Daniel C. McWhorter - Intricately-plotted, Near-future Sci-Fi
Daniel C. McWhorter (“Dan” to everyone who knows him) is an avid reader and life-long science fiction and fantasy fan who has long dreamed about writing for a living. As is the case for many of us, the realities of life took him in a different direction and his dream was put on hold while he worked to achieve successful careers in telecom, software engineering, and talent development. In 2017, Dan decided to leave corporate America and start writing. His first book, Restoration, was the result. Dan lives in the beautiful mountains of North Georgia with his wife and three dogs. When he's not writing, he likes to hike, boat, fish and experience the exceptional beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If the weather is bad, you may find him online playing the current MMO flavor of the month or banging away on his Xbox controller. As our Author of the Day, Dan tells us all about Restoration.
Please give us a short introduction to what Restoration is about.
Restoration is a dystopian science fiction adventure story that takes place 50+ years from now. Doctor Evan Feldman died in 2023 but suddenly finds himself alive and well in 2075. Unfortunately for him, restoring a deceased person to life is illegal and the government will do everything in its power to destroy him and punish those responsible for bringing him back. The world that Dr. Feldman finds himself in is fragile, having barely survived decades of war, famine, and environmental disasters. And now, humanity faces its greatest threat yet—-an unknown disease that has reduced birth rates to zero, brought about a resurgence of once-beaten cancers, and is causing horrific mutations in the few children that have been born over the last decade. A small group of wealthy CEOs has a plan to save humanity, and Evan's granddaughter is one of them.
What inspired you to write about an AI and humanity on the verge of extinction?
I started with a thought-experiment about what makes us the unique individuals we are. In that experiment, I slowly stripped away my body (starting with my arms and legs and progressing inward) until all that remained was my living brain. If my brain was transplanted into another body (a clone, for example), would I still be me? Then I took it a step further. If I was somehow able to digitize my consciousness and transfer it into a clone, would I still be me? And, finally, what if my mind was placed inside a synthetic body? Would I still be me? And, if so, how would you distinguish me from an advanced AI? The whole concept fascinated me, so I decided to write about it!
Why did you pick 2075 as the backdrop for this story?
Although many of the technologies in Restoration do not exist today, I tried really hard to make it realistic and believable. To do that, I did extensive research on things like cloning, genetic engineering/manipulation, and space travel to get a good sense of where we are today. Then I simply wound the clock forward until the technologies I needed might reasonably exist. I estimate that many of them will begin to exist within the next fifteen years and I believe that, once discovered, their development will accelerate rapidly thereafter.
What prompted you to leave the corporate world and start writing?
I actually attempted to write my first book in 1996-97 but life took me in a different direction (or directions, I should say). The Internet was blowing up and I wanted to be involved, so I dropped everything and started an Internet Service Provider to deliver dial-up and web hosting services to my community. From there, I was fortunate to have a number of other opportunities that yielded success in other industries. When my last gig came to an end (I was Vice President of Learning and Talent Development for a professional services firm), I decided that it was "now or never" if I ever wanted to make a serious run at becoming an author.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Besides being a reasonably talented software engineer/architect, I'm a licensed private pilot and an Advanced Open Water diver. The underlying thread in both my careers and private life is a willingness to take risks and walk through open doors whenever and wherever I find them.
Readers say that your detailed descriptions of the technology of space travel, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence 60 years in the future are very convincing. How did you pull this off?
Lots and lots of research. I wanted to write hard sci-fi that was firmly grounded in reality. Although I firmly believe that we will one day have replicators, transporters, and warp drive, I also believe that we have a very long way to go to get there. I wanted to portray technologies that represent a natural progression from where we are today. The gravity propulsion systems that power some of my spaceships are probably the biggest stretch from the current state, but I am convinced that such systems are possible. All that is required is an understanding that electricity, magnetism, and gravity are all related.
Why did you pick Luna, Mars and Ceres as space travel destinations?
In my fictional universe, we have colonized Mars and Luna (a.k.a. The Moon) and Ceres is an outpost in the outer solar system. Future-Earth is running out of resources and mining the planets and the Asteroid Belt has become a matter of survival (and very big business). Mars and Ceres are well-positioned to serve as bases for asteroid mining operations, and Luna is the ideal transshipment point for moving people and goods between the Earth and Mars. I believe that we will establish a colony on Mars within the next 10-15 years, and a colony on the Moon will follow shortly thereafter. It's much cheaper and easier to launch ships from the Moon because of its position in space and much lower gravity. It seemed like a natural progression to me.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
We're all flawed in some way but those flaws are what make us unique. We are sometimes driven by urges and instincts that we are barely aware of, and our emotions often override our rational minds. Because we are imperfect, our AI creations are imperfect. In our desire to make them more like us, we have made them to look like us, to talk like us, and to act like us—-quirks, flaws, and all. The Turing Test equates mastery of natural language with intelligence. Therefore, in order to be considered indistinguishable from a human, an AI must talk like a human and, once given human form, act like a human.
Tell us more about Evan's granddaughter, Aubrey. What makes her so special?
She's CEO of one of the most powerful companies in the Solar System, and she's dedicated herself to saving humanity from total annihilation...even if it means sacrificing herself and all that she has. She was just a toddler when Evan dies, and now she's nearly as old as he was then. Bringing him back is both a blessing and a curse for her. She gets to reunite with the grandfather she barely knew, but she knows deep down that their reunion will be shorter than either of them would like.
Why Sci-Fi? What drew you to the genre?
I've been an avid sci-fi reader my entire life. I loved Bova, Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, etc. as a child, and I always dreamed of writing a great sci-fi classic. Now, let's be clear, I am not saying that Restoration (or even The Gaian Origin series as a whole) is that. Those guys wrote millions of words before they became the greats they are. Restoration is about only 118k, so I have really long way to go!
What was your greatest challenge when writing this book?
Trying to balance time spent learning vs. time spent writing. Beyond researching for the book, I had a lot to learn about writing, publishing, and marketing. In the end, writing the book was the easiest part of the whole process. Learning how to turn my words into something that someone else would ever read was a whole other thing! Interviews like this have helped, and I really appreciate the opportunity to share my story with your readers.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I treat it like a business. My writing day is typically 9 am to 5 pm with and thirty-minute lunch and short breaks as required throughout the day. My standard goal is 2k words per day for the first draft because I want to get what's in my head "on paper", so to speak, as quickly as possible. The rewrites take longer because I spend as much time reading (and re-reading, and re-reading again) as I do writing/re-writing. As far as interesting habits...does writing in a recliner with a laptop count? I don't have any rituals or what-not, but I do need absolute quiet. I write the story in my head first, and loud noises and interruptions have a significant impact on my productivity. The first 30 minutes of my writing day is spent imagining the story where I last left off and then playing events out for a chapter or two. I always say it’s like watching a movie in my mind and then writing what I saw.
What are you working on right now?
Book two of The Gaian Origin Series, of course! The working title is "Revival" and it's slated for release in the fall of this year (i.e. Aug/Sept 2020). Aneni (the main AI character in Restoration) has escaped with her precious cargo and has made her way to an Earth-like planet in the Alpha Centauri system. What will she find there? And will she succeed at saving humankind? You'll have to read to find out! :)
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
They can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and a whole slew of other places but www.danmcwhorter.com is the best place to get started. From there they can see what I'm working on, connect with me on social media, and sign up for my mailing list if they would like to have updates sent to their inbox (Note: I hate spam! I only send out meaningful announcements and I never share email addresses).