Friday, August 7, 2009

Porter's 'Dying Light'

I really enjoy Thriller writer and journalist Henry Porter’s weekly political column in the British Sunday Observer, as he often casts his eye over the growing erosion of our civil liberties in Great Britain. Though I am growing very concerned about the future of this great newspaper. Like most of print journalism, the Sunday Observer, part of The Guardian Media Group is under threat of closure if rumours are to be believed. Henry Porter is well known in London literary circles, as he has written for most national broadsheet newspapers. He was editor of the Atticus column on The Sunday Times, moving to set up the Sunday Correspondent magazine in 1988. He contributes commentary and reportage to The Guardian, Observer, Evening Standard and Sunday Telegraph. He is the British editor of Vanity Fair and divides his time between New York and London.

Porter apart from his journalism is also an accomplished writer of politically charged espionage thrillers. In fact he won the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger in 2005 for his novel ‘Brandenburg’ from Orion.

I bumped into him in February at the Orion Authors Party, during drinks I asked him when his latest work would be released. He advised me that ‘Dying Light’ would be out this summer, and it touches upon my own concerns about us all sleep-walking into the pages of Orwell’s 1984.

Today Porter writes in The Independent about ‘Dying Light’ as well as why he is writing about his growing concerns about the role of state endorsed surveillance -

What is the certain evil that animates the contemporary spy writer now? Jihadism would be it, if terrorist actions and lunacy had not outstripped the imagination of any writer. Crime syndicates and arms dealers – possibly. Big business and the behemoths of the Internet age – certainly. Twenty years ago, a chief executive officer saying, as Google's chairman Eric Schmidt did, that the mission of his company was quite simply to organise all the world's information would have signalled some kind of mental disorder. That dominance will bring undreamed of opportunities for abuse in a world where more than ever knowledge is power, and I look forward to the first thriller set in a company like Google.

But it is the state, now so often propelled by the same controlling and monopolistic vices of big business, which has become the certain enemy. This is not new, but the technology at the disposal of the state is, and so is the collapse of liberal self-belief. As Russia and China developed what the Israeli academic Azar Gat described as "authoritarian capitalism", the West no longer needed to distinguish itself or define its beliefs in response to a totalitarian ideology.

We lost the use of a muscle and began to ditch the things that we stood for during the communist era. Governments, particularly in Britain, edged towards milder versions of this authoritarian capitalism, stripping the inventory of freedoms on the pretext of protecting the people, while extending the power of the state. So east and west have begun to draw inexorably towards each other, like Smiley and Karla on the bridge, which is why the conclusion of Smiley's People now seems so clever.

My last adult novel, Brandenburg, also ended on a bridge between East and West Berlin, but at the time of fall of the Wall and a moment of incredulous joy. The book describes the journey of a former Stasi agent through the October demonstrations in Leipzig and Berlin to the moment when East Germans burst into the light of a free society on 9November 1989. I was always fascinated by what had gone on in the six weeks before, and East Germans' defiance of the 80,000 members of the Stasi with their database and networks of informers.
My new novel, The Dying Light, is set in Britain of the near future and describes a society that is moving ever so gradually in the opposite direction; a country that has woken too late to a power grab by the state.

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While over at The Economist, Porter’s ‘Dying Light’ is reviewed and described as a very British Thriller –

OVER the past decade, Henry Porter has regularly produced a new thriller every two years. The long break since his last book, “Brandenburg”, is the direct result of his growing involvement in the fight over civil liberties and free speech in Britain, first under Tony Blair and now under Gordon Brown. Refusing to succumb to complacency, Mr Porter has become a rallying figure for concerned liberals, first through his pointed commentaries on the op-ed pages of the Observer and more recently as the organiser of the Convention on Modern Liberty. His worries about what Britain is becoming now fill his fiction.

His fifth novel, “The Dying Light”, is set somewhere in the middle of the next decade. Ever since the 2012 Olympics in London, Britain has become more and more of a database police state. Hotel guests have to fill in registration forms that are filed with the authorities. You cannot leave the country without informing them too. Sophisticated computer software tracks every purchase, every hospital visit, every car journey. Coroners’ courts, that traditional bastion of independence, are under secret political control. British subjects are routinely put under surveillance by flying drones or harassed by the police, the tax authorities and social services. “We do not want any mischief at this stage,” the prime minister explains. “Mischief”, which describes everything from anti-social behaviour to terrorism, is a word Mr Porter’s prime minister uses a lot

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Photo of Henry Porter taken at Orion Author Party Feb 14th 2009 London © 2009 Ali Karim

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