After reading the KOP novels, friends tell me I'm disturbed. Twisted. I've been called a dark bastard. A sick puppy. What does your wife think of you? Did she know you had these thoughts when she married you?
I don't deny I have dark side, but my heart isn't made of coal. I don't bleed ink. I freely admit that human history trends toward progress. I'm amazed by technology. I'm all for medicine. I'm down with human rights. Peace and love, too.
But you have to agree the path to progress is anything but smooth. It comes in fits and starts. History is littered with dysfunctional states and collapsed civilizations, slashed ecosystems and devastated cultures. All of them grist for the mill of progress.
I write about the grist.
I was in Africa shortly before writing KOP when I became aware of a horrific bit of history. At the turn of the 20th century, the Congo was one of the world's few sources of wild rubber, a commodity of skyrocketing demand in the industrialized world. King Leopold II of Belgium came, colonized, and used rape, torture, and murder to force the local population into the jungles to harvest rubber.
Ever-increasing quotas were enforced, and villages that came up short were required to provide severed hands to make up the difference. Why such vicious urgency? King Leopold had to cash in while he could. His window of opportunity was limited. Brazilian rubber tree seeds had already been brought to Britain, and from there, seedlings were distributed to Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. The era of rubber plantations was about to begin, and the market for wild rubber was on the eve of collapse.
When the end came, King Leopold left the country as crippled as the people mutilated by his regime.
When I think about the colonization of the stars, I foresee similar disasters. How can I not? In the course of human history, when has anything gone according to plan?
Lagarto is one such tragedy, a colony world with a native fruit that makes a uniquely tasty brandy. So successful is the brandy that people come for the promise of work and riches, the promise of new beginnings. But monopolies never last. Saplings are smuggled off planet, and the economy is sent into a centuries-long tailspin.
Lagarto is a world trapped in perpetually tough times. Progress continues among the stars overhead, but like a child told he can't play, Lagartans are forced to watch the advances of humanity from a distance. Look but don't touch.
It's a place where desperation is the norm and morals are for sale. A place where right and wrong are as distinguishable as crimson and scarlet.
A world like that needs a hero. A fists-first, down-and-dirty hero.
Juno Mozambe is as broken as his world. A former police enforcer with a moral compass that spins like it's been dropped in a box full of magnets.
He and I are nothing alike. I was a good boy (you can ask my mom), and he was a badass bully. My arrow flies straight where his twists and wobbles. I've never thrown a punch, but to him, violence is just the way of things.
No, I'm nothing like him. I come from a life of comfort. Never lived in a mansion, but always had a roof over my head. Never rich, but also never hungry. Never had to choose between shoes and medicine. Never faced down a gang. Or a gun.
But what if I was born to Juno's world? Or the Congo? What would I be then? What would we all be?
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