active maas

The blog of thriller writer Robert Maas

Where are the coasters?

This year, the first of the predictions in my novel Biome will quite likely cease to come true. I really need to revise the book and set it another decade in the future.

This post gives a detailed breakdown, year by year, of the events prior to the opening of Biome. It’s intended for people who have read or are reading the novel. It doesn’t contain plot spoilers.

Copley is born.

Warwick Rowe is born in Britain to an English diamond merchant father, owner of the retail jewelry giant Buckingham Rowe, and an Indonesian mother.

Rowe’s family moves to Singapore, where he spends a playboy youth and allegedly fathers several children.

Ruth Bauermann is born in Redmond, Washington, and grows up in Seattle. Her lineage is Austrian.

Adam Brunning is born. He grows up in Monmouth, New Jersey.

To counter global warming, China launches a fleet of 10,000 “coasters” into the upper atmosphere to catalyze carbon dioxide into chalk. Within two years every coaster has been detected, targeted, and destroyed by American smartware. U.S.-Chinese relations deteriorate.

Sarah Bayfield is born.

The changing global climate is adversely affecting the U.S. economy, and will continue to do so up to the date of the novel. By 2057 the dustbowls of the mid-west stretch from Montana to Tennessee, while floods and typhoons routinely devastate the south. Meanwhile, vineyards stretch across much of Siberia.

Nine year old Ruth Bauermann’s parents decline into depression, drink and drugs. As she grows, she forms an attachment with a boy of her own age called John Shannon, whose parents go the same way as her own. The two of them study hard at school, bonded by their determination to make something of themselves.

Warwick Rowe, 18, is sent by his father to Oxford University, England. He majors in anthropology. He reads Thus Spoke Zarathustra and loses his belief in religion as the paragon of thought.

The “ManTan Collective” seizes control of China and begins to build an empire in Asia. As it expands, the Collective becomes America’s adversary, fulfilling the role that the USSR did in the previous century. By the time of the novel, its food factories form a new economic powerhouse that fuel four fifths of the planet. The U.S. nevertheless uses its enormous military to maintain its position on the world stage.

As a reaction to the rise of the ManTan Collective, the United Nations is disbanded. It is replaced by the Community Of Free Nations, an organization largely under the control of the U.S.

Warwick Rowe graduates from Oxford.

A new fuel, eROX, is invented. Initially the discovery has little application, since existing materials lack the strength or resilience to contain it. eROX is cheap, abundant, universally available, immensely powerful, and non-polluting (its emissions are oxygen and water). It will eventually gut the Middle Eastern economies.

Tom Essene is born. He grows up in Port Aransas, Texas, to a family wealthy from providing rare earth minerals to wind turbine manufacturers.

Warwick Rowe begins digs in Australia, Kenya, Peru and elsewhere, looking for evidence of early man.

Kyle Westing is born.

Warwick Rowe discovers the “Rowe hook,” an entirely new form of bone fishhook that puts man’s origins back tens of thousands of years and shifts its cradle from the Rift Valley to Northern India. Through this he gains his first recognition.

Reyes Sadovy is born.

Gilmour and Mann are born.

Hardgel is invented. A form of graphene, it is immensely tough and durable. Its development is a result of scientists trying to find a material that can contain the fierce energies of eROX fuel. Hardgel revolutionizes construction, making it as important a discovery in the first half of the 21st century as plastic was in the first half of the 20th. Between them, hardgel and eROX make space exploration viable again. Hardgel also makes it possible to create the vehicles and firewalker suits that will survive the pressure, heat and acidity of Venus.

Ruth Bauermann, 20, marries John Shannon. Academically she is far his superior, and it is an ill-suited marriage.

The U.S. coerces the Community of Free Nations to redefine the term “torture” so that it specifically excludes any procedure that has death as its primary aim. The effect of the redefinition is that many countries reintroduce crucifixion and other forms of barbaric slaughter. Later footage smuggled out of the ManTan Collective will appear to show wholesale lingchi (death by slow slicing), with the implication that Japan has been entirely emptied by this form of execution.

Ruth Shannon graduates in Seattle, gaining her first university diploma on the nervous response systems in plants. John takes her to Singapore to celebrate, one of the few trips of their marriage.

The second space elevator disaster drops more than a hundred thousand tonnes of carbon nanotube on Sri Lanka. Coincidentally, the failure of the space elevator project will later cause Singapore to become the world’s center for heavy cargo lifting into orbit.

Harry Kaur is born.

The Vietnamese model and actress Sun Ten Jun is born. Though Rowe considers himself in love with Sun during the timescale of the novel, the relationship is mainly a smokescreen to disguise his disappearance on the Venus mission. Press reports circulate that the two of them are holed up in the Seychelles while she works on her latest movie, I’m Doing This For Science.

Rowe, 29, discovers the “DNA hourglass” which propels him to instant fame – and infamy. The discovery is a form of genetic ticker which, Rowe claims, demonstrates that European man is a more-evolved offshoot of Middle Eastern man.

Shannon, 23, gravitates toward the still-prosperous academic communities of the East Coast. She studies at Alfred State and MIT, majoring in heuristic memory systems. The married couple, now separated by a continent, attempt to keep their marriage alive in different ways: Ruth by long distance communication, John by persuading her to have a child.

While pregnant she writes a book, The Sexual Impulse In Plants, which will be published the following year and is widely dismissed as immature, fanciful, and lacking scientific rigor. Her thesis is that intelligent creatures require a nervous system. It gains her no recognition, except among the military, who (unknown to her) will use it as their blueprint for designing intelligent computer systems.

Brunning, 18, now living with his family in a tenement in northern Manhattan, marries Marie, the first girl to tell him she loves him. They move to the Lower East Side.

Shannon’s daughter Emma is born.

Julia Paris is born in Paris, France to an Italian mother (who adopted the city’s name as her own) and Keith Tebreca, one of the owners of the vast Tebreca-Brown pharmaceutical company.

Jason Magritte is born.

Shannon, 25, stuck in Seattle raising her child, invents the Touch Me Hurt Me intelligent computer protocol which for the second time attracts the military to her work, though she still has no contact with it.

Rowe’s DNA hourglass leads directly to riots and civil war across the Middle East that will consume much of the early 2040s, and the eugenic purges that follow.

Rowe, 33, is now a media celebrity, feted as much for his outlandish costumes and immense charisma as for his outrageous theories. He marries an American supermodel, whose career immediately collapses. He divorces her, and she retaliates by smearing him with allegations of drug parties and philandering. The following year she will bear his first legitimate child, Amber, who during the timescale of the novel is 17 and a successful writer of pulp novels set in the world of jet set rehab.

The U.S. government sets up DAIS, the Department of American Interests in Space. Unlike NASA, which forms a lesser public front for the organization, its aims are military: carving out U.S. territories in the near and further solar system, and ultimately in the stars themselves. The motto is: “Preserving freedom in space.” The creed is: “From now on, anything we can defend up there belongs to us.”

Thanks to the near disaster of the manned flight Spirit Of Peace, which narrowly avoids collision with unmapped space debris, DAIS succeeds in persuading the Community of Free Nations to push up the ceiling on sovereign airspace to 38,000 kilometers, slightly higher than geosynchronous orbit. This effectively gains the U.S. control of all planetary orbital space.

Twelve year old Tom Essene’s family moves to Hawaii. He will spend his early teens hanging out on the beaches of California and Hawaii. The money connections gift him a stream of elegant, sun-bronzed girlfriends.

In Seattle, both Ruth Shannon, 27, and her husband look with interest at the newly developed BlockR vaccine, developed by the Tebreca-Brown pharmaceutical company and currently moving through Phase II volunteer testing in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. BlockR renders impotent all external stimulants, meaning that a vaccinated child will never become addicted. Drink and drugs had destroyed all four of their parents, so Shannon is determined that their three year old daughter will not suffer the same. Against her husband’s wishes, she takes Emma to Boston to enroll. Enraged, John divorces her. The court gives custody to Ruth, since by giving her daughter the vaccine she has demonstrated that she is the more responsible parent. Emma reacts successfully to the vaccination, and grows up a normal child.

Brunning’s pregnant wife Marie commits suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. He is 25. Devastated, he spirals into drugs, and then finds solace in the military.

Needing money as a single mother in Boston, Shannon uses her Touch Me Hurt Me protocol to pioneer a new generation of video games. These “immersion games,” played using a FoldBack virtual reality chamber, are immensely popular (Magritte will be a fan).

The ManTan Collective takes advantage of the turmoil caused by Rowe’s DNA hourglass to expand its territory and raise a new iron curtain across Asia. The cold war escalates. The U.S. stations troops on stagnant front lines all around the borders of the Collective. No shots are fired. There are no skirmishes. No shifting battle lines. No spy boat incursions. Everyone has bombs. Everyone has planes. Everyone has smartware. Nobody has an advantage.

Rowe, 37, writes an affectionate political diatribe, In The Wake Of America, which is well received in the White House. During the novel Rowe explains: “I chastised America for not living up to its promises. I reminded the country that it pledged to be a beacon of rational, intellectual, and most of all uncensored human thought. Humanity’s solitary guiding light in a world full of darkness.” Shannon retorts: “And then you took a swipe at the President when he stood on a podium next to you and declared he was at heart a man of faith.”

Rowe suspends his series of high profile affairs to enter into a second marriage, this time to a Spanish gold heiress. It is thought that he married her over rumors of Aztec treasure secreted in her family’s vault.

Shortly after her eighth birthday, Emma Shannon comes home and drinks a bottle of bleach. She is just one of a huge statistic in BlockR kid suicides and suicide attempts. Having had her first crush on a boy, she realized she would never be able to feel sexual arousal or pleasure. The bleach doesn’t kill her, but she becomes blank-eyed, unresponsive, non-reactive, to all external viewpoints little more than a vegetable. Internally, it is impossible to tell.

A subsequent court case swings custody back to John, who takes her to the Primrose Fair nursing facility in Seattle. Shannon will have no further contact with either of them. Devoting her life to trying to reopen communication with Emma, Shannon turns to the military, who put her on the smartball team, attempting to create intelligent machine ordnance.

Shannon, 33, has no success on the smartball team, and switches to strategy, fly by wire, and cognitive enhancement. All are unsuccessful.

Eventually she is granted a lab in the government facility in San Jose, where she devises her own program, Operation Primal Fear (an obvious corruption of “Primrose Fair”). For a short time she works with Sarah Bayfield, 27, though their relationship sours when Bayfield realizes just what Shannon is doing: inducing trauma in her apes under the belief that mortal horror will shock a brain into sentience.

For the following ten years, up until the timescale of the novel, she will have no success in sparking machine intelligence, but the military have so far not managed to close her down. Instead they let her stew, unfunded and alone but for a string of student interns who generally become traumatized themselves, in the depths of the facility’s basement.

Rowe’s second divorce. There is no offspring from this marriage.

In the Middle East, still suffering from ethnic fighting and purges, a nuclear explosion destroys Dubai. Magritte, then 10, will later remember the photos of rescue vehicles plowing through the radioactive stumps of the city, looking for survivors to dig up.

Night-surfing on Kauai, Tom Essene, 21, witnesses a mother and child humpback whale beach themselves thanks to the noise of a tanker, The Pride of Pasadena, chugging east to feed the military apparatus on Guam. Overnight he shrugs off the beach bum persona, severs his links with Hawaii, and becomes a cetacean investigator. He’s found his calling.

Sadovy, 19, begins project Survival at his own facility in Nevada, manipulating the evolutionary machine to see what mother nature is truly capable of. Funding comes from the military.

Rowe, 44, enters into his third marriage. This is to an aristocratic French vineyard magnate who gives him a son and a divorce for infidelity within a month of each other.

At some point during this time, he becomes aware of Sadovy’s project and begins to see the boy as a prodigy.

As his credentials mount, Essene, 23, travels on commission to aquariums and research parks all over the world, studying cetacean behavior, improving facilities, and monitoring breeding and conservation programs. He invents a muffler for ocean surface traffic which, along with hardgel “pipes” that largely replace conventional traffic, help make the seas silent. He also designs the humpback research unit at the Oceanographic Institute in Palo Alto.

It is around this time that he encounters the military, who use some of his cetaceans to test whether BlockR can be used as a chemical weapon. These tests leave Essene deeply suspicious of the U.S. government.

Thanks to evidence from Essene and numerous other researchers, the telecommunications industry switches from wireless and fixed cable connections to the “subweb,” frequencies deep below radio waves at the very edge of the usable electromagnetic spectrum that propagate almost instantaneously through solid material, for example the body of the Earth itself. Realizing that the subweb will clean the airwaves for military use, the U.S. supports the program. It also, usefully, means that net censorship is no longer possible: anybody can receive the entire subweb simply by standing on solid rock. It is still all but impossible to get information out of the ManTan Collective, but it is very likely that the world is flooding in.

Essene devises a system of recorded adult and juvenile whale sounds of all the major species, in fixed off-shore installations, to lure stranded cetaceans out of the shallows. He gains his only notable encounter with the popular press when he perfects a feeding mechanism for whale calves abandoned by their mothers or stranded in harbors. The press dub it “The Great Sea Tit.”

The US launches a probe, Corona Skyrider, to measure fluctuations in the solar discharge. Detecting an anomalous reading on Venus, Major Copley, by now one of the chief decision-makers in DAIS, switches the probe into a decaying orbit into the atmosphere of the planet, and manages to take a single photograph of an alien structure, nicknamed Oliveros, standing on the surface. No knowledge of this or any of the succeeding events surrounding the discovery on Venus is made public.

Copley prepares further probes to Venus, which confirm that it is some kind of spacecraft, and plans a human mission.

Sadovy, 24, weds Julia Paris, 17. He marries her for the money. She marries him because Tebreca-Brown is heavily involved in U.S. military contracts (including BlockR), which makes a union with Sadovy advantageous to her family.

NASA launches Ring Of Fire, proclaimed as the first manned mission to Mars. In reality it is a DAIS mission to explore the alien structure on Venus. Contact is lost on the descent into the planet’s atmosphere, but later DAIS receives images from inside the structure. A solitary survivor, Frank Geddy, has penetrated the structure and discovered it is a vast habitat populated by semi-sentient creatures nicknamed moaners. After several days Geddy’s transmissions cease abruptly.

Copley begins planning a second manned mission, this time ostensibly scientific.

Warwick Rowe, 50, returns to archaeology, acting as the figurehead for a dig uncovering the earliest traces of man in the Arctic ice.

At some point early in the year, Copley approaches him to head the second mission. Brunning will lead the team. Rowe’s job is to investigate the biome and see what, if anything, can be used to create new weapons or new materials. Rowe chooses Sadovy as his assistant. Sadovy won’t go without his wife, so Paris is also on board. Copley and Brunning decide to include Shannon, believing that the moaners might inspire a breakthrough in machine intelligence, their primary military goal.

The novel begins on the day they approach Shannon to join the team.


Robert Maas’s thriller Biome is available to buy is available to buy on ebook and in paperback at Amazon. Click here for the links.


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