Bluescreen Early Access: Sahara!

Last week I talked about Marisa, the main character in my new series, called Mirador. Today we get to talk about Marisa’s best friend, Sahara Cowan. I’ll skip the long preamble and get right to the awesome character portrait:

sahara page

The art is, once again, by the amazing Santo Ibarra.

Sahara is one of my favorite characters in the series. Where Marisa is a hacker and a programmer, Sahara is a celebrity–or at least she wants to be. Her greatest goal in life is fame, and she has three main areas where she pursues this. First, of course, is Overworld, the virtual reality videogame she plays with Marisa. An Overworld team has five players, who play five specific positions, just like any other sport; Sahara is the General, who leads the team and calls the plays and coordinates all the action on the field. This is a great fit for Sahara because she is always in charge, even off the field. One of my great epiphanies in writing the series was to make Sahara the leader rather than Marisa–I assumed Marisa would be kind of the Queen Bee character, because she’s the main character of the series, but letting her take a social back seat to Sahara just made everything work so much better. Sahara loves the spotlight, and she loves speaking her mind. Marisa will often come up with the crazy ideas that carry the group forward and get them out of (or into) trouble, but it’s always Sahara who makes them happen, using everyone’s talents like the mastermind in a heist movie.

Sahara’s second path to fame is her vidcast. You see those two little thingies flying around above her head? Those are camera nulis, and they follow her everywhere, recording her entire life and streaming it to a real-time 24-hour video feed of Sahara’s life. Her vidcast is pretty popular–not enough that she gets recognized everywhere she goes, but enough to pay her rent and keep her dreaming of some major breakout moment that will make her a star. One of the things she loves about her friends are the constant trouble they’re always in–tangling with digital druglords is dangerous, but it makes for great viewing. Sahara is, in many ways, the answer I came up with when trying to imagine the future of privacy and social media: in a world where the sky is filled with nulis, where even the cars are watching you, and where everyone you meet has a computer in their skull, privacy just doesn’t make sense any more. Some people try to fight this, but Sahara embraces it, and lives her entire life online for everyone to see.

By the way: someone asked me last week if “nuli” was taken from Bernoulli, a famous physicist and mathematician. That’s a cool explanation, but nope. Nuli is an anglicized corruption of the Chinese word for slave, and has become standard (in my series) as shorthand for any kind of domestic or commercial robot. If it shoots you, it’s a drone, but if it folds your laundry or picks up your garbage or delivers your mail, it’s a nuli. I looked at a lot of words, trying to find the perfect one, and nuli was just such a great fit for what we wanted. I liked the connection to “null,” because they are not remotely intelligent or self-sufficient, but more than that I liked the sense of history in it. The word “robot” is based on an old Czech word for “slave,” and nuli is just the Chinese version of the same thing. It feels like an advancement of a familiar concept, plus it helps to underscore that the world of Mirador is wildly international, and dominated by Chinese ideas and culture.

Sahara’s third path to fame is through fashion. You can tell from the picture that she’s dressed much more elaborately (and provocatively) than Marisa; Marisa wears jeans and T-shirts and whatever it takes to get the job done, but Sahara wears fancy dresses with crazy flaps and folds and intricate patterns. She even has a kind of wacky floral bustle in her portrait, which I love. Fashion was another area where I really tried to sit down and predict the future; Go online, or on Pinterest, and look up “cyberpunk fashion,” and you’ll get a whole lot of black–cloaks and hoodies and goth-y, grungy, almost post-apocalyptic clothing. I wanted the clothes in Mirador to have a little more variety to it. A friend of mine is a fashion designer, and we had some long conversations in person and online trying to figure out what these characters should be wearing. One of the things she pointed out is that we already have, in the real world today, 3D-printed clothes; extrapolate that 35 years into the future, and every home could have a clothes printer right there in the bedroom. You find something you like online, you download it, and you’re wearing it in minutes. Not only does this make high fashion more accessible, but it makes complicated patterns and layers–once the hallmark of wealth, because they’re so hard to create–trivially easy to reproduce. That’s a world where fashion trends move so fast you can’t rely on major designers to do it for you–if you want to stay on the edge, you have to start tweaking those patterns you download, and maybe even designing your own stuff from the ground up. That’s what Sahara does. One of her fondest dreams is to see a dress she created on somebody else–that means people are not only watching her vidcast, they’re liking her stuff enough to steal it. And there is no greater honor in the world of fashion than having your ideas stolen.

There’s a lot more to Sahara than I have time for here–she’s emancipated from her parents, she loves math and accounting, she’s a lesbian–but you’ll have to read the book to find out the rest. For now we’ll just say this: she lives in a little apartment over Marisa’s family’s restaurant, right in the middle of the Mirador neighborhood in LA, and is one of Marisa’s only friends. Two of their teammates live on the other side of the world, but next week we’ll talk about the third LA local: the wild and crazy troublemaker Anja Litz.

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