Worse than the French Revolution? Eliot Peper Tackles Income Inequality in his Latest Techno-Thriller Breach

I was delighted to have Eliot Peper back on the pod this week to talk about Breach, the final book in his Analog trilogy.

At the heart of his series is a massive corporation, one radically different from most science fictional companies. What makes it so different? It aspires to do good.

The growth of Commonwealth into a benevolent behemoth is chronicled in the series’ first two novels, Bandwidth and Borderless (which Peper discussed on the New Books Network last fall.) By the end of Borderless, Commonwealth, which controls the near-future version of the internet, has become its own sovereign entity, one whose control of the “feed” has given it enough soft power to force nations—through a clause in its terms of service—to implement an international carbon tax.

Breach opens 10 years later. By this point, Commonwealth has instituted open borders and replaced national currencies with “feed credits” (if that sounds crazy, see Facebook’s recently unveiled plans to create its own digital currency, Libra). Commonwealth is now considering implementing something that one of the company’s loudest critics, billionaire Lowell Harding, is willing to kill to prevent: progressive membership fees—essentially a wealth tax—which will charge users to access the feed in proportion to their net worth, with profits invested in infrastructure for the poor.

Harding calls the plan “worse than the French Revolution” and “f**king Piketty on algorithmic steroids!”

Peper brings back the characters from the first two books, giving a star turn to Emily Kim, a hacker turned MMA fighter who has gone into hiding after earlier misdeeds. Between suspenseful fight scenes, characters grapple with heady topics like economic inequality, corporate responsibility and national governance.

There’s a message in Peper’s books for today’s internet giants. The companies “that have gained a lot of power in society,” Peper says, “need to look in the mirror and think about how they should actually be making decisions … that will actually result in a future that people want to live in for the long term not just for the next quarterly report.”

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