TIME waits for no man – even less for a novel – and with events as they are, it has become all the more frustrating to experience the arduous process of finding a publisher in an era that seems perfect bound for my novel Citizen Zero.
They say that what goes around comes around, and this certainly seems to be the case here. Citizen Zero was born in the aftermath of an earlier recession, with heavy unemployment still a painful legacy for many. The years passed by, as I wrote and developed the story, and that story encapsulated themes of social exclusion, the divide between rich and poor, terrorism, and the technological capabilities for the construction a surveillance society. Still the world turned...
The Nineties became the Noughties. I finished the book and the world changed around us. The good times rolled in the economic boom times. Things, as promised by New Labour in 1997, could only get better, but they didn't do so for everybody. The boom time had losers a'plenty. Many of them had lost in that earlier recession, some of them even the big one of the 1980s, the legacy of which remains with us to this very day.
Somehow, though, they didn't quite count. Sure, there were the occasional laments about exclusion, poverty and the usual political promises, but they jostled with many concerns and fears – like the rise of the surveillance society. And of course the explosive change that occurred in September 11 2001.
Plenty of events fuelled the rise in social authoritarianism; the imbalance between citizen and state was skewed further in the wake of terrorist attacks, both overseas and at home – but this was the big one. It launched two wars and altered the way the State perceived its citizens, and the way those citizens perceived each other, let alone the state.
The fear of terrorism was used to justify curtailing civil liberties and increasing the powers of the state. What balance freedom versus security? Slice by slice, it seemed that security vetoed liberty at every turn. Though the new Coalition Government has vowed to rescind much of New Labour's unpopular limitations on civil liberties, and to decentralise power, the jury is still out on whether Britain has woken up in time to turn aside from becoming a surveillance state.
And now, to cap it all, the boom years have collapsed. Recession and a massive national deficit brings the Treasury axe to public spending, job losses are a certainty, even though arguments rage over how many will lose their jobs. This is the Age of Austerity, and it will linger long and hard. And there will be losers a'plenty.
One day, the good times will roll again. But what will happen to those who lost in this financial quake (not to mention those lost and left behind in earlier recessions)? There are fearful predictions of a lost generation of school leavers and graduates. Worries about the impact on communities. Nothing is certain other than that there will be collateral damage – and its after effects will linger long after the affluent in society feel able to loosen their belts and allow the good times to roll once more.
Looking at the first decade of the 21st Century, it has been strangely compelling to see how the world has resonated with the fictional events depicted within this story. And here we are again, come full circle, another recession, more social fallout, and question marks over the future. We stand on the hinterlands of the landscape of social chaos and discontent that gives birth to the world depicted in Citizen Zero.
One hopes that the real world does not continue to resonate further with the book; the rise of a dictatorial Prime Minister emerging out of a period of massive and destabilising social unrest; a leader presiding over and fortifying a bitter divide between rich and poor; orchestrating a surveillance society that exists at the moment only in potential, for the technology isn't quite there; a society that sows the seeds of its downfall and becomes overly confident in its ability to hold back the excluded underclass it made for its own comfort; a society that is destined to fall as it rose – that is something we can seriously do without. Except as something to read about; a grim warning of what might be if we are less than careful – and humane with the worst off in our society.
Citizen Zero is a political thriller and an unabashed social satire – and it has come into its own in this Age of Austerity. Now it is coming out of the shadows, ready to find an audience. The future is what we make it today… so be warned, and be prepared.
Citizen Zero is coming.
18 July 2010
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