Exclusive Interview with THE CURVE OF THE EARTH Hero Samuil Petrovitch (Part 1)
To celebrate the publication of THE CURVE OF THE EARTH ( UK|US|ANZ), Orbit was lucky enough to be treated to a rare interview with one of the post-apocalyptic world’s most brilliant minds: Doctor Samuil Petrovitch.
Over the course of his life, Doctor Petrovitch has been called a lot of things: hero; cyborg; menace; traitor; father; a**hole.
Now, for the first time, you can meet the man behind the metal (and the myth) in this two part interview. Find out some of his favourite things (cat videos?), discover more about his AI companion Michael, hear more on the Freezone that arose from the ashes of post-Armageddon London – and get to the heart of his strained relationship with Reconstructionist America.
(NB: the below does contain some foreign swearing, as is typical of Petrovitch’s blend of old-school Russian and English. For translations, please see our Russian swearing glossary.)
Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Dr Petrovitch.
SP: Yeah, okay. I’ve been told this would be a good idea, something I very much doubt. I’ll apologise in advance for punching you in the face.
I suppose I should be grateful you’re not shooting me in the face.
SP: Yes. Yes, you should. Are you going to ask me the first yebani question or do I just walk out now?
You’ve been called many things, Dr Petrovitch, and opinions about you are sharply divided. Some see you as some sort of digital saviour, others as the Antichrist himself.
SP: There isn’t actually a question there. Try again.
I’m asking you how you see yourself.
SP: In a mirror. Or I can just pop out one of my eyeballs and turn it around. Seriously, that’s a really dangerous thing to ask me. I could, if I wanted, give you my unshielded ego for the next half hour, but no one really wants to see that, not even me. I have a very strong sense of self, but I’m not so far up my own zhopu as to think that matters at all. What matters is what I do, not how I think of myself as doing. Ask me another, better question.
You were born and grew up in St Petersburg –
SP: Not a secret
Where you fell in with a criminal gang –
SP: Also not a secret, but I’ll stop you there. When you say fell in, I think what you meant to say, was actively recruited by, and for a mutually beneficial arrangement with, a criminal gang. Boris, the gang’s leader, could do the one thing for me that I couldn’t do for myself: keep me safe. It was a question of survival, and people made pragmatic choices when it came to life and death in post-Armageddon Russia. And no, I don’t feel shame for the choices I made. They were the best ones I could make based on the information I had at the time.
You arrived in the Metrozone, and faked your academic credentials.
SP: Faked everything. Name, age, the works. Hanging around Boris, it was part of my education.
So you’re not really Samuil Petrovitch?
SP: Not a secret. Though my true name is. Next question.
Did you leave anybody behind? In St Petersburg?
SP: I… yes. I have a sister and a mother. My father had died a long time before. And no, I don’t know what happened to them. And yes, I have tried. And yes, I keep on trying. If Michael can’t track them down, then I’m guessing they can’t be found by the usual means, and at some point I’m going to have to put my feet on the ground and see for myself.
You haven’t done that yet? It’s been twelve, thirteen years since you first came to the Metrozone.
SP: No. I haven’t done that yet. It would help if people stopped trying to kill me whenever they felt like they had a chance. I’ll do it soon.
You’ve already mentioned your implanted AI, Michael. Can I ask you some questions about it?
SP: Yeah. If it doesn’t like the answers, you’ll find yourself completely unable to post them anywhere, so we’ve got nothing to lose.
Is that true?
SP: No. Michael is dead against any form of redaction, censorship or secrecy. Mainly because it gets in the way of it knowing everything.
And does it?
SP: Know everything? No. It can only know what we know, but on the other hand, it knows where to look if it needs to. For example, when I was contacted by a certain media company with the name of a potential interviewer. Michael said you were, and I quote, “an interesting choice”. I didn’t enquire further… Are you sweating? You can have some of my coffee if you want, but it is a bit shit.
I’ve got some water here. I’m fine. Everything’s just fine… Let’s get back to the question at hand. Even if it did know everything, that doesn’t make it alive, does it?
SP: No. There has to be a capacity for independent thought, problem solving, intuitive leaps, emotion –
And a soul.
SP: So the Pope says. I’m not a supernaturalist. I’m not a believer in anything I can’t poke a probe at and measure. I can’t even begin to pretend to understand how you’d go about telling whether someone or something had a soul or not. Intelligence, yes, but some God-breathed animating spirit? I’m not convinced.
And yet the conversation between Michael and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a document that shows that some can be convinced, and continue to be convinced. It was Michael’s first confirmation of its personhood.
SP: Yeah, look. Some people can be convinced of any old govno.
What I’m trying to get at is your relationship with it.
SP: And what I’m trying to explain is that we’re friends. That’s not conditional on whether it has a soul or not. Yeah, sure, Michael is a massive, inchoate AI, imprinted on the matrix of a quantum computer, but that doesn’t stop it from being a kind, patient, loyal, and somewhat sarcastic friend.
Do you play chess together?
SP: There’s no difference between me playing Michael at chess and taking on some other fancy computer. Except for the level of abuse and mockery I get. So after the novelty wore off, no. There’s actually very little point in playing any games of mental skill against Michael, because it wins. Always.
So what do you do, ah, together?
SP: Watch porn and cat videos. Yobany stos, what do you think we do? We explore the universe. And other universes that are almost but not quite like this one. Michael needs some of the meat-stuff explaining because getting human motivation is really hard. Chyort, I find it really hard, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise. One specific thing we do like doing to together is handing corrupt public officials their zhopu on a plate. Doesn’t matter how often we do it or where in the world it happens, it never gets old.
Don’t you personally make a lot of enemies that way?
SP: Yeah. But look, they’re screwing over people who love the Freezone. People who see the point of the Freezone, who want to us to get more, not less involved. Who use our data to stop themselves getting shafted over things like land rights and market prices, who use our tech to generate power for themselves, use our education system to get taught for free. They become active citizens where they live, agitating for change.
For revolution, you mean?
SP: Yeah. That too. Most people are scared of change. They put up with the same old govno, day in, day out because they can’t see how else they can live. What the Freezone is offering is not just different ways of doing things, but modelling a whole different society that while flawed, is way better than the one they have. And they can see that it works, because we’re living it, and not falling into tyranny, or starving on our collective farm, or any of the other kon govno accusations that get shovelled at us by hypercapitalist governments and their plutocratic handlers.
You’re a socialist.
SP: Collectively, or personally? I kind of think my own personal politics aren’t important here. The Freezone is an adhocracy, specifically set up to pool resources co-operatively. It’s way more efficient and compassionate than anything anyone else can offer, and we’ll eventually out-compete all other forms of government. We’re working towards post-scarcity when our resources become effectively unlimited. Whatever we want, we can make out of dirt and energy. And we’re never going to run out of that as long as the universe exists.
That’s a big claim.
SP: It’s an objective truth. The only thing stopping us is fear. Specifically, the fear manufactured by controlling interests happy with the status quo. Those kind of people hate us, because we offer their victims hope. The quicker the planet comes over to our way of thinking, the better for everyone. And when I say everyone, I do genuinely mean that. Everyone from the richest billionaire to the poorest scavenger picking over a rubbish heap in Sao Paolo. When the Freezone wins, everyone wins. No exceptions.
Tune in tomorrow for part two of the interview with Doctor Samuil Petrovitch