One of the things I’m always looking at in fiction is what’s missing. Sometimes its only bad things that are absent. This is a very rare occurrence. Sometimes there are non-essential elements left out and this is a more common thing. Often leaving things out like the exact diagnosis of a non point of view character, or the hair color of the waitress in the movie theater bar.
Details like these would simply slow the story down, and rob the more important landmarks of their relevance. In which case missing elements is a good thing. This can even be an excellent thing. But what about those details that might allow a story to be told from a different perspective?
As I was eating dinner the other night, I flicked on a documentary. Lisa Ling was the narrator and host for one of the National Geographic’s better efforts. World’s Most Dangerous Gang was an interesting tour of what is for lack of a better term, a small borderless nation birthed in the blood of their members and enemies. Thirty-three American states are known to have local groups, they are in at least six nations from tiny El Salvador to Canada, and estimate run as high as 100,000 active members. The documentary is both worth checking out, and not the point.
I can’t recall the last time i saw a writer put good use to the underworld, or even just the gray area organizations as part of a large scale story. Sure there are stories that focus on theives like The Lies of Lock Lamora or the more recent Among Thieves. One of the few I can think of is the Mockers of Krondor in the very early books set in Midkemia. They are well drawn, but pretty much an exception to the rule.
Given the hostility groups like The Aryan Brotherhood, the Crips, Bloods, La Nuestra Familia and others have for any outsiders one wonders how they’d react to non-human incursions. A half dozen elfs trying to take over a basketball court would certainly be noticed. A couple dozen redcaps taking business away from hitmen would cause a serious and unwelcome cash flow issue. An alien invasion that just happened to crush a protection or the wrong half dozen members mothers could cause any of the aforementioned groups to go from threat to their human enemies, to threat to the non humans.
A lot of these groups are highly organized at or near the same level as the better known Russian crime lords, Italian Mafia or the New England Mafia. The Aryan Brotherhood for example has been known to write messages in double and even triple encryption. The tattoos and handsigns each gang uses are a their own languages evolved over years. The methods they use to draw in members, build their loyalty and retain them are rather brutally applied fundamentals of psychology.
If you stop to look at it, in some ways a dispersed gray to criminal enterprise has a better chance of successful long term resistance to a world or nation conquering outside threat. For one thing police military organizations tend to be highly visible both in their persons and in their organizational centers. It doesn’t take a genius to find a military base with current technology. Assume greater technology and even hidden bases spring to the eye.
On the other hand, an organization that is used to hiding? An organization or organizations that concentrate both ruthlessness and cohesion? A group who’s existence depends on secrecy? Some of these groups are multinational, and contain more members than the armed forces of small nations. With channels of communication and trade that they are used to hiding? The possibilities for mayhem are extraordinary. The odd bedfellows alliances could be just plain mind bending.