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The New Serfdom – the Background

I’ve had a mild case of nerves considering this, but it makes sense that if I’m going to write about the development of the novel, it’s not very helpful to readers to conceal what it’s all about. There’s definitely that authorial protectiveness, the fear that someone might come along and steal my beautiful idea, but that’s just paranoia about something that has almost zero chance of happening. So, here goes.

TNS is set in the United States, around 2065 or so. It assumes that climate change is going to bring about all kinds of extreme changes, many of which are already being anticipated by scientists and futurists. Some of those changes are bound to be in governments and the social order.

Many of the ideas in the book are based on actual history. The central one is fiefdoms — the ownership of land and of its workers by one powerful individual. Many different social structures have arisen during the 21st century, and one of them is baronies, which are modeled on medieval fiefdoms.

Another bit from history is the Janissaries of the Ottoman empire. The Janissaries were slave/soldiers whose position was often more important than their slave status would imply. Graves provides education for the children of his serfs, and has a cadet program for the boys, leading to adult positions as Janissaries for those who qualify. They act as soldiers, guards, and security.

Another feature is the return of an institution which has waxed and waned, but exists right now, mostly hidden from public view — the leasing of convicts to work for various businesses. Barons and businesses can lease convicts, and also have the option to buy convicts who’ve been sentenced to life without hope of parole.

TNS takes place mostly on the barony of Jeremy Graves, who inherited an entire gated community from his father. In the areas between the baronies people are free to live their lives as they wish, but it’s increasingly dangerous. The baronies are successful and growing because the loss of personal freedom is compensated for by the advantages — comparative safety, and the certainty of basic needs like shelter and food.

Many of the baronies have “treaties,” agreements that they won’t go to war with each other, that they will even come to the defense of the other baronies, that they won’t poach serfs, etc. Some baronies are based on formerly and presently illegal businesses, such as drugs, prostitution, smuggling. Graves’ barony is based on agriculture and the production of various products (not decided on yet) and legitimate trade with the other baronies.

Technology is a mix of the old and new. Barons use drones to watch over their own turf and to spy on other baronies. Solar and wind power are used, sometimes as the only power sources, sometimes to fill in for unreliable services from energy companies. Almost everything is privatized, including utilities, transportation, schools. Climate change has made it necessary to return to older, more adaptable methods of agriculture.

The power of central governments has waned. Some parts of the country are in a state of anarchy, others have loose de-facto governments which pretty much ignore federal and state demands and laws. A few areas have effectively seceded.

Everything is in flux.

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4 Comments

  1. This sounds like a great concept, and I’m glad you shared it because it’s really got me interested in the progression of The New Serfdom.

    Thanks for trusting us, Catana. I think sharing ideas can often help inspire others too. Also, whilst we do fear that our ideas may be stolen, there is no one better to write a story on this concept than you because you already have the world and characters mapped out in your mind. :)

    • Thanks Geoff. Even if someone took the same plot (from the next post in the series), they wouldn’t write it the same way, so it’s silly for me to worry about it. Besides, :-) this plot is so complex that I doubt anyone would come near trying to duplicate it. In fact, it’s so complex, that I have moments of horrible doubt about being able to work it out. And I do love sharing the process. That’s really what the blog has been about from the start, so it would be a cop-out to stop at a point that’s really hard for a lot of new writers. There’s much less written about developing a novel than about editing, character development, etc.

  2. Plot sounds good, Catana. I like the use of old and new; that way, you can get the most interesting/useful to the book bits for both. When I used to give fiction writing workshops, I used to give 8 people the exact same plot to work on between one week and another. It was amazing to see, the following week, how very different each person’s take was on it. Reassuring, too.

    • Considering how many possible plot points I can consider and set aside in writing a novel, it only makes sense that if you gave a bunch of people the same plot, every one would be different. Which gives me an idea. What if a writer set up a basic plot and then wrote it in several completely different ways? I think that would be fun to tackle as a small collection of short stories.

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