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Pop-Up People: a Query

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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Thursday, September 30, 2004 - 02:44 pm:   

I've been kicking an idea around for a while and I thought I'd check and see if anyone knows of existing treatments of this concept.

We're all familiar with stories of what I call the "digitally disappeared"--people who, through technological means, have their identities (or memories, in extreme cases) stolen.

As anyone knows who has given this idea some thought, these stories are rarely credible (though they can be a lot of fun). Identity today is massively multiply-determined: social security records, driver's license, birth certificate, school records, medical records, and so on. It would take a lot of juice and more intensive effort than even most governments can muster to disappear a single well-documented individual. And that says nothing about the physical body itself.

Now, the opposite of this--call them pop-up people?--is easier to accomplish. It takes very little work to create a false person, a cypher with everything except a physical body. The Rockford Files was the first place I saw a glimpse of this idea played out, in an episode in which a false identity is created by researching death records of infants who died the same year the fugitive was born. But I've since heard of requirements for documentation aboard ships that provide interesting possibiliies as well. And what would happen if an Internet hoax provided the U. S. government with a non-existent person who posed a security risk? Imagine the full power of government security being brought to bear on someone who wasn't there.

Has anyone done a worthy treatment of this concept, in any of its possible variations? Has anyone written a story featuring a fully documented non-person, either as McGuffin or protagonist or anything in-between? If so, where can I get my hands on those stories, whether they be novels or short pieces?

Thanks in advance.
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AliceB
Posted on Thursday, September 30, 2004 - 06:11 pm:   

You might want to check the series by Margaret Peterson Haddix: AMONG THE HIDDEN, AMONG THE IMPOSTERS (SHADOW CHILDREN), and AMONG THE BETRAYED. These are middle grade/YA novels set in a world where people are only permitted to have two children. Any additional child in a family is required to hide, or someone must create a new identity for him/her.

In the real world, new identities are created all the time by con artists--some of these identities are very sophisticated.

Best,
Alice
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Kathy S.
Posted on Thursday, September 30, 2004 - 08:24 pm:   

There was a fake person in Shawshank Redemption, I believe. Created by applying for social security card and other documents by mail. Not sure if that's what you had in mind.
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des
Posted on Friday, October 01, 2004 - 01:22 am:   

The Vanishing Life and Films of Emmanuel Escobada in Nemonymous #2 (May 2002).

The printed story itself had a website address that actually worked which eventually led to this link:
http://www.members.tripod.com/scott_warrick/

This story has since been greatly acclaimed. It also received this accolade:
http://www.tangentonline.com/reviews/starlightreviewall.php3?review=774

As far as I know, the story remains anonymously written, by choice of the author.

des


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des
Posted on Friday, October 01, 2004 - 01:44 am:   

Forgive me, but please let me add to the above that when I first read 'Escobada' I think I must have believed in the reality of its scenario - it was that good... and I was sort of frightened. I had to ask the author whether I was breaking some curse in publishing it and he reassured me! Even today, half of me believes in Escobada. Though I'm told it's only a story. But who told me?
I think it fits your bill exactly, Neal.
des
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des
Posted on Friday, October 01, 2004 - 01:48 am:   

And another good example is:
THE BOOK OF ILLUSIONS by Paul Auster (which came out after 'Escobada' was published).
des
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, October 01, 2004 - 08:28 am:   

Alice, Kathy, Des--Thanks for the leads. I'll check these out. This notion came to me while discussing the problem of identity theft with a colleague. We seemed to agree that creating an identity for a person who did not exist (and not merely a false identity for a living person) was easier than removing or entirely appropriating the social identity of a real person. As the two people having the conversation were academics, this led, of course, to the question of what a "real" identity is, in the age of over-determined surveillance. Somehow, I got the idea that a story might be written in which the protagonist is not an investigator, but the non-person being investigated. As Nathan Ballingrud pointed out to me when I mentioned this to him, it is not an easy story to envision or to tell. When your main character is not only absent, but has never existed in the flesh, how do you convey any of the affective elements fiction has to carry to succeed? Who sympathizes with an empty space? Maybe that's where I should focus my attention, eh?

Des, the website you linked is thought-provoking and makes me want to read the story. Kathy, I remember the non-person in Shawshank; it reminded me of PFC Wintergreen's pranks in Catch-22. Alice, thanks for the YA tips; it's a market I rarely dip into, but perhaps I should.
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des
Posted on Friday, October 01, 2004 - 08:47 am:   

Neal, if you let me know your address here:
bfitzworth@yahoo.co.uk
I'll send you a copy of Nemonymous~2.

And I can't stress enough how much you should follow up THE BOOK OF ILLUSIONS by Paul Auster (if you've not already read it). You'll love it.
des

http://www.nemonymous.com

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