John Nelson is the author of novels Starborn, Transformations, Matrix of the Gods, originally published by Hampton Roads Publishing, and I, Human. He authored the nonfiction book The Magic Mirror, which won the 2008 COVR Award as best book of the year, and edited the anthology Solstice Shift. John was the editorial director of Bear & Company in the mid-1990s and Inner Ocean Publishing in early 2000. He is the owner of Bookworks Ltd., where he edits fiction and nonfiction books for a variety of authors and publishers.
by John Nelson
Science fiction has always been its own counter-cultural movement, often written by writers and designed by artists living on the fringe of society. They don’t fit in and write about outcasts who refuse to accept the conventional view of who they are and what they can be. I can remember as a child blocking out all the self-definitions thrown my way by parents and teachers until I just stopped listening to people. This helped me forge my own course, but admittedly I later overlooked good advice from colleagues that would have been to my benefit. Interestingly enough I got an ear infection when I was seven years old that made me deaf to high-frequent sounds like an incoming ordinance, which kept me out of the army and Vietnam, but also to high-pitch women’s voices, which was “inconvenient” at times—to say the least.
So, all my life I’ve been interested in stories that redefine our humanity. I think the most lasting impression from my childhood was reading Clarke’s Childhood’s End—I have a copy from its second printing in 1953. The idea of a race of psychic human children evolving into a collective being seems to have been imprinted on me long before I read about such possibilities in my later metaphysical studies. My first novel, Starborn, was about a psychic child who is born totally conscious and who undermines an army of psychic children bent on “making the world safe for happiness.” But, my course was set to explore the psychic or the spiritual dimension of these possibilities.
My next novel, Transformations, definitely more sci-fi, further explored the concept of human evolution, or its precipitated development. A brilliant young geneticist, who was bent on manipulating the human genome for the betterment of humanity, comes into contact with an experiment by advanced aliens to show us something about our true human potential and destiny. My characters go through all of the emotional and physical transformations of a million-year evolutionary leap in nine months, and which succeeds only when the subjects collectively band together. It explores the difference between a scientific and precipitated evolution, like that suggested by transhumanism, and one that is the outcome of human self-transcendence—or one directed by the vital spark that separates us from thinking machines or does in my opinion.
Of course robots and thinking machines have been the staples of science fiction from the beginning, with its conflict between rationality and feeling, but we are now entering an era when speculation will become reality, and it’s of critical importance that we explore what makes us human. My next novel, Matrix of the Gods, takes off where Transformations left off with an Indian guru who struggles with his ego and his mind until he transcends both and becomes a Buddha—and the most dangerous man alive to those who define themselves by how much power they can exert. This posits the question: are we strictly mental beings and does the evolution of our minds solely define us, or is its total opposite in someone like Rama who subdues the mind, the apex of our development? Interestingly enough, it is only when Rama sheds the role of Buddha and opens his heart to a woman reporter that the situation is resolved in a dimensional shift where people migrate to one of two worlds by the frequency of their being.
Probably more than science fiction and metaphysics, the works of Carl Jung have been the greatest influence in my life and writing. What I like most about his psychology is that it’s never either/or but a balance between opposing forces. This brings us to his compensatory function, or that the subconscious mind is compensatory to the conscious mind. He developed this from years of dream analysis and discovering that the dreams are often compensatory to mental attitudes: for instance, you have a conscious attitude toward someone, and you have a dream that portrays them quite the opposite. The truth is somewhere in-between these extremes. So, is it our mental development or its opposite that truly defines us, or is it as Jung would probably tell us, it’s little of each and more of something indefinable.
This brings me to I, Human due for release by Cosmic Egg in May. Again this is a blend of hard science and psycho/spiritual insights. Here it’s neural science and brain implants, or the development of the Transhumanist goal of enhanced intelligence. In the mid-21st century a breakthrough in nanotechnology allows for neural implants made from human brain cells, which overcomes the body’s immune rejection. This elevates average IQs to more than 200, and soon transforms our entire society. But they repress feelings and intuitions, and by the end of the 21st century this techno paradise is plagued by fragile people having emotional breakdowns. In Jungian psychology you gather information through the intuition or sensing function, and process it through thinking or feelings. So the overemphasis of one, like the thinking function, naturally suppresses the other.
However, after fifty years of their use, the Techno Elite has no idea how to engineer integrative functioning into their neural processors. This sets the stage for Alan Reynard, an intelligence agent who was recruited because of his high emotional empathy score, which allows him to infiltrate the Borny villages—those who refuse the implants and have their own low-tech enclaves. He is sent a spiritual community whose healer has affected neural processors to allow for the integration of more feeling input. They want to expose his new hybrid processor to her energy in hopes of creating an upgrade that will stem the tide as it were, but Alan is greatly affected by his energy healing and struggles with his processor and its mental bias. He employs a kind of mindfulness focus that, along the healer’s energy, does reprogram his processor but more than his handles expected or wanted, and it’s rollout to the masses could change everything.
I must confess that I am in Jungian terms an introverted feeling/intuitive type, about 2% of the population, and so I bring this bias to my own solutions to these challenges. But, I am also able to step back and objectively view that bias and hope that Alan’s processing only brings more of a balance to his society, somewhere around the 50/50 border that Jung claims to be optimal. A world filled with people like me and some of my cohorts would be just as bad as its opposite depicted in my novel. The trains would not run on time for sure. As to who would be best suited to solving our techno and social problems, I’ll defer to Albert Einstein, “The creation of empirical science is along the lines of an inductive method . . . [However] the truly great advances in our understanding of nature originate in a way almost diametrically opposed to induction. The intuitive grasp of the essential of a large complex of facts leads the scientist to . . . basic law or laws.” It was this deductive method that led to his breakthrough theories on relativity and electrodynamics. But then, we needed someone like Steve Jobs to turn theory into iPhones.