Interview with Steve Masover
Author of Consequence
At what time is Consequence set and what important historical events are going on at this time?
The main story line takes place between March and May 2004. A sub-plot begins about six months earlier, and there’s an epilogue looking back from Summer 2007. The wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq are the biggest news during this time, most notably the CIA’s admission in February 2004 that there were no “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq before the U.S. invasion a year before; and the revelation in late April that U.S. soldiers were torturing Iraqi prisoners held at Abu Ghraib. On a lighter note, during this period NASA’s exploratory robots Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars, the final film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy won 11 Oscars, and the city of San Francisco began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples—an act of civil disobedience by the city government that lasted about a month.
What was it like to write about a historical time that is not that far in the past and that you lived through?
CONSEQUENCE intersects with historical events—notable occurrences that made national and international news at the time, and will be discussed in histories of the period—but it was most important to me to set this novel in a concrete period than to set it in a particular period. The characters are of a type that is deeply involved in their present time, and ambitious to influence the course of history, so it was important that their world be real and recognizable.
Having lived through that period myself, in roughly the same place that CONSEQUENCE is set, I had personal familiarity with and experience of the world that my characters inhabit. That gave me an advantage in being able to vividly imagine the people, the place, and the zeitgeist of those months. It was sometimes a disadvantage too: there were chapters in which I wanted to paint so much detail that ‘the whole truth’ might have obscured the core story if I’d left those passages in. But that’s what editing is for!
What are some interesting details you incorporated to show the differences between then and now?
2004 was very early in the development of smartphones—the first iPhone was several years in the future, and iPods were only a few years old—so I played a bit with those last sweet years when people weren’t yet permanently tethered to the intertubes and/or their own personal soundtracks.
The protagonist doesn’t carry a cellphone, and 13 year olds are allowed to run around San Francisco without telephonic leashes back to their parents. There’s also some attention paid to the technology boom and bust cycle in the Bay Area. In 2015 we’re in a major expansion cycle, with startups everywhere. If you’re not a young person with a glitzy tech job you’re basically priced out of San Francisco, if not actually evicted to make way for the wealthy. In 2004, the dot-com bubble of the late nineties had burst several years before, and the city was recovering some of its bohemian mojo. Brendan, a character who returns to San Francisco after fourteen months locked up in a Mexican prison, notices all the BMWs parked on the street—an artifact of the bubble even after it burst. Chris, the protagonist, describes his neighborhood as “a funkier part of the city” before the bubble, but hopes “we’ll get our groove back now that all that’s over.”
What are some of the issues dealt with in your book?
The political issues in which the activists are most engaged are environmental, especially the multiple threats posed by genetic engineering. Given the time, they are also engaged in antiwar protest. But the specific political issues aren’t what’s at the heart of CONSEQUENCE.
At its core, the novel grapples with how far an engaged and responsible person ought to go in trying to influence society away from serious threat. Most especially, for an activist who is already going against the grain of powerful and popular interests and trends, how far should or must a person go beyond nonviolent protest—while still maintaining her or his moral integrity.
How are these topics relevant to today?
We’re not out of the woods on any of the specific political issues in which characters in CONSEQUENCE were concerned in 2004: genetic engineering and its threats to the biosphere and to farming communities; environmental degradation of all kinds; issues of online privacy and government surveillance; a world wracked by wars, violence, greed, and displacement. And regular people like the characters in CONSEQUENCE are boxed into an even smaller corner than we were ten years ago: our government in the U.S. is showing itself to be accountable only to wealth and corporate interests, while populist grandstanding is used to distract people from the gulf between rich and poor that has been widening for decades. It remains very difficult to see how to effectively exercise a citizen’s right to have a voice in democratic governance, let alone to actually exercise that right.
Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
I’ve been pushing the government to do the right things since I was about ten or eleven years old. I’ve been an activist in all kinds of movements since the Vietnam war was still raging, when I was ten years old: antiwar, racial equality, the fight for an adequate response to AIDS, queer liberation, opposition to government-sanctioned torture, environmental issues. So CONSEQUENCE describes my world. What inspired my urge to write a story about this world is that it’s not often portrayed accurately or empathetically in fiction. There are books that pathologize activists, turning them into psychological freaks—and I’m thinking of good, deep, well-respected books, like Doris Lessing’s The Good Terrorist or Jonathan Letham’s Dissident Gardens. Or books that cast activists as macho superheroes, like Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, or Neal Stephanson’s Zodiac. I was inspired instead to write a book about how real, regular people—people who might live next door—grapple with making a difference in an often-indifferent world. I think it’s eye-opening for readers to see how activism in what are often conceived to be “political” realms is really not very different from having an opinion on neighborhood issues, or advocating that your child be taught by competent teachers, or that she not be bullied in the schoolyard. Activism in the political sense is only drawing the circle a bit bigger, concerning yourself with things that affect a group of people whose worlds don’t intersect as obviously with yours.
Are you involved in any kind activism yourself?
These days I’m doing a lot of work around climate issues. The twenty-first annual conference of governments trying to craft a plan to address global warming caused by human activity is taking place in Paris late this year—it’s known as COP21—and there are mass demonstrations being organized all over the world to demand that governments finally take dramatic, effective steps to address the climate crisis. I’m helping to organize a mobilization in the Bay Area on November 21st, with a coalition called the Northern California Climate Mobilization. I’m also working with Fossil Free Cal, a student group at UC Berkeley (where I went to school, and am still employed), campaigning for the university to divest from fossil fuel companies.
What makes some of the characters in Consequence unique?
The characters in CONSEQUENCE are willing to stick their necks out further than most, not for personal gain but in service of what they sincerely believe to be the right things. But what’s just as important as that quality, which readers might first see as unique, is the common ground they share with everybody who has a stake in living decent, dignified, healthy, and compassionate lives—which describes a whole lot of people. The characters in CONSEQUENCE try to make a difference in the world, a difference for good. They are brought up short in all kinds of ways, but they don’t lose heart. They don’t stop trying. And their gritty determination, which may initially strike readers as out of the ordinary, becomes something that I think—I hope—readers do and can and will recognize in themselves, and thereby understand that we’re all empowered to create the world we want to live in, even if it won’t be quick or easy.
Is there anything else you'd like readers to know?
I recently came across a reference to lines from a poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado:
Wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
I think those lines, published a century ago, encapsulate what it means to engage honestly and directly with the world. I would like to think that CONSEQUENCE will inspire people to make their own roads, by walking them.
About Steve Masover
Steve Masover is an author, activist, and information technologist. A native of Chicago, he currently lives and works in Berkeley, California. CONSEQENCE is his debut novel.
Masover’s short fiction has appeared in Five Fingers Review and Christopher Street. An essay-length memoir piece is anthologized in Our Mothers' Spirits: Great Writers on the Death of Mothers and the Grief of Men. Masover co-authored the screenplay of the anti-apartheid movement documentary Soweto to Berkeley (Cinema Guild, 1988; excerpt on YouTube). He blogs at One Finger Typing.
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San Francisco activist Christopher Kalman has little to show for years spent organizing non-violent marches, speak-outs, blockades, and shutdowns for social and environmental justice.
When a shadowy eco-saboteur proposes an attack on genetically engineered agriculture, Christopher is ripe to be drawn into a more dangerous game.
His certainty that humankind stands on the brink of ecological ruin drives Christopher to reckless acts and rash alliances, pitting grave personal risk against conscientious passion.