The Defector – Beginnings …
If I have a favourite question for authors it’s … where did you get that idea from? So in the virtual space that The Top Shelf has so kindly lent me, I thought I’d tackle that one for my first novel – The Defector. It started life as one idea – perhaps most books do – unfortunately, it was an ending. A game of the Prisoner’s Dilemma played for life and death stakes. I’d come across the Prisoner’s Dilemma while studying philosophy, it was dreamed up by scientists at the American RAND Corporation think-tank back in 1950, and got its name from the story told to illustrate the idea.
Two prisoners are held in solitary confinement, both accused of collusion in the same crime. They are each given the chance to turn State’s evidence to assist in the conviction of the other. If they both choose to remain silent, they will each be convicted for one year. If they both choose to turn in the other, they will be convicted for three years each. However, should one of them remain silent and the other turn State’s evidence, the squealer will go free and the other will do five years.
In Prisoner’s Dilemma terminology squealing to the authorities is called defecting, while remaining silent is known as cooperating. The problem for each player is whether or not they can trust their fellow prisoner to remain silent – to cooperate. If they can, both of them get off lightly. But if one player, with both their interests at heart, decides to cooperate and remains silent, while the other defects and squeals, then the co-operator ends up in jail for five years whilst the defector gets away completely. That would seem a pretty bad deal if you were the co-operator. So, the thinking goes, wouldn’t it be better to squeal – just in case? But if both prisoners are thinking the same thing they both end up in jail for three years instead of one – if only they could have kept quiet.
Such is the train of thought leading to the most frequent result of a one-shot Prisoner’s Dilemma in modern western society – mutual defection. It’s a central metaphor for our interpersonal behaviour. Take the case of an unmanned barrier on a railway system with no ticket inspectors. Hop over the barrier and you get a personal gain – you save the fare. But if enough people do it, eventually the rail company has to put the fares up – and everyone who pays will suffer for the free ride the barrier hoppers are getting. In Prisoner’s Dilemma terms the freeloader is defecting – putting his personal welfare ahead of the group interest. While the ticket buyer is cooperating, hoping that everyone else will do the same and prices will stay down.
Boom Turned to Bust…
It was the crash of various financial markets in the late eighties and early nineties – and their inexorable Prisoner’s Dilemma logic – that gave me the final spur to finish the book. And as inevitably as bust follows boom follows bust, it was the latest crash and crisis that inspired me to re-publish it as an eBook.
In The Defector I wanted to take the Prisoner’s Dilemma to the extreme. What if the choices involved were life and death? And what if the lives belonged to people you knew and someone you loved?
I thought a game of Prisoner’s Dilemma with a loaded six-shooter would make a fabulous ending. Unfortunately, I started with no idea of what went before. It took eight drafts of the book to figure it out – slowly growing the lives of Martin, Kate and Scott. But it did give me plenty of opportunity to learn the craft of writing novels on the way. I’ve read about other writers going through this learning process with different books, rather than the same one; but I was so convinced by the story as it developed that I stuck at The Defector.
It’s a book with an idea: that Games Theory in general, and the Prisoner’s Dilemma in particular are relevant to the way society works, and the way it doesn’t. I hope that it will leave the reader with something to think about. At the same time, it should appeal to anyone who enjoys a thriller, with plenty of action, a desperate love triangle and most of all – Martin’s struggle for redemption in the eyes of his former girlfriend.
Mark Chisnell writes the kind of stories that keep you turning the pages on holiday, and still thinking about them when you get back to work …
The books include the chart-topping thrillers, The Defector, The Wrecking Crew and The Fulcrum Files – as well as award-winning works of non-fiction.
He’s a former professional sportsman, and now also works as a broadcaster and journalist, writing for some of the world’s leading magazines and newspapers, including Esquire and the Guardian.
Probably his greatest achievement was hitch-hiking to Mt Everest base-camp in Tibet. In training shoes. Or maybe that was the stupidest.
Synopsis: What will you do, when it’s you or them?
This is the dilemma at the heart of The Defector – can Martin Cormac turn his back on his ruthless past as a currency trader, a big city player, and do the right thing? Not when he’s looking for answers in a succession of sleazy dives…
One night, Cormac gets caught trying to chat up the bar owner’s girlfriend and soon needs rescuing. Unfortunately, his white knight is anything but – Janac’s a drug baron with a psychotic urge to test people to the limit, and if possible… over it.
And soon Cormac is running from more than his past, he’s running from the most dangerous game he will ever play.
Mark has graciously offered up an ORIGINAL HARDCOVER copy of The Defector! Back then the book was called The Delivery and honestly, I’d love to have one of these on my shelf! 🙂 You lucky readers you! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment! I will choose a winner via Random.org on Monday April 2, 2012 at 8PM Eastern. Good luck!