In Influx, Daniel Suarez imagines a future where a shadowy government bureaucracy represses technological innovations.
What inspired Influx?
The idea that a “Bureau of Technology Control” is the reason we don’t have flying cars and fusion appeals to us on some level—wish fulfillment perhaps. But I certainly don’t believe there’s a secret arm of the government squelching progress. Instead that conceit was my reaction to a growing secrecy in our society and the dramatic power disparity this causes. People seem to think that modern society is more open and transparent than ever, but recent revelations show that the public has very little idea how technology is really used to wield power—nor do they realize the magnitude of that power imbalance. I chose to personify this through the BTC.
What was the hardest part of writing it?
The hardest part was coming up with a convincing technology that could redirect gravity. One of the features of all my books is that I go to great lengths to research technology—to get the details right. This becomes more difficult obviously when you’re writing a sci-fi thriller like Influx, but I still wanted to hew close to scientific principles in achieving what is (for now) not possible: a gravity mirror. For Influx, I read widely on theoretical physics to understand current models of gravitation. This led me to String Theory and then Brane Cosmology, where only gravitation moves through all dimensions. Finally, I sat down for several hours with a couple of NASA physicists to find a gray area in current theories of gravitation where I might place my sci-fi gravity mirror. The goal is to create a sci-fi element so convincing that even an expert can enjoy it.
Do you feel the gap between technological advances and humanity’s ability to adapt or anticipate unintended consequences is growing?
Absolutely. That’s partly because the modern world is becoming more complex each year, and all the interactions between the systems we build are increasingly unfathomable to any single person. I take heart that previous generations would recognize our plight. Just sample the outrage in newspaper op-ed columns over the introduction of Kodak’s Brownie camera in 1900—how portable cameras would destroy privacy as we know it—and you’ll see that society is always a step behind coping with the innovations that are constantly looming to unravel it. Yet, even as society is unraveling, there are still others weaving a new social fabric. It is that flexibility in the face of change that gives me hope for our species.
Is there a role for a benign analog to your Bureau of Technology Control?
No. That’s not to say there should be no regulation of technology—certainly we insist on car and driver’s licenses, and we don’t allow just anyone access to radioactive isotopes—but regulation needs to occur in public, not in secret. It’s precisely the increasing trend toward classification and secrecy in America today that I’m reacting to with Influx. I am categorically against concentrations of unaccountable power. Whether it be in the form of a government, a church, a corporation, or the local bowling league—whatever form it takes, power that does not answer to any authority but itself is a recipe for disaster. This is true no matter how noble the founding mission of that organization.
What themes do your books share?
My books tend to focus on technology-driven change. I’ve long thought of technology as a physical manifestation of the human will. As technology advances and changes society, it alternately enhances individual power or centralized authority—one or the other. It’s these shifts that often cause wrenching social change and moments of conflict (from the Luddite movement to Wikileaks and everything in between). The conflicts that arise from those shifts are where I set my focus, and conflict is what drives compelling stories.