Grant Price is joining us today to talk about his novel, Pacific State. Here’s the publisher’s description:
On the streets of Berlin all morals can be bought for a price, and Owen Resler sold his long ago. Once an underground dissenter, now a corporate drone, he spends his days reluctantly manipulating data for Big Pharma. Across town, notorious gun-for-hire Mia Warsaw is putting together a team to assassinate one of the city’s more unscrupulous business moguls and she needs someone to handle the ones and zeroes. When Warsaw crosses paths with an increasingly desperate Resler, she hands the former radical an ultimatum: he can either succumb to death by a thousand bureaucratic paper cuts or take a chance with her. Of course, there’s no guarantee he’ll survive that, either…
What’s Grant’s Favorite Bit?
A few years ago I ghostwrote a business book for the former CTO of a neobank. Conceived as a kind of Bible for budding entrepreneurs with aspirations to turn their basement startup into a billion-dollar unicorn, the book was rife with calls to automate all aspects of customer service, divide workforces into specialised ‘SWAT teams’ (people who wear suits for a living have a curious obsession with military and police hierarchies), and conjure up new markets for services people don’t and will neve need. The most maddening part of the project was the corporate-speak that saturated every page of notes handed to me by the CTO. Although I did my best to erase phrases like ‘red ocean/blue ocean’, ‘circular file’, ‘rockstar mentality’ and ‘actioned learnings’, the final product contained sufficient empty-calorie terminology that one reviewer questioned whether the author thought 1984 was the blueprint for a utopian future.
Fast-forward to 2021 when I was mapping out the plot of Pacific State, which stars a newly minted office drone named Owen Resler (modelled in part on Paul Reiser’s corporate mouthpiece Burke in Aliens, only with 50% less slime) struggling to not be crushed between the cogs of the ostensibly green economic growth machine. I wanted to do the sci fi thing of taking a minor present-day menace and blowing it up to outsized futuristic proportions in order to highlight where we may ultimately end up. I recalled my miserable literary flirtation with the inner workings of the business world, which is when the idea came to me: why not have every suit in the novel speak in their own ridiculous business slang? Impenetrable to outsiders – implying both Resler and the reader – I turned to my notes from the ghostwritten business book, a few AskReddit posts, my rapidly fading knowledge of Japanese and gym-bro culture to create a besuited Frankenstein’s monster of a language that I dubbed Whicolla (as in ‘white collar’). The result is a conversation like this, which plays out between a group of cardboard-cutout serfs eating a five-minute pill lunch in their windowless office canteen:
One of the men spoke as he chewed. ‘Zenzen North Star, oceanboil, zerosum for Scopo, no-brainer.’
‘Sent up the ladder?’
‘Post-probation? Minusnull chance.’
The other man grinned. ‘Move the needle, turn heads.’
‘No belts, no qualis, no XP. Risk squared.’
The woman shrugged. ‘Take offline. Liner opendoor. Pain gain offset. Then fish or cut bait.’
The woman turned to Resler, who was trying not to be noticed.
‘Input welcome,’ she said with a smile.
It makes my skin crawl just to read it. Like Resler, who looks on, aghast, as he realises this is the world he belongs to now, I believe no good can come of this fetish for removing all trace of individuality or human connection from business environments. Turning failures into ‘strategic pivots’, calling mass layoffs ‘rightsizing’, hiding potentially catastrophic decisions behind ‘divestitures’: this is language at its most obfuscating, and it gives the less scrupulous among us more room to push through selfish actions that champion personal gain at the detriment of everyone and everything else. And with the world literally heating up around us, we absolutely need to move away from this type of Orwellian newspeak – not lean into it – if we are to create some honesty about what we can do, collectively, to pivot away from an economy of greed, growth and destruction and try to save what is left of this ravaged planet we nonchalantly call home – and perhaps ourselves in the bargain.
Grant Price is a writer of climate fiction. His debut novel, By the Feet of Men (Cosmic Egg, 2019), was submitted for consideration to the Arthur C. Clarke Award. His second novel, Reality Testing (Black Rose, 2022), is part of the Sundown Cycle and was listed in Kirkus’s Top 100 Books 2021. Published in December 2023, Pacific State (Black Rose, 2023) is his latest release and the second book in the Sundown Cycle. Grant is currently based in Athens, Greece.