Call Them Soldiers was initially an idea for a short story I had around 2009. It soon became an idea for a novel and, over time, as I moved around through a long series of unsuitable and unfilfilling jobs in Great Britain and Prague, and a longer series of unsuitable living spaces, it was to become an idea for a series of novels: a fictional universe. Having few connections and having never known, in my adult life, anything approaching the kind of stability of external circumstances or internal peace of mind that might permit me to write one of these books and contain it, the world kept on growing. As well it might. Such worlds grow out of a soil and express it as unfathomably as does any wine or whisky (in any one of these examples, that people insist on effing on about it, does not make it any the less ineffable), and it would be almost meaninglessly reductive to try to talk about where it all came from. Almost, because if it all can be grasped only by the fictional world itself, and if to focus on what appear to be the most important influences here - because the most prominent - would be to make the same mistake as we have made with fertilizers in agriculture, some of the principle inputs to my thinking in that still-fresh century, have been key in delivering us to where we find ourselves now, though, perhaps more that at almost any other time in human history, we have not "found" ourselves here at all.
I studied politics formally from 1998, informally before then. First there was an A-level course at Kidderminster College. Later a degree at Nottingham University. By the end of this period, we had witnessed the events of September 11th, 2001, the ensuing War on Terror and accompanying laws which, not only in the anglosphere, permitted the use of terrorism laws against journalists and people who suddenly found themselves to be dissidents; we had seen and not seen the rolling out of mass surveillance programmes; Facebook was taking off; I was surrounded with, and working with people marginalised by modes of working and education which privileged certain styles of thinking and interracting with the world at the expense of others - broadly, an exclusive and restrictive definition of "normalcy" was being fashioned from various offcuts like a bust is formed from a piece of marble. I was marginal myself, and certainly not "normal" by anybody's definition. In December, 2003, I came to Prague for the first time. Part of my motivation was to understand what communism had been since, viewing post-Thatcher, post-1989 capitalism from the perspective of the by-now post-industrial Black Country, it didn't look like all that.
I learned Czech and read Czech history. I read widely.
This - all of this and more, since I cannot now hope to express the existential side of any of it - was the soil. Call Them Soldiers was a quotation from Jeremy Bentham as used as the epigraph of a book by Zgymunt Bauman I took out from the old brutalist Birmingham Library sometime in 2008-9:
"Call them soldiers, call them monks, call them machines, so they were happy ones I should not care."
- The Panoptican; or the Inspection-House
Bentham's Panopticon is known as a prison whose effects upon behaviour are primarily the inmates' awareness of being continually watched. He thought the benefits were broader than this, and discussed their application to schooling. This and not only this, was what I had been studying since 2001. Only through this - through research - did I come (or return) to computers and computing. I write this now into a command line text editor called from the "Flask shell" of an application I have written and which is running on a server set up for me as a favour by a man who runs a computer security firm here in Prague. All of this has essentially been a route to learning what computers and networked technologies are doing to us now. I learned a lot. None of this learning, however, had been pursued for pragmatic ends and so I was to continue in these years to be marginal. Equally, I was to continue to suffer the difficulties of working memory, concentration, busyness of mind, and brainstorms we know as ADHD, and the fixations and "dwellings" (I will gloss the phrase elsewhere) of Asperger's syndrome. When, in 2017, following the referendum on Britain's continuing membership of the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, I quit teaching, Call Them Soldiers was the first of the many novels, short stories, and other writing projects which had made homes for themselves in my mind over the years, to make itself felt. This was almost inevitable, and indeed, I had seen the world around me growing up from the same soil for the past ten years. The specifics, however, are telling. We had had problems with a number of children in the class. A couple of them had played a trick on another girl while unattended. The parents insisted there ought to be "more surveillance". Management concurred. Indeed, one Trump supporting manager went as far as expressing the view that she would rather see CCTV used in the classroom but that, alas, teachers tend to be against.
In the first handful of drafts of Call Them Soldiers I worked upon (first in a book called Think Soldier which took place in Manchester cleaved to the original design of the first book as envisaged in 2009, and then as a "frame story" set in the Yukon), I soon was to realise not only that it would take years to work on it full-time on my own (this is the case for many a novel, of course, and certain classes and castes have the privilege to realise the worlds they carry around with them), but that even the demographics who tend to read literary fiction would have few of the tools to be able to parse it. This was when Marginálie and its successor Automat-Svět leapfrogged my work on the fiction. It seemed to me that a novel, or a series of novels, would do nothing to dig me out of the mess we are in - the mess I confronted when I sat down to write a dystopian world which, as is ever the case, is a transposition of where we are and where we have been.
I am still trying to find a role for myself. I believe Call Them Soldiers to be the kind of vibrant exploration of where we are now that we need to see. I hope I may convince somebody, or somebodies, to help me to bring it to fruition.
This series will be a collection of writing, and not only writing, about the world of Call Them Soldiers.