Writers Reach is back, hosting authors who talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today we celebrate JOHN L. CLEMMER’S win on Kindle Scout with THE POWER OF THE DHIN, published by Kindle Press on October 24, 2017.
Over two years have passed since the AI governors of Earth abruptly departed, taking the alien technology of the Dhin with them. Humanity has reverse-engineered the exotic technology and is beginning its exploration of the galaxy.
Pilot Thys Kritcher stumbles across something suggesting that there may be more than one alien force among the stars. On Earth, the Coalition struggles with increasing civil unrest. A new wave of hacking attacks plague Globalnet. Without AI assistance, the disruptions grow more and more challenging for Earth’s human leadership. All is not serene for the AIs that left Earth. A mysterious enemy interferes with their plans for expansion.
Can humanity handle the incredible power of the Dhin’s technology? Could a rogue AI take control of Globalnet, and more? Are invisible traps scattered throughout space, and poised to spring?
This book is the sequel to THE WAY OF THE DHIN.
- THE POWER OF THE DHIN is the second book in a series. What drew you to Kindle Scout and how have you enjoyed the process of publication since?
Well, there was a banner ad for it on the KDP page where you manage your self-published works. I thought, hmm, what’s this? and just clicked it. There didn’t seem to be any downside, other than what seemed a very brief period I’d be waiting to find out the results of the campaign. It would only potentially delay the publication of the book for a short while either way. So, I figured, why not?
To say I was excited to find out the book was selected is an understatement. I had no expectations, I didn’t know anyone who’d done it, and what makes or breaks a selection was rather opaque. I was thrilled. My writing is a hobby. To have that sort of validation for my work is very flattering. Even more so because Kindle Press asked for the rights to my first book, THE WAY OF THE DHIN, as well. The experience has been top notch working with Kindle Press. The editor they picked was excellent, their communication has been clear, and the terms are great. We’re only a few days into their re-release of my first book and the sales have been . . . let’s say impressive.
- You have strong leanings toward science, physics, and psychology. How much additional research did you have to do to create a world that’s both technically sophisticated yet accessible to readers?
I know some of the science and physics in the book reasonably well–for a layman. In crafting the “physics woo” that makes the story possible, I started with existing theory, then worked out the jumping off point, where the magic happens. I watched a lot of YouTube videos on cosmology, string theory, AI, and so forth. For the first book, THE WAY OF THE DHIN, I did quite a bit of calculation to sort out how long the space travel would take at the speeds in question. It was important to the plot, but I didn’t beat the reader over the head with it. In THE POWER OF THE DHIN things are moving at a different pace. More is going on. More of the “impossible” physics is involved at every turn. The accessibility there comes from the characters accepting the situation and just having to work with it. To work through (or around) problems, to deal with what’s in front of them. The problems or situations just happen to be caused by advanced technology (or entirely fictional technology). For any readers who want to dig into the physics talked about in the book, without any math involved, I highly recommend the YouTube channel “Sixty Symbols.” Start here: https://youtu.be/75p6_pQ3jBo.
- How did you find a balance between the technical demands of science fiction and the elements of storytelling that keep readers turning pages?
Hopefully I did find that balance! Ideally the story would stand up if you took away the spaceships, force fields, and aliens, and put the characters in a setting where the astronaut is a ship’s captain, the military are using cannon and cavalry, and the aliens are a foreign people recently discovered on an until-now-unexplored continent. Perhaps the AIs are an elite aristocracy in this empire.
The tools and tech are ultimately secondary to the plot, from a storytelling perspective, although that may sound like heresy in some circles! That said, the technology and fictional elements are crucial in their own right. Especially in this style of Sci-Fi. If you like the sort of stories I’m writing, you want the futurism, the impossible-made-possible tech, the conscious AI with power and agency, and of course the unique-and-wildly-different aliens. Finding the balance is definitely tricky. Do too much explanatory work, and the story gets lost. The scenes don’t unfold and progress at a cadence that’s satisfying. I found that having the characters talk about the technology they were using helps with this. That feels much more natural than long-winded omniscient narration about the mechanics of my particular universe.
- AI features prominently in your novel. Elon Musk has ominously linked AI to humanity’s downfall. Do you agree or disagree, and to what extent does this inform your writing?
I feel almost exactly the way he does. We have to be very careful with AI. Even now, pre-AI deep learning and neural network solutions are doing amazing things. Google and Amazon know me better than I know myself. And for these systems now, for some of them, even the creators of those systems in some cases don’t know “why.” It just works. It’s the nature of some of the learning algorithms.
When we cross the threshold, when we create an intelligence with consciousness, self-awareness and agency–that’s when things get dangerous very quickly. The computers are already orders of magnitude faster than we are at both simple and complex tasks. Once those abilities are part of a consciousness with self-interest, with goals, it might be a race we can’t compete in. Simple rules crammed in there about not harming human beings or rules to “do the right thing” likely aren’t going to cut it.
The AIs in my work show both the incredible benefits in being assisted by a far superior intelligence, and highlight the existential risk. If you’re outsmarted, and you know it, because you’re reliant on that intelligence, you’ve likely lost in any conflict involving wits. The AIs may then execute plans and have goals that they understand, that we can’t. What they decide is in “everyone’s best interest” may be very different from what we want.
- Who or what drives your story – do you shape your world around character or plot?
In my first book it was all about characters–about their conversations. I’d develop things from the dialog between the characters, and the story unfolded from that. When I started I didn’t know how the plot was going to unfold; I just let it happen. In this book things were very plot-driven. Very specific events, turning points, and crises were all mapped out in advance.
- Tell us about other books you’ve written.
Well this is the sequel to THE WAY OF THE DHIN. That was my first novel, and of course my first work of fiction, and Science Fiction at that. THE WAY OF THE DHIN is a bit of a first-contact slash space exploration tale, with AI intrigue thrown in. I also have a novella called FLETCHER AND MARE, who are two characters present in THE POWER OF THE DHIN. FLETCHER AND MARE takes place at the same time as THE WAY OF THE DHIN. It was originally part of the book, a sub-plot to highlight some aspects of this near-future tale that the reader otherwise wouldn’t see. It’s much more of a cyberpunk tale, as the characters aren’t part of the main plot lines of THE WAY OF THE DHIN. My editor convinced me to take it out. The stories stand on their own so I suppose my editor was right.
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