Q&A: The politics of ICoS/Geopolitical influences

This is taken from our Santino & Ais Goodreads group. When we got this email, we both talked about what the answer would be. Santino’s much better at articulating specifics of history so he ended up writing the email. Below is the post he put on GR explaining it and the answer that was sent back.

A few weeks ago, we received an interesting e-mail from a mysterious individual who asked us some pretty specific questions about our inspiration for the geopolitics in the ICoS universe, whether our views have changed in the current political and global climate of 2014, and whether we think there could be a major armed conflict in our world like there has been in the past (and like there was in ICoS before the series started).

Some readers asked me to post my response, so here it is! I’m not including language from the original e-mail since I do not have permission to do so.

Paraphrased questions are in bold.

Warning: May contain spoilers!

Dear Mr. [REDACTED],

Thanks for e-mailing us. It was certainly one of the most analytical and thought-provoking messages we’ve gotten in a while!

Out of curiosity, did you read the full series or did you start out with the newly edited Director’s Cut? I’m curious because the conflict leading up to the world our characters live in has changed very slightly in the newest edition. The heart of the conflict is the same, but the sides are more streamlined.

I apologize in advance for this lengthy reply.

Did you change your views of whether an institution like the Agency has legitimacy by the end of the series? Are the surviving governments of the ICoS world seen as positive or negative forces by the end of Fade?

This is a question we struggled with while writing 1/27, and one of the reasons why that volume took longer to come out than we initially expected. The end of Fade ends on the note of will they/won’t they, and in our initial planning I thought Hsin would be more likely to want to rejoin a new incarnation of the Agency while Ais knew Boyd would never agree to go. As we started writing and I started developing Hsin’s response (which we had to rewrite a couple of times), I realized that Hsin would never return for the same reasons as Boyd: the Agency has done too much to the people he loves for him to ever return, and he knows that he will always be their “material”.

However, that plot point is very specific to the characters in the book and their specific arcs and perspectives. As authors (and the Lexington Defectors as a group even though this idea won’t be explored until a sequel), we do believe that the ICoS universe and probably our own world will always have these covert organizations that do the dirty work that is forbidden according to international laws and conventions as long as different governing bodies vie for power while attempting to prevent outright armed conflict. (We fooled around with the conspiracy theory that Blackwater was such an organization. This was actually the inspiration for the “Murphy Corps” cover.)

Are these organizations a necessary evil? That’s a tricky question. It depends on whether the ends are truly justifying the means. If by tormenting their own soldiers these organizations manage to save thousands of people… I would lean on the side of them being POSSIBLY legitimate. However, these organizations are run by people and people by nature will always hunger for more, which will eventually prevent them from being truly legitimate because a desire for change/good will lead to a desire for more power and control. In ICoS this is not only the case for the governing bodies (which our characters mostly see as invalid by the end of the series due to their distrust of the political climate of the world, and their knowledge of existing covert organizations around the globe), but also for the revolutionaries who have organized and fought to drive those governing bodies out. Everyone becomes corrupted by power.

What was your inspiration for the tension between the American and European branches of the Agency? Were you inspired by historical events or the geopolitical climate of the time the book was written? Have your perspectives changed given the state of the world today? If so, how may the Agency have changed?

The purpose of the American Agency and its European counterpart were to carry out operations to protect the interests of the Western World using means that would condemn their corresponding nations if carried out in the open. The Agencies were initially “needed” to handle the power struggle of an extended Cold War. However that situation became complicated when European nations became closely tied with the Soviet Union/Russia as far as exporting goods and importing oil. Essentially in the ICoS universe (which indeed is an alternate reality, “what if?”scenario based on the real world and history), the US and the Soviet Union/Russia failed to avoid the Hobbesian trap and the tension ended with an actual armed conflict. But at that point, certain members of NATO were no longer willing to back the United States in accordance to their agreement with NATO because of their economic ties with Russia. (namely oil)

We focused on France a lot at first because France was at odds with the US for a while, and we were especially influenced by the situation in Iraq a decade ago. So, in the ICoS conflict it was a case of the US viewing several of their supposed allies as bystanders, and those bystanders inevitably being drawn into the armed conflict when they were caught in the crossfire. At that point, the third world war started. And at that point, tensions between the European and American divisions of the Agency grew to a near boiling point. This is the reason why there is so much hostility between the two divisions in the later parts of the Interludes and Fade.

If we were writing ICoS again with today’s political climate in mind, I think I would have the American Agency expand their focus. In ICoS they are very focused on stomping out rebels and revolutionaries and jumping at shadows because the World War is “over” and they are focused on domestic threats. However, as I watch the events unfolding throughout the world in 2014 (The situation in Ukraine, China and Japan, etc), it seems like history is bound to repeat itself and old tensions are not really dead and buried. So a 2014 ICoS revision would see an expanded focus on covert ops on their former enemies and current “frenemies”, especially France and England (If writing today, I would be very inclined to look into WikiLeaks and all of those wires). Exploring the tension between the American and European division would also be very interesting if we take nationalism into consideration, and whether or not everyone would stay true to the ideals of this organization if it wasn’t in the best interest of their home.

At this point the sender recommended The Fourth Turning, discussed the concept of cyclical history, and the possibility of an armed/nuclear conflict (such as the one in ICoS) occurring in the real world.

Would you see the ICoS world differently if you had conceived it today? Could this affect future stories?

We started writing ICoS on the heels of 9/11, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and during a time when the United States was all about the War on Terror and domestic threats. The culture of fear was sky high. That heavily influenced the nature of the Agency in its original conception. Above I touched on how it would shift if we wrote it today (focusing not just on those domestic threats whether real or imagined and instead paying attention to our former enemies), and I think we would definitely have it be less insular and more aware of the bigger picture. Is it only terrorist and insurgent organizations who would threaten the United States? Could they be drawn into something bigger and more threatening? Are our tenuous treaties and agreements going to hold out if there’s another spark? I think that would be a very interesting question to explore, and there is definitely room to look into it in the sequel. We have already planned for another major event that will impact the lives of our characters and the rest of the globe.

Also, we’re both adding The Fourth Turning to our to-read piles ASAP!

Yikes, that was LONG. Sorry about the length. I got carried away. It’s one in the morning so I hope I explained everything clearly. It was tricky thinking back to the last several years and trying to express both of our thoughts clearly.

Your questions definitely led to me considering things through a new and more exciting lens. We hope we don’t see another major armed conflict any time in the future, but unfortunately it seems less likely that it will be indefinitely avoided.

Again, thank you for the awesome email and thank you for reading!


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