Over the coming weeks in the run up to the launch of Man O’War, I’ll be posting a few lines on each of the main characters in the book, about who they are, what they do and their role in the book. They’re a varied and diverse bunch, in more ways than one, and I have a soft spot for them all. I’ll also be posting a little bit about the creation and inception of each character, and why they are the way they are. I won’t be posting anything spoilerific; these will be more like musings of the author.
The six POV characters are, in order of appearance: the jellyfisherman Dhiraj Om; the corporate Head of R&D Nita Rhodes; brutal gangster Agarkka D’Souza; black market engineer Salazar Gomez; oil heir and civil servant Adem Johnson; and hard-nosed policewoman Tilda Boulton. This week it’s Salazar Gomez.
When I had the original draft concept for Man O’War I had three POV characters whom I knew would drive the story: my jellyfisherman, Dhiraj; my corporate leader Nita Rhodes, and my gangster Agarkka D’Souza. Appropriately they are the first POV characters we meet, and their conflicting ambitions are what open up the first half of the story. As the web of plots and subplots became more intricate it became apparent I needed more points of view from which to tell the main story, and that there were many more types of people who’d be affected and dragged into this kind of story. So I created my “second wave” of POVs: Salazar Gomez was the first of these.
On the face of it, Salazar is like Dhiraj – another everyman character. He just wants what’s best for his daughter, his beloved Lily (his “Chou Chou”), and to try and improve the wretched lot he’s found himself in. But he’s more than just an everyman. His ambitions are familiar to us all, but unlike Dhiraj, he is already immersed in darkness when we meet him, and his story peers through a glass, darkly. Salazar is an engineer of advanced robotics, specialising in sexual plastics and systems. In the world of Man O’War, such a niche specialism might be legitimately used for prosthetics or medical purposes; in Salazar’s case, awful decisions taken in his past life have scuppered any chance of a medical career, and so he has turned to working on illegal sex robots manufactured in the French underworld.
Salazar’s world is violent and seedy, but unlike D’Souza, he doesn’t revel in it. He wants out. But he has enough street smarts enough to manipulate his reprehensible situation for his benefit. When we meet him, he’s secured an interview with Nita Rhodes’s firm, EI Systems. And he’s willing to do anything to get him and his precious Chou Chou out of the slums of Lyon.
More than any other character, I think Salazar represents the potential for what I’ve called the “secondary use of technology”. That is, where tech is being adapted or co-opted or manipulated for purposes that not related to the original intended purpose of the system. To be frank, nobody really knows how technology is going to be co-opted and used until it is dragged from the testing conditions of the lab and into the pool of human ingenuity that is reality. An amusing example would be how magnetrons developed for radar arrays were accidentally adapted to create… ta-da! The microwave oven! A less salubrious example would be the way in which terrorists adapted mobile phone devices to act as triggers for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). I wonder how robotics will be adapted by enterprising individuals, for good or ill? It’s almost certainly going to happen, and I wonder how much thought goes into this area of thought? It’s not really an engineering discipline, and it’s not really a philosophical one. It sits somewhere between the two, I think.
One of my hopes for Man O’War is that it sparks off ideas about these possibilities for technology. Engineers often have a blind spot about how their technologies might be co-opted in the real world, because they are – understandably – distracted by the technical excellence of the product or capability they have created. It’s frequently down to artists and amateurs to explore how these things might be used in different ways. Salazar is an engineer, but for him, necessity becomes the mother of invention.
He might not have been inventive had Adem Johnson not leant on Nita Rhodes quite so heavily. We’ll come to Adem next week.