[GUEST POST] Bill Gourgey on The Great Romance of Technology

Bill Gourgey first got the bug for writing in college. He is now a full-time writer, mostly writing fiction, and a part-time technologist. His publications include Glide, a novel (Book 1 of a trilogy); Nu Logic, (Book 2 in the Glide Trilogy); Unfamiliar Fruit, a small volume of short stories; and Outside the Box, a collection of poetry. All are available now.

The Great Romance

by Bill Gourgey

We humans have always had one great love in common-one that arguably precedes our love of the divine. Ever since the first spark flew off a fragment of flint and inadvertently lit the beard of some startled Neanderthal, we have been in love with our technologies. Many philosophers argue that humanity, by definition, began when we distinguished ourselves from our contemporary species by knapping flint, making weapons, and crafting tools. This primeval love-the human-technics affair-lies at the heart of science and, naturally, science fiction. Does that mean that we fans and writers of science fiction are really romantics in disguise? Well, yes, when it comes right down to it, even though our disguises range from Darth Vader regalia to avatars, cyborgs, and drones to name but a piddling few. Oh, and the worlds we immerse ourselves in-the machines, gadgets, transports, tools, and technologies! In fact, I would go so far as to say that science fiction-of all the literary genres-strikes nearest the mark of that which makes us human. A bold statement, perhaps, for a genre replete with series set in foreign worlds, alien protagonists, and robotic villains. But even as our stories stray from homo sapiens sapiens, it does so based on the one trait that arguably made us human in the first place and that still separates us from the animal kingdom-technology.

This love affair that we humans have always had with our technologies fascinates me, not only because it’s ancient-like some numinous god that has followed us around from our beginnings-but also because (especially because!) in our modern era the omnipresence of technology and the pace of change spurred on by it has accelerated to a blur. From Gutenberg’s Printing Press, which ignited the Renaissance by making books available to commoners, to Zuckerberg’s Facebook (which, along with Twitter, arguably fueled the Arab Spring), the slope of invention continues to steepen. Who among us could survive without technology? But, who among us will survive if our passion for it burns too hot?

After more than twenty-five years of deep immersion in technology (mostly computer science), I found myself writing a tale based on our ancient love affair. My Glide Trilogy flows between the near future dystopian era dominated by the Academy and the promising but tenuous mid-future that follows, known as the Glide era, marked by enlightened science that has restored equilibrium to civilization but also threatens to transform it forever. The story arc follows the life of a legendary inventor and recluse (Dr. Magigate), who comes to be known as The Captain, and who is equal parts Albert Einstein and Don Quixote. The first book in the series chronicles the Captain’s quest to reverse the woes of the world through technology. In book two, Nu Logic, one of Magigate’s former colleagues, a sinister scientist who specializes in crossover pathogens, plans to unleash a devastating virus rooted in his addictive augmented reality gaming world. The third book, Genesys, which is still metamorphosing from its chrysalis (a sci fi writer’s way of saying I still have a handful of chapters left to write), completes the arc.

Of course, I want my readers to be entertained by what I write. But I also want to encourage them to think about what makes us tick. With my Glide Trilogy in particular, I want my readers to feel like we can and should be more optimistic about our collective future-cautiously optimistic-and that, even though Armageddon and environmental catastrophe seem just around the corner, it doesn’t have to be that way. I want my readers to see how our ancient love (technology) might steer us out of the dark places that our own (“animal”) biology and self-interest propel us.

After reading the first books of my Glide Trilogy, many of my readers ask if I really believe that humans will focus our technologies on preservation and restoration. I like to point out that the future is already here! Sadly, new technology gets lost in the Sturm und Drang of commerce and politics. There are fortunes to be preserved, and if a new technology challenges those fortunes, well…it’s like Dr. Magigate’s Cape Knot laboratory in Glide: “For years, Cape Knot had been the source of great intrigue and controversy: on the one hand, incubating a never-ending supply of inventions that sprouted new business models and addressed myriad social and civic challenges; on the other hand, disregarding industrial convention and the protocols of product lifecycles, thereby rendering generations of products obsolete long before their intended return on investment had been realized. In other words, tycoons and politicians alike kept a wary eye on Cape Knot’s tenants, while public opinion of the lab verged on superstitious, wavering between acclaim and distrust.”

Still, the most promising new technologies have a way of breaking through the inertia of institutional wealth, and I suspect this breakthrough rate will increase as climate and health events around the world underscore our need. And, since I hail from the class of artist who believes that Art inspires Life as much as Life inspires Art, it’s up to us science fiction writers and fans to lead the way with our imaginations. After all, we are romantics at heart.