Today it is my pleasure to feature a guest post from Giuseppe Porcaro. I will share what the book is about first.
About the Book
A politician addicted to dating apps embarks on an existential odyssey to save democracy from being swiped away. In the aftermath of a continental civil-war, nation-states have collapsed, the European Union (TM) holds on, preventing anarchy. Bastian Balthazar Bux is a leading member of The Federation (R), the European network of civil society and local governments. Bastian has just been unexpectedly dumped through an app, the BreakupShop (TM) service. Heavy hearted, he just wants to drink, get on with work and forget his romantic woes. However, he discovers that Nathan Ziggy Zukowsky is planning to sell Plebiscitum (R), a dating-style app that is meant to replace elections with a simple swipe, at the same conference he is invited to attend in Chile. Haunted by the ghosts of his recent relationship, he finds himself without his all-important Morph (R) phone, just a few hours before embarking on his trip to try to save democracy. Will he make it to his conference on the other side of the world? Will he stop Zukowsky from selling his app? And will he ever find a way to deal with his breakup? “Disco Sour is a hallucinatory trip through a future which feels just a phone-swipe away. There are notes of Pynchon, Stross, Heller and Stephenson here, but this is very much Porcaro’s book. It’s wildly inventive, scarily plausible, and it’s also very, very funny.” Dave Hutchinson
SCRATCH NOTES FOR ALTERNATIVE HISTORY BUILDING IN DISCO SOUR
DISCO SOUR is an alt-history novel set in the near past (even if many people think it’s the near future). Set in a parallel timeline where Europe is hit by a civil war, it revolves around the story of Bastian, a dating app addicted politician, who embarks on an existential odyssey to save democracy.
For alt-history geeks, the events covered in the book span between 2008 and late 2013 in this parallel universe, but they are told from the point of view of the narrator-protagonist, who writes his memories from the future, in the late 2040s.
I had a great fun to rewrite a page of recent history and in this post I collect a summary of the scratch notes I’ve made to build the geopolitics of this universe. Not everything made it finally in the book, but it was a lot of fun writing it. No spoilers are presented.
So, the war. It all starts with the burst of the housing bubble in Greece in the late 2000s. The economy is pumped by money laundering and driven by massive urbanisation. The city of Thessaloniki explodes the first. People lose their jobs, anger is set towards real estate companies, or whomever is perceived guilty.
Before the war, national governments were emptied of their actual meaning, weakened by lack of funds, lack of political instruments, and outsourcing state functions to private actors. For example, there were there were no national armies, but private contractors were hired by the government for ad hoc operations.
The death of a teenage boy, suspected to be raped and then drowned by the owner of the largest Greek real estate company sets the city on fire, circa 2008. People come on the street and set fires and barricades to building sites in the hood of Kalochori in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Kalochori is a symbolic place. It’s an economic free zone, operating under authorities independent from the domestic laws of its host country, these zones typically provide premium utilities and a set of incentives – tax exemptions, foreign ownership of property, cheap labour, and deregulation of labour, etc. – to entice business. Exempt from the law, labour abuse can proceed unchecked by political process. Free zones contribute to the hollowing out of the nation state.
The attitude of the Greek state after the accident is ambiguous. First, they don’t want to get involved in the riots. Police is deployed but they have the strict order not to fire against anyone. They act as a sort of interposition buffer within city boundaries and they just limit themselves to contain violence.
Pressured by the largest companies and the mafia, in virtue of the right to defend property, the government drafts a legislation allowing armed self-defence of building sites and free economic zones by hired troops. Most of translational real estate companies fearing a domino effect, they pressure Greece to make a case for a European legislation on the matter.
After an extraordinary European summit of Heads of State, a legislation is jointly passed throughout the continent: the Constructions & Free Zones Acts. The only thing that softens the legislation is the absolute prohibition to use armed air-forces and air-drones as they would easily go beyond the perimeters of the constructions and free zones.
At that point, the European Commission and the European Parliament issue a declaration against the Acts, but it’s a symbolic protest. As retaliation, Denmark, Sweden, the UK exit from the European Union and form a new “United Kingdom”.
All over Europe people see these laws as provocations, and they respond with provocation, spreading way beyond free zones and the largest urbanisation projects. They start smashing anything that vaguely resembles a construction site, including work in progress in the streets.
Cities become battlefields. The death toll in this first wave is considerable. There is only the will to destroy everything, rather than fight against someone specific. Also, provocation plays a big role. Students, local activists, normal citizens, can’t believe, at the beginning, that the militarisation is for real.
The first weeks are real butchery and confused. Often troops are hired by local contractors, that are either in charge of scaffolding, or the security of the site, other times they are hired by landowners. In the Free Zones, troops from various contractors operate, making it difficult to have coordination in the military actions.
The conflict peaks.
The organisation of different factions happens not along party lines or among fighting for a cause. But vendetta. For those within their family, their associations, their neighbours, that have been killed or injured by the troops during the first wave.
This is a simplified scheme of the parties in conflict all over the continent.
Private troops: they take the liberty to react to any attacks to their ranks, even outside free zones and building sites. These troops are directly or indirectly hired by Russians, Chinese and Arab companies, but it’s difficult to map the exact ownership of each troop deployed as there are many subcontractors.
Local armies: they formally fight against private troops and attached to city and other local governments.
“Rebel” troops: they are comprised by students, anarchists, citizens’ associations turned into various militias, etc. they also fight private armies, but eventually they also happen to attack building sites owned by local governments.
Negotiations and armistice.
Eventually, the war evolves in its third phase. More tactic, less bloody.
The various factions start to position themselves to gain only small victories on the ground. Everyone is looking at their own interests to leverage their stakes sooner or later, when the military phase will be over. It’s de facto anarchy, but it starts to be an organised anarchy.
Negotiations finally lead to the armistice and to the end of the war. Thanks to the peace talks everyone (except the already dying nation states) get something.
Local governments are granted large autonomy on the field, under compliance with the privatisation acts and the European fundamental law (they are the ones controlling the territory, run local police etc.).
Private companies get the privatisations concordat. Every service or good needs to be registered, copyrighted, privatised. This goes along with the empowerment of the European Patent Office, which becomes a very powerful entity, almost independent to the European Union.
The European Union receives the mandate to preserve the rule of law, draft the fundamental law and ensure a governance at continental scale.
Associations, trade unions, students, etc. get a share of the new decision making system, but they need to share part of this power with local authorities.
Nation states are blamed as the scapegoats of the whole mess – but anyway, they didn’t exist anymore in the form we use to know already since before the war – the armistice just recognises that the primary political entity in the continent is the European Union, with its administrative regions, city states, associate entities, etc.