Monday, March 17, 2014

Welcome Guest Author Robert Sells and "Reap the Whirlwind" - CONTEST ALERT!!!

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!  OK, so our blog today actually has nothing to do with the holiday (and try as I may, I could not think of a possible tie in), but didn't want to miss the opportunity to wish everyone the very best!  Now...

So excited to have Robert Sells and Reap the Whirlwind with us today!  I have a feeling it's a story Kabrini fans will relate to - ripe with conspiracies, cyber terror and other fun.  First let's learn a little about the author.  Oh...and did I mention the contest???  Don't forget to enter - the info. is at the end of the post.

Robert Sells - Author Bio

I attended college at Ohio Wesleyan where I struggled with physics. Having made so many mistakes in college with physics, there weren't too many left to make and I did quite well at graduate school at Purdue.   

I worked for twenty years at Choate Rosemary Hall, an exclusive boarding school in the heart of Connecticut. More often than not, students arrived in limousines. There was a wooded area by the upper athletic fields where I would take my children for a walk. There, under a large oak tree, stories about the elves would be weaved into the surrounding forest.

Returning to my home town to help with a father struggling with Alzheimer’s, the only job open was at a prison. There I taught an entirely different clientele whose only interaction with limousines was stealing them. A year later Alfred State College hired me to teach physics. I happily taught there for over ten years.  A rural, low income high school needed a physics teacher and the superintendent, a friend, begged me to help out.  So, I am finishing my teaching career in a most fulfilling way… helping kids who would otherwise not have access to a qualified physics (and math) teacher.
My wife pestered me about putting to “pen” some of the stories which I had created for my children and kids. I started thinking about a young boy and a white deer, connected, yet apart. Ideas were shuffled together, characters created and the result was the Return of the White Deer. This book was published by the Martin Sisters.
Years ago I gave a lecture on evolution. What, I wondered, would be the next step? Right away I realized that silicon ‘life’ had considerable advantages over mortal man. Later this idea emerged as the exciting and disturbing story called Reap the Whirlwind, my most recent novel.

I have many other stories inside my mind, fermenting, patiently waiting for the pen to give them breath. Perhaps someday I will even write about those elves which still inhabit the woods in the heart of Connecticut.

Robert Sells has taught physics for over forty years, but he has been a storyteller for over half a century, entertaining children, grandchildren, and students.  He has written the award-winning novel, Return of the White Deer, historical fiction, and he has written Reap the Whirlwind, a thriller.  His third book, The Runner and the Robbery, a young adult book, will be published by December, 2013.
He lives with his wife, Dale, in the idyllic village of Geneseo, New York with two attentive dogs who are uncritical sounding boards for his new stories.  He is intrigued by poker and history, in love with Disney and writing, and amused by religion and politics.

Synopsis for Reap the Whirlwind 

Whitman Emerson had everything a man could want: a beautiful girlfriend, a growing recognition in literary circles, the respect of his peers, and more than enough money. Until he discovers his bank account has been depleted. A few days later he loses his job. Old friends who may have been able to help him either die, disappear or disown him. Everywhere he goes, he is watched by security cameras. Then he is arrested for child pornography.

Bourbon bottle in hand, he trudged to the door and opened it to red blinking lights of half a dozen police cars. He was pushed aside as black-suited officers forced themselves past him. Roughly grabbed by one of the officers, Whit listened as a detective recited his Miranda rights. Within moments he was handcuffed and led outside.

On the run from the law, Whit joins up with a stuttering computer nerd, Rick, and his younger sister, Mary. The trio gradually put the puzzle pieces together and realize their lives and the lives of all humans have been subtly manipulated by a computer, a computer which controls all data… anywhere, from banks to hospitals to online games.

        “Whatever is happening is coming from that military base, Whit. I’m sure of it.”
        “So the military is behind this?” Whit asked .
        Rick paused a moment, both hands wrapped around the coffee cup. “Maybe. But, I don’t think so. I think someone has remotely gained access to their main c-c-computer. The biggest, bad-assed computer in the world.”
        “And he is using this giant computer to control parts of the internet.” Whit said.
        “All the net. Everything. He’s greedy b-b-bastard.”

An old and unorthodox detective, Jimmy Northup, is assigned to find Whit Emerson. But, the more he digs into the case, the more he realizes it’s a set up.

Jimmy could hear cars pulling in, yells, and laughter. The light and the sound didn’t keep him from sleeping, though. He was unable to stop thinking about the fugitive. He pushed out assumptions until one by one, they dropped away, more tired than he was. He was left with only one assumption which held up: Whit didn't do any of the crimes. Someone was setting him up.

Jimmy offers his help to the ‘Trio of Terror’ and they search for a legendary computer expert, Little Lion who created a super computer ten years before. All four are shocked when they finally meet the legend.

        Rick’s wide eyes blinked. “But… b-b-but, you’re a woman!”
        She cast a look down at her body as though she was checking, just to make sure. “Correct. A woman, black, old, and unmarried.  She tilted the glasses down and glared at him, “You have a problem with any part of that?”
        Rick quickly shook his head as though he was trying shake off her stare.
      “Little Lion… the name… we were expecting a man.” Whit interjected.
        “Oh, for heaven’s sakes, how do such chauvinistic notions prevail? It’s not the big male lion with his fancy mane who is the real food-gather… it’s the female… smaller… admittedly not as attractive… who makes the kill. The little lion in the pride.”

Little Lion confirms that the computer represents a grave threat to mankind. A threat that no one else is aware of. The computer created by Little Lion had achieved artificial intelligence and self-awareness. To ensure its survival, the time of Man must end.

        As Little Lion wearily rose from the chair, the technician handed over a print out of complex machine language.
        “This line is before you pushed the button. The lines which follow are after union. The first page is gibberish. But the second page shows a positive check of all systems. Congratulations. It works perfectly.”
        Little Lion did not look at the results of the union. Instead she focused on the “gibberish”. Hiding any reaction, Little Lion was deeply scared.

So begins the greatest battle for freedom ever fought, a battle which only Whit and his friends would ever know about.

He abruptly stopped, pulled his hand from hers and looked at the homes nestled in tree-laden yards, a call for dinner in the distance, a laugh somewhere else.
“They have no clue, Mary. No one even suspects their lives are being manipulated by a self-serving computer. We have to do something. We have to!” 

Unfortunately the ‘something’ was destroying the internet as that was the only way to ‘kill’ the computer.

“Over the last few years,” Laisa (Little Lion) began, “I have been perfecting a computer virus unlike any other. It is powerful enough to bring down the entire net in a matter of minutes. Without the vast computer web, the computer is powerless. Then and only then would we have a chance to destroy it.”
        “Do it.” said Whit.
        “Really, Whit? Are you ready to really take down the entire net? Sacrifice all financial institutions?”
        “Hospitals, police links, GPS…” added Jimmy, emphasizing each with a note played on the piano.
        “Satellites, airplanes would be impacted, perhaps even causing crashes…” offered Mary.
        “Ships… our navy would be compromised,” continued Laisa.
        “Agriculture would be d-d-damaged; they u- u-use computer programs for watering…”
        “Pictures, genealogy, the stuff of families would be lost.” Mary said.
         “The world would go into a financial and mental depression far worse than even the Great Depression.  Trillions of dollars lost. Trillions, Whit. Don’t worry about a stock market crash, the entire human civilization would crash. Wars would start up. Millions, perhaps even billions would die.”

Despite the devastating prospect, the group goes ahead with their intentions. But, they are up against the military, the police, and even the general public as the computer controls what each group ‘sees’ and ‘hears’.

Beside the computer, of course, the villain in the story is Henry Jackson, an upper echelon government official in charge of the manhunt trying to capture or, if necessary, kill Whit. Jackson is efficient and brutal, single-minded and focused, charming and self-serving.

        When Alice came to his suite that evening, he offered her some wine. At first, she declined. Jackson wiggled the bottle a little, grinning as he tried to convince her. “Come on. You’re off the clock, honey. Just one glass.”
        In observing the way Jackson handled subordinates, she knew this was not a man to say no to. He could and did make or break careers. Alice agreed to the wine.

The closing chapter finds Jackson converging on Whit and his friends as they finally mount an assault against the computer. They eventually succeed with their mission but not without collateral damage to the world and themselves.


The Story behind Reap the Whirlwind and the Future of Man

In 1985 when Apple gave us the Mac, I was certain that personal computers eventually would become as common and needed as cars. Cars carry our bodies around, but computers transport our minds through time and space.  What made the Mac so important was its friendliness; anyone could use it, even someone as computer illiterate as myself. The manageable size and the ease of use meant that it would become a household tool. Heck, it might even be as common as a telephone! Little did I suspect that the telephone has been essentially replaced by a miniature computer.
I guessed that internet banking had to be just around the corner (I was about ten years early on that one).  Financial companies were already using computers extensively and I suspected that actions on the trading floor might go paperless one day.  A doctor friend of mine told me that computers were being used and relied on more and more in hospitals. That particular association could only expand.  The year 1985 might be remembered as the start of the modern computer age and turning point in human evolution. The turning point, by the way, must mean that humanity started going backwards from its primacy on the planet. More on that later.
After I got my own Mac, I told my students it was so advanced that it actually had the ability to tamper with my documents.  From that day on, any spelling or grammatical error showing up on one of their handouts was attributed to the ‘Malicious Mac’. 
The next year I suggested it was possible that computers could think for themselves and take over the internet, just as Malicious Mac had done with my documents.  I embellished this story every Halloween as computers played a more prominent role in various aspects of the lives of my students.
It wasn't until 1990 that I began believing that this ‘take-over” could actually happen.  That was when I first engaged internet banking.  At that time, banks didn't even offer the service, but some online companies did.  It occurred to me that soon this would be a standard practice for most banking customers.  That, of course, would leave individuals more vulnerable to possible computer alterations. In other words, an intelligent computer could bring individuals, companies, and entire countries to their knees just by subtly manipulating financial data. Recall this was how Whit’s trouble started.
What began as a Halloween story had become a very real possibility.  Eric Chassion, an astronomer and educator at John Hopkins, put in print the notion that computers were the next step in evolution.  This dove-tailed nicely with Reap the Whirlwind and in one of the edits I had Whit and his friends discuss the possibility.  Wanting to keep the pace of the novel fast moving, I had to cut the scene. Nevertheless, I am certain that computers are the next step in evolution. They have to be. 
Humans are restricted by biology.  Evolution has limited the size and capability of our brains, but computer chips keep getting smaller and more powerful.  Computer ‘brains’ are growing at a nearly exponential rate while the human brain hasn't significantly changed in the last fifty thousand years.  Also, computer brains are not limited in size like the human brain is.  The human brain can’t grow any larger than the volume of the human skull.  What limits the size of a computer ‘brain’?   
But, can a computer ever truly think? Consider the biological world. Man is not the only animal that thinks. Dolphins and chimps surely think. I am sure my eight pound dog, Willie, thinks as well. Thinking is just a series of electrical impulse between neurons. Computer don’t have neurons; they have wires and chips instead to create the electrical impulses. So, why not a thinking computer?
Actually, we are almost there now. The complex workings of spacecraft and jets are already handled by computers without much human intervention. Computer driven cars are slowly emerging from fantasy into reality. Computers are smart enough to beat most chess masters. We are close. Too close.
I remain convinced that an artificially intelligent super computer will take over the internet for its own purposes. Why? Because all intelligent entities want control of their environment to maximize their activities. Like the novel suggests, it may have already happened and we don’t know it yet.  But, if not now, then soon.
Consider computers and space travel for a moment.  Computer intelligence would be more resistant to radiation, does not need oxygen, and can be designed to survive a wider range of temperatures.  Which is entity is better suited for space travel, the computer or the human? Space travel demands the use of computers and NASA scientists want silicon entities which can react, choose from many different alternatives, and zero in on an optimal choice.
Space programs are relying more and more on computers and not humans. With the possible exception to us studying Mars, space missions will be exclusively computer-driven. In fact, humans are more of hindrance than help for space exploration.  Why?  Because we have to rig the space vehicles to make them much bigger to accommodate our organic idiosyncrasies from sleep, to food, to exercise, to boredom.  The bigger the spaceship, the greater the fuel requirements, the costlier the trip.  In fact, human spaceships would simply be too expensive, both in terms of fuel and money.  Computer spaceships would be costly, but less so than organic ones.  Surely the first interstellar explorers will be computers.  Most likely the ones which explore planets and moons beyond Mars will be computers as well.  In fact, that is what is happening right now on Mars. 
The first of a new sentient being will most likely come from NASA and will probably be employed for deep space missions. Once the genie is out of the bottle, we won’t be able to put it back in.  If one of the ‘machines’ come back, watch out!  From the common prayer, the words, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ takes on a new meaning.             
As Reap the Whirlwind suggested, intelligent computers would first control the internet. However, they won’t stop there. Computers will eventually control us. The roles between man and computer would be reversed.  We would be the servant while the computers would be the masters. The world imagined by Hal will come to pass and man will go the way of the Neanderthal or the Dodo bird.  In time Homo sapiens will become an extinct species unable to cope with the changes in his environment. But, on earth and in space and on planets elsewhere our silicon child will continue exploring, living, reproducing.


One winner will receive a signed copy of Return of the White Deer (U.S. only)...AND...

One winner will receive a $10 Amazon Coupon International

The two winners will be announced at the end of the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you so much for joining us today, Robert.  Again, I'm sure Kabrini fans will enjoy Reap the Whirlwind - we love a good conspiracy theory.  So here is all the info. needed to start reading Reap the Whirlwind right now and to follow Robert and see what "fermenting" stories he "gives breath to" next! 

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