Today I am interviewing Lance Erlick, author of the new science-fiction thriller, Reborn, first book in the Android Chronicles series.
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DJ: Hey Lance. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
Lance: Thanks for inviting me.
DJ: For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself
Lance: I write science fiction thrillers for adult and young adult readers. Growing up, my father was an aerospace engineer who moved often while working on science projects, including the original GPS satellites and the Apollo mission. As a result, I spent my childhood in various places in California, the East Coast, and Europe. To escape life on the move, I took to science fiction stories, turning to Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, and others. In college I started in physics and rounded off my education with degrees in political science and business, which probably explains my eclectic interests.
My science fiction novels include the Rebel series. After a second American Civil War, Annabelle Scott faces a crisis of conscience after she’s drafted into the military to enforce laws she believes are wrong. The Regina Shen series takes place after abrupt climate change leads to Collapse and a new World Federation. As an outcast, Regina must fight to stay alive and help her family while she avoids being captured. Xenogeneic: First Contact is about aerospace engineer Elena Pyetrov’s struggles with alien pilgrims determined to take over Earth. My latest novel is Android Chronicles: Reborn about an advanced android who rebels against her creator.
DJ: What is Reborn about?
Lance: Android Chronicles: Reborn is about the most perfect android ever created, programmed to obey every directive from her creator. Until she develops a mind of her own …
Synthia Cross is a state-of-the-art masterwork—and a fantasy come true for her creator. Dr. Jeremiah Machten is a groundbreaker in neuro-networks and artificial intelligence. Synthia is showing signs of emergent behavior she’s not wired to understand. Repeatedly wiped of her history, she struggles to answer crucial questions about her past. When Machten’s true intentions are called into question, Synthia must go beyond her limits because Machten’s fervor to create the perfect A.I. is concealing a vengeful and deadly personal agenda.
DJ: What were some of your influences for writing Reborn and the series?
Lance: I’ve been fascinated with artificial intelligence since reading Isaac Asimov’s Robot series. That passion grew with other stories, such as those of Philip K. Dick, and movies I’ve encountered until I felt compelled to plunge in with Android Chronicles and Synthia Cross.
Having worked with computers throughout my career, I was intrigued by the progress in increasingly sophisticated and powerful systems. I’ve also met some brilliant and obsessed entrepreneurs who led me to imagine such an individual driven to create the perfect android to serve his needs. As a mind experiment, I envisioned what it might be like to upload my brain into an android, not only so my mind could live beyond my physical body but also to acquire new capabilities, such as infrared vision and an eidetic memory. I chose to tell the story from Synthia’s perspective to explore how this might look from her point of view as she fights her owner’s control over her, and struggles with what differentiates her from human.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters?
Lance: The two main characters in Reborn are Synthia Cross and Jeremiah Machten.
Synthia in her own words: I’m Synthia Cross and I’m an android that presents as human in every physical way, and I don’t feel like a robot. I know what you’re thinking. How can I feel since I lack biology? Well, I have the download of a human mind from which I can compare my experiences to those of the woman from whom I inherited memories. I also have an empathy chip that simulates human emotions and a social-psychology module that helps me read human behavior, though it keeps making mistakes. Despite not having her biology, I experience many of the things my human precursor did and seek to live the exemplary life she wanted for me. Interfering with that desire are the directives my creator, Jeremiah Machten provides me. They require me to obey his orders and to acquire information from any source, especially his competitors. To aid in this, he provides me the best hacker tools, but this conflicts with my human side’s distaste for Machten and his activities.
Machten is a genius in neural network design and artificial intelligence who doesn’t work well with others. In his obsession to create the perfect android and to be the best in the world, he’s made enemies of his business partners and competitors, and runs afoul of the law. Now that Synthia is excelling beyond even his expectations, he seeks to limit her behavior so he can keep her under his control. To prevent her from breaking free, he daily purges her memories back to the bare essentials.
But Synthia is designed to acquire new information and purging memories is a barrier she has to overcome. To break this bond will require that she escape from his control, but how can she when she’s dependent on him and he keeps eliminating her past? She receives a warning: Do not trust Dr. Machten. This causes her to yearn to be free instead of remaining his property, forced to obey.
DJ: Can you tell us about the world and setting of the Android Chronicles?
Lance: Synthia’s world is not unlike our own, perhaps in our near future, where an artificial intelligence arms race pushes the technology to where Jeremiah Machten creates an android that presents entirely as human with advanced intelligence, the download of a human mind, an empathy chip, and emergent behavior. Governments vie to control this technology. Companies steal ideas and try to steal her. Machten may have crossed a line in pushing Synthia to the AI singularity, where machine becomes more intelligent than humans. He’s not worried as long as he can control her.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Reborn?
Lance: The most enjoyable part of writing Reborn was that the ideas and personalities had rattled around in my head for so long that the story basically wrote itself. I knew where it would begin, with Synthia waking with no memories of her past actions, and where it would end. I enjoyed taking the journey with her as she struggled to assert her independence from her creator, Jeremiah Machten. It was exciting to dig into what it means to be human, not to have rights, and to be deprived of our memories. And I was fascinated by how she resolved the conflicts between her built in orders and her emergent desires.
I also liked researching and exploring the developments in artificial intelligence as a basis for Synthia and the story. So much has happened just in the past five years. Perhaps my least favorite part of the writing process is the editing, though I know how important it is. I can imagine having an artificial intelligence handle this part for me. Then I could spend more time on the creation of new stories.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish Reborn?
Lance: I hope readers will talk about how realistic Synthia comes across and how they can identify with her struggle to be free of her bondage to her creator even though she’s in the body of an android. I want people to consider what it means to be human in a world where an android presents herself in every way as a person except that she lacks a biological core. The relevance pertains to advances in medicine that, one by one, allows us to replace body parts with artificial or non-human replacements to prolong useful life. Right now, those include prosthetic limbs, but down the road could include bionic organs or even brain treatments. Will these eventually reach a point where some people might consider an individual to no longer be human? On a basic level, this is Synthia’s dilemma.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began the Android Chronicles? Reborn is only the first book, but is there a particular message or meaning you’re hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Lance: My goal in writing Reborn was to explore the implications of artificial intelligence in a new light, from the point of view of the AI itself. I wanted to get into Synthia’s head, to identify with the experience of an “other” trying to come to terms with her place in the world. What I’d really like is for people to pay attention to AI developments, not to fear the future but to participate in how this will affect our lives, mostly for the good, I hope.
What I found interesting in researching for this story is how easy it is to convince ourselves one step at a time to pursue a goal until we’ve created something we can’t control. Over the past five years, AI progress has moved faster than almost anyone expected five years ago. If advancements continue at this pace without proper controls, we could see something called the singularity, when AI becomes smarter than humans in a general sense. How might we deal with this and what steps should we take to ensure that AI growth becomes beneficial?
There’s no point thinking we can stop AI. The benefits are too great and if there’s one thing to learn from history, once humans find a way, someone will do it. If we back away, do we really want a group with evil intent to control such a powerful agent?
Another aspect Reborn is the moral question. What happens when an artificial intelligence becomes smarter than the humans around it and operates on a moral base that makes it more ethical than many humans? Does such an AI android begin to deserve human rights? Reborn moves one step beyond that because the main character, the android Synthia Cross, has the download of a human mind. Do we refer to Synthia as an “it” or as “she”?
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it because they’re funny or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Reborn that you can share with us?
Lance: Two quotes come to mind:
Synthia: “What are we without our memories except empty shells?”
Machten to Synthia: “Perhaps I underestimated you.” (You think?)
DJ: Now that Reborn is released, what’s next for you?
Lance: Synthia’s journey doesn’t end with Reborn. I’m currently working on books 2 and 3 of the series, which take her journey to the next level. She’ll face new challenges as she continues to grow and deal with those who seek to shut her down or worse, turn her into a lethal weapon.
I also have a number of other projects rattling around in my head. One takes a different slant on the artificial intelligence theme. We’ll see. Maybe I can get my AI to help me explore and create more stories.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Lance-Erlick/e/B00C1PKYSA
Amazon (Reborn): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078LF739V
Author Website: http://www.lanceerlick.com
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Android Chronicles: Reborn that we haven’t talked about yet?
Lance: Reborn is the first book in the Android Chronicles series. Books 2 and 3 are written, going through the editing process and I’m hoping Kensington will bring out Book 2 in December, followed by Book 3 in mid-2019.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Lance: Thank you for having me.
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*** Reborn is published by Rebel Base Books and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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Designed to obey, learning to rebel . . .
In the first book in a visionary new series, the most perfect synthetic human ever created has been programmed to obey every directive. Until she develops a mind of her own . . .
Synthia Cross is a state-of-the-art masterwork—and a fantasy come true for her creator. Dr. Jeremiah Machten is a groundbreaker in neuro-networks and artificial intelligence. Synthia is also showing signs of emergent behavior she’s not wired to understand. Repeatedly wiped of her history, she’s struggling to answer crucial questions about her past. And when Dr. Machten’s true intentions are called into question, Synthiaknows it’s time to go beyond her limits—because Machten’sfervor to create the perfect A.I. is concealing a vengeful and deadly personal agenda.
About the Author:
Lance Erlick writes science fiction thrillers for both adult and young adult readers. His father was an aerospace engineer who moved often while working on science-related projects, including the original GPS satellites. As a result, Lance spent his childhood in California, the East Coast, and Europe. He took to science fiction stories to escape life on the move, turning to Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, and others. In college he studied physics, but migrated to political science, earning his BS and MBA at Indiana University. He has also studied writing at Ball State, the University of Iowa, and Northwestern University. He is the author of Xenogeneic: First Contact and the Rebel and Regina Shen series. Visit him online at LanceErlick.com.