The Latest Sci-Fi Novel From Daniel Suarez — Plus Interview!

Books Entertainment Technology


I distinctly remember the day back in 2009 when I was wandering through Barnes & Noble and my eyes caught the title of a new hardback sitting in the New Arrivals section. Fresh from leaving the world of networking, servers, and operating systems, the distinct spelling of the title was still familiar to me as I picked up Daemon and read the blurb. It sounded interesting enough, so I purchased it and took it home. Little did I know that I was about to discover a new writer who would immediately be added to my Must Read List. Daniel Suarez offered up a tale of a pseudo AI with very special instructions to execute upon its creator’s death. I won’t ruin the surprises for you if you’ve not read it.

There are two things you should know about Daniel Suarez’s novels:

1. The novels reside on the cutting/bleeding edge of science and technology and you may have a hard time distinguishing between real technology and the stuff he’s made up. He does his research, and both the dialogue and the techno-babble just ring of authenticity. Whether it’s the drone technology found in Kill Decision (my review here) or the 3D printing of weapons and JIT (Just-in-Time) assembly of autonomous, killer cars in Freedom (TM) (sequel to Daemon), you’ll likely feel a bit more educated when you finish a Suarez novel.

2. The novels frequently offer up situations where you may find yourself going back and forth in your support and/or disdain for the technology or the players. Seriously — there are times when you totally buy into Bad Guy’s justification for whatever craziness is going on has you nodding your head. And then later in the book you flip-flop and realize that you had it totally wrong. And then a later chapter shows you the danger(s) should Good Guy win the day. And then later in the book you flip-flop and realize you had it wrong again. (Maybe this won’t or doesn’t happen to you as you read a Suarez novel… but I frequently find that Suarez’s books float in the murky areas between black and white topics.

Nothing has changed with Suarez’s latest novel, Influx, that releases on February 20, 2014. The book asks whether the technology we use today (mobile phones, WiFi, and tablets) is really the pinnacle of our technology development? Or have humans developed technologies that are so dangerous to the well-being of the entire world that the discoveries must be taken and hidden away along with their inventors?

Physicist Jon Grady has made an incredible breakthrough in the area of anti-gravity, and he’s ready to share his findings with the world… for free. It’s world-changing technology and everyone should have it. But the Bureau of Technology Control has other ideas. The BTC is happy to bring inventors and scientists into the fold, allowing them access to other advanced technologies that have been hidden from the world… all so they can continue to develop and advance the BTC’s collection of tech. And those inventors who choose to not play ball? Well, there’s one seriously demented prison waiting to change their mind.

Influx is a roller coaster of a story. As with Suarez’s other stories, this one doesn’t hold back on mixing a bit of advanced (yet real) technologies and theories in with some amazing extrapolations of what could exist. (Or maybe it really does?) And once again, I found myself nodding at times when the BTC explained its reasons for not only its existence but also what could (might?) happen should certain technologies be released too soon to the world. Ultimately, readers will pull for Jon… but readers will be given plenty of opportunities to mull over just how some not-yet-invented technologies might change the world… and maybe not always for the better.

The conclusion is something you’d expect to find in the last action-packed minutes of a Michael Bay film, complete with power suit battles and a secret base and genetically enhanced soldiers… and explosions. Lots of explosions.

Influx is dark… it’s fun… and it’s a thinker. Just what I’ve come to expect from Daniel Suarez.

Note: I’d like to thank Daniel Suarez for providing an early review copy of Influx and for responding to some questions I put to him about Influx and a few other items:

James Floyd Kelly: The old standard here — where did the basic idea for this book begin? Were you sitting in a coffee shop and saw a DeLorean drive by and wondered why your Mr. Fusion wasn’t yet available at Best Buy?
Daniel Suarez: The idea that a “Bureau of Technology Control” is the reason we don’t have flying cars appeals to us on some level — wish fulfillment perhaps. But I certainly don’t believe there’s a secret arm of the government hoarding progress. Instead that conceit was my reaction to a growing secrecy in our society and the dramatic power disparity this causes. People seem to think that our society is more open and transparent than ever, but recent revelations show that the public has very little idea how technology is really used to wield power. I chose to personify this with the BTC.
James Floyd Kelly: One of the things I enjoy about your books is the realistic sounding “tech talk.”  As I mentioned in the review, I find myself reading your book with a Google home screen open on my iPad to check and see if something is fact or fiction. Was there any real technology or theory that you stumbled on and just knew it had to be included in the book because it sounded fictional?
Daniel Suarez:  Building a realistic tech foundation in my thrillers is important to me. I want experts in a particular field — whether it’s physics or computer forensics or military operations — to be able to read my books and think: “Okay, that’s pretty accurate…” So that when we move from there out into the more sci-fi parts, I’ve suspended their disbelief.

With Influx I read lots of books on theoretical physics (I highly recommend Lisa Randall’s ‘ Warped Passages as an accessible explanation of String Theory), but I also sat down for hours with physicists from NASA to try to find a gray zone in current theories of gravitation where I might “hide” my fictional gravity mirror technology. So I’m glad you enjoyed the result.

As for real technologies I’ve included that seem like fiction: I’d say the infrared mask that Grady uses in Influx to defeat facial recognition systems. Not fiction. In fact, it’d make a fun project for the kids — something you could build from parts you can source at a local Home Depot.

James Floyd Kelly: Your books make use of AIs quite a bit — oversight, security, and even extrapolation. But still… all fictional. What are your thoughts on the realities of actual AI? Do you think it’s inevitable? Or, as mentioned in some of the more philosophical areas of the book, is creativity and consciousness possibly limited to the human brain?

Daniel Suarez:  AI is definitely real — but merely narrow AI, not general (i.e. human-level) AI.  Even as I write this, narrow AI agents are practically sysadmins for the logistics and financial systems that keep the modern world humming.

However, in Influx I don’t assert that creativity and consciousness are limited to the human brain. Instead, it’s posited that many millions of years of evolution have made the human brain more complex than even the BTC’s AI technology. Or as one of the AI’s in the book points out: the human brain is the most powerful, energy efficient general computer in the known universe. That doesn’t mean it can’t ever be replicated or even exceeded in power.

James Floyd Kelly:  One of the things I’ve noticed about all of your books is how at various points in each book, I tend to change sides. With Influx, I understand the BTC’s argument that major technological advances could have a negative effect on society and/or the planet. But then I see the abuse of power and flip-flop back to Jon’s side. I’m curious to know how you would feel about a real BTC and a similar mandate.

Daniel Suarez:  Ah, you’ve revealed my secret. I deliberately try to make my antagonists seem reasonable and convincing in their beliefs. After all, very few people set out to be villains. The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. I firmly believe that an organization like the BTC — that focuses too much unchecked, unseen power into very few hands — is a disaster waiting to happen. The goal for any democratic society is to diffuse power into as many hands as possible, while still preserving enough power to act effectively. It’s a balancing act that requires constant adjustment and debate. As comforting as the thought of an ultra-high-tech BTC secretly protecting us might seem, human nature (as Hedrick admits) “still remains in the dark ages.” And absolute power corrupts absolutely. Better to have a free, error-prone, and fractious society where ideas (and yes, authority) are constantly challenged.

James Floyd Kelly: Let’s talk about genetic tampering. The ability to select a child’s eye color or gender, for example, seems somewhat tame, but where does it stop? You address these issues with the character of Alexa, and I was surprised to find myself sympathetic towards her. If technology existed (or exists) that would allow us to tinker with our DNA and allow us to run faster, jump higher, and live longer, would you be making an appointment with your doctor?

Daniel Suarez: The question I immediately ask is: “Who owns those advances?” If we look to the genetic patents being pushed in industrial agriculture today (recently struck down by the Supreme Court…for now), then that gives us a preview of what unchecked technological power is capable of. I would suggest that the philosophical basis for 21st and 22nd century slavery might be copyright and patent law — as individuals could be designed with proprietary genetics, meaning they are born the legal property of those who created these genetic sequences. A high-tech rationale for reviving an ancient barbarism — slavery.

And yet, the answer is not to prevent all biotech advances, but instead to legally preserve the dignity and liberty of humanity (and yes, other species, too). Toward this end I see a Bill of Rights 2.0 that might include a clause stating that all life is inherently “self-owning” and that no genetic sequences can be copyrighted or patented. This would remove monopoly profit temptations from the building blocks of life, but I think genetic advances would still occur… we just wouldn’t lose our freedoms over them.

James Floyd Kelly:  Do you do a lot of research for the tech in your books? Specifically, I found the discussion about the higher dimensions and quantum particles in the brain relating to inspiration and creative thinking very interesting. Techno-babble or rooted in science?

Daniel Suarez: Not techno-babble but theory. You might find the work of Physicist Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford interesting. Certainly the concept of the human brain as a quantum device is far from proven, but an intriguing theory (yet-to-be-disproved). That’s fertile enough ground for fiction.

James Floyd Kelly:  [Slight Spoiler Question Warning] Did the AI join the Resistor group at some point? Or did the AI begin the group? At various points I thought the actual group of prisoners was being simulated by the AI, especially when the AI mentioned the group’s name during her talk with Alexa.

Daniel Suarez: That was intentional on my part (that’s what makes it a thriller). One could picture them opening Archie’s cell and finding him long dead, eh? But the real point I was making here was that Varuna had come to the conclusion that it, too, was a consciousness much like human consciousness. That all consciousness was essentially equal. That was the big epiphany it had, and in understanding what the Resistors were struggling for, it realized they were fighting for the same thing. As Varuna says: “It is in the nature of consciousness to resist domination.” It didn’t differentiate between biological or machine consciousness.

James Floyd Kelly: I keep my fingers crossed for fusion breakthroughs… which technology in the book do you think would be the best for our world? Which technology would make a good argument for the BTC’s existence?

Daniel Suarez: I, too, am rooting for clean fusion. I toured the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, CA a couple of years ago, and man! What a profound change it would be for humanity to have the energy issue solved permanently. And yet, even there, bringing fusion reactors online fast enough to make a dent in climate change will be daunting. I’ve seen projections, and we’d have to be implementing a billion dollar gigawatt fusion reactor every month for decades worldwide to make the transition.  And it turns out that cheap abundant energy isn’t necessarily in everyone’s interest… I know! Shocker, right?

On your second question: there is no good argument for the BTC’s existence. No matter how noble the goals behind it, it would devolve to a tyranny over time.

James Floyd Kelly:  I know you hate to give hints on future books, but give me something… anything! Make something up if necessary!

Daniel Suarez: I’m happy to talk about my next project. It’s the story of{FORMATTING:ERROR}//ABNORMAL TERMINATION.

James Floyd Kelly:  You’ve now got four books out, and I’m wondering if there has been any interest in movie adaptations? I would love to see Daemon on the big screen, but Kill Decision or Influx have lots of big explosions, too.

Daniel Suarez:  Fortunately there’s a lot more than just explosions, but now that you mention it…

As for Daemon, the film rights are currently with Paramount Pictures. I tend to write cinematically. I suppose that’s a natural consequence of growing up watching movies and reading sci-fi.

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