Axon, Inc., Writing Process

Characters: Tori Reathall and Paula Amaranto

Axon, Inc. is a tightly-focused novel, concentrating on the lives of just a few characters. Following up on the in-depth discussion of the protagonist, Walden Reathall, and the antagonist (?) Logan Byrnes, this post discusses two other essential characters: Walden’s sister, Tori, and good friend, Paula Amaranto. There are no spoilers here, just notes about character inspiration and background.

Tori Reathall

Tori Reathall, Walden’s younger sister, is based on the god Thor. Although Walden felt responsible for her and protective of her, Tori’s brilliance and lack of impulse control made for a difficult childhood. She is perhaps the character most profoundly changed by the events in the book.

Thor is the child of Odin and the Earth itself. He is known for his tremendous strength, his mastery of lightning, and his mighty hammer, Mjölnir (roughly, “Pulverizer”). Loki won it for him by wagering his own head — one of many wagers that Loki lost fairly, and refused to pay honestly. Possibly the greatest of all warriors, and patron deity of farmers and free men, Thor also had a short, powerful temper, and was often outwitted, teased, and insulted by the giants, Loki, and even Odin himself.

Thor is perhaps best remembered for two things: first, his incredible feats of strength (which include wrestling the World Serpent and drinking a significant portion of the sea), and second, that one time Loki convinced him to dress up as a blushing bride to get his hammer back.

Tori doesn’t have supernatural muscles or power over lightning and storm, but she combines a wild genius-level intelligence with moral strength and a certain amount of innocence. It’s a volatile mix, and it gives her a unique strength of her own. Also, like Thor, she has trouble with impulse control. As a child she frequently bolted from her parents, heading off into the park, the forest, the mall, or the street, drawn irresistibly towards whatever grabbed her interest. She and Walden were fairly close as children, falling easily into a protector / protected relationship. At school her attention wandered easily, but her natural brilliance made it easy for her to get good grades (much better than her older brother). Her school performance started to drop off in high school (not coincidentally after Walden left to go into the military, and she joined up with a completely different set of friends) and instead of going Ivy League, she ended up at Rochester, NY.

Things did not go well for her there. After one year, her grades were just barely passing, and she’d spent most of her time immersed in drugs, alcohol, and the party scene. She also had multiple pregnancy scares, although her family only found out about them years later. After her second year, she dropped out, and continued living in Rochester, spiraling further into poverty and substance abuse.

Finally, in the summer of 2028, Walden (who had just graduated from UW himself) offered to pay her rent if she’d come back to Seattle, get cleaned up, and work with him on his business ventures. She agreed, and joined him for his first couple of companies. However, the pressure of consistent performance and the stress of the volatile computer industry proved to be too much for her, and she dropped out of rehab and returned to her drugs. Walden felt he could do nothing for her; he continued to pay her rent, but otherwise kept his distance, helplessly.

Paula Amaranto

Paula is a composite of various Norse gods and goddesses, most notably Freya and Frigg. She has a complex love/hate relationship with Walden, and has a stronger moral compass than most of the other characters.

Born in Texas in 2005, Paula was the youngest of five siblings. Spanish was spoken in her home, and she only learned English in school. Her staunchly Catholic family had been deeply involved in the Mexican military for generations, and moved only recently to the United States; and she was raised with strongly conservative social values. The family had very little money — in fact, she grew up in a trailer — and she continues to feel deeply connected to issues of poverty and homelessness.

Paula’s religion is extremely important to her, and she believes in living cleanly and simply. She has had some strange experiences with spirits, angels, and the afterlife. While she does think that abortion and excessive promiscuity are sinful, she knows she doesn’t have all the answers, and tries not be judgmental.

Like Logan, she loved to dabble with machines and experiment on her own, but she prioritized her studies and did well in school, and — partly because of family and cultural pressure — kept most of her private projects to herself. In 2024 she left her family in Texas and went to UW to study computer science. She met Walden in an introductory computer systems class, and they hit it off immediately. He was a strong, driven, brilliant person, with an open mind that was rigorous and intuitive. She saw a lot to admire in him, and their relationship quickly grew intense. However, after about six months, Paula found she’d reached a locked door in Walden’s psyche, one he would not let her enter. That effectively ended that phase of the relationship.

Nevertheless they remained friends, and went into business together after college. It was while working with Walden and Logan on their first venture, Gardenshare, that she met Walden’s special forces buddy Max. Unlike Walden, Max was emotionally open and forthright, and their shared military background and mutual attraction made them a good match. In 2029, when their third company, Customdrug, started veering into unethical territory, Paula and Max left and joined Google’s subsidiary FXML (a provider of machine learning approaches to financial investment). When the book begins, the two of them are still there, and Paula and Walden have not spoken for a year.

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