Interview with S. Lee Barckmann – Author of “The SwiftPad Trilogy”

Hi Lee, Welcome to Reader Views! Tell us a bit about The SwiftPad Trilogy

The Trilogy is an alt-history of the last decade. It starts with “The SwiftPad Takeover” which is a serial killer thriller combined with a peek at the business of starting up a worldwide social media system, as well as a fanciful sci-fi-techno tale about the features of an advanced social media app.

“The next book is “The SwiftPad Insurgency” which moved time ahead about 5 or 6 years. Now SwiftPad is a worldwide mega success. It has changed not only the characters in the story, but the city of Portland itself, bringing in money and influence to the city. Politically however, the nation has descended into fear and terror as a boorish monster has taken over the government and caused major disasters.

Portland, rich, turns into a human catastrophe with a million refugees. The city mobilizes to aid the homeless people who have descended on the city, and this infuriates the @RealPrez. One of the principal creators of the “SwiftPad” app is kidnapped. Much of the novel is about urban warfare, and its aftermath.

“The SwiftPad Extinction,” the final novel, follows the action from the previous installment as nationwide the conflict spreads.  Simultaneously the world is hit by a pandemic of a bizarre disease with unpredictable symptoms, that baffles science. The story is about the coalescing of the nationwide resistance to the dictatorship. It is also about the main character’s search for his kidnapped colleague and for a cure for the pandemic.

What inspired you to write this particular story line?

The first book was written with no thought it would become a trilogy. My career as a corporate  IT troubleshooter came to an end before I was ready, so the first book was meant to be, in part, a satiric account of the IT business from different perspectives, from the C-level negotiations, to the business of “consultants”, down to the people who actual do the technical implementations. It was sort of a ‘revenge of the nerd’ story if you will.

It was completed in 2014, so I had no idea how the 2016 US Presidential election would turnout.   But as  the deepening realization hit of what tRump actually wanted to do, all that seemed to cause me to be consumed by politics. I could not believe it was my country, the United States, that I was watching. So, I turned that to writing as an outlet, and decided to write a sequel to “The SwiftPad Takeover”.

“The SwiftPad Insurgency” was published in 2019. “The real “Insurgency” in Portland, when DHS Security troops were kidnapping people into unmarked vans happened in July 2020. I wasn’t looking to make prediction, but only to find a story angle where I would be familiar with the setting and locale.  I live in a Portland suburb. By listening to the rhetoric coming out of the White House and right-wing News, where the word “Portland” was used as an epithet, it seemed like a logical outcome.

What are some of the relevant topics readers will encounter in your series?

  • The theory and design of an ideal social media app.
  • The business requirements of starting a software company that has a worldwide footprint ( on the cheap).
  • The sick mind of a psychotic sadistic rapist/serial killer
  • How to hack a communication system.
  • The kinds of disasters that an American fascist can create, when combined with climate meltdown and a widespread epidemic.
  • Extrapolations as to the nature of 21st Century Urban warfare.
  • How a country can slowly be draw into a civil conflict that almost no one wants
  • How to hack and disrupt a major infrastructure.

Tell us about your lead characters – what motivates them?

  • Kip – a laid back son of a rich, cutthroat limber baron.  Kip is a nice guy, a stoner, with traces of the Big Lebowski’s “The Dude”, a man in his early 40s who seems completely guileless and without ambition and who lives on a dwindling trust fund and who stumbles into a role of worldwide business leadership.
  • Jim – Jim Kip’s childhood best friend who was raised in the woods by a poor single mother and is competitive with Kip. He goes into the Army, catches his CO in an East German Honey trap, and gets total freedom to wander disguised as a civilian on both sides of the Berlin Wall. He returns to civilian life as an IT troubleshooter for Global Industrial Processing, (GIP), a declining mega IT company.
  • Paula – a 60s Political radical, and hippie goddess who discovers the fountain of youth (Fungus) and travels through the second half of the 20th Century as physically a young woman. She taught Nate the tricks of love when he was young and they get together again.
  • GG – the real brains behind SwiftPad. Sleeps with Kip and the next morning she gets funding to start her Social Media development project.
  • Senator Cadez – a former Nixon operative who also discovered the Fungus and is running for President in 2020
  • Spence – a weak but brilliant software engineer who is building the computerized link between recorded mind reads and the internet. Married to Maggie but has a crush on Alison.
  • Nate Schuette – an old man who has forgone perpetual youth and is Paula former sometime lover
  • Maggie – Spence’s wife who becomes a feared urban guerrilla. Formerly Nate’s girlfriend when Nate was still on the fungus.
  • Alison – Work colleague of Spence, who comes to play the pivotal role in the climax of the conflict.
  • Leone (Humpkin) the shadow leader of the opposition to RealPrez and Nate’s old college roommate

Did you let your characters dictate the story or did you map things out first?

The characters, and the thread of the story itself took on a life of their own. I had only the vaguest idea where I was going as I was writing.

What kind of research was involved in writing The SwiftPad Trilogy?

I took most of the technical ideas from my own experience. But I did a fair amount of technical research. I studied specs for high end process control systems. I took most of the technical ideas on Internet hacking from my own experience (as an Internet security administrator for Oregon State Government and a system monitoring specialist in the private sector). I did recycle some of the back story of Nate and the origins of telepathic recording and transfer of mental images from a previous unpublished work from many years ago, (when I did research on 1970s technologies).  I read a book about Ed Snowden. And I certainly did do a lot of research on existing technologies as disparate as light plane flight specs, current EEG sensing and recording of brainwaves for legitimate  usage.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your series?

I was surprised by how violent things could become.  I hate violence, and am uncomfortable writing about it, but I think it is important not to be too comfortable when writing. The study of the past has been a serious lifelong hobby for me, so as I wrote, I thought a lot about how much pointless violence happens during revolutions and how horrible civil wars often turn out. 

So, the violence is meant to be a warning. We are in some ways sleepwalking, like Europe was in August 1914.  The threat of civil conflict is real and our responsibility to avoid it is paramount. This Trilogy is a fictional warning. It is not a prescription. As the author I claim no ability for prognosticate.

I also discovered, to my surprise, that I could create and write under deadlines and pressure. I need to say, that on one level writing the Trilogy was a collaboration with my editor Linda Franklin. She didn’t get involved until I was “done” or thought I was. But during her engagement almost every day she would send me notes on things that were weak or missing.   I would make corrections and because I wanted us both to stay engaged I wrote a number of major (and maybe the best) storyline additions overnight.  If I had to describe the perfect editor, it would be Linda.  I was lucky to be introduced to her by Inkwater Publishing, a great organization that got me on the right track in a number of ways. (Masha Shubin, also from Inkwater did the interior design and implemented my ideas for the covers.) 

How does The SwiftPad Trilogy stand apart from other books in the genre?

Honestly, it is hard to think of a specific genre. I guess it is alt history, like Phillip Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”, about life on the American West Coast if Japan had won World War II. Or John Brunner’s novels, such as “The Society of Time”. about time travelling in an alt-world where the Spanish Armada successfully conquered England.  As I think about “The SwiftPad Trilogy”, it really is about a second Trump Administration.  But it is also speculative fiction in that it extrapolates where technology might be taking us. It is also social commentary, about where our social behaviors are leading us. There is a bit of the old “ripped from the headlines” about it too. But really, I hope it is more story about the characters who work through the problems that are unexpectedly (to me and them) thrown at them.

One thing I don’t want it to be, is a counter story to something like “The Turner Diaries” which is a right wing fantasy about a revolt against a “liberal” government. My books are not made to inspire anyone, but to frighten them. “The Turner Diaries” was a handbook for Timothy McVeigh. On the surface The SwiftPad Trilogy” might seem like something similar, but that is not what the books are about. Yes it recounts a civil conflict in the US from a particular side, fighting a corrupt wannabe dictator, but the “power” is far away, most of the time. The issues in the story personal and “locally sourced”. And it is clearly fanciful. There is no attempt to attach anything real to any real people, except in satire. If it is a “Protocols of a Libtard Qanon”, then it is obvious satire. The difference is QAnon believers really believe tRump is Q or is close to Q.  The SwiftPad Trilogy is fiction. It is not “liberal Anon.”

What kind of feedback have you received from readers?

Some negative. I can’t deny the Trilogy is political and people who see it through that lens only, and dislike my politics, will likely dislike the books. I certainly don’t disguise that it is (in part) a revolt against a tRump-like figure. Wackos like those that attacked the Capitol on Jan 6 tell themselves “we have the guns”.  And clearly that is true. The story is a bit of a meditation on how it might play out, especially in a city like Portland where almost no one is armed. While the extreme right is armed in an infantry sense, those advantages are not necessarily so overwhelming. I wanted to explore how that might play out in a “war game” like scenario.

What do you like to read?

Fun books. Carl Hiasaan is a particular favorite. Donald Westlake.. I like le Carre, and the noire writers of the 30s and forties, James Cain, Dashille Hammit, Raymond Chandler, Eric Ambler. I like Walter Mosley, Of course Tomas Pynchon. I don’t know Don deLillo, Jonathon Lethem. I thought Joan Didion’s “Play it as it Lays” was great, and I have read much of her nonfiction. John D. McDonald, Martin Cruz Smith,  Phillip Roth, Kingsley Amis, James Ellroy – and of course the greats, Shakespeare,  Melville, Faulkner, Ken Kelsey (“Sometimes a Great Notion” is the greatest American novel, needs to be read again and again…) but I read a lot of history too. Recently half of my bookshelf is history.

Which book has most influenced your writing?

Gravity’s Rainbow. I got it right away, and most people shake their heads and say it is incomprehensible. I studied a lot of 19th and 20th century German history in college, and some physics too. And his sense of humor really appealed to me. So, of his more recent work I have been indifferent to though.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I’m wife and I were both decent runners in school. We try and help each other stay in shape. We hike and do camping in the late summer. Nothing too radical, maybe 5 days in the woods at a time.

What’s next? Are you writing another book? What can you share with us?

I have a couple of ideas. I want to write a mystery set in the 50s. Maybe through the eyes of a young boy. Also thinking about a comedic-satiric political scandal in a modern small city. A la Anthony Trollope. Comedy is hard, as they say, but I like to read it, so, maybe I can pull it off.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing, or about life in general?

Do what you like to do. The hard part though is knowing what that is.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Don’t quit your day job.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

My wife Mary and I  live outside of Portland Oregon now. We like to go backpacking, biking, and enjoy playing with our grand daughter, who lives with our son and daughter-in-law not far away. 

I grew up in Barnegat NJ, and had a Huck Finn childhood, surrounded by woods, streams, and meadows. In the 1950s, 1200 people lived there. I have two younger sisters, Laura and Liza.

 My Dad was an amazing story teller, and a town character.  Mom was from the mountain region of North Carolina.  She graduated from college and taught us kids to read early.   My parents bought a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, along with the Britannica Junior set and also a set of books of mythology and heroes, such as William Tell, William Wallace, and Robert the Bruce, (through my mother’s Appalachian family, legend says Bruce is a direct ancestor).  

We moved from Barnegat to a north Jersey suburb when I was 12.  I ran track and cross country at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale.

I studied Economics and History at the University of Kansas,  moved to Eugene Oregon, and then met Mary.  I did various jobs, and then went to China to teach English.  Mary joined me.  After two and a half years, we returned to the US, broke, with Zach on the way, and I got a job in a Florida strip mall computer store.  It was a hard few years, but I learned computers and the associated technologies. I went on to a career in IT, from which 30 years later I retired from IBM.  During that time I wrote intermittently, mostly on “Farewell the Dragon”.   

I have a few ideas as to what kind of fiction I will write next. I love history, but the responsibility of “sticking to the facts” is more than I want to take on. So in the meantime, I am exercising, reading a lot and occasionally writing book reviews for my blog.

Visit the Author’s Website


One thought on “Interview with S. Lee Barckmann – Author of “The SwiftPad Trilogy”

  1. Thinking Americans everywhere, take note! This is a great trilogy and a cautionary tale. Lee Backman proves that sci fi fantasy and satire can be powerful literary tools in the right writer’s hands. Don’t miss these books!.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.