I was in White Dwarf Books, perusing the shelves for some interesting titles, when I noticed a section devoted to the 2009 Philip K. Dick Award nominees. I picked up each in turn, checking out first the cover, then the blurb on the back. When I got to The Prisoner by Carlos J. Cortes, the woman at the counter said: “That’s the one everyone is talking about.” Apparently, the novel was a hit with her regulars. Intrigued, I purchased a copy (along with the other nominees, all of which I intend to get around to eventually), re-read the blurb on the drive back and, by the time I arrived home, I was so intrigued by the premise that I decided to make The Prisoner a book of the month club pick.
Well, at the risk of repeating myself, The Prisoner was one of those rare book’s whose execution more than lives up to its premise. It’s clever, cool, and, despite its scifi trappings, very topical. A highly recommended read. As is the following Q&A with its author, Carlos J. Cortes.
I’ve got to get him to elaborate on his experience exploring the various sewer networks in researching his book…
Sylvia writes: “Questions for Carlos Cortes: First, thank you for a well written and developed story. I enjoyed it very much.”
CJC: Why, thank you, Sylvia.
“1. It was not clear to me and I may have missed its treatment, In the report of the theft of blood (for Russon) mentioned strange foot prints. Antonio, I believe did the stealing and he had prosthetics. So I was waiting for the shoe to drop, as Dennis and Nikola were so thorough, if the authorities were able to identify a military issued prosthetic and link it to him.”
CJC: I follow your reasoning, but at the stage of the blood theft, Nikola had no clear idea of the players involved. Nikola discovers Odelle’s involvement toward the end of chapter 36. The scene with the prosthetic footprints is at the end of chapter 29. Nikola doesn’t know ex-military personnel are involved and, besides, the bionic legs I describe in my novel are not a figment of my imagination. The bionic (not my choice of adjective, but the manufacturer’s) Power Knee, is made by Össur, an Icelandic company, and available to anyone, not just the military, as long as they can pay its $300,000 tag.
“2. What became of the watch Laurel gave to Metronome so he would be able to know the proper timing for releasing the pregnant rat? Thank you for participating in Joe’s Book club and taking time to respond to questions.”
CJC: Er… no idea. After Metronome departs, carrying the rat cage, we never meet the boy again. In the afterword, I wrote that the guys at the farm adopted him. I suspect Metronome would treasure the watch forever. And you’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.
Iamza writes: “Masek must have known of Palmer’s plan in order to have the correct decoy van with the correct license plate sitting at just the right intersection in the city to allow for the decoy to be destroyed, suggesting that Masek was in on the plan from the very beginning. But if that’s the case, why did he work so hard to find out all he could about the escapees? Was it just curiosity, a burning desire to find out why Russo was the one chosen for the escape plan? And what made Masek suddenly decide to turn on Odelle? I mean, Masek doesn’t exactly have the ‘knight in shining armour’ gene, and one gets the feeling he doesn’t really care who he works for as long as he gets paid. Was it just a case of seeing the writing on the DHS wall, and opting for the winning side?”
CJC: Wow! Have you read the book or studied it? Yours is a multi-tiered question. To answer it let’s take it backward from the end. As you correctly point out, Masek is a mercenary, like every other independent consultant I’ve ever met. Employees may feel a level of duty to its employer, be it a corporation, king or country. A mercenary is a different animal. The first tenet of the mercenary is to enjoy his spoils; he places his well-being before that of his client.
Masek knows Odelle has kept him in the dark, but he doesn’t know why. When he finds out, (chapter 36) he realizes she’s unbalanced. He also suspects, that if her shenanigans are ever discovered, she will drag him with her. Masek’s conundrum is who to side with. He knows far too much. If Odelle wins, chances are she will try to clear any loose ends, and nobody enjoys retirement continuously watching over one’s shoulder. After chapter 36, when Masek discovers the scope of the operation and the players involved his choice is clear; he throws in his lot with the Senator.
TimC writes: “Some questions for Carlos J. Cortes. 1. What kind of research did you do for The Prisoner and how long did it take you to do it? The descriptions of everything from the technology to the sewer systems is very thorough and believable.”
CJC: I wrote the structure of The Prisoner, after reading the scant papers released by teams of scientists investigating human hibernation (I didn’t make that up). It occurred to me that just as firecrackers made the Apollo program inevitable, human hibernation would be used in the future as the means for cheap storage. In essence, jails are just that; parking lots for those individuals society deems undesirable.
Sewers are cities weakest spots in terms of security. To stage a credible break from a sugar cube, accesses and streets were out of the question. So, it was down to the sewers. Unfortunately, I knew next to nothing about the world beneath the city streets. No problem. In Barcelona I got in touch with several members of urban tribes who, in turn, introduced me to the fearless fraternity of urban explorers. Thus I embarked on a binge of sewer exploration across several continents.
“2. The book was obviously influenced by contemporary events. Just wondering if there were some not so obvious influences, like other authors or films for example?”
CJC: In 1979, Peter Lurie published his seminal ‘Beneath the City Streets’ an expose of a government network of tunnels, escape routes and deep shelters under London. The book caused uproar and not a few problems for Peter with the British Authorities. Over the ensuing thirty years I toyed with the idea of writing a novel in such a setting. The Prisoner was it.
“3. What are you working on next and when can we expect it at our local bookstore?”
CJC: I’ve finished ‘Mahdi,’ a thriller about the Muslim long awaited eschatological redeemer, now doing the rounds of agents and publishers, seeking a place to roost. With luck it will see the light next year. I will keep you posted.
At present I’m working in what can only be described as a folly; a gargantuan 800+ page thriller titled ‘Light Bondage’. The manuscript covers a future unavoidable scenario when the present civilization collapses and disappears. Light Bondage proposes that individual freedoms are at the root of our decadence and that eugenics hold the key for humanity’s survival. Go figure.
AvidReader writes: “I really enjoyed the book too and it ended up surpassing all expectations. I did, however, have one big question that was bothering me that was never (as far I can tell) answered: Odelle spends significant time and effort trying to track down and kill our heroes, but I wondered why, if Russo was such a threat to her, would she have kept him alive in the first place? Why not kill him when she had the chance (ie. having the guardians at the sugarcube switch off his life support?). It’s not as if she was making him suffer since he wasn’t even conscious throughout his ordeal.”
CJC: Revenge is a powerful passion. A dish that, according to the experts, should be enjoyed cold. (I couldn’t resist the pun).
Russo is no threat to Odelle. Russo is the man who stole Odelle’s sweetheart and, when the chips were down, he abandoned her and his unborn child to the tender mercies of riot police. She blames her loss on him.
I’m sane enough to realize that if my lover elopes with the local priest, the blame, if any, rests squarely on my shoulders. To grab a Lupara and go after the man of the cloth or sweet Mary would be, in my opinion, immature. Go tell that to someone as unbalanced as Odelle. She could have killed Russo anytime, even before dipping him in the tank. She prefers to long-term torture as revenge. She goes often to visit and gloat at his punishment. And Russo has been roused many times as hinted in chapter 50. Still, I’ve heard that a spurned lover’s wrath can be like a force of nature unleashed.
KellyK writes: “Questions for Mr. Cortes: 1) The sheer scope and depth of the science-based concepts presented in The Prisoner suggests more than a passing familiarity with the technologies presented. I’m wondering if you can tell us a little about your background and how you were able to drawn on it in the writing of The Prisoner.”
CJC: I spent twenty years of my life building bizarre structures in all five continents. My formal training comprises mechanical engineering, light physics and optics. For the past twelve years I’ve been CTO of a Norwegian high-tech group of companies and I’ve written a score of text books on fiber optics, lighting science, light physics and other hilarious subjects. These books have saved the lives of many people when snowed in and short of fuel.
As field engineer I’ve worked in many countries, visited many more, landed in jail a few times, crossed the odd border hiding in the trunk of cars, shared plenty of drinks and dirty jokes with the locals and woken up in the strangest of places. These experiences, (the ones I dare voice in public and the many I wouldn’t) are a wonderful repository of details, places and faces. My novels draw heavily from experience.
“2) Have both of your books been translated into Spanish? What has been their reception in what I believe is your second home ( Spain )?”
CJC: Unfortunately the answer is no. To date all my non-fiction has been published in Spanish and my fiction in English.
“3) Keeping with this train of thought, are you familiar with the SF literary scene in Spain . How does it compare to science fiction community in America ? Would you say the appetite for scifi is just as strong in Spain , or even Europe as it is in North America?”
CJC: No, I’m not. I’m a bit of a fraud when it comes to SF. I’ve always written mainstream or straight thrillers. When my agent approached Random House with my first novel, Perfect Circle , the publishers wanted a SF novel and Perfect Circle wasn’t. So I rewrote the damn thing, added a few titbits and an alien and palmed it as SF. When they wanted another, I repeated the process (sans alien) with The Prisoner. I’m comfortable with near-future narrative because of my scientific background, but I wouldn’t know how to write hard SF.
“4) If I wanted to explore the worlds of international SF, what are some good European writers to get me started?”
CJC: There’s Francis Carsac, Sándor Szélesi, Sergei Lukyanenko, Rafa Marín and many others, without forgetting the man that started it all: Jules Verne, even if his science was a little iffy.
“5) The Prisoner seems to critique of present political policies, particularly with regard to the treatment of prisoners by the state. Was this intentional or were you simply using present day circumstances as inspiration for a wholly fictitious world?”
CJC: The Prisoner touches an intractable dilemma: prison populations have increased so dramatically that they’re threatening to bankrupt many nations. In the US , each inmate costs the taxpayer $1,000 per day (system, personnel, upkeep, buildings, maintenance, etc). To lock up hundreds of thousands for burning the bud of one plant instead of the leaf of another is crazy. Something will have to be done, and soon. And no, in my opinion, Guantanamo and other gulags are not the answer.
StarGazer writes: “Questions for the author: What types of books do you enjoy? Do you read science fiction as well? Do you have variable tastes in literature? What would you say is the last great book you read?”
CJC: I like thrillers, travel books, narrative and anything that’s well written. My favourite authors are John Le Carre, Umberto Eco, Frederick Forsyth, Paul Theroux and Thomas Harris. The latest great book I’ve read is Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris. In my next re-incarnation, or when I grow up, I want to write like him.
NadiaSedlak writes: “Thank you for answering our questions. I too would like to write some day (and hopefully be a successful published author) and I would like to know what kind of advice you would offer someone just starting out – other than don’t do it! Thanks. NS”.
CJC: This is an easy one. Write. Learn technique. Write. Rewrite. Write. Rewrite some more. Write. Join a writer’s critique group (OWW was my Alma Mater) Write. Hang about writer’s haunts (On Fiction Writing, my group on Goodreads, is a good place to start). Write. Then, after a decade or two, the prose will flow from your pen. Piece of cake, really.
Thanks Sylvia, Iamza, Tim, AvidReader, Kelly, StarGazer, Nadia and, of course, our host Joseph, for having read my work, for your questions, and the honor of your company. To meet, and enjoy people like you, is what makes everything worthwhile.
If you didn’t get a chance to participate in this month’s BOTMC, fear not: a) you can still pick up The Prisoner and drop the author a note at his blog – I’ve included the link in my blogroll, and b) you have plenty of time to pick up Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint in preparation for June’s Book of the Month Club discussion.
Today’s entry is dedicated to belated birthday gal Sheryl!
Michael writes: “1. Was the destruction of Area 51 in the SG-Atlantis finale, the reason for operations to cluster in D.C. at Home World Command?
2. Was the Ark of Truth destroyed for good when the Wraith Darts did their kamikaze attack on Area 51?
3. During the first season of SG-Universe, is there still an SG-1 team?
4. What is Sam Carter’s first priority during SG-Universe’s first season: SG-1, command of the George Hammond battle cruiser, or Area 51 research?”
Answers: 1) Nope. 2) TBD but, for form’s sake, I’ll say no. 3) Yes. I’d imagine it’s made of a core unit of Mitchell, Daniel, Teal’c and Vala with Carter occasionally joining for the odd off-world op. 4) She has been given command of the Hammond.
C.S. Hander writes: “In Atlantis, they used radios with headsets (or were the headsets all in one?) and all personnel seemed to have them, but the crew of Destiny appears to only have handhelds. Was there a reason this was different at Icarus Base?”
Answer: Different operational set-up. Icarus Base was a more down and dirty research center.
Sean D. writes: “Do you prefer organic or non-organic Matcha (and why)? Or does it not matter?”
Answer: Alas, as much as I enjoy the stuff, I’m not an expert.
mike writes: “1. Will we ever see the SGC in SGU?
2. Will we ever see Atlantis in SGU?
3. With atlantis on Earth, did they move all the SGC stuff to Atlantis?”
Answers: 1. Destiny’s connection to Earth will continue to be Homeworld Command.
2. No plans to feature Atlantis in the new series.
3. No comment. Hopefully this question will be answered when the SGA movie is finally released.
tatianajb writes: “I was wondering; when you cook for yourself how you deal with the quality difference?”
Answer: I try to purchase the best ingredients out there and try to accept the fact that I don’t cook like an Iron Chef. But I can try!
Tom Jones writes: “Assuming Destiny has a bridge, any idea when or if we might get to see it? Or any idea what episode we might get to see another significant part of the ship?”
Answer: Yes to both questions.
Major D. Davis writes: “Will there be any atlantis character that make a guest appearance is season 2?”
Answer: Not so far.
Shadow Step writes: “I don’t know if you are referring to me, but I’d just like to point out that I haven’t done that – I was talking in general terms.”
Answer: Nope, not referring to you – or any specific comment for that matter. I too was talking in general terms and used that as a random example.
Shadow Step also writes: “The people are talking among them selves about something, and anyone who then runs of to tell someone who wasn’t mean to hear that is at fault.
Rather like if your your restaurant metaphor was changed to: the people left the restaurant, get into their car and one says to the other “well that was a terrible meal, we are not coming back” – but someone on the parking lot hears this through the open window and runs in and tells the chef and says “Aren’t these rude people!” – well no actually YOU ARE because you try and stir up trouble by spreading the message.”
Answer: I’m sure you may have missed it,but the site’s expressed aim is to get the show canceled – and they provide a list of production, studio, and network contacts in the hopes of magically convincing someone to make it happen. Shortsighted, inept, and silly, granted, but still. It’s obvious they’re not the bunch of poor, mislabeled champions of free speech you assume them to be. Rather like if your your restaurant metaphor was changed to: Going to a restaurant, not enjoying the meal, then starting a campaign to try to get the place shut down.
Mel writes: “The site whose name you like to edit was registered and went online shortly after the premiere in the USA which was on October 2nd 2009. By then the Gateworld “community vision” had been fully implemented for months.”
Answer: Yeah, nice try, but while the site in question may have been registered shortly after the Gateworld announcement, it was operating under another name well before the announcement.
Mel also writes: “I think that statement is very generalizing. Sure, it can happen that a positive comment in regards to SGU gets venomously attacked. But I don’t know ANY forum where something like this doesn’t happen.”
Answer: You’re kidding, right? You do realize there’s a difference between impassioned disagreement and personal attacks. Every other fan site I know of allows the former and disallows the latter. Your site is the sole exception, which is why I initially assumed it was run by a bunch of twelve year olds.