Working Title: “Shade”
“I only like the shade when you’re blocking the light.” — Phish
“Besides myself?” — Kamala Harris, when asked “Who threw the best shade during the Democratic primary debates?”
Our story begins in the 1950s with a young CIA recruit, let’s call her Evan.
Just as Evan is beginning her career in a tactical support division based in Brussels (she was involved in the Gary Powers case), the agency is swept up by a vision of its in-house futurist. This futurist is insistent on the inevitability of a culture where everybody is connected by technology, rendering communications the battlefield of the future.
Evan devotes her career to this vision and develops several theories of communication and related applications, including the concepts of rational ignorance, viral communications, echo chambers and fictional journalism. They go unheeded.
Evan lives in the world and becomes bored with it. She defects to the Soviet Union, where her theories have attained a cult-like following. There, she is given a lab where she does amazing work, plumbing the depths of human psychology and understanding its interaction with commerce and social novelty. This research gives rise to such theoretical applications as Ogle, GlobalMirror, and Flock. They were the first visible attempts by the Soviet Union to leverage social manipulation at industrial scale. There were many experiments and many failures, Jimmy Carter and OJ Simpson being two of the most spectacular examples of the latter.
Evan passes, but leaves behind a passionate cult in Soviet intelligence that believes her ideas have religious dimensions, with links to Ouspenskii and Gurdjieff. They continue her work, even as they begin to learn surprising things about Evan — some things that challenge their fundamental faith in her.
Finally, in 2016, the “Children of Evan,” as they refer to themselves, succeed brilliantly, if a little unexpectedly, by engineering the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election. Evan’s disciples become “quiet” celebrities in Russia; they are not publicly celebrated, but very important people make it a point to recognize them and provide gratitude in a number of ways.
Meanwhile, on reddit, a manifestation of the public digital marketplace of ideas that Evan had predicted in the 1960s, a strange thread develops in mid-2020. It claims to have evidence that Evan recanted her ideas before she died and, in fact, warned that if taken to an extreme, her ideas could cause social disruption at an existential scale, creating an unsustainable society. Evan’s early writings on this potential dystopia were seized by the Soviet government and now somebody on reddit is claiming ownership and threatening to release them to the the public.
This is alarming to many people in power, including the heads of a half-dozen global technology companies who have built their businesses on industrial-scale social engagement platforms, i.e. social media. Now they are fighting on two fronts — the front lines of the 2016 election and the rear guard emerging on reddit that could utterly undermine their industry. There is an epic battle in Washington and, in the end, the government negotiates a treaty with the social media complex — but not without significant casualties, including the U.S. Constitution.
While life goes on under this new regime, quantum computing comes online. Evan is resurrected from a sample of her DNA and man, is she pissed! This is not the world she envisioned — indeed, it’s her nightmare version of it. Evan begins a deep, guided reflection on where she might have gone wrong.
During this self-reflection and as a result of her genetic reengineering, Evan has a shocking revelation: the CIA’s in-house futurist whose ideas launched her career in the 50s was a Chinese plant. This agent, who at one time was Mao’s astrologist, was writing deep code to program a chain of social events over the next 70 years that would ultimately catalyze a global war, resulting in Chinese domination in perpetuity.
Evan realizes that we are right now at the brink of that war.