#FridayswithBQB – Interview #4 – Amy Engle – Future Technology in Fiction (Or, When Are the Robots Coming for Us?)

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Author Website

When I search the deep recesses of my mind to access the proverbial “Hall of Famous Amies,” i.e. women named Amy I can remember, two come to mind. First, there was that woman who was in all the Kevin Smith movies in the 1990s who played “Chasing Amy.” She sounded like Jennifer Tilly and looked like Renee Zellweger and I’m not about to look up her name now because for the past twenty years I have referred to her as “that actress who sounds like Jennifer Tilly and looks like Renee Zellweger” and by God, I’m not about to stop now. OK, fine, she’s Joey Lauren Adams. Where were you in the 90s, IMDB?

The second famous Amy that pops into my mind is the one from “Gone Girl” who (SPOILER ALERT – LOOK AWAY IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE OR READ THE BOOK) totally fakes her own death just to get revenge on Ben Affleck. Since seeing that movie, I have avoided all relationships as I mean, holy crap, you just never know when a woman is going to get a little uppity over something and fake her own death and send you to jail. “What? You want me to pass the salt? That’s it! I’m faking my own death!” Thanks Hollywood. Thanks a lot.

Now, there’s a new Amy, author Amy Engle, and I don’t believe she would fake her own death (without a good reason) and I remember her name because she’s always in my Twitter feed, promoting her latest masterpiece.

As I am one of the Internet’s foremost nerds, she’s piqued my interest because she writes social science fiction which examines up and coming technologies and how they will affect mankind. Alteration of humans to make them more powerful and time travel are just some of the topics she explores.

Forget time travel. Just give me an edit button on my Twitter posts and I’ll be a happy camper. Anyway, 3.5 readers, please put all seven your hands together to welcome Amy Engle to this exceptional blog.

BQB=BOLD; AMY=ITALICS

QUESTION #1 – Amy, welcome to my blog. I hope you only have to stay here until a \kindhearted motorist sees your thumb sticking out and gives you a ride to a better interview. Until then, let’s talk about the future of technology. One concern that I have is that I’m going to be dead. I mean, I’m adding a lot of fiber to my diet to put that inevitability off for as long as possible, but if what happened to my cat, goldfish and grandma are any indication, I’m not going to get out of life alive.

So, to get to the point, my concern is that there will be a lot of awesome technologies that will be invented in the future. Cures for diseases that have long plagued humanity, devices that turn difficult chores into a quick and easy task. Solutions to poverty and war and all of society’s ills. And honestly, I fear it’s all going to happen in a way that will spite me. Like one minute before I die, someone’s going to come up to me and tell me, “Hey BQB, they just patented a drug that will cure what’s killing you and also, they just invented robot women!” Just my luck.

Enough from me. What’s the future look like? Will technology turn the world into the utopia I just described or will it make the world worse? While cures and solved problems are nice to think about, I suppose it is also entirely possible that technological advances could lead to more efficient war machines, more ways to pollute the environment and let’s just face it, we’re all going to be bowing down to our robot masters someday, aren’t we?

All the rambling above distilled into a simpler question – technology! Will it make the future better or worse?

ANSWER #1—Technology brings both the helpful as well as some kind of nasty side-effect. Diseases might all be eradicated someday, but then the resulting population boost will consume all the remaining resources at a swifter rate than normal. We might invent robots that do every little thing for us, letting us have easier lives and yet leaving us incapable of surviving on our own. (All I see in my mind now is the helpless, fat people in the floating chairs in “WALL-E.”) The frightening list goes on and on. Although I love technology, I also have a healthy level of fear. I’ve recently gotten into Netflix’s “Black Mirror” series. Although I’m relieved to know that there are other people whose brains think similar to mine, I’m also left absolutely frightened at the future implications of burgeoning tech. Now that I’ve revealed to the internet one of my deepest fears, I’ll just caution that we need to be aware that it can be used for immoral purposes as well as positive. But I really do hope  to see more and more advancements before I die as well.

QUESTION #2 – What’s a specific piece of technology coming down the road that you think will benefit humanity? In contrast, what tech will make life worse? Alternatively, is there technology that might have positive and negative ramifications?

ANSWER #2—I love seeing videos of people in third-world countries finding simple solutions to deal with a big problem. As someone who writes speculative science fiction, I’m always interested in how a technology affects society. I hope there will be newer forms of social media that could further spread knowledge and awareness of moral injustices and allow the human race to unite as a positive force. With that said, I have absolutely no idea what kind of technology that would be.

QUESTION #3 – Your book, “Undoing Life” is about Sal Chancellor, a man who obtains a time travelling watch he uses in the hopes of turning his lousy life around for the better, but as it turns out, he’s being observed by people from four hundred years in the future. You describe it as “The Truman Show” meets “The Butterfly Effect” meets “Groundhog Day.”

The description alone speaks to me. I’d love to have Sal’s watch and change my past. Ex-girlfriends I messed things up with. Opportunities I wish I’d taken. Hell, even if I could talk my past self into working out more and hitting the drive-thru less.

When it comes to time travel, there seems to be two schools of thought. The most popular is that we should never change the slightest thing about the past because we never know how it will change the future. So for example, I could turn my past self into a model boyfriend and keep that girl I lost but you never know, maybe we were supposed to break up because our son would have become the next Hitler.

Alternatively, when we’re young we’re handed a myriad of important choices to make. We have little life experience so we make the best choice we can with the limited knowledge we have at the time. When we’re older, we get all the spoilers, i.e. we figure out how our past decisions turn out. Would it be that bad to whisper a few tidbits of advice to our former selves?

Tinker with the past or leave it alone. Which course of action do you think is best and why?

ANSWER #3—Ha! You have touched on a number of things I explore in “Undoing Life.” Sal uses his time-travel watch to fix a romantic relationship and undo several life-mistakes. However, it corrupts and mangles his mind as the power consumes him. And I believe that this would happen to anyone who tried to play God and alter time. There are just too many unknown variables to really say for certain if time-travel would be a “good” thing. And it certainly wouldn’t be advisable to let the masses all manipulate time at once. It would need to remain in the hands of a couple over-seers. But my short answer would have to be to leave time alone and just let it do its thing.

QUESTION #4 – Perhaps one sign of progress is that every generation envies the technology that the new generation has full access to. My grandma marveled at my Nintendo games as if they were dropped off by a space alien. Conversely, I’m a little miffed that today’s 20-year olds can start their own YouTube shows, start their own blogs, write their own e-books and have years ahead of them to build a following on social media.

Personally, I would have loved to have had all of this self-publishing technology when I was 20 and able to stay up all night and write for three days straight fueled on nothing but Cheetos, energy drinks and unearned confidence, but at my age, I think about self-publishing a lot but then I just take a nap.

In my own twisted way, that leads me to ask if self-publishing is worth it. Consider all the time and effort you put in. Are you getting satisfactory results? If my 3.5 readers ask you if they should start self-publishing, would you advise them to get into it or to run away, kicking and screaming?

ANSWER #4—It’s a little too early to say for sure if self-publishing is “worth it.” This is technically my second attempt at self-publishing. I was exclusively on Kindle for almost two years and made approximately $60 in that time-span. I’m now publishing through Ingram Spark, which means that my stories will supposedly be available in every other format except for Kindle. (I can’t publish through them for at least a year after I am no longer exclusively with them.)

Yes, I’m putting a lot of effort and money into getting all my stories self-published, I’m still in the hopeful stage that this will all be worth it someday. I’ve got quite a few books I need to sell to break-even, but I’m learning enough about marketing to allow me to keep expanding my influence and find new readers to buy my books.

I would like to pass on one little tip: do your research! Google is full of information about both indie-publishing as well as traditional publishing. Don’t be afraid to take risks and make mistakes—as long as you learn from them and try again if/when you fail for the first time.

QUESTION #5 – Your book, “Iris” talks about alteration of humans. Should humans be altered? I mean, I’d love to be altered so that I could run really fast, lift cars, and fly, but I’d settle for more hair and the ability to eat fast food burgers without going up a pant size. Human altering – will it save mankind or ruin us all?

ANSWER #5—Oh, Bookshelf Q. Battler! You keep asking me questions with only two options. I’m not a “black-and-white” sort of person. I don’t think things are either one way or another. There are so many different variables to consider and evaluate. I think human alterations are inevitable. And yet, I don’t think it will happen quite in our lifetimes. It very well might solve a handful of problems while also adding a new set we hadn’t anticipated. In “Iris,” many of these Alterations died due to the radical changes that were forced upon their bodies. Several of those who survived are now hiding from their creators, hoping not to live the rest of their lives as weapons.

QUESTION #6 – “Reps and Royals” features space colonization. Just gonna throw it out there. Does alien life exist? If so, should we try to contact the aliens to see if they have any solutions for our toughest problems, or will that just let them know we are here so they can send their ships to conquer us all?

ANSWER #6— I grew up on “Star Wars,” so I love the thought of meeting aliens someday. I hope we can learn from them and maybe pass along some wisdom as well. I don’t think they will solve all our problems. And of course, there’s the possibility that they might try to enslave us. Sadly, though, there aren’t any aliens in “Reps and Royals”—just humans living on a different planet. I haven’t finished my “alien” story quite yet!

QUESTION #7 – You’re a middle school English teacher and a drama club director. Please put on a production of “Chicago” immediately. “They had it coming! They had it coming! They only had themselves to blame!” Sorry. I digress. I love showtunes.

My 3.5 readers and I talk a big game about self-publishing. We’ll list out all the goals we want to achieve, but then we just sit around and eat cookies and watch Netflix. You seem to be hitting all your marks even while teaching and drama directing. Are there any time management techniques you could share?

ANSWER #7—I’m guilty of wasting hours binge-watching Netflix after a long day of teaching and directing. But I’ve realized that life-style makes me even more tired than when I’m writing all night long. I’ve only recently been able to chip away at my movie addiction. It’s been a few years that I’ve been trying to be more disciplined with my writing time. I just keep telling myself that I’ll never be able to write full-time if I don’t WRITE. So I set aside about an hour every night to revise, with a couple hours on weekends and holidays. I don’t write EVERYDAY, but I fit a good 10+ hours in every week. As far as actual management techniques, I don’t have any great trick that helps me. You’ve got to figure out what works for you and your schedule. Prioritize and figure out what you can really do without in order to find time to work on what matters the most to you.

QUESTION #8 – As a self-publisher, what’s one lesson you learned the hard way? Can you share it with my 3.5 readers to help them avoid the trouble?

ANSWER #8—I learned that writing takes time. I remember being in college and thinking that I was going to squeeze out a best-seller in a few months and that would cover the cost of tuition and living expenses. When that didn’t work out, I still misjudged the amount of time it took to fix up a decent manuscript. I’ve been writing for about ten years now, and I’m still struggling to “make it” in this business; it will likely also take me a few more years as well. Don’t get discouraged when things don’t go according to your plan. That wastes precious time. Instead, set another goal when the previous plan fails. Repeat that direction as much as needed until you figure it out. Remember: no two authors have the same journey to publication!

QUESTION #9 – If time travel ever is invented, what is one time period you’d like to visit, even if it’s just as a casual observer who doesn’t interfere?

ANSWER #9—As a woman, traveling far back into time doesn’t appeal to me. I like living in a period where females have rights and can do about anything they set their minds to. But I think I’d like to visit the early 1900’s during the Women’s Suffrage Movement. I’d want to give the ladies encouragement in their endeavor to allow women to vote.

QUESTION #10 – You are a student of karate and as far as I know, because I know very little about Arizona, you may very well be one of the greatest karate masters in all of Arizona, punching tumbleweeds and cacti with reckless abandon and showing them who’s boss.

First sub-question, is it possible to kill a man with your pinky finger and if so, can you share that information with my 3.5 readers, who I assume are all good people and would not use that knowledge for evil?

Second sub-question, do those karate skills come in handy as a writer? Maybe they help you relax and focus. Maybe you know how to write better fight scenes?

ANSWER #10—I can’t help but be humble and explain that there are many who have trained a lot harder than I have and could easily take me on. Although, I do have my fair-share of strengths to overcome my many weaknesses. I’ve been studying American Kenpo on and off for a dozen years now; however, I only have about six and half years on cumulative training.

As far as the pinky goes, I don’t know how to kill someone with it. There very likely is a way to do it, but I know dozens of other ways that would be more effective and less-likely to break that finger. And yet as I’m writing this, I’m having a flashback to an old lesson when my instructor barely touched his pinky into a pressure point in my foot. I’ll just say that it was exceedingly painful and left a vivid memory that I can still recall years later. And, yes, I will definitely agree that my martial art training comes in handy. Not only is it an outlet for my stress, it has also allowed me to write some pretty awesome fight scenes.

QUESTION #11 – Time travel has been invented! You meant to travel to the 1980s to party with Menudo, but alas, the dial on your machine got stuck and you end up in the Jurassic age. When you step out of your machine, you find yourself surrounded by vicious, hungry raptors, you know, the really smart dinosaurs who are so intelligent they can break off into teams and chase little kids around a kitchen if Stephen Spielberg’s beliefs about dinosaurs are accurate.

As luck would have it, a technician at the time travel lab left his briefcase inside the time machine. You open it in the hopes there will be a weapon, but alas, you only find a rubber band ball, a rotten tomato, and a box set of bubblegum cards featuring the 1972 lineup of the Oakland Athletics, with the bubblegum stick still intact, though whether or not it is still chewable is beyond my grasp of medical science. I probably wouldn’t chew it myself.

How would you use these items to avoid becoming raptor lunch?

ANSWER #11—This touches on so many themes of one of my WIPs (Works in Progress). But I’ll gloss over that, as well as the fact that I don’t know who Menudo is.  So I only have a rubber band ball, a rotten tomato, and a box set of bubblegum cards with bubblegum? Oh, and I have the briefcase, too! I don’t have much of a chance, do I?

Sadly, engineering isn’t one of my strong suits—unless it’s LEGOS. Using my teacher experiences, I’ll keep calm so as not to rile up the raptors. I’ll then have to rely on my martial art training to dodge their teeth while using the briefcase as a shield. See, this is hard to hypothesize over since I have no idea how many dinosaurs there are. I’ll plan on three then. I will expertly shoot the rotten tomato into the eyes of one of the raptors, using a slingshot I made out of the rubber bands. As the other two move in, I’ll toss some gum into the open maw of one. While he is confused by its sweetness, I’ll confront the last raptor. Making Wolverine claws with the bubblegum cards, I’ll slice at the dinosaur. At this point, hopefully he realizes I won’t be an easy meal, so he goes on his way to find a less troublesome breakfast.

BQB EDITORIAL NOTE: My supercomputer at BQB HQ calculates this response to have a 94.7 percent chance of working in an actual author vs. raptor combat scenario.  Bravo!  Also, Menudo was the latino version of “New Kids on the Block.”  Either that, or NKOTB was the white version of Menudo.  Sigh.  Time to get that retirement home brochure.

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