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Interview Darrell B. Nelson

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This wee we are joined by Darrell B. Nelson here to tell us about his novel iRomance.

 

 

What was the most surprising thing you found out while researching/writing your latest book?

Not really one thing, but how there are so many things already out there that could make everyone’s life better, and we just don’t use it. Steve Jobs said how HP told him that in order to make a new product, you must survey customers, then take six months processing the results, in order to find out what they will want in five years. Nobody thought there was anything wrong with this approach.

Now we have an even stranger approach. We have the products, we can easily combine them, say the Roomba and the Industrial Floor Polisher, but we (here in America) are afraid of how the people who grew up without technology will react.

Some people will say the first half of the book is a high tech utopia, but all of it is within our grasp, we just have to collectively reach out and take it.

Why did you choose this setting?

This is just an extension on the trends happening now. In America the rural areas are being abandoned. As people move to the cities this puts strain on the existing infrastructure. If you look at Manhattan it is 13 miles long with a million and a half people, what if in fifteen years that doubled? That’s a lot of food and water going onto the island and a lot of waste coming off.

Recycling this at the source is the only way to maintain this. But like every time you change something, it disrupts something else.

What’s unique about your world?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,…” Charles Dickens.

In that vein I set out to make a world that was totally familiar, yet totally different. All the technology in the book is totally familiar to anyone living in a modern city, yet used in a completely different way. Aerial Gondolas aren’t new, they’ve been a feature at parks, zoos, and festivals for all of my life but they haven’t been a way to transport people in cities. Something in my view they are perfect for. In a lot of cities the daily commute of a few miles is the worst part of the day. Imagine after work taking a slow ride over the city and seeing it spread out beneath you. It would be a great way to leave your work day behind.

The world I made in iRomance has that as common theme running through it. Taking the most annoying parts of modern life and making them enjoyable. Basically focusing on the user experience and whenever possible using tech that everyone is already familiar with.

How real do you think the science is in your book?

Most of the science is already in use. Mile long gondolas and skyscrapers over two-hundred stories high are here, just not in the same place. Some of the tech is an order of magnitude more efficient, so very possible. I did take a few things that are just now being made and carried them to what I believe is their natural progression in an optimistic fifteen years.

The biggest stretch I made was in Neuroscience, a field that I have unfortunately personally interacted with so I know how little is known. When I was eighteen months old I had brain damage, at the time there had been almost no research into how the brain recovers. Luckily my mom knew the importance of early learning and was teaching my older sister to read at the time. Thanks to, what was unknown at the time, “Neuro-plasticity” the ability for the brain to rearrange itself after being damaged, this focused my brain into reading and reading comprehension. At the expense of other some things.

Fifty years later my wife had a stroke, so she had to relearn everything. Neuroscience had made some advances in those fifty years. So I was able to unfortunately see the process first hand.

Currently research is being done on using computer chips to send and receive text messages. But what if this is done on a damaged brain? One that is going through rapid “Neuro-plasticity”. Rather than being a way to bypass using the keyboard, the entire Internet becomes another sense, like seeing or hearing. The computer memory can be accessed like normal memory. Blurring the line between human and computer intelligence.

As far as real, it isn’t known that this wouldn’t happen. In fact we do know that it will to an extent, we just don’t know to what extent.

What was the most mundane item that you used that really has cool tech behind it? What is the tech?

The toilet. More specifically all the work it takes to bring water to the tap and remove the waste from our homes. Manhattan (which is an extreme example) brings water in from 250 miles away, and needs to process the waste before flushing it out to sea, so to speak. Besides the pumps and tunnels and all that, to get the water to the city, algae needs to break it all down after. Advances in genetic engineering can make this process even more efficient as far as land use but make the Sanitation Technicians need a higher level of training. The difference between a sewer worker and a lab technician is getting smaller everyday.

What did you include that you wish was real today?

Aerial Gondolas. They actually are real, but having them used in cities would make the annoying part of city living (traffic) an enjoyable part of it.

That and bullet-proof breasts.

What technology or science do you think will most affect the world of tomorrow?

In my book I had algae changing the world. Just a simple one-celled organism which is powerful enough to solve many of the problems we face today. I had roboticly built skyscrapers, artificial limbs, and self driving cars. None of these things by themselves can change the world. But when combined they profoundly change everyone’s lifestyles.

Anything else you would like to share?

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. – John F Kennedy

When writing about science and technology, besides being entertaining, an author has two contradictory roles, to simultaneously be a cheerleader and a doomsayer. While cheering on advances that make the life of all humanity better, one must remember those same advances can wipe them out. Science Fiction serves as both a promise of a better future and a warning of what can go wrong.

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