Aethyr is Coming

The hour draws nigh! The manuscript of my science fiction novel, Aethyr, is currently well into the editing process, and barring any unforeseen setbacks, production delays, world-ending catastrophes, interdimensional alien invasions, etc., it should be available for your reading pleasure well before George R.R. Martin finishes The Winds of Winter. With luck, that means early- to mid-January. And I’m of largely Irish ancestry, so the Luck O’ The Irish is always on my side!*

(*No, it isn’t. Now that I’ve publicized my target timeframe, production delays resulting from the world-ending catastrophe of an interdimensional alien invasion are going to cause myriad unforeseen setbacks.)

Now, since you’re reading this blog post, I can only assume you’re just bursting with excitement for the release of this paragon of contemporary fiction.* But…what’s it all about? To give you some of the answers you seek, I’ve been the subject of a thorough interview conducted by my snarky, cynical alter-ego. It was a slog talking to that asshole, but I think you’ll come away from this having an idea of what to expect.

Sean E. Kelly’s Alter-Ego (Alt-SK): So, I’m gonna get things started by asking the obvious question: what’s this book about?

Normal Sean E. Kelly (SK): Whole brain emulation. Substrate-independent minds.

Alt-SK: Wow, trying to be Mr. Clever with all those big words, huh? Well, guess what? I, and I’m sure most of the people reading this, have no freaking idea what that means! Want to try again in English?

SK: Mind uploading. That’s the short of it, but don’t let that deceive you: Aethyr is a love story. You see, ten years before the story begins, Paddy Riordan (he’s the main character) fell in love. What he didn’t quite know at the time was that the woman with whom he was smitten just happens to be a transhumanist with aspirations of immortality.

So, without getting into spoiler territory, Paddy gets his mind uploaded…but as with any good story, things don’t go exactly according to plan. He wakes up in a strange new world that he soon learns is an advanced virtual reality, his memory partially erased. A stranger dressed like a Viking tells him that someone is trying to erase him from existence—and, as a result, the girl he fell in love with all those years ago is at risk, because reasons—and he has to find those deleted memories for the sake of his own survival.

But, as you’ve probably guessed, things aren’t what they seem. Slight spoiler alert here: let’s just say Paddy’s going to learn some ugly truths about himself.

Alt-SK: Dude, that doesn’t sound like a love story at all!

SK: Yeah, I totally lied about that. It’s somewhere between a techno-thriller and a contemplative memoir.

Alt-SK: You’re a dick, you know, lying to us like that.

SK: Yes, well, objective reality is slowly being killed off by quantum physics and neuroscience, so “lying” is a meaningless linguistic construct. Besides, look who’s talking.

Alt-SK: Apropos, seeing as I’m, you know, you. Anyway, this mind uploading stuff sounds pretty far-fetched. Are you out of your mind?

SK: You seem thoroughly confused by the definition of “fiction.”

Alt-SK: Dude, I thought I was supposed to be the snarky asshole here! So, genre-wise, I think we can all agree that it’s a science fiction novel; would you categorize it as cyberpunk?

SK: That’s about the best I can come up with at the moment, although it does differ from the archetypal cyberpunk story in that it largely eschews the kind of technophobia that usually exemplifies the subgenre. Paddy’s struggles, both internal and external, are of human origin. The VR suite Paddy finds himself in isn’t some Blade Runner-style dystopia; it’s basically Max More’s fantasy of an extropia.

Alt-SK: Or, for those of us who don’t know what you’re talking about, kinda like Wakanda in Black Panther, but not in Africa.

SK: Yeah, in a way. Not quite a utopia (because “utopia” implies stagnation), but the kind of place you’d want to live.

Alt-SK: Tell me more about Paddy. He sounds like he’s infinitely more interesting than the idiot who wrote him.

SK: Hey, I’m interesting! (ponders a moment) Okay, I’m not interesting at all.

So, Paddy. He’s a nanotech engineer by trade, though that has little bearing on his story. He’s a fairly carefree and good-natured fellow who listens to metal and grows a fine beard. Alas, things aren’t all rainbows and unicorns in Paddyworld; he suffers from an acute case of irritable bowel syndrome that becomes a driving factor in the decisions he makes to get where he is, for better or worse.

Alt-SK: So, in other words, he is you.

SK: No, you were right, he’s far more interesting than I am. Last time I checked, I’m an aviation professional, not a nanotech expert. And I’m not dating a neurobiological engineer. And my mind hasn’t been uploaded into a computer (yet). He did get a few of my vices foisted upon him, though.

Alt-SK: With your motherlode of vices, it’s a surprise he’s not the antagonist! So, hypothetically, if Aethyr were a movie, who would play Paddy? I mean, not that I’d wish any actor the insult of playing a character that’s basically a smarter, less-repulsive-to-the-opposite-gender version of you, but just for shits and giggles.

SK: I’m thinking Domhnall Gleeson. Maybe Alfie Allen. But let’s not kid ourselves; the likelihood of Aethyr, or anything else I should ever write, being adapted for the silver screen is akin to that of the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl.

Alt-SK: You just had to get a dig in at the Jests, didn’t you?

SK: Go Pats!

Alt-SK: All right, getting back to the subject at hand…tell me about this lady that Paddy’s all head and heels over.

SK: Her name is Zinaida Kerry, but she goes by Zed. Like I mentioned before, she’s an MIT-educated neurobiological engineer who, like Paddy, loves metal. She’s witty and a bit arrogant, but she’s got a heart of gold. Unlike most fictional futurists, who tend to be soulless megalomaniacs and iniquitous villains, her motivations are complex and altruistic; her personal ethos (and that of a couple of her colleagues who are also part of Paddy’s mind-uploading team) is based loosely on a transhumanist philosophy known as Abolitionism, founded by David Pearce, which proposes judicious applications of biotechnology to eradicate all forms of suffering in all sentient life.

Alt-SK: All right, pump the brakes. What’s this “transhumanism” I keep hearing about?

SK: Oi, brace yourself, because I can talk about this one all day. To answer your question succinctly, transhumanism is a worldview that posits using technology for the enhancement and evolution of humanity—literally “beyond human.” Contrary to some assertions by people both inside and outside transhumanism, it isn’t a religion or political persuasion (and thus I’m opposed to the existence of a Transhumanist Party, which makes about as much sense as a Pizza Lover’s Party). As transhumanism grows in recognition and popularity, it’s also becoming more heterogeneous; where a few decades ago you could assert that most transhumanists were white male libertarian atheists, that’s simply no longer the case. Strains of transhumanist thought—let’s call them subordinate ideologies, or even subgenres for fun—exist all across the political spectrum, in almost every major religion, and across a wide range of interests and focal issues.

Because of the heterodoxic nature of transhumanism, I disagree with calling it a “movement.” Rather, think of it as a lens through which one views the world. If you believe that technology can improve the human condition, potentially even redefine it, you might be a transhumanist without even knowing it.

Alt-SK: Does that make you a transhumanist?

SK: Whilst my body remains 100% organic and unmodified, and barring a means of augmenting my laughably dysfunctional digestive system, I’m in no hurry to change that, at the very least, I hold a favorable opinion of transhumanism in general. This isn’t to say that I embrace every subordinate ideology, and there are quite a few prominent individuals (see: Istvan, Zoltan) with whom I vehemently disagree on almost everything, but in short, I’d say that, philosophically speaking, I’m a transhumanist.

Alt-SK: So, these characters think technology will fix all the world’s problems? I guess there’s no Big Data in this world, no malicious AI, no Russian election interference, no influencer culture or other nasty shit.

SK: Like I said, it’s not technophobic. Micah Redding, host of the Christian Transhumanist Podcast, made an astute observation on Twitter when he said that technology isn’t the problem, but rather, the problem is our broken relationship with it. That’s pretty much what these characters think. Are they wrong about that? Are they incurable optimists in a world that deserves only a skeptic’s misanthropy? Well, you’ll just have to read and find out.

As for malevolent artificial intelligence, well, there are AI characters in the story, most notably the Godhead, who manifests as a being called Lady Raveneyes. She’s mostly just a thorn in Paddy’s side. There’s also a mysterious being called Rusalka, but in the interest of avoiding even a whiff of spoilers, it’s best she remains an enigma.

Alt-SK: Rusalka sounds cool, actually—surprising, for a character that came from your pathetic little mind! Is there anything non-spoilery that you can tell me about her?

SK: She’s beautiful, dresses in black, and has wings. That’s all I’m going to tell you.

Alt-SK: Dude, rusalki are water spirits! They don’t have wings.

SK: No shit, Sherlock. You’ll need to read the damned book if you want to learn what she really is.

Alt-SK: Fine, be that way. Anyway, going back to this Zed lady, I’m curious about her ethos and how that relates to mind uploading. I mean, what, she wants to eradicate suffering by eradicating living humans?

SK: That’s putting it somewhat crudely, but yes. The gist is that suffering is a byproduct of biology, and that human morality is inconsistent with the natural order, and therefore, nature must be transcended. Substrate-independent minds will not only not experience suffering themselves, but without need for natural resources, won’t cause suffering to other life.

It’s not nearly as extreme as the aforementioned philosophy it’s based on; Pearce proposes some radical (and I dare say unconscionably reckless) measures like genetically engineering predatory species to make them herbivores (because predation, even of the natural, evolutionary variety, causes suffering to prey species). Zed is simply a woman who, quite literally, doesn’t want to hurt a fly.

Alt-SK: Sounds a bit crazy, but maybe in a good way.

SK: Small minds always disparage great ones with slurs like “crazy.” Until they change the world.

Alt-SK: Right. So, let’s move on, because I’m tired of listening to your pontificating. I grudgingly admit that this book doesn’t sound like a complete pile of rubbish, and I might just read it. How long is it going to be?

SK: The unedited manuscript is a little under 61,000 words. It’s fairly fast-paced, even with all its flashbacks, so you could probably blast through it in an evening or two.

Alt-SK: Knowing you, there’s probably some offensive content inside. Am I right?

SK: Well, obviously, “offensive” is quite subjective, but it’s definitely not for the kids. There’s profanity, action violence, sex scenes that get a bit kinky, and a fair few strategically placed penis jokes. And if that offends your prudish sensibilities, then fuck your shit-clogged bitch ass with a bastard beaver cock.

In all seriousness, I know there’s consternation in some circles about “trigger warnings” and such; fortunately, I’m a better person than that, so I’ll go ahead and warn you that, while there isn’t anything extreme like rape or child abuse, and the violence isn’t graphic, there might be situations (such as characters being choked during sex, consensually) that make readers uncomfortable.

By the way, could you stop calling yourself Alt-SK? It sounds too much like alt-right, and fuck those douchebags.

Alt-SK: Way to alienate potential readers, dude.

SK: I actively want to alienate those people. I’d sooner not sell a single copy than have the support of deplorable shitpickles. Offended? Fuck you.

Alt-SK: Well, that’s that, then. How about Other SK, despite taking that much longer to type?

SK: Sure. And quit complaining; you’re just being lazy.

Other SK: Happy?

SK: Yuppers.

Other SK: Swell. Now, where were we before you started callously comparing me to sentient fecal matter? Oh, yes, the book. How would you describe the tone of the story?

SK: It oscillates between a dark urgency and somewhat halcyon reminiscence (at least where Paddy can remember things). Paddy’s jocularity is often evident in his narration, but there’s an ominous aura that’s always just beneath the surface. The result, I hope, will be a story that takes readers through the gamut of emotions. I want you to laugh, cry, tremble, yell at the pages, rip your hair out…all the feels.

Other SK: Does it have a happy ending?

SK: Well, I’d be spoiling things if I answered either way, but I’m gonna be perfectly honest here: some readers are going to HATE the ending. Like burn-the-book, burn-the-author’s-effigy hate. Naught less than umbrage!

It’s really going to depend on the reader. Some will appreciate the ending. Some will be content to ride the emotional roller coaster whither it will take them. And some will want nothing more than to come to Pittsburgh and shove their copy up my ass. Interpret that as you will.

Other SK: Bloody hell, dude. Why should I even bother reading the damned thing?

SK: Because it’s all about the journey. And the journey is awesome.

Other SK: Way to toot your own horn, bud.

SK: Uh…isn’t that why I’m here?

Other SK: …yeah, I guess so. Now, I’m going to ask you the most important question in this entire interview, and you must answer truthfully. Seriously, this is important. Urgent. I must know: is there a cat in it?


Other SK: Really?!?!

SK: Yes, really. I don’t lie, except in service to the truth.

Other SK: That makes no sense whatsoever.

SK: Tell that to the Varyag. (Before you ask, he’s the guy Paddy meets that dresses like a Viking.)

Other SK: Well, if there’s a cat, I’ll be reading! Well, Mr. Kelly, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. And by “pleasure,” I mean all the pleasure of colonoscopy preparation.

Why, yes, I believe it is! Then again, I may be *slightly* biased on the matter. Image by Sean E. Kelly; model: Anoush Anou