Horizon — Consciousness Explorers: Inside a Transhuman

Today I have a guest post from author and editor extraordinaire, Keith Stevenson. His new novel, Horizon, is out now. Take it away Keith.

Keith Stevenson
Keith Stevenson

I’d like to thank Alan for giving over some space on his blog for the Horizon Blog Tour.

Horizon is my debut science fiction novel published by Voyager Impulse. It’s an SF thriller centred on a deep space exploration mission that goes very wrong, with repercussions for the future of all life on Earth.

One of the most interesting themes in science fiction, and one of the most exciting advances happening in medical research today, is how humans will become augmented through interfacing with technology.

In the real world, there are amazing advances that enable paraplegics to control the environment around them. In 2012 in the UK, a woman had an aspirin-sized array of electrodes implanted in her brain which picked up signals from neurons in her motor cortex enabling her to control a robotic arm. In sci-fi movies, humans interfacing with technology has brought about a variety of dystopian scenarios from (the now somewhat laughable) Saturn 3, to (the now very laughable) Lawnmower Man, as well as the Matrix movies and the more recent Transcendance.

One of the best books about the future development of humanity is Damien Broderick’s The Last Mortal Generation. It explores not only how the life of our physical body can be extended, but also how technology might free the mind from its time-limited physical form. The mind is the key to so much — our emotions and sense of self. What would it be like to transplant your mind outside of its fleshy architecture into the elegant symmetry of a computer? Would you feel any different if your brain was replaced neuron by neuron by ‘silicon brain cells’? Would you lose your humanity? What about extending the reach of your mind resting within its physical confines by hooking it up to a wider cognitive network that’s faster, richer, and electronic?

eCOV_Horizon_C2D2In Horizon, Systems Specialist Bren Thurgood is among the first couple of generations of transhumans: people who accept an implant that allows them to interface with computerised and artificial intelligence systems. It makes her very good at what she does, and she’s an indispensable member of the crew. However even though I’m an optimist, I find it hard to imagine a future where humanity doesn’t attack what’s different in society. And given the current controversy about metadata and government snooping, I think the reasons behind a widespread mistrust of transhumans are compounded. They are ‘creatures of the internet’, able to breach firewalls and hack sensitive systems as easily as breathing. As a result, ‘chipheads’ are the target of racist — or maybe that should be ‘specist’ — intolerance from the ‘norms’.

I think the most interesting aspect of interfacing directly with the electronic world, the world of data and numbers, is how our minds would interpret and present that augmented reality to us. We’re not digital, we’re analogue, which means — perhaps — we’ll take a figurative rather than literal approach to the datastream. Bren explains it best:

Lex pressed the patches to her temples and flicked the monitor into life. He picked up a metallic wand. ‘You shouldn’t feel any discomfort. I’m just going to send a range of harmonics through the soft tissue and see what the sensors pick up.’ He touched her chin and turned her head to the left. The wand hummed in his hand. ‘What’s it like anyway, the link?’

Bren snorted and a smile spread across her face. ‘You don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that.’

‘Then you should have a good answer.’

She turned towards him and he gently turned her head back into position. ‘A lot of people can’t get used to it. There’s the increased cognitive capacity, of course. You’re totally aware — of everything. When you’re linked, you can instantly understand concepts, complex equations, programming, the works. You access information, formulate solutions, in the blink of an eye. But the perception change can really get to you. Some things you encounter are actual representations, like when I saw Phillips in the ring. Some things you can template and construct yourself. But every now and then something will come at you that’s totally figurative. Like the interface has tapped into your subconscious imagery and selected something that embodies completely what you’re experiencing intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. It can freak you out if you’re not used to it.’

‘Like that package ticking?’

‘Yeah, but that’s a simple example.’

‘Look to the right, please,’ Lex said and swapped the wand to his other hand.

‘Anyway, it’s helped me become more than I ever could be. But Harris and people like him will never understand. And they’ll never trust what they don’t understand.’

No matter how augmented they become, I believe transhumans will retain their own human and individual ways of looking at the world. It may have to work that way to prevent their brains from overloading. It’s a fascinating concept to think about, and it almost makes me wish all this was a reality right now.


Follow the Horizon Blog Tour

3 November — Extract of Horizon — Voyager blog http://www.voyageronline.com.au/

4 November — Character Building: Meet the Crew — Trent Jamieson’s blog http://www.trentjamieson.com/

5 November — Welcome to Magellan: Inside the Ship — Darkmatter http://www.darkmatterzine.com/

6 November — Futureshock: Charting the History of Tomorrow — Lee Battersby’s blog http://battersblog.blogspot.com.au/

7 November — Engage: Tinkering With a Quantum Drive — Joanne Anderton’s blog http://joanneanderton.com/wordpress/

10 November — Stormy Weather: Facing Down Climate Change — Ben Peek’s blog http://benpeek.livejournal.com/

11 November — Time Travel: Relatively Speaking — Rjurik Davidson’s blog http://rjurik.com/

12 November — Consciousness Explorers: Inside a Transhuman — Alan Baxter’s blog http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/

13 November — From the Ground Up: Building a Planet — Sean Wright’s blog http://bookonaut.blogspot.com.au/

14 November — Life Persists: Finding the Extremophile — Greig Beck’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Greig-Beck-Author/101428386583764

17 November — Interview — Marianne De Pierres’ blog http://www.mariannedepierres.com/

Keith Stevenson is a science fiction author, editor, publisher and reviewer. His debut novel Horizon is available as an ebook via http://www.harpercollins.com.au/books/Horizon-Keith-Stevenson/?isbn=9781460704653

 His blog is at http://keithstevensonwriter.blogspot.com.


BOUND Train coming to Melbourne

It’s a bit of a shame that we couldn’t organise an actual launch event in Melbourne for Bound, but I will be in town soon and it would be great to see anyone who can make it. I’ll be signing books in Dymocks, Melbourne from 11.30am on Friday September 26th and then I’ll be heading around to Robinson’s at Melbourne Emporium to sign from 12.30pm onwards. After that, it would be nice to grab a late lunch somewhere and I’ll be in town all afternoon if anyone is keen to catch up.

So come along if you can make it. If you already have Bound, bring it to be signed. If you don’t have it, come and get one. And whether you have your own copy or not, come along and get a few signed copies as Christmas presents. Can you imagine being that far ahead on your Xmas shopping with such a cool gift? It’s okay, I’m an ideas guy – you can thank me later.

Look forward to seeing people there. And please spread the word for anyone around the Melbourne CBD on Fridays.


And now for something completely different – Nicole Murphy

To say that I had something a bit different for you lot today would be a bit of an understatement. But let it never be said that I’m some kind of one trick pony. I know a few tricks and I have friends who make me look better. To that end, I’m happy to host a guest blog today from urban fantasy/romance writer Nicole Murphy. I’ve know Nicole for a while now and I’m very proud to call her a friend. With the release of the third book in her current series, she’s doing a few guest posts around the intertubes, and today she’s appearing here. Some of the things she has to say are very interesting, so read on.

On romance… by Nicole Murphy

Secret OnesSo here I am, a guest on Alan Baxter’s blog. A writer who deals in dark fantasy, horror, mystery and suspense. All the fabulously deep and dark and gritty stuff. And I write light urban fantasy romance. The Courier Mail described my work as “a lightweight but rollicking romp through the space where fantasy and romance collide”.

What does someone like me write about for the fabulous readers of Alan’s dark fantasy?

The answer – embrace the difference. Stand tall and proud and announce that I’m going to write to you all today about why I love romance.

A) Romance is about positivity and finishing on a high note. There are days when it’s really hard to find the positivity IN ANYTHING. So I can grab a romance and know that no matter how hard things get for the hero/heroine, it’s going to work out all right in the end. That’s a nice thing to be able to rely on.

B) Romance is about feminism and strengthening views of women’s sexuality. Now, I’ll admit it doesn’t always succeed at this – but then not every horror novel succeeds at being scary. But there are still huge tracts of the literary world out there where women are not seeing strong role models or being shown that they deserve happiness whether sexual or not. In the romance world, we get to see women taking on the men, beating them at their own game and getting the loving partner that can make their life better.

Power UnboundC) Romance is about acceptance. There’s such a range of relationships and sexuality in the romance genre. On the one hand there are the inspirational books – heavily based in religion (generally a Christian one) in which there’s no kissing or touching. On the other hand we’ve got erotica, featuring menages and S & M. At the moment, there’s a rise in gay romance (mostly being read by women, interestingly) and a massive call for romances dealing with different cultures and races.

D) Romance is about characterisation and world-building. Because of the restrictions on the plot (it HAS to end in a happily-ever-after or it’s not romance, it’s just romantic), you’ve got to work hard on the characters and world in order to create an interesting and exciting book that the readers will want to connect to. Some of the most memorable fictional characters I’ve come across have been in romance.

E) Romance is about escapism. People say this like it’s something bad but of course it isn’t. We all need to get away from the real world for a time – because we’re tired, because we’re stressed, because we’re worried, because we’re overwhelmed. A break from all this for just an hour or so can give us the push we need to move on and get through it. Most romances are written in a style that’s very easy to read and it means they’re easy to jump into, while away the time and then pop out of again.

Rogue GaddaF) Romance is about love, and love is one of the most powerful driving forces in human existence. Fiona McIntosh said it nicely on a panel at Worldcon last year – ‘if you’re not dealing with romance in your work, then you’re not dealing with the totality of the human condition because at the end of the day, we all want to be loved’.

I know romance isn’t for everyone. There’s things that I don’t like to read (and no, dark fantasy isn’t one of them :) ) so I can understand that you can give it a try and not find it your bag.

But I hope that if you’ve ever been inclined to bag romance, you’ll now think twice about it. Or at least go and read a few books (preferably mine!) before you put it down.


Giveaway question – To win a copy of Rogue Gadda, tell me what you love about your favourite genre.

[Leave comments below and Nicole will pop back to see them. She’ll pick a winner for the copy of the book – Alan]

Rogue Gadda

They came to the night that she and Hampton had made love. She hoped this was something the Firimir would skip through but no, she had to sit there in front of Hampton and relive those exquisite memories in the most humiliating fashion.

She wanted to squirm, both from embarrasment and arousal – Goddess, watching them together would set anyone on fire. Then she realised the Firimir could probably feel her arousal and embarrasment won.


Dymocks Southland Bestselling Horror Titles for October 2010

Things like this make me inordinately happy. As you’ll know from previous posts, I attended a group signing at Dymocks in Southland on Halloween. Here’s the proof that in-store signings are still relevant, as well as a lot of fun. That particular store releases a monthly list of bestselling dark fiction titles. The list for October is out and it looks like this:

1. Sookie Stackhouse (series) – Charlaine Harris
2. Vampire Academy (series) – Richelle Mead
3. Torment (Fallen #2) – Lauren Kate
4. Parasol Protectorate (series) – Gail Carriger
5. The Dead (The Enemy #2) – Charlie Higson
6. Alone (Chasers #1) – James Phelan
7. Twilight (series) – Stephanie Meyer
8. Realmshift – Alan Baxter
9. The Loving Dead – Amelia Beamer
10. Under Stones – Bob Franklin
11. The Zen of Zombie – Scott Kenemore
12. Madigan Mine – Kirstyn McDermott
13. Z – Michael Thomas Ford
14. The Darkness Within – Jason Nahrung
15. Dracula – Bram Stoker

The bolded items at 8, 10, 12 and 14 are four of the five of us that were signing that day. To see my book listed in the top 10 selling horror titles for October is very humbling. Thanks again for a great event, Chuck!


Writing the good fight- Guest post with Lorna Suzuki

A few times now I’ve run a workshop at conventions which is all about writing realistic fight scenes. Writers are constantly told to “write what you know” and good writers will research things they don’t know very well. More accurately, writers should “write what you know, or have gone and found out about”. I’m a writer and a martial artist. I’ve trained and taught martial arts for close to thirty years and had a variety of fighting experiences in a variety of tournament conditions, as well as a few encounters on the mean streets of life that are best not discussed on the public record. So I can be considered something of an expert on the subject.

I developed a workshop called Write The Fight Right, and it has been very well received each time I’ve run it. Here’s the blurb:

This is a workshop designed to look at the things that make a fight scene in a story read as realistically as possible, while maintaining excitement and pace. By looking at the various factors that go into a real fight, paying attention to the things that we train for when we learn to fight, we can write fight scenes that stay exciting without breaking the rules of realism that shatter believability.

I’ve been asked by a few people to convert the content of the workshop into an ebook and sell it. I’m working on that, so bear with me.

Lorna SuzukiIn the meantime, I have the pleasure of sharing some thoughts on the subject with author and martial artist Lorna Suzuki. Lorna is the author of The Imago Chronicles and has been studying and teaching martial arts for more than twenty-five years. As part of her blog tour promoting the 9th and last novel in the Imago series, as well as the release of her new YA book, The Magic Crystal (Book One of the Dream Merchant Saga), I asked her to chat with me about various aspects of writing fight scenes.

Lorna, welcome to The Word.

Thank you for hosting, Alan! I’m so happy to be here.

One of the first things I like to get out of the way when talking about fighting is the “Hollywood distraction”. On film, fights need to be clear and visually spectacular. This often leads to each fighter taking a turn and a very unrealistic fight resulting. In writing, we can avoid the need for a visual spectacle and describe other aspects of a real fight. Lorna, what are your thoughts on this?

ImagoUnfortunately, I’ve been in real-life fight situations (with men, never against women) and for anyone who trains like we do, what you see on the screen is obviously choreographed and nothing like a real fight that can be over in a matter of seconds. From those who have struggled with writing these types of scenes and have read my fantasy series, one of the things they have consistently pointed out is that what makes mine so effective is that I tend to write about the emotional side of being caught up in a fight.

Also, because the vast majority of my readers do not train in martial arts, where practitioners can usually follow and understand what techniques are being applied, to write these scenes from a strictly technical perspective would only bore non-martial arts types out of their minds!

In my workshop, I always get people to pair up and we go through a few really basic drills to demonstrate range, footwork and movement from a real fighting perspective. How do you approach this aspect of fighting in your writing?

Definitely, having an understanding of how the body moves, the importance of balance, of not over-extending punches and kicks, etc. is intrinsic to writing scenes that have a realistic slant to them. After training/instructing for so many years, these scenes tend to play out in my head. I think having a background in martial arts makes it possible to allow the characters to do what they must to survive the situations I place them in. Of course, as I already know what each character’s weaknesses and strengths are, it’s easy to have these fight scenes unfold in my mind’s eye. For me, it is almost like transcribing what I see and trying to capture the emotional toll such a confrontation can have on the character.

I also like to point out that when a fight is written with a lot of clinical terminology, it takes the reader out of the visceral experience of fighting. If you need to describe techniques in detail it slows the pace of a part of the book that should be fast and hectic. How do you avoid making the fight the slowest part of the story?

It would be the equivalent of using words that the majority of intelligent readers are not familiar with. Each time they have to stop and check the dictionary for the meaning of the word, it disrupts the flow of the story, making it come to a screeching halt each time.

Because my style incorporates ninjutsu, my characters’ actions are very subtle and very quick. A film producer interested in acquiring rights has already told me that the fight scenes would have to be adapted to make them visually ‘spectacular’. I tend to write what I know, so it works its way into the scenes. Whether it’s dropping the opponent by striking a pressure point or using a bone-breaking technique, they are easy to do, easy to describe, but they’re not flashy on the screen. These are the things that work for me (and my characters).

From a writing perspective, it’s important to try and keep the adjectives to a minimum and to keep the sentences short and tight. One thing that I’ve noticed is some authors will have two opponents in a death battle and as they’re beating the crap out of each other, they are also maintaining full dialogue! No stilted sentences, no words cut short. The two are engaged in as much conversation as they are in a physical confrontation.

And I can tell you from experience, that never happens! Another good aspect to writing over film, as you mentioned earlier, is that we can describe the emotional impact of what’s happening – the adrenal reactions in the body and so on. How do you approach that aspect in a fight scene?

Dream MerchantWhen I do write the fight scenes, the action level is intense, but it’s usually over pretty quickly. However, for me, I tend to emphasize the trauma of being drawn into a fight and the roller-coaster ride of emotions as things escalate. The adrenaline, the panic, the fight-or-flight instinct kicking in is something that even if a person has never been in a physical altercation, the emotional side of it is something they can relate to. If they can relate to the feeling of fear, that rush of adrenalin, the shock of pain that becomes apparent only after the fighting is done, etc. the more impact this passage will have on them.

I think one of my best fight scenes is when the female protagonist goes to war for the first time and is momentarily frozen in panic. When it’s over, she’s on her knees puking her guts out and the shock sinks in that she is truly capable of taking a life. I’ve been told it was the emotional trauma she endured that really stuck in the reader’s mind.

Absolutely – that sounds to me like a very realistic scene. Obviously, there’s an awful lot more to all this than we’ve covered here, but it gives you a taste. I don’t want to give everything away, or there’ll be no demand for the ebook I’m working on!

Lorna, anything else you’d like to say on the subject in closing?

I’d like to recommend authors struggling with this bit of writing to try out a style of fighting their characters are familiar with. Many martial arts school give free introductory classes and a chance to sample a lesson can sometimes be enough to inspire the author to continue on training to learn more. Once they discover how easy it is to really do serious damage when they know what they are doing, it can be a real eye-opener. It can also open the door to writing fight scenes with a sense of realism. In my opinion, the best fight scenes are a perfect blend of action and emotional tension.

I couldn’t agree more. I’d like to thank Lorna for taking time to chat to me today about this stuff. Best of luck with the book tour and your future writing!

Thank you so much for being such a great blog host, Alan! I’ll catch you on Twitter and maybe when I return to Australia one year we can do a seminar on this subject. Now that would be fun!

You’re on!

You can read excerpts, reviews and find out where to buy the books by checking out Lorna Suzuki’s website at http://web.me.com/imagobooks

Follow Lorna on Twitter: @LornaSuzuki

Join Lorna for Day 5 of the blog tour when she discusses “The Challenges of Writing for a YA Audience” with Katrina Archer at her website: www.katrinaarcher.com/journal/