The ideas for Rare Traits developed slowly. I had been thinking, the way you do, about identity, ID cards, passports and the like and musing on how difficult it is becoming to alter these documents.
No, I’m not in the business of faking IDs, but from my forensic background I do have some insight into counterfeiting and forgery – I once spent several happy hours teasing a supposedly tamper-proof laminate from a prototype new driving licence in order to test its level of security. It failed!
That was then – the 80s – and this is now, and things are far more sophisticated. Of course, in the movies, your average criminal often turns up at some dingy workshop where a middle-aged guy is sitting at a desk working under a single desk light. He’d probably be wearing a visor-style eyeshade, smoking heavily and wearing a wrinkled shirt and braces. And for the price of a wad of notes, he miraculously produces identity documents that fool every official from London to Sydney. How many times have you seen that on the screen or read it in a novel?
These days, with the advent of smart cards, microprinting, copy-proof colours, encrypted data, etc, it’s not that easy. It now takes the resources of a government to produce these things and the same to fake them.
So here was the problem
What if someone needed to change his identity fairly regularly, not so much for criminal purposes but because remaining who he was would be a threat to him? Why would that happen? Well, we can all imagine spooks doing it and why, but they have the resources of a government behind them. Your ordinary man in the street has neither the need nor the resources.
Then I thought, well, if someone was very old but it didn’t show, then he or she might have a problem. Supposing, for some reason, you reached a certain age, say, your thirties, and stopped ageing. Not only that, supposing you were never ill, that diseases couldn’t touch you. Could be fun but sooner or later other people would start to notice. The ageing part, at least.
So now you’re sixty and you’re still the fit young stud you were when you were thirty. Just a minute, you now look younger than your kids and your wife might not be over-sympathetic. There would come a time when you realised that not only don’t you look old, but you’re not old. That is, you really aren’t ageing. You’re in a sort of suspended animation. Now you have a problem. If you let it be known about your ‘condition’, research scientists would be beating a path to your door wanting to take bits of you for sampling. It would be assumed that you had the secret of eternal youth and they would all want a piece of the action. And then there would be the Bond movie baddies who wanted to be the same as you no matter how much that might inconvenience you.
OK, but let’s rewind a bit and imagine that this didn’t all start now, but a few hundred years ago. Not many research scientists around, but there were a few rather zealous religious types who would likely regard you as a threat to their orthodoxy. Solution? Burn you at the stake. What else?
In either case, modern or old, there would come a time when you needed to move on, to go somewhere else and have a new ID. A few hundred years ago, it was a bit easier, especially if you were an artist and could turn your skills to knocking up a few documents. No credit card traces to worry about, no digitised version of you lurking on computers around the world. Just jump on your horse and head for the hills. Well, perhaps not quite that easy, but easier than it would be now.
So here you are in the present day, you’ve managed to avoid or cope with discovery and identity for hundreds of years and then all of a sudden technology catches up with you. Your DNA is sampled and an inquisitive scientist starts to get excited about your genetics. Now you might have more than just the problem of the next ID change…
If you’ve read Rare Traits, then you’ll know how things panned out and hopefully be itching to get your teeth into the sequel, Delusional Traits, when it’s published. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? Just click on the ‘Buy’ panel in the sidebar.