What Is Lacuna About?

Sometimes, readers write to me (or post reviews) that say I'm anti-American because of the Lacuna series. Since I've fielded this question a few times now, I feel I should explain myself.

I don't really dislike America. I'm Australian and Australia has a strange relationship to the US; we share a lot of commonality in terms of culture and values, and those of us who are history-savvy acknowledge the huge debt Australia owes the U.S. after the Battle of Coral Sea in World War II. Although we were never threatened by Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan certainly had their eyes on us and the timely intervention of the U.S. Navy prevented us from being absorbed into the Greater East-Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

What I do think, however, is that America -- just like every nation -- shouldn't be immune from criticism, and that the central protagonists from Lacuna are members of nation-states that typically oppose the U.S. for political, social or cultural reasons. They, obviously, should have a dim view of the USA, or at the very least, act on pre-conceived notions of what the USA is. I don't think Liao's reaction to the Americans in the first chapter is unrealistic.

It's important to note that Liao's disapproval is not my disapproval. In the same chapter, Liao is critical of the People's Republic of China and their One Child policy; later, in one of the later books, James is vocally quite critical of the almost caste-like system of the Iranian military which treats their enlisted men very poorly. The Australian ship is plagued with mechanical issues and is unreliable, much like our real-world Collins class submarines, which have been largely unseaworthy for the majority of their existence. Both Israel and Palestine are directly criticised in the first book. The biggest criticism of the US in the book is that the protagonist is Chinese, and that the US economy collapsed making them a smaller player in the world scheme than otherwise would be the case.

By contrast, in The Spectre of Oblivion, an American captain and ship are introduced. Although Liao expects Captain Anderson to be rude, abrasive, bombastic and pushy; he is calm, quiet, soft spoken and remarkably competent.

But other nations are at the forefront of the story. I chose to name two of the ships the Beijing and the Tehran because I feel there's so much sci-fi out there in the genre of "America goes to space" and so little of other nations. The People's Republic of China has approximately 1/4 of the world's population but there are no Chinese people in any of the 716 episodes of Star Trek or 12 feature films. Even Firefly, a universe where notionally the US and the PRC entered space together and formed a close alliance where everyone is bilingually Chinese and Chinese writing is everywhere, is noticeably bereft of Chinese people. I wanted to have a science-fiction story where China played a significant, if not major, role.

The People's Republic of China is a significant human rights violator and I do not attempt to disguise this, but the books are told from their point of view. One of the bridge crewmen is from Tibet, and in the timeline of Lacuna, Tibet lost their struggle for independence and became fully part of the PRC.

But the US's human rights record has been, in recent years, rather poor. From Abu Ghraib to the invasion of Iraq to the NSA's intrusive domestic and international spying efforts, to the world's highest domestic incarceration rate (higher than Russia and China put together), the US is hardly a shining beacon of freedom.

None of that really matters though.

My personal political views are complex but I can safely say I'm not a communist nor socialist. On one hand, I support personal firearm ownership (a fairly unpopular opinion in Australia), I believe in the right for people to start and operate a business, and I believe strongly in personal responsibility. However, I also think that taxpayer-funded health care is a basic human right, that soft drugs should be decriminalised or legalised, and strongly support gay rights including equal marriage. I am happy to pay taxes as I consider them the price I pay for buying civilization.

Overall, I consider myself a right leaning centrist on the world stage. However, to most Americans, this makes me a flag-waving, Lenin loving communist. I feel this isn't a product of my own beliefs, but simply a reflection of just how far right most Americans are, even the Democrats. I, like many Americans, do not approve of Obamacare; but unlike them I disapprove because I feel it doesn't go far enough. The idea that anyone would find so much opposition to providing the same level of free, available health care that almost all of the developed world enjoys is absurd to me.

Often I am accused of forgetting, downplaying, or disrespecting the US's de-facto role as "world peacekeeper". American intervention in various regional flashpoints and global wars has been a mixed bag. While they do often act as a peacekeeping and disaster-relief force, and the US typically involved in most legitimate peacekeeping operations, they are also involved in many immoral, injust and downright illegal operations.

Regarding American lives lost in "policing operations" worldwide, the idea that America has footed the bill in blood for keeping the world safe is completely wrong. The US lost 418,500 servicemen in the Second World War; the Soviet Union lost 21,800,000 to 28,000,000. In the Korean war, The US lost 33,686 servicemen in combat, the South Koreans lost 137,899. In Vietnam, the US lost 58,286 men, the South Vietnamese between 171,331 and 220,357 men (conservative estimate). If you look at Iraq and Afghanistan the US military deaths outnumber all other allied forces significantly, but these are wars that the US started to broad international condemnation. They have also resulted in a large wave of anti-western hate from Islamic groups and these operations have been marred by numerous US atrocities and civilian deaths (110,600 is the most conservative estimate).

But all of this is by-the-by. It doesn't matter to the stories I write, and is simply posted for introspection. So here's something relevant. I'll spill some of my secrets.

The whole Lacuna series is a metaphor for nuclear weapons. 

The jump drive technology is a technological wonder, capable of peaceful use and military application equally, but it's risky. Even the most careful, precise, civilian use can result in calamity -- and of course its military applications are vast. 

The US possesses the most nuclear weapons out of any nation on Earth, but actively discourages other nations from having them. I take no great personal stance on this issue, but I wanted to explore the feelings and emotions of those who are in the "Have Nots". The idea that some other entity would deny you even peaceful use of technology that they use every single day, and would respond with violence and clear warnings of annihilation if your country were found possessing something they have in abundance, was something I wanted to explore. This was the inspiration for the jump drive technology and how it works, along with the 'kick start' for Lacuna.

The analogy is imperfect as are most, but the purpose of sci-fi is (I feel) to explore issues by analogy. We can take on another view point, another persona and another view of the world, and through this come to a greater understanding of our own place in the universe. I don't claim to have done this perfectly, or even well, but it's an effort at least.

I really appreciate readers writing to me with these thought provoking, interesting questions, and I really appreciate them reading my books -- even if they disagree with many of the character viewpoints within. I welcome criticism and embrace discussion of my work, and it's certainly helped me in the past to bring some of my own thoughts into greater clarity.