Axon, Inc. is a tightly-focused novel, concentrating on the lives of just a few characters. Stories like this one explore the ramifications of transformative technologies, unraveling the world we know and weaving a new one from its ruins. Focusing on one or two characters allows the reader to become more immersed in the novel, to intimately experience the changes the world is undergoing — to follow a single vivid narrative thread through the chaos of collapsing social structures.
The book follows four main characters, and this page talks about their histories and personalities. There are a few things that might be called ‘spoilers’ here, but for the most part this is just background that’s revealed in the first few chapters.
Based on Odin, Walden is the viewpoint character and primary protagonist of the novel.
Odin was born from the primeval frost (along with his brothers, one of whom may have been Loki), and led the warriors that defeated the giants. He then tore apart the body of the greatest giant, Ymir, and created the world from it. It’s possible that this myth is connected to an ancient Proto-Indo-European myth about two brothers, twins, one of whom kills the other as a sacrifice to create the world. In that ancient story, the living one becomes the lord of the sky, and the dead one the lord of the underworld.
Odin is a god of contradictions. Most people know he is a god of warriors, and lord of Valhalla, the hall where valorous warriors spent eternity in fighting and feasting, preparing for Ragnarök. But he is also a king and shaman. For the Norse, it was odd for a shamanistic individual to be male; so in some ways Odin was seen as effeminate. Some saw this as an imperfection in his character — one of his moral failings. He is, after all, not a moral paragon. In many myths, he was willing to make unsavory compromises to protect his kin. And those compromises often come back to bite him. For example, in order to construct the wall around Asgard, he and Loki lied, swindled, and stole. This led to enmity between the gods and giants, and, eventually, to Ragnarök.
Walden Reathall was born in December of 2001 in western Washington state. His mother, a teacher who grew up in South Africa, was an environmentalist and activist. She named him “Walden” after her favorite book. His father, whose family was originally Canadian, was also an environmentalist. He worked in real estate and, eventually, became a local politician. Walden has one younger sister, Tori (see below).
Walden was a quiet, serious child, although he developed a wry sense of humor as he got older. He was always fascinated by mathematics and literature, and spent hours in his room or in the yard under a tree, reading piles of books. But his attention wandered easily, and he often did poorly in school. His mother died when he was 15, of heart disease; his father is still alive, but succumbed to dementia a few years ago.
In the summer of 2017, Walden went to summer church camp and met Logan Byrnes. Their friendship was immediate and intense. Logan, who was born in Scotland but grew up in a poor part of Seattle, was another quiet, serious child. For him, though, it wasn’t enough to just read about things. He hurled his whole being into everything that interested him. He built telescopes and engines from parts scrounged from the neighborhood; he experimented on plants and insects, and his room sometimes crawled with lizards, snakes, and worms; and he was often found by the police wandering miles from home, exploring. The third of six siblings, his parents rarely had time to watch him carefully. His father was a computer programmer, but not a great one, and his salary was spread thin over six children. So Logan would often shoplift gifts or food for his brother and sisters. He learned judo (he refused to tell anyone how) and then taught it in turn to his family and friends, and they would fearlessly wander the most dangerous streets in the evenings. He taught himself various computer languages from a young age, and by the time he met Walden, he’d already built three of his own machines, and worked part time doing contract programming — illegally, because he was a minor.
The intimate relationship between Logan and Walden eventually cooled. For Walden, Logan was simply too intense, too wild and unpredictable. They always remained close, always better able to understand each other than anyone else in their lives, but Walden needed a lot of emotional distance. Logan understood, and gave it to him. They maintained their friendship online after high school. Neither of them entered college — Walden’s grades were too poor, and Logan was simply too poor, period. While Walden entered the military, Logan worked a few low-paying contract programming jobs, apparently spending most of his time doing drugs and playing games.
But when Walden left the military, Logan already had hatched a scheme to get them both into a good college. All it required was Walden’s money and Logan’s hacking skills, which he’d quietly honed to an amazing degree. Logan and Walden applied to and entered the University of Washington in the fall of 2024, with no irregularities in their records at all.
At school, Logan experimented a lot — with machines, with software, with cheating, with his social and sexual partners, with drugs, and with himself. But he did extremely well at UW, graduating with highest honors.
After college, Logan and Walden went into business (along with their friends Max and Paula, and Walden’s sister Tori), founding a rapid series of start-ups. At first things went well, and they made a lot of money very quickly. But within a few years things began to go sour: business deals led inevitably to riskier ventures, morally ambiguous enterprises, and distasteful compromises. Logan’s take-no-prisoners approach to entrepreneurship, apparently having no qualms about using any kind of secrecy or treachery for business advantage, alienated all of his partners one by one. His last venture with Walden was an organ-sharing clearing house, illegal in most countries but extremely profitable. Eventually, when that grew too abhorrent even for Walden, Logan dropped out of Walden’s life and disappeared for most of a year — before reappearing suddenly with a revolutionary technology.
Logan is based on Loki, a being of uncertain origin who was something between a god and a giant. He was a shapeshifter and a mischievous trickster, but it’s clear that, in the beginning at least, he cared deeply for the other gods and was firmly on their side in their struggles against the giants. With cunning and guile, he orchestrated the raising of the wall around Asgard, and gained almost all the great treasures of the gods — Thor’s hammer, Odin’s spear, Sif’s necklace, Freyr’s chariot and boar, and so on. But he compromised his honor and broke many promises, creating enemies inside Asgard and out.
If Odin was effeminate, Loki was downright gender-ambiguous. As a shape-shifter and trickster, his identity as ‘male’ was far from firmly established. For example, he turned himself into a mare in order to trick a giant, and in that form he gave birth to Odin’s six-legged horse Sleipnir, a steed that could carry Odin to the realm of the Dead and back.
Nevertheless he had many female lovers, including his Aesir wife Sigyn and his jotun wife Angrboda. Angrboda bore him three monstrous children — the mighty wolf Fenrir, the world-serpent Jormungandr, and Hel, the monarch of the dead. They were so dangerous that the gods bound and banished them all.
Loki, increasingly embittered by his ill-treatment by both gods and giants and the loss of his children, became more spiteful and vengeful. Eventually he tricked the blind god, Honir, into killing Odin’s son Balder. After this, Loki was hunted down and imprisoned until the end of the world. At Ragnarök, Loki will lead an army of ghosts against Asgard, and his three monstrous children will defeat and kill Odin and Thor.
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 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.