Science-fiction has always sparked the imagination of millions of people throughout history. They always gave us that sense of wonder and curiosity, and equally a spark of innovative ideas and happenings that have changed the world as we knew it. It continues to be that driver of scientific and technological innovation, especially in the 21st century!
Which is why Serious Wonder was especially ecstatic to have a chat with sci-fi author David Simpson via email. He is one of many new sci-fi authors of today’s generation who are doing something in which most sci-fi authors throughout history weren’t able to achieve: bear witness the physical manifestation of the very work they’ve imagined and written. He is the author of what is famously known as the Post-Human novel series (Sub-Human, Post-Human, Trans-Human, Human Plus, and Inhuman), of which are all available on Amazon.com.
I’m so glad you were willing to speak with me. Suffice it to say, I’m a growing fan of your work as I continue reading through the series. Though I’m curious as to what exactly led you to become a science-fiction author? Was this originally just a hobby, and if so, did you ever expect the amount of success you’re achieving thus far?
DS: It’s my pleasure, B.J. and thank you for reading the series and for your questions too! To answer your first one, unlike a lot of authors, writing was never a hobby for me that I “stumbled into.” In fact, I’ve known that I wanted to be a novelist since I was six years old! I figured it out in the first grade while writing a short story for an assignment at school. Creating my own world sent a jolt of adrenaline through me that left no doubt what my vocation was in life. As far as science-fiction goes, I wasn’t immediately clear that I’d be specializing in that genre. I loved comic books like so many young people do and my favourite movies were the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, but I still didn’t realize that sci-fi was where my destiny was. I should’ve figured it out because I gravitated to science fiction in university, but it should come to no one’s surprise that sci-fi is extremely marginalized in university curriculums and is still considered “low brow.” Perhaps that’s part of what kept me from accepting that the future of humanity, the nature of the universe, philosophy, physics, metaphysics, and epistemology were where my heart was. I think Ray Bradbury said it best when he said, “Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself.”
As for the second part of your question, I think all authors dream of finding an appreciative and growing audience, but I never expected that I could find an audience that has done what the Post-Human readership has done for me and for the series. To the best of my knowledge, Post-Human has become the most successful sci-fi series on Amazon that hasn’t been pushed from within by Amazon even once. Without a single “Kindle Daily Deal” or a “Select 25” promotion, the readers of the series have managed to spread the word so successfully that it has now been downloaded over 350,000 times! They’ve left over 700 reviews on the Post-Human Books 1-4 collected edition on amazon.com this year, with over 500 of those coming since mid-July. I hope Amazon will eventually recognize what’s happening and give the series a push, but for now, Post-Human remains a purely people-powered phenomenon and so I don’t think you’ll ever find an author who is more grateful to his readers than I am and more grateful to Amazon for inventing the Kindle! The Kindle brought me the readers, and the readers have changed my life for the better and forever!
Given the clear correlations between the technological innovations of Sub-Human – technically the first in the series – and the technological innovations of today in reality, how much of your books would you truly consider to still be “science-fiction”?
DS: It’s crazy how much of what is in Sub-Human is now sci-fact rather than sci-fi, isn’t it? It’s actually the third book I wrote in the series but it’s a prequel and is technically Book 1, and I wanted it to be grounded in technologies that I knew were on the horizon, but that I also knew people wouldn’t believe were drawing so close. A great example would be the suspended animation body bags that I think the vast majority of my readers thought I’d simply made up when they appeared in the book in 2012. In reality, I’d been aware that they were already functioning and awaiting human trials. In the spring of 2014, the news of the human trials commencing started to hit the mainstream media and I received dozens of messages and links from fans who were in awe that the Post-Human universe and reality almost seemed to be converging.
There is a lot of other tech in that book too, like the space ships that were my imagining of where Virgin Galactic’s designs might go in the future (and which have tragically been in the news in the last week). Other examples are exoskeletons, AI and the Turing test, augmented reality, nanotechnology, and even new theories about parallel universes, all of which are making it into mainstream media reports (not to mention suborbital parachute jumps, which seem to have become all the rage in the last two years!) All of this has taken readers who might have scoffed at the fantastic world I depicted in Post-Human a few years ago and guided them toward a new open-mindedness. It’s amazing to see the changes that have taken place in the zeitgeist in only a couple of years. Very few people won’t accept incredible technology if they’ve already seen it for themselves on CNN!
DS: Well, I think a bit of worry is actually a good thing. I’d love to tell everyone that the path to strong AI will be a piece of cake and that our species definitely, without question, has a long and bright future ahead of it, but I think anyone who actually made that statement to you would either be lying or isn’t well-informed. That said, I also don’t think we should run around fear mongering either. Elon Musk’s recent comments about AI angered some people I highly respect in the Artificial Intelligence research community and I truly understand their concerns, because Elon’s celebrity could stir some real fear in people who are just starting to grasp the concept that strong AI (meaning AI that is as capable, and eventually more capable than humans) is on the horizon. I think Elon only wanted to get a conversation going so that some serious oversight can begin, because there seems to be a real possibility that a relatively small group could achieve a strong AI in a short period of time, possibly even within ten years (though my own guess would be closer to fifteen).
That’s a statement that can really terrify people, and the knee-jerk reaction among some people in power might be that we should just “ban” AI research and it should be treated as a “demon” that shouldn’t be summoned, to paraphrase Elon. Yet I think even Elon would agree that just simply not building strong AI isn’t a reasonable option, and anyone who reads Sub-Human or the Post-Human series in its entirety (including Books 6 and 7, which I’m currently working on) would see why. Banning the technology outright has its own set of dangers and it would also rob humanity of the chance to upgrade ourselves and transcend our humanity, which would be a profound loss. I think anyone who wants to read seriously about the subject from a non-fiction source should read Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence—and anyone who wants to explore these ideas in an equally epistemological narrative (but also fun speculative fiction adventure story) should check out the Post-Human series.
Whether you mentioned it in your books or not, what scientific and/or technological development/discovery are you most looking forward to?
DS: I have to admit, it’s flying! This is especially odd because immortality is on the table, intelligence upgrades are on the way, as is a mental connection to all of human knowledge via a mind’s eye type of connection, yet all I want to do is fly like a bird (or a plane…or Super…well, you get it!) Personally, I’m terrified of flying. I’ve had this problem since I was in an aborted take off of a 747 when I was sixteen, and though at various times I’ve thought that I’d overcome it, major airline disasters in the news like last year’s crash of a Korean airliner in San Francisco and especially the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 earlier this year brought the phobia right back. I think part of the problem is that current flight technology is so twentieth century. Like combustion engine cars were to the horse and carriage, flying in a post-human way will be a completely different experience than flying crammed into a seat in a passenger jet. It’s hard to imagine anything that would be more empowering, it’s a desire that seems naturally embedded in our DNA, and I think technology will eventually lead to us figuring out how to defy gravity once and for all!
Are there any future plans for the Post-Human series, or should we expect something entirely different? Perhaps another horror novel?
DS: There is so much going on, B.J.! In the near future you’ll be seeing Book 6 and 7 in the Post-Human series, which will both be out early in 2015. I’m still hard at work on my graphic novel adaptation as well and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! We’re working with a production company in Vancouver on a Post-Human movie adaptation and, as I work on all of this, I have a publisher who has a completed manuscript for Book 1 of a new sci-fi series that they’ll be launching in 2015. It’ll be timed to coincide with the launch of some other exciting products and spin offs, and though I’m still under a non-disclosure agreement and can’t discuss it explicitly, a hint is that some of these products have had millions of dollars invested in them! It is sure to bring my work to a whole new audience. And, of course, I’ll continue with my writing career even as all of these projects unfold. And for those who are hoping for a sequel to my first horror novel, The God Killers, there may just be one some day, but I think I have enough on my plate to keep me busy for the next few years!
Thank you so much, again, for being willing to speak with me. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors and very much looking forward to reading more of your work.
DS: It’s my pleasure and thanks again for supporting the series, B.J.!
Photo Credit: David Simpson