I had the opportunity to interview author J.P. Redding (a pseudonym) shortly after his first book “Off Grid” came out. Initially, I thought it was a survivalist book. The subtitle “Is there anywhere to hide from the surveillance state?” suggested that. It turns out that it is a science fiction book, as well.

Tamara Wilhite: Most of the survivalist fiction I’ve read that crosses into the science fiction realm is post-apocalyptic. The survivalists are surviving the aftermath of a genetically engineered plague, electromagnetic pulse weapon or even a supernatural disaster. Think “The Road”, “Dust” or “Lucifer’s Hammer”. Fleeing an oppressive regime with a new high-tech gadget is fairly rare, much less fleeing to a rural area with a plan of anything other than blowing it up. Would it actually be possible to escape with it? And what could they do with it beyond hide it from those in power?

JP Redding:  I would not characterize OFF GRID as a survivalist novel—although there are aspects of how rural communities would “survive” a new order where the populace is dependent upon, and surveilled by, an ever-expanding government.  While there is a catalytic event in the novel, the disintegration of our current order is like watching a slow-moving car crash—these societal changes are occurring today right before our eyes.  I tried to provide a political/philosophical framework to understand these changes while putting an action/thriller wrapper around it.

The title, OFF GRID, can be understood on two different levels:  1). staying off the surveillance grid by abandoning your electronic tether (PivPal) and 2). living off the grid by not being dependent upon government regulated services, utilities, and food distribution.

The plasma drive invention would assist in living off the grid.  It would also be a threat to entrenched interests like the fossil fuel, solar, and wind power industries.  As the novel depicts, it would be impossible to conceal such an invention for long.  Perhaps the inventors have a different plan than concealment…?

Tamara Wilhite: Real world tech question. How does PivPal in your book compare to China’s Sesame Credit system?

JP Redding: There are some obvious parallels.  China has now gone beyond the credit scoring and loyalty program aspects of the Sesame system to implement a full Social Credit System whereby citizens are graded on their trustworthiness and behavior that is acceptable to the Party.  This is a further extension of China’s mass surveillance system and may tie rewards/punishments to a citizen’s allegiance to the Party.

Is the U.S. approaching this?  Probably not yet, but all the ingredients are there, including access to U.S. citizens’ financial records, buying habits, browsing habits, travel history, communication history, political and religious affiliations, etc.

Perhaps more alarming is the use of social media to punish and shame conservatives with cyberbullying, doxing, and “cancelling” people as well as actual physical confrontations.  We have seen this type of repression before:  the student-led Red Guard during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.

Tamara Wilhite: They say write what you know. Writing about hiding out in rural Michigan certainly counts, since you live there. How much of the other topics touched in the book come from personal experience? For example, would you consider yourself a prepper?

JP Redding:  No, I am not a prepper in the traditional sense of stockpiling guns, food, gold, and getting ready for the bad times.  However, I am mentally preparing myself for further government intrusion into our lives and the continuing decay of a common morality.  It is very disheartening—but I try to offer some hope in OFF GRID.  With respect to other topics covered in the book:  I am an extreme water sports enthusiast (kiteboarding, windsurfing, etc.), I am an entrepreneur, and I am an inventor with multiple patents including the use of smartphones to track people.

Tamara Wilhite: Your background is in political science and philosophy, though you earned an MBA. How has that background influenced the book?

JP Redding:  I present a Political Ecosystems Matrix in the novel to provide a framework for the range of political systems and where the U.S. might be heading.  I have been noodling with this matrix since college.  It uses the axes of Law vs. Freedom and Spiritual vs. Secular to position and explain political systems…with all roads leading to The State.

My background in business has also influenced my writing.  I have experience ranging from startup entrepreneur to large corporate executive.  In both cases, I have seen the constraints put on business by over-regulation as well as bureaucracies.  I have personal experience in the government rejecting a no-brainer solution in favor of a politically connected, but flawed, alternative solution.  Once again, very disheartening.

Tamara Wilhite: And is the plasma drive based on anything you’ve worked with?

JP Redding:  As I explain in the novel, there is ongoing research into plasma drives and ion thrusters.  Some may be used for deep space exploration.  We may see commercial applications within our lifetimes.  With respect to the plasma drive presented in OFF GRID, I will say—somewhat cryptically—that I was exposed to this concept back in the ‘80s by very reputable sources.  It has haunted me ever since…

Tamara Wilhite: What non-fiction and fiction works have influenced your writing the most?

JP Redding:  As one might expect, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and George Orwell’s 1984 have been major influences.  In fact, I see many Orwellian parallels with the current Progressive agenda including thoughtcrimes (political correctness), doublethink (trying to rationalize obvious contradictions), and thought police (cyberbullies, doxxers and snitches).  Another major influence was Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man.  A fascinating, if somewhat thick read that points to consumerism as the lid on the boiling pot of revolution.  This neo-Marxist could not quite figure out that free market capitalism is the worst economic/political system in the world…except for all the rest!

Tamara Wilhite: This is your first novel to my knowledge. Are you considering writing a sequel to “Off Grid”?

JP Redding:  OFF GRID stands alone as a complete novel.  However, I have left some dangling plot lines that set the stage for a possible sequel.

Tamara Wilhite: Is there anything you’d like to add?

JP Redding: OFF GRID should not be pigeon-holed as a survivalist novel or a conservative diatribe—it is much more than that.  It explores the very foundations of political systems and political dynamics, all the way down to basic human nature—in particular, our existential fear and need to control.  I wrap this exploration in a pro-faith, action thriller to have a little fun on the way.

Tamara Wilhite: Thank you for speaking with me.

JP Redding:  Thank you Tamara!

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