The massive corporation at the center of Eliot Peper
trilogy, which he completed last month with the publication of Breach
(47North, 2019) is radically different from most science fictional companies. It aspires to do good.
The growth of Commonwealth into a benevolent behemoth is chronicled in the series’ first two novels, Bandwidth
(which Peper discussed
on the New Books Network last fall.) By the end of Borderless
, Commonwealth, which controls the near-future version of the internet, has become its own sovereign entity, one whose ownership of the “feed” has given it enough soft power to force nations—through a clause in its terms of service—to implement an international carbon tax.
opens 10 years later. By this point, Commonwealth has instituted open borders and replaced national currencies with “feed credits” (if that sounds implausible, see Facebook’s recently unveiled plans to create its own digital currency, Libra). Commonwealth is now considering implementing something that one of the company’s loudest critics, billionaire Lowell Harding, is willing to kill to prevent: progressive membership fees—essentially a wealth tax—that will charge users to access the feed in proportion to their net worth, with profits invested in infrastructure for the poor.
Harding calls the plan “worse than the French Revolution” and “f**king Piketty on algorithmic steroids!”
Peper brings back the characters from the first two books, giving a star turn to Emily Kim, a hacker turned MMA fighter who has gone into hiding after earlier misdeeds. Between suspenseful fight scenes, characters grapple with heady topics like economic inequality, corporate responsibility and national governance.
There’s a message in Peper’s books for today’s internet giants. The companies “that have gained a lot of power in society,” Peper says, “need to look in the mirror and think about how they should actually be making decisions … that will actually result in a future that people want to live in for the long term not just for the next quarterly report.”
Rob Wolf is the author of The Alternate Universe and The Escape. He worked for a decade as a journalist and now serves as director of communications at a non-profit dedicated to justice reform. You can follow him on Twitter.