FOREVER ALONE DRONE: Madeline Ashby’s missing wallet whirls her back in time

19 Dec

Simon Ings writes:

American science fiction writer Madeline Ashby was on her way home to Canada when her wallet was stolen – an experience she compares to time travel, only much scarier.

When Sumit and I read what she wrote on her blog, we emailed her straight away, asking for the full story. What she sent Arc is a narrative that remains scorchingly personal while brilliantly anatomising the rise and rise of the surveillance state.

A couple of things passed me by in the flurry. First, Madeline works for Brian David Johnson and our business partners at The Tomorrow Project. Ironically, the very day before her wallet vanished, she was speaking publicly about the very technology that would keep her trapped in an increasingly hostile America.

The other thing I didn’t know before her copy came in, was how deep her interest in this business ran. In this short extract, Madeline recalls a childhood spent under the camera’s gaze:

Growing up, I maintained an enhanced sense of being surveilled at all times. We had demo black domes in our garage, perched between the firewood and the Mason jars. Boxes of promotional literature vied for prominence with the detergent in our laundry room. Whenever we were out, Dad pointed out to me how and where I was being watched, and speculated on how many of the domes we saw were dummies. He even bid on the contract for my high school’s security system.

I’ve asked him about the cameras installed at border crossings. He says that Sony is the only company with a total solution to the problem of security: surveillance, storage, card access, analytics. There is the Sony SNCCH280, with algorithms that can tell the differences in motion between a human crossing a road, a dog marking territory, and a tree blowing in the wind. There is the XI wide-area monitoring system, that can see for miles through rain and fog and snow.

That’s for the American border, though, where between 1998 and 2009, over 4000 people have died. Most of them die on the southern border with Mexico, while on the trail north. They die on trucks, or in tunnels, or under the open sky. They die of exposure and dehydration. They die when the polleros fuck up, or when they don’t pay the Sinaloa cartel for the right to cross. It’s a war out there. California and Texas have sewn up their borders; Arizona relies on geography to do the job. There’s a fence in Nogales, a line of black steel spiking up from the green hills like a dog’s raised hackles, but the desert is empty save for skeletal remains. USCBPA doesn’t count those remains against their mortality statistics. Last year, 177 were discovered.

Whenever someone asks me if I do strategic planning, I think of that configuration. I wonder if the planners just took that whole Nefud Desert sequence in Lawrence of Arabia a bit too seriously. I consider the influence fiction has over the future. In the futurism business, we talk a lot about the Star Trek communicator becoming the mobile phone. We talk about Clarke and commsats. We talk about whuffie and Klout. We talk about the dreams that came true, but not the nightmares. We don’t talk about Philip Dick. We don’t talk about, say, precrime and Homeland Security. But being a science fiction writer is a bit like being a pre-cog. It’s my job to have the nightmare before it becomes real.

You can read about Madeline Ashby’s Escape from LA in full in Arc 1.4: Forever alone drone, out now

for iPads and iPhones

for Android devices, Windows and Mac computers

as a collectible print edition

and for Kindle.

And, if you would like to write for Arc, you may want to check out our new competition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: