Monday, March 31, 2014

A to Z: A for Adult -- Al Lyons

Al Lyons is a guy in his mid forties, a typical Dad, except that life throws him a curveball when his wife of seventeen years dies suddenly. Al is left with the care of his semi-estranged, teenaged son, Ricky. Like a lot of Dads, myself included, Al dotes on his son. But he has some problems communicating. And a hard time dealing with his frustrations.

Al is a teacher at the local high school. He also coaches football. He has looked forward to coaching Ricky on the high school football team. But Ricky shows some independence and a rebellious spirit and decides football is not for him.

This family rift is in the background when the two undertake a trip to Guatemala in the wake of the death of Mary, Al's wife. There Al hopes he and Ricky can reconnect and commit to strengthening their relationship, but their quest for wholeness mysteriously opens them to a world-shattering confrontation with evil itself. Al is kidnapped by the Santos Muertos and held hostage in an underground facility beneath the Alberta oil tar sands. There he is water-boarded, and interrogated by Samael Chagnon, the leader of the Santos Muertos cartel, and held as the bait to trap Ricky, who holds the key -  a Mayan  codex known as the Chocomal -  to Chagnon's desire for world domination. Al depends on his memories of his family and grows spiritually while in confinement.

As Al discovers. being a father, being an adult, and being a man, is a life-long voyage of discovery. And sometimes the key is not what you might think.

SAVIOR will be published April 18th on the Amazon Kindle platform by Harvard Square Editions. Visit the SAVIOR page on the HSE website, and then check back here throughout the A to Z challenge month to learn more about SAVIOR and publication launch details.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A to Z Theme Reveal

Today I am revealing my theme for the A to Z Blog Challenge in April.

Ta da (trumpet blast).   It is:

The Book Launch of SAVIOR (April 18 on Amazon Kindle)

Every day in the month of April I will be posting on a thematic or character element of Savior beginning with the letter of the alphabet corresponding to that day. For instance on April 1st I will be describing the character and background of Al Lyons, captive father. On April 3, I will be writing about the Cult of Santa Muerte and Christian aspects of the book. And so on down the alphabet. 

So if you want to learn more about Savior leading up to and following the launch of the book on April 18, make sure you check back throughout the month here to catch up.

As part of the book launch festivities, you can join a Google hangout with other readers on April 20 from 8:00 to 10:00 pm EST. For more details, a description of the book and links to reviewers, go to the page on the blog for Savior.

I will also be posting my Savior book trailer video as part of the A to Z video challenge, as soon as it is ready for prime time. Keep tuned, sports fans.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

National Wormhole Week

In honor of National Wormhole Week, March 10-16, I have been asked to post my thoughts on a science breakthrough that can potentially bring great advances to humankind, but that also brings great perils. There are so many that fit into this category, but one obvious example that stands out for me is artificial intelligence. Far from being science fiction, we are currently well into the era of AI as it is called, and we see the advances in everything from medicine to transportation and commerce. AI is the creation of machines that mimic human intelligence. Its proponents base their work on the premise that human intelligence is a property that is both knowable and able to be replicated. Immediately I have a problem with that as a writer, because I believe, and it's just my hunch, I'll admit, that human intelligence is essentially and at it's heart unknowable, and the logical premise to this hunch, quite conveniently, is that artists can come as close as scientists to replicating its effects or even its benefits. But humans have been trying to make intelligent machines since the dawn of civilization, and it's a human dream to be able to create a prototype of oneself that can be made to carry out work, essentially a mechanical slave. This propensity to create labor saving devices has given us everything from the plow to the computer and is responsible for civilization itself.

Artificial intelligence in its modern form came into being in the 1950s and some early successes were computer programs that could recognize language and solve problems in algebra. Given increases in computer strength, AI developers have continued to slowly make gains in the ensuing decades, including the computer. Deep Blue, that has beaten the world's best human chess players. But mimic human intelligence? Come on. You might come close, but never quite the same. The parallel processing abilities of our neural network have yet to be mapped, and even when we think we've got it down on paper (or on a screen), there will be quantum effects at the deepest levels of thought that will be essentially unknowable.

But the scary thing is there are quite a number of people who are willing and ready to jump off the deep end of AI into human-computer interfaces that we can see right now with Google Glass for instance, that for me carry some frightening implications. One classic movie, Stanley Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey, made the runaway evil computer monster that turns on its creators, Hal, a forever recognizable symbol of the hubris of this sort of work, but for me a more catastrophic implication is the way humans are so willing to turn themselves into something less than what we are for the sake of some potential labor-saving or efficiency advantage. Now of course it's hard to draw the line and say beyond this you have transgressed. I would not want to give up the calculator, for example, or God forbid return to the days when you had to go to the public library to find information about Tyrannosaurus Rex or Kurdistan instead of googling it. Yes, we all love that verb, don't we.

Anyway, at the bottom of this page is a list of the other blogs that are taking part in the Wormfest. Go and check out some other science breakthroughs with a potential double-edge.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Car Shopping

Cars, it's like our lives are so entwined with them they tell our story. My son recently got his license. Today we did that thing where we went and looked at cars together, kicked the tires, examined the dings, got down low and looked for rust, listened to the clack of loose valves, stepped on the gas on the highway to see if the cylinders all fired unfailingly. The first car we looked at looked good and seemed to handle okay, but once we got it off the highway the automatic transmission started slipping and sending the rpms close to the red line before shifting. Not a good sign. We finally settled on a VW Jetta that was a solid performer with just 80,000 miles at a price we could afford. I asked him if he wanted to look at others and he said no, he wanted the VW and he had a look of certainty that I've only seen in his face a few times. Once was the day he was born. So I knew we'd made a good choice.  Then on the drive home we saw a Tesla, one of those new electric cars, on the highway. We had a talk about how much more efficient electric cars are, all the torque is immediately available; the power thrust is much more linear and smooth, no gears at all.  It's the future. Not like the way we get up to speed today, all choppy and noisy with engines that take a liquid, burn it into a gas, contain all the pressure, expel the waste products and somewhere along the line convert the energy available into motion mediated through a series of gears. It's messy. but kind of human, and if you're lucky you get one with some soul, an extension of your own roving, noble spirit or broken down hulk of a wreck.

It was nice to share the time with my son, still in the age of internal combustion, and think about the launching of his life into a destiny unknown but full of potential and possible perils. I told him about my first car, also a VW, a Beetle, which I rode down to Mexico and Guatemala, then up to Seattle, and finally back to New York City where it was sacrificed to the criminal element of Astoria and stripped to a carapace. I hope and pray that this new car of my son's carries him far and safe too, and I know he'll be smarter than me about a lot of things, like leaving a car underneath a bridge in Queens. But maybe he won't, and maybe he'll make other mistakes. But that's life, messy and kind of human.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Hard Times Make the Good Times Even Sweeter

Here we are at the beginning of March and it still feels like Chelyabinsk around here. We're caught in the grip of some kind of trough in the upper atmosphere pulling down the Arctic air mass like a low pressure blanket we can't get out from under. This grey, stagnant, sub-zero weather has me longing for the feel of a warm breeze, the smell of spring and the sight of some green popping up through the mud. It's easy to feel like hibernating. Wake me up when old man winter has vacated the premises.

But rather than sleep it off, better to appreciate the cold, the ice, the discomfort for what it is, an opportunity. My neighbors are in the woods as I type, laying plastic tube, tromping and cracking through the layer of permafrost between trees because they know, just a couple of frozen feet below their boots, in the soil, that old dependable maple sweetness is just waiting for the first sign, the first hint of a crack in the wintry visage and then it will be flowing as strong as ever. A winter like this makes for great maple tapping, just like hard times make the good times even sweeter. A smile on a hoar-rimmed, red-cheeked face with the snot frozen like an icicle on the tip of the nose is the cheeriest smile in the world. These light-hearted tropical laughs you hear about, they're as thin as Scottish pancakes, I bet. Give me a winter that runs like this one has, good to the last frozen drop. Read this over and over to yourself and before you know it, it'll be spring.

Which brings me to my next point, the cyclical nature of things. Just like the climate, the political sphere seems to go through the same events over and over like echoes of a past we thought we'd cleared. Here we are on the brink of war in Europe with Ukraine fighting to preserve its infant independence and the Russian motherland holding the Crimea in its fist in order to preserve its precious access to the Black Sea. It's one of those moments when the whole world is holding its breath and hoping the tectonic plates don't shift too fast or too strong.

And the point of art allow us to escape our woes and somehow to slowly supersede them, maybe? I'm not claiming that the stuff i write does that. But it seems that it's quite possible that some of the books written by the great writers of the past and present manage to point the way forward for human beings to understand and recognize the possibility and potential pitfalls of our attitudes. Reading books and writing books is an act of faith that what we do and think and how we act and what we say matters. My worst moments in life where when, mostly as a child, I felt that nobody seemed to realize this, that nothing anybody said or did mattered because somehow it was all pre-determined, the adults had it all figured out and it was all wrong. Well, the key to life is that nothing stays the same, therefore everything matters. Adults especially need to remember this because kids already know.