This content was originally posted on www.upinthebibliosphere.com as part of the Shudder Blog Tour in 2013.
The antagonists for the Stitch Trilogy – Paragon’s elusive leaders, the Engineers – were born out of one question: what if smart people with little empathy or ability to connect with other people were in charge?
Believe it or not, this question actually arose out of a repeated argument I had with an ex-boyfriend from college.
You see, this boyfriend and I ran in very different social circles. My friends were the typical fun-loving collegiate athlete types – gregarious, friendly, always up for anything, competitive, loud. They were all excellent students and very intelligent, but I wouldn’t define any of them as “intellectual.” Rather, they were a more charismatic group, able to get along with almost anyone (including me, a quiet loner in comparison) and turn any situation into a party.
His friends, on the other hand, were the epitome of intellectual curiosity. Though they all belonged to a fraternity, they spent more time buried in history books and debating moral questions (albeit over a much-too-mature-for-college glass of wine or Belgian beer) than swigging back cheap tequila shots and trash-talking over drinking games. They weren’t the most amiable bunch, but they were cordial enough, and Saturday nights with his friends could be counted on to be a quieter, more mentally stimulating affair than the raucous debauchery that could be expected from my group, which suited me just fine on occasion.
And so one day one of us remarked to the other how markedly different – not necessarily worse or better, but different – it was spending time with our two friend groups. And somehow out of that innocuous observation grew a question-turned-debate-turned-recurring-heated-argument about whose friends would turn out to be more successful in life.
He, of course, asserted that his friends would achieve more since they were “smarter.” Now, I was not willing to cede that his friends were in any measurable or objective way more intelligent than mine (we did, after all, all go to an Ivy League school…). But even if they were, I argued, the fact that my friends are so much more outgoing and charming would benefit them far more than any additional brainpower his group might claim. After all, no one can achieve “success” without the help of others – mentors, supporters, champions, and allies. And my friends – with their broad networks of contacts, innate likeability, and strong penchant for leadership – definitely had the advantage from that perspective.
Now naturally he and I did not – and would not ever – see eye-to-eye on this argument. (And perhaps the fact that we managed to argue about something so stupid at all should have been a red flag that this relationship was not destined to last!) But if one good thing came of this inane debate, it was the inspiration for the Stitch Trilogy’s Engineers.
Because as we’ve seen with more than a handful of technology/internet billionaires, occasionally people who are completely lacking in social skills do become very successful, and find themselves in positions of power, sometimes even with millions of people practically worshipping at their feet (cough, Steve Jobs and Apple fanboys, cough). And frankly, this scares me. Because I in all honesty simply do not trust people who can’t even connect with others to use their power for good.
After all, someone who believes himself to be superior to others because of his vast intelligence – and who does not see the value in others who are different from him – is not going to see the world the same as you and me. He might have altruistic visions, but a lack of empathy – an inability to understand the suffering of others – will render him as rational, ruthless, and cold as a machine. And sometimes a decision that seems right from a logical standpoint just doesn’t sit well from a moral/ethical point-of-view. And this is exactly where the Engineers go wrong.
The atrocities committed by the Engineers can certainly be rationalized away from an analytical perspective. But anyone who has ever felt love or loss, who has been hurt – who has truly valued the life of another – would know immediately that there is no way to justify the “solutions” that the Engineers proposed. The problem is that the Engineers had the intelligence and power to enact whatever measures that they felt would benefit society, but did not possess the emotional capacity to truly understand the cost.
In Shudder, readers get to see just how bad things could go if we’re not careful to bestow power only on the right people – people who can think, but also feel.
And as Alessa and the people of Paragon have learned, things can turn very, very bad indeed.