considered as outlaws or non-citizens. They deploy many field research operations, but most are short-term attempts to gather human subjects. Their research culture tends towards sloppy and rushed results, due to shareholders' demands of scientists and engineers.
Cause: The Cause is more decentralized compared to the Commonwealth, but still centralized in the strategic sense. Their structure mirrors several real-life gangs and guerrilla movements, especially those strong enough to act as "shadow states." They adhere to local bosses and ultimately to the Voice. In the poor urban areas they occupy, they act as the de-facto government or the kingmakers with respect to existing factions through arms dealing, assassination, and other methods. Their leader's paranoia means he is less present with respect to day to day operations, but he has no qualms about killing those who step out of line. Despite the Commonwealth targeting known leaders, there is an ample supply of replacements. Infighting is said to be the top killer in the Cause, with the Commonwealth being a mere second. They prefer to hit soft targets compared to infrastructure, mostly due to the current leader's insistence. They prefer to take what they need by force, whether assaulting caravans or looting goods from a gated Commonwealth suburb.
League: The Yangtze League originated as a group of Chinese and Asian Americans who pooled their resources during the coup. Immigrant and minority communities often have personal relationships, given experiences of certain members was from outside the dominant society. Chinatowns inside urban areas can be an example of an "urban village," a close community with a larger one. Since then, they've recruited outsiders and grown to become the closest thing in the Commonwealth to a free society. While there are overall leadership structures, they are democratically elected or appointed by knowledge. Sometimes, "smart mobs" of citizens are formed to address problems. Their decision to recruit stranded university students and faculty during the coup helped start their own independent technological development. They strive for self-sufficiency and make their infrastructure redundant and decentralized, so it's harder to destroy. While unable to stand up to the Commonwealth's resources, they do understand that making it too costly to remove them would be an optimal strategy. Likewise, they offer incentives for individuals to steal information and technology of note from their foes, forcing their enemy to divert more resources to security.
Decentralization: The League is the most decentralized of factions. Their development in local power, food, water, defense, and manufacturing means they're less vulnerable to guerrilla warfare and cascading failures of infrastructure. They're essentially a self-repairing system, unlike their more centralized foes. Given the economic, political, and environmental collapse that's occurred in the setting, decentralization makes sense. Neurologically, people have more incentive to fight hard for those they know and love, so a re-localized community also makes sense from a psychological point of view. A cornered enemy can fight fiercely, as Sun Tzu says. A historical influence is the Nizari "state" in the medieval Middle East. The Nizaris were an Islamic religious minority in the Middle East at the time, and could not match the numbers of their rivals. So, they established fortresses that were self-sufficient and ideally situated in the terrain. Enemies could not march armies on them without alerting the defenders. Even if one stronghold fell, there were others scattered across a wider region. They also had their own libraries and scholars for education. One more famous fortress in modern-day Iran is Alamut, once the base of the infamous Assassins. The Assassins used psychological tactics and precise violence directed against their enemies, since they could not match them in armies or wealth.