Imagine a future where 16 family-run corporations have replaced every government on Earth.
That’s the premise of Greg Rucka’s monthly comic book Lazarus. An award-winning author of nearly 20 novels and more than 1,000 comic books, Rucka filled the world of Lazarus with dystopian extrapolations of contemporary issues like the influence of businesses and government surveillance programs.
Rucka takes today’s most depressing headlines to their worst conclusions. Gone are private action and even private thought. The vast majority of people, whom elite families call “Waste,” struggle to eke out a meager existence. They are at the mercy of their territory’s ruling family, which uses surveillance technology to eavesdrop and broadcast commands.
“Lazarus is a world that comes out of the fact that democracy is dead. That’s the takeaway. Capitalism killed democracy.” — Greg Rucka
The comic hasn’t been published for long, but it’s already garnering a lot of attention — including an adaptation for the small screen as Rucka helps adapt Lazarus for Legendary Television. Rucka recently discussed Lazarus and privacy with The Parallax. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q: Did the 16 families intend to eliminate privacy?
A: That’s one of the results of the division of wealth in Lazarus, a totalitarian world. Depending on where you are in the world, that totalitarianism is either overt, as in the case of the Family Hock, or more softly applied, as in the Family Carlyle.
All the families run an authoritative system in which very few hold power over a great many. And by necessity, those few have to have apparatus to monitor the populace. They don’t make any real bones about it. The concept of the post is ubiquitous: You’d be a fool, if you didn’t think it could listen to you, as well as be listened to.
How much of the spying we see in Lazarus comes from today’s technology?
Michael Lark, Lazarus’ illustrator, is fond of saying that when we started, this was speculative fiction, but now it’s a documentary. Today there are algorithms to predict typed letters by the sound of the keyboard, so certainly in Lazarus, there’s keylogging.
When I started writing professionally 25 years ago, my rule of thumb was that if I read about a tech innovation in the private sector, the military was five years ahead of it. In the past year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I was off by a factor of five. It’s not a straight ascent; it’s a rapidly steepening curve.
What about the Internet? Isn’t Internet-based communication supposed to save us from ourselves?
What happened in the world of Lazarus is what happened several years ago in Iran, in the Arab Spring: The government turned off the Internet.
The single most powerful tool in combatting what we’re facing today is the ability to communicate. We know more about the death of an African American woman in Texas because of social media more than because of reporting. The power to unite those voices is manifest and obvious. But those places have yet to break into the mainstream, so it’s still primarily accessed by the first world.
In Lazarus, some of the families are quite draconian; some are more subtle. Carlyle family leader Malcolm would want an underground newspaper because with it, he would be able to know what was going on with the Waste.
We talk about the Darknet—a network of sites that can’t be accessed from a mainstream Web browser—and the FBI shutting down its drug marketplace, Silk Road. I’m sure that somebody at the FBI or CIA thought to monitor it.
Can technology be used to protect privacy?
Technology can be limited only by its application. We have done damage to the environment. The solution to the problem is both political and technological. But the political will isn’t there, and technological won’t matter without it.
I’m genuinely quite pessimistic. Lazarus is a world that comes out of the fact that democracy is dead. That’s the takeaway. Capitalism killed democracy. In a world driven by haves, then by necessity, there must be have-nots. And the haves will go to extraordinary lengths to keep what they have.
An invasion of privacy is not going to give anybody pause. The coming of quantum computing means that it will be possible to look everywhere. We’re going to see more and more people moving to face-to-face communication and handwritten communication, and we’re going to see people not go online to find someone with whom to have an affair. The people who bought into relationship cheating site Ashley Madison maybe didn’t think it all the way through.
It’s one thing to do it and know you’re being monitored. It’s another to do it and believe that it’s private.
The next issue of Lazarus, by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, is scheduled to be published by Image Comics on October 28.