Aethyr: Ten Reasons You Should Read

The time is…still nigh! The manuscript for Aethyr is in its second round of editing, meaning that a bit of proofreading, cover design, and interior formatting are all that stands between your hands (and possibly an e-reader, depending on which format you choose) and a copy of this surefire bestseller*. While I might not quite make my target date of mid-January, you needn’t hold your breath too much longer! Because I know that’s exactly what you’re doing. Especially those of you who just randomly clicked on this blog post and have no friggin’ clue who I am or what this Aethyr thing is all about. (You may refer to this if you’d like to learn a little more about the latter; the answer to the former isn’t very interesting.)

*Probably not. Suffer an author’s delusions of grandeur for a moment, please.

Now, ideally, I would like you—yes, you—to read my book. And it isn’t as if you don’t have a plethora of options for occupying your time and giving you an excuse to eschew productivity available to you, so I’ll probably need a better argument to persuade you than “I wrote it and I want your money.” With this in mind, here are ten reasons you ought to grab yourself a copy of Aethyr as soon as it hits those cyber-bookshelves! (But preferably not from Amazon, if you’re opting for a physical copy; Jeff Bezos is rich enough already.)

The addition of pictures of cats (taken by me!) in this post is in no way meant to subliminally influence your decision. Nope, no sirree. I wouldn’t do that. Not meow.

Erm…where was I? Oh, yes. The list.

#1: Technophobia is so last year. Transhumanism is on the rise.

You need take only a cursory glance at the entertainment industry to know what fictional property is utterly dominating it. And I’m not talking about Star Wars; that’s only dominating the argument sections of Reddit posts. No, the cultural juggernaut of our time, the manifestation of the zeitgeist, is none other than the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Now, let’s be clear, here. I’m in no way comparing Aethyr to comic books, movies based on comic books, superheroes, guys in funny suits beating the holy hell out of other guys in funny suits or CGI aliens, etc. It’s none of those things, just a simple story of a dude falling in love and getting his mind uploaded into an ultra-realistic virtual reality world and dodging assassins and a winged AI demon while trying to find a year’s worth of deleted memories so he can figure out how to keep from being erased from existence.

The reason I bring up the MCU is that the most profitable entertainment franchise in the world eschews the blatant technophobia of most popular sci-fi. Let’s look at some of the biggest heroes for a moment. Iron Man is a tech guy. Bruce Banner is a brilliant scientist when he isn’t ripping people’s limbs off. Black Panther presides over a veritable techno-utopia (or, better yet, extropia—a place of perpetual improvement and advancement). And good ol’ Steve Rogers, the guy who volunteered to be injected with a serum to effectively make himself a superhuman? That’s right, kids: Captain America is a transhumanist! (You could also argue that Captain Marvel and my girl Scarlet Witch are, too, but Carol’s transcendence was quite by accident, and Wanda’s wasn’t exactly done with altruistic ends in mind.)

So, you see, people like technology. Are they skeptical? Sure, and with good reason. Technology is a tool, and whether a tool improves a society or destroys it depends on the hand wielding it. To be sure, there are parts of Aethyr that, read subjectively, might draw a slight nod of approval from the bioconservatives and Black Mirror fans of the world. But for the most part, it presents a view of technology and transhumanism that reaffirms my own belief that we can—and must—utilize science and tech for the betterment of humanity…and posthumanity!

#2: An escape from this dark, dank, dingy, depressing, despondent, decaffeinated reality.

This world is on fire. People are dying for no good reason every day (and, as both a humanist and a transhumanist, I’d argue that there is no good reason for anyone dying). Idiot influencers are trampling all over nature’s beauty to take shitty selfies. The yam-headed imbecile currently occupying the White House won’t stop rage-tweeting. Such a hideous reality this is…if it really is reality.

Assuming that it is, and we’re not all pawns in some hyper-advanced simulation programmed by superintelligent beings from a parallel dimension, you need a break from it. So, why not come on over to New Eridu, a hyper-advanced simulation programmed by somewhat-intelligent humans, accessible via a brain-computer interface that replicates every sensation in fidelity equal to or greater than what your biological senses can perceive? It’s got coffee shops, video rentals, a place where you can forget all your annoying old memories, and even a Westworld-esque joint where you can actually go in and kill people!

And, like any escapist fantasyland, lots and lots and lots of brothels. Lots of them. And lots more.

Eridu, of course, is believed to have been the very first city, founded by the gods themselves in ancient Sumer. New Eridu is the first virtual city, founded by…tech people. Including a guy who dresses up like a Viking and calls himself the Varyag. It is, however, the abode of the Godhead, a mysterious artificial intelligence taking the form of a young woman called Lady Raveneyes. Because her eyes are all black, like a couple of black holes astride her nose. And that brings us to…

#3: Artificial intelligence is your friend…usually.

By now, you’ve doubtlessly read (or watched) dozens of stories about malevolent AI. And, sure, in something like Westworld, it’s easy to see why our primitive minds would assume that the robots are pissed and thirsty for blood. But would advanced artificial intelligence beings, perhaps capable of complex thought, reasoning, and self-awareness, really be as lousy as us meatbags? I don’t think they would. They aren’t bound to their biological chains, to iniquitous instincts left over from thousands of millennia of Evolution, and thus, they’d be vastly morally superior to us.

Well, maybe. In Aethyr, we are introduced to three beings said to be artificial intelligence. The aforementioned Godhead is more or less the “brain” of the simulation; she’s friendly enough, with a bit of a lascivious streak and a penchant for mystery. Her Aeon (an emanant being; more or less her “son”), Irakli, is an absolute monster of a man, because “Irakli” is a Georgian name and Georgians love their wrestling. He tends to be very formal and shockingly saccharine in his speech. Unless you forget your membership to his club, in which case you get throat-lifted and tossed off a bridge.

And then, there’s Rusalka, she who summons carrion birds from her fingertips. The face of an angel, wings of a black swan (and, once again, yes, I’m fully aware that mythological rusalki are water spirits and don’t actually have wings, and deliberately wrote the character to not be mythologically accurate), and the soul of…well, you’ll see.

At that moment, wings unfurl from her back, regal as a swan’s, their feathers black as the depths of space. Her auroral gaze is a vortex sucking in mine, those eyes so peculiar yet strangely familiar; eyes unlike any I’ve seen before, yet my intuition recognizes them. I know those eyes.
~ Aethyr, Chapter IV “Unfurl”

Just who is this dark enchantress contemned by our hero? I want you to ponder that question as you wait with bated breath for your book to arrive, want you to ponder it as you read. You might be surprised by the answer! (Or you might not be; my editor wasn’t, but she’s pretty hard to fool, so…)

#4: You’re going to love the cast of characters!

The human ones, that is. Which isn’t to say you won’t love our AI buddies, but we’ve already covered them, and Aethyr is a story about humans…or, at least, a guy who used to be human.

Let’s start with Paddy, our protagonist. He’s a nice enough fellow; a bit snarky, veritably a nerd, and emphatically not your stereotypical “tech guy.” We spend a lot of time with Paddy—the whole story, in fact, as it’s written from his first-person perspective. (This doesn’t strictly mean that he’s the only character whose head we get into; I’ll leave you to ruminate on what that might mean.) Amid his oft-sardonic internal dialogue and liberal references to The Matrix, you’re going to learn a lot about the mindfile once known as Patrick Riordan—perhaps more than he wants you to know.

But even though we see the world (both the material one and the virtual) through Paddy’s eyes, he might not even be the most interesting of the bunch. Take Paddy’s love interest, Zed, for example: a lovably haughty neurobiological engineer who loves rough sex and metal, has a peculiar habit of fiddling with her ears when flustered, and absolutely loathes suffering in all its hideous manifestations. As in, wants-to-smack-it-over-the-head-with-a-shovel loathing. Loathing, I tell you. And she’ll stop at nothing to eradicate it from existence. “Playing god,” you whimper? Well, to that I say: Zed > your god.

What about the rest of the mind-uploading team, who we see through flashbacks, memory transfers, and some fortuitous virtual interactions? You’ll like them, I think. There’s Nastya (Anastasia), the lovable dork with the red hair and spellbinding eyes, mother to an adorable little cat—yes, you read that right, A CAT!!! The mastermind, Guo Chen, who oscillates between philosophical monologues and frenzied cheers for his favorite sports teams (he is a Bostonian, after all, so has ample opportunities afforded him). Nerses, the hilariously immature bodybuilder who fronts a death metal band. Barry G, the social futurist who once worked as a criminal executioner. Kiran, our resident cynic. Athena…not much to say about her, actually, since she’s rather reticent. The vibrant Katie Tan, a.k.a. Kitten (spoiler: she isn’t actually a kitten), in all her pink-pigtailed glory. And the financier behind the whole thing, the cyborg Andrew Damon, who likes to paint and muse about his destiny.

Oh, and let’s not forget the Varyag, the Virgil to Paddy’s Dante as he navigates his new reality. When he isn’t dressed like the Emperor’s bodyguard and massacring hordes of viruses, he’s…well, it’s complicated.

#5: Memento mori, folks.

Yes, yes. “Remember you will die.” I know. I have the coin on my mantle. (Actually, on my bookshelf, but whatever.) I’ve even incorporated it into my photographic endeavors.

Aethyr compels you to ask yourself the question: what if death isn’t necessarily the end? And I’m not talking in the metaphysical, religious, etc. sense. What if you could replicate your brain upon an inorganic substrate such that an emergent mind would result from the implicit functions of its parts? Would that still be you? Just what does it mean to be human?

Or, more importantly, what does it mean to go beyond human? Our team makes a compelling case—one that I, both as a fiction author and an incurably optimistic humanist, agree with—for transcendence not as an act of hubris, but of humility. A means to end suffering, both in human life and that caused by human behavior. To quote our dear Zedders: “Because if that end isn’t worth working toward, then what the fuck is?”

Also…yeah, remember you will die. Best to get some damned good reading in before you do! And, while I admit I may be slightly biased on the matter, I deem Aethyr to be damned good reading.

#6: It’s 100% rape-free!

Are you tired of authors who have no idea how to build tension, conflict, trauma, etc. in their female characters besides forcing a penis into them? I know I am. Aethyr contains adult content, to be sure. Violence, yes. Kinky sex, absolutely. Profanity and pubescent toilet humor in plentiful quantities. But no rape. And if you find that problematic—if you enjoy reading about women (or men, or nonbinary persons, or any sentient being of any kind) being sexually assaulted and dehumanized—then I find you problematic and don’t want you as a reader. There’s plenty of fiction out there overflowing with gratuitous rape scenes and female characters created as vehicles for their authors to vicariously live out their misogynistic fantasies through. Aethyr isn’t one of them.

Paddy does inadvertently grab a female character’s boob, though. He promises it was an accident; an inopportune turn while trying to get said character’s attention. You must believe him! Please?

That said, there is a sexual scene toward the end that might make readers uncomfortable, even misconstrued as contradicting this entire argument, but it is seminal to the story. Fair warning.

#7: It’ll make you a metalhead. Even if you hate the “devil’s music,” you’re gonna be headbanging in your sleep after reading Aethyr.

If you’re already a rocker, you’ll throw up the horns as Paddy makes reference to Iron Maiden, Dark Funeral, Nightwish, Immortal, Dying Fetus, My Dying Bride, Absu, and Emperor. And if you’re not rocking out to those bands, your subconscious will compel you go get on Spotify (or whatever the music streaming app of the day is) and check them out.

Okay, so you’re probably already familiar with Iron Maiden—and, if you aren’t, it might be time to stop living under a rock—and you can conveniently ignore Dying Fetus (I mentioned them for a reason; see if you can figure it out). I’m not saying everyone should be a metalhead. I’m saying that being a metalhead is good for you. And that’s not my opinion. It’s scientific fact.

I did not, however, mention some of my favorite bands: Draconian, Agalloch, Opeth, Insomnium, Carach Angren, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Rotting Christ, Septic Flesh, Primordial, Katatonia, Alcest, Kamelot…

(I’m not trying to subliminally influence your listening preferences, I promise. Just as the cats aren’t going to scratch your eyes out if you don’t read Aethyr.)

#8: Breaking the stereotypes about “techies.”

Have you ever seen a movie called ReAlive? If you haven’t, don’t; it’s horrible, and there’s absolutely no reason to watch it except that Oona Chaplin is in it, and even her surfeit of charisma can’t save it from being a depressing, philosophically vapid slog, not to mention a really cheap dick punch on transhumanism. So, why am I bringing up something that robbed me of two hours of my life (that felt like about fifteen—and, as an Ingmar Bergman/Andrei Tarkovsky/Bela Tarr fan, I actually like slow films)? Because its depiction of “tech people” is pretty much the stereotype perpetuated in popular culture taken to its extreme. The transhumanists are all haughty philistines living in unadorned cubes, wearing boring clothes, no music, etc. An utterly artless form of existence.

Do these people bother to interact with transhumanists at all? Have you never heard of Natasha Vita-More? Rachel Haywire (as abrasive as she can be)? Dude, we’re the ones who taught an AI to play death metal! (And compose classical pieces, but me being a metalhead, I’m partial to the former.) The point is, while I can only speak for myself, many of my ideological persuasion share my appreciation of art. We fucking love art! And, yes, death metal counts as art. (I’m more of a doom metal fan myself, but that’s beside the point.)

Hell, even my editor chided me for Paddy’s appreciation of the humanities, insisting that it wouldn’t make sense to readers. That pissed me off, to be honest. Do I really have to explain to my readers why my character doesn’t conform to readers’ stereotypes? Do they not understand that the “mode” of a tech guy is a construct perpetuated by popular culture and not an accurate representation of reality—and that humans actually have this uncanny ability to think for themselves, decide for themselves what they enjoy, and aren’t carved from templates?

Of course they understand. If you’re a prospective reader of mine, you’re obviously a smart egg. Look, I’m okay with my tech people dressing simply and eschewing ornamentation, as that’s the aesthetic I prefer, but without art? What would we be without art?

Not much, according to the characters in Aethyr. Keep that in mind when you read Chen’s philosophizing, Damon’s Surrealist paintings, and Nerses’ guttural odes to necrophilia. (Lyrics not published.) Leave the stereotypes to the wayside. Because do you know who deals in stereotypes? Bigots. And you’re not a bigot, are you?

If you answered “yes,” go away.

#9: All the feels.

I meant for Aethyr to be an emotional roller coaster. Paddy’s carefree, jocular personality shines through, but the story itself gets pretty bleak. If I did my job as an author, I’ll have given you a story that makes you laugh and cry, that gets your heart rate up as often as it beats your spirit down. And, at the end, you might just want to wring Paddy’s neck, and maybe even come to Pittsburgh and whack me over the head with your copy of the book (or your Kindle, if you get the ebook version).

My sincerest hope, though, is that I’m able to give you a reading experience that satisfies. I hope you won’t put the book down, shrug, and check your phone to see how badly the Cleveland Cavaliers are losing as if the experience were miles behind you already. I hope that the experience I offer you is a complete one, not one that “leaves you wanting more.” A story should be like a good meal, one that satiates the reader’s hunger. It shouldn’t be like a Snickers bar. I want to give your imagination a complete, nourishing meal. Not junk food.

I believe I’ve done that. My editor seems to agree, the part about Paddy not being believable because he’s a tech guy who isn’t automatically dismissive of anything that remotely smells of the humanities notwithstanding. But you’ll be the judge.

I poured my heart, my soul…and, yes, my demons into Aethyr. I’ve invested much into putting forth the best story I can. I hope you’ll find it was worth your while.

#10: …I wrote it and I want your money.

Sorry, had to be honest. Not looking to be the next Stephen King here, and avarice isn’t among my myriad vices, but it’d be nice to recoup the money I invested into the novel. Editing doesn’t come cheaply, and neither do a good cover designer and interior formatter (all the stuff so callously overlooked by overconfident and undereducated indie authors).

Will you be reading?

P.S.: Meow.

© 2019 Sean E. Kellly