Saturday, November 18, 2023

Interview With Author Richard Jeffery Wagner



1. What inspired you to write this book?

The philosopher David Chalmers proposed a thought experiment called the Philosopher's Zombie in which the question is asked, "is it conceivable that there could be a person who acted normal but had no internal life (was completely without consciousness)." I thought very strongly that I should write a science fiction story, set in the future, about a man who purchases a robot valet who subsequently becomes interested in philosophy, in order to explore that and related questions. I liked the result so much I wrote a sequel called Brent and Edward Go to Mars.


2. What exactly is it about and who is it written for?

As I had begun reading sci-fi when I was 14, I wanted the book to be accessible to all age groups, yet stimulating for a thoughtful adult. Edward, the man who purchases Brent, the robot valet, isn't sure if he is conscious (being digital computer based), even though he claims he is. Brent saves Edward by killing an armed intruder, is asked to give a lecture at a local college, and becomes famous when a newspaper prints the headline "Killer Robot to Lecture on Ethics."


3. What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?

I am sure readers will be stimulated to think seriously about the hard problem of consciousness (as compared to the easy one, Chalmers' definition) and I have gotten some feedback to that effect.


4. How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design?

The title is a natural play on Chalmers' famous (to philosophers) thought experiment. The design is from one of the several illustrations by my artist friend Paul Forney. It shows a typical scene of Edward by his pool being served by his robot.


5. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers – other than run!?

Having something to say makes writing fun! And as many have said, write what you know.


6. What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? 

I am fairly widely read, and I read new and old. I see a lot of self-published books and I have read some self-published books from friends (my books are also self-published). There are so many genres, and they seem to be exploding all over the place. Many people like Kindle editions, but I think the print publishing will remain.


7. Were there experiences in your personal life or career that came in handy when writing this book? 

I have had my share of excitement in my life, close calls, loves gained and lost, and so on. Edward has a love life (rated G, of course) that gets developed further in the sequel.


8. How would you describe your writing style? Which writers or books is your writing similar to?

My style is plain and straightforward, not flowery. Robert Heinlein and Hemingway are influences. John Steinbeck graduated from my high school in Salinas (my grandmother knew him) and I love his work. Jack London got into philosophy in his books too. But I get into some technical aspects of future technology as well, and that draws from my science and engineering experience.


9. What challenges did you overcome in the writing of this book?

This novella was my first work of fiction. I warmed up on my 450 page autobiography, and I became more sure of my voice.


10. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?

If the person likes a thinking-person's adventure story, the enjoyment will be acute. I believe it's the best science fiction ever written (except for the sequel, of course)!


About The Author: Grew up in Salinas, California, served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, Bachelor of Science from the University of Hawaii, PhD in Robotics and AI from the University of Southern California, built spacecraft for 30 years in California, including the James Webb Space Telescope, taught computer science at USC, and began writing science fiction a few years ago after retirement.


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