"I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than
to have 'answers' which might be wrong...everything is
--Professor Richard P. Feynman
"If I knew all the answers, I'd run for God."
--Corporal Klinger, M*A*S*H
One thing which I have largely glossed over in this novel is an
axiom I believe to be true: Power corrupts, and absolute power
Wye, Graham and Deborah are all exceptions to that rule, largely
due to the fact that Wye did not seek power, but had it thrust
upon him in a particularly unlikely manner.
When all is said and done, however, the essential reason why
these three are exceptions is that they are fictional characters.
Humanity would have to be damned lucky to find a dictator as
incorruptible as General Absolaam Wye. I doubt very much whether
such a person exists. Or even that such a person can exist.
This novel is political fiction, but the science described in it
is real. In fact, much of the science and technology described in
The Bloodless Coup exists right now.
The Phaelon could be built right now. The design, by a US
engineer named Gary Hudson, already exists, and his figures - as
given in the acknowledgements section of Niven, Pournelle and
Flynn's Fallen Angels, published by Baen Books in 1992 - assert
it could be built for less than two hundred million dollars.
MoneyCards could be built right now. Vision-processing
microchips which are dedicated to recognising a fingerprint (or a
thumbprint) are already being manufactured by commercial
companies, while short- and medium-range miniature radio
receivers and transmitters are commonplace, particularly in the
field of espionage.
The National Network could be built right now. Optical devices
which operate at speeds of up to one terahertz have already been
developed and described in the scientific literature. A 64x64
array of optical fibres could, using these transmitters, send up
to 4096 terabits (512,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) per second down
the line from one computer to another.
This would allow an entire two hour feature film to be digitised
to the quality of film (4000 lines with 3000 pixels per line
using around seventeen million colours - compare that with the
around five hundred lines of eight hundred pixels used for a
television picture), and transmitted in a fraction of a second.
If you're not interested in the figures, then skip on to the
next paragraph. Otherwise: two to the power of twenty four is
16777216, so twenty four bits - three bytes - are needed to
represent nearly seventeen million colours. Thus, 4000x3000x24
bits - thirty six million bytes - are required for every frame.
With twenty four frames per second, two hours of film-quality
images requires 36,000,000x24x60x120 bytes, or 6,075,000,000
Kbytes. Even if you double that requirement, to allow for the
digitised soundtrack, the entire two hour film can be transmitted
down the fibres in around twenty four millionths of a second. And
the quality of the end result is as good as - or better than -
the quality of the pictures and sound you'd get at the cinema.
And remember - that's using a Network which can be built right
now, with today's technology. And also bear in mind that these
figures take no account even of current high-speed, efficient
data compression techniques.
Wye's education programme is based on three basic studies:
- Teaching philosophical techniques as a method of encouraging
students to think for themselves has been tried, on a small
scale, in the United States. In that case, a group of very
young children - some as young as eight years old - who were
regarded as educationally below-normal were given lessons in
philosophy. The remarkable result was a rapid and dramatic
increase in their academic abilities, even in areas apparently
unrelated to philosophy. So far as I am aware, the trial was
neither extended nor repeated.
- Improving the educational environment as a method of improving
student motivation both to attend school and to learn was also
tried in a (separate) New York study - in that case, academic
performance rose 10% in a single year as a result of techniques
outlined in chapter ten of this novel.
- The increasing emphasis on science and technology is based, in
part, on the Japanese school system - though I have removed the
emphasis on conformity which that system intrinsically
possesses and replaced it with an emphasis from a very early
age on creativity and invention which - at the time of writing
- Japanese students appear to encounter only at college level
and above, if at all.
The effects of Wye's liberalisation of the censorship and
consensual sex laws are based in the main on the Danish and Dutch
experiences, though I have also taken into account various claims
by naturists that their attitude towards nudity shift away from
becoming habitually sexually aroused by naked flesh as they
become more accustomed to the sight.
The effects of Wye's liberalisation of drug laws are mainly
grounded in the aftermath of limited "decriminalisation" in the
Netherlands, where the use of both "soft" and "hard" drugs
appears to have declined as such substances became more freely
available. As an aside, the "gateway" theory (that, for example,
cannabis users are likely to move onto cocaine or heroin) has
been effectively discredited by the Dutch experiment.
As for the more advanced technologies developed by scientists as
the novel progresses - protein wafer manufacturing plants, room
temperature superconductors, nuclear fusion, advanced microchips,
Kelly-Skildon computer-navigated vehicles and the like -
scientists who work in these fields estimate success within
thirty to fifty years.
I have taken the liberty of speeding up those timetables in the
light of the greater communication of the Network, the higher
funding levels of Wye's government and the vastly greater number
of trained scientists working on the problems in the closely-knit
scientific communities of Wye's Britain.
Oh, and if anybody's interested: The line of graffiti briefly
mentioned in chapter twenty six - "All Nigers Are Gay" - is one
that I saw scrawled on a wall on Brighton seafront, in November
1993. It took me a good hour or two before I figured out what was
bothering me about it - beyond its obvious racist sentiments -
after which I found myself amused by the narrow range of the
writer's narrow-minded, illiterate prejudice.
I still wonder sometimes why the scrawl didn't read "All Niggers
Are Queers" (Or, bearing in mind its illiteracy, perhaps "All
Nigers Are Quers." In fact, that may be the answer - perhaps the
writer couldn't spell "Queers" or some other such appellation. On
the other hand, it didn't stop her - or him? - from misspelling
I am aware that several important issues have barely been
addressed in The Bloodless Coup - others have been ignored
entirely. The reason for these omissions, I'm afraid, is all too
simple: The novel is complex and wide-ranging - to attempt to
make its coverage exhaustive as well would be virtually
impossible, and would be of dubious benefit.
Indeed, and for the same reason, I have deliberately simplified
Wye's world in places by, for example, combining terrorist
organisations into the BLA, combining the security forces into
MI7/MI8, ignoring some pressure groups, and - to some extent,
unjustifiably - demonising the USA's response to the Dictator. I
particularly regret having ignored the environmentalist pressure
groups in the course of the narrative.
I, also deliberately, removed two early obstacles from Wye's
path in what are - obviously, I hope - implausible ways. These,
of course, relate to the manner and speed in which the Greenes
took power and the size of the initial bank balance which Deborah
Greene managed to obtain. This was done for the same basic reason
- to simplify the situation at home during the early years of
Wye's transformation of the country.
The reason I am taking the time to mention these simplifications
is that I wish to make it clear that I do not believe that the
changes which Wye made could be achieved in so short a time as
twenty years. I do believe, however, that the Network which Wye
had created by the end of The Bloodless Coup could be built up
over a space of forty to fifty years.
The only significant barrier to you - or, more realistically,
your children and grandchildren - obtaining the advantages of the
National Network, Wye's education program, the MoneyCard system,
the Phaelon, and all the rest is the lack of political will to
invest in these things.
There doesn't have to be a Dictator - all that're needed are
politicians with guts and vision. Those politicians do not yet
exist for one simple reason - people like you and I usually
refuse to vote for them.
Finally: If you remember nothing else, I ask you to remember
this: Of every action - particularly by a politician - ask the
question, both to yourself and out loud:
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