[An interview prepared for Jet Weasley’s book blog, The Book Detective.]
Q: How did you come up with the idea of the Red Queen Effect?
There’s an excellent book on the evolutionary psychology of sex, The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley, which explores the “Red Queen Effect” in human evolution of sex differences and behaviors. The effect is widespread and occurs whenever you have an evolutionary arms race, and by analogy can be seen in, say, the Cold War between the US and the old Soviet Union. The effect is named for the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, who led Alice on a running race which kep tthem in the same place.
Q: What made you decide to set the story in future American instead of America of present?
All the political repression visible now is exaggerated in the near-future world of Red Queen, which allowed me to draw the dramatic differences in bolder strokes. People are used to the system we have now and it would be harder to present it as something so bad a rebellion would be justified unless it gets a few degrees worse. Many of my readers are barely aware virtually everything I write about is already happening in academia and surveillance by the state.
Q: Now, as many readers have stated, your book is full of scientific fact and diction. How did you manage to research all of this and incorporate it into your book?
My background is very similar to the main characters’, and I worked on computer science research under DARPA contracts when I was about their age. The science and engineering are also relatively easy for me since I studied physics and computer science at MIT. I did have to do some research to get up-to-date on quantum computing, but I was already familiar with most of the science in the book.
Q: For me this would have been the most difficult part of writing such a story; how did you manage to make the ideas so realistic? Could the Red Queen Effect actually happen?
I was striving for realism. The breakthrough that enables quantum gateways is fiction, but the working out of the details and the engineering follows logically from that, and the behavior of the characters is more true to the reactions of believable intelligent grad students than your typical thriller characters. This means it may be less accessible as a story than standard thrillers featuring spies and military types, but there are plenty of those. I wanted this to be different. And the Red Queen Effect is very common in any competitive evolutionary scenario.
Q: If you were in Justin’s position, would you go about things the way he did in this book or would you react/act differently?
Justin is a fictional character, so I suspect he suffers far less self-doubt, laziness, or conflict-avoidance than any real person. I certainly would not have accomplished as much when I was his age than he does in the book. But like his scientific genius friend Steve, he’s much faster than most real people so the plot can move along at a good pace. It would not be interesting if he took some time off in the middle of the plot to practice his video game skills….
Q: What inspired you to start writing Science Fiction?
I’ve been reading it since I was 7! For people with a problem-solving, engineering bent, the working out of future science is another exciting part of the story, as they follow the logic while reading. Science fiction can be very educational, and one of my goals was to demonstrate some interesting corners of physics and computer science for those who might want to pursue it as a career.
Q And finally, will you be working on any novels that are separate to the Substrate Wars in the near future?
I just finished the second book in the Substrate Wars series, Nemo’s World. There are two more to follow, most likely, and then I have an idea for a comic murder mystery set in the artsy-Hollywood community of Palm Springs, where I now live. This would be fun and let me satirize some obvious targets for everyone’s amusement.