A talk with Author Scott E. Tarbet
Part 4: Through the Sci-Fi of a dream
It’s often said, “Good things take time, great things happen all at once.” No one knows that better than an author. The thrill we feel when the story finds us is often indescribable. For Author Scott E. Tarbet, a story came to him in a dream. Today, I bring you a sneak peek of that story: a science fiction tale that woke him up, demanding to be written.
Mr. Tarbet’s initial foray into fiction landed him in steampunk, fantasy, and paranormal camps, directly in the wheelhouse of Xchyler Publishing. However, this author does not impress me as someone who wants to think inside of a box. Coming in the future is an action space thriller, a paranormal screenplay, and this surprising new idea that he tells me in this interview. Reading it, Isee the influence of sci-fi kingpins; particularly those who write stories about space colonization. Unlike many tech fiction writers, I envision Mr. Tarbet as a man who will allow his characters to lead, even at the expense of a gadget or two. But to jump genres like this, the author must remember that he is also writing for a different audience.
If there is one constant in the universe, it’s that sci-fi readers love “otherness,” especially if it creates a human ethical quandary. How do I know? I’m one of them, and speaking as his intended audience, I can tell you that Mr. Tarbet does not disappoint. Now that he has delivered the revised edition of A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk, Scott E. Tarbet is dreaming up a new story that explores the depths of space, time, and human consciousness.
Readers, you will not believe where this conversation goes.
Ginger: Are there any other stories that inspire you to write them?
Scott: Can I stop this interview for a while and go write some of my WIP? (Work In Progress—compulsive authorspeak . . .)
Ginger: Of course! But I am enjoying our talk, so if you stopped, I would be sad . . . .
Scott: Okay okay! I’ll fight back the urge to bail out and submerge myself in my stories. I’ll try not to gnaw off all my fingernails in the process.
Ginger: Thank you! And don’t panic, we have medical technicians standing by.
Scott: The WIP [work-in-progress] consuming most of my heart, mind, and time right now is Dragon Moon, which is to be published by Xchyler in early 2016. It’s a near-future techno-thriller, involving a Chinese colonel’s plot to place a monster laser array on the surface of the Moon, pointing a gun at the head of every government on Earth. Opposing him is a beautiful, deadly Chinese-American spy, an elite team of Navy SEALs, and the combined brain power of the International Space Station partnership.
The WIP that wants to intrude on the completion of Dragon Moon is called The Thousand, a hard sci-fi idea that literally came from a lucid dream. I jumped out of bed in the middle of the night and wrote down the first five thousand words, then outlined the novel completely before noon. That one sucks up all the rest of the room in my head. It’s hard to keep my nose to the grindstone and finish the other things on my plate.
Ginger: Then let me distract you further! Would you care to tell about the dream that inspired your latest idea?
Scott: How about I introduce it like this? Here are the opening paragraphs of The Thousand (remember, you saw it here first):
Celia woke up in a foul mood. She threw aside the transparent lid of her growth tank and stood, coughing and retching out the clear, hyper-oxygenated gel, which rapidly drained away around her feet. The older she got, the more times she went through the “awakening” of cloning and personality implant, the more impatient she grew with the entire process. Somehow, when you had been through it a half dozen times in as many thousands of years, when the ship had recreated and awakened you as it approached the star systems of so many alien worlds, it lost all of its charm. Whatever charm it had ever had. She couldn’t remember any.
It only darkened her mood that this final awakening started off with such incredibly high stakes. She was painfully aware that this was it. There could be no more. The remaining planetary lander, the last of thirteen, waited to carry the last colony down to the surface. The last of the mission’s biological resources would go with it, and only the ship’s core, the SS Brigham itself, would remain. This was the last chance.
The Thousand (copyright © 2015, Scott E. Tarbet)
So . . . the dream: I was on a generational colony ship—a familiar concept in hard sci-fi—and I was in cut-throat competition to be one of those selected to colonize a particularly promising world. I dreamed that I was in a young, strong cloned body, with my own personality implanted, a personality that was computer-recorded afresh every night as I slept.
The starship would travel for hundreds, if not thousands, of years at sub-light speed between the stars, arrive at a new world, grow me a new body from DNA printed from my computer record, implant my stored personality, up to date until the day my previous clone had departed the ship to a new colony, and thus “wake me up”. I was not alone: others from the thousand personalities gleaned from the destruction of human society were also awakened, to compete for the right. Only a hundred would succeed. The rest would die trying.
It’s no stretch to say that it’s the dream of a man staring down the barrel of advancing age, to be reborn in a young, strong, peak performance body, with the accumulated brain contents of an entire human lifetime. But this dream expressed itself as a sci-fi novel idea, right in my speculative fiction wheelhouse. Low hanging fruit. I’ve got to write it.
Ginger: This is good stuff! Don’t forget it fans, you saw it first right here in Ginger’s Notes. Let me push the concept a little harder now, for others who find it as exciting as I do. It seems that your colonists are dying each time they go into space, and regenerating themselves upon arrival. This is the old philosophical conundrum of teleportation, isn’t it? A question of “what happens to the original”? Does that play into your story at all?
Scott: Absolutely. A few of the colonists, including Celia, are the cream of the cream. By rigorous selection each time, they have been selected from among the Thousand more than once to be among the final Hundred (fifty couples) to go down to the new world and found the new colony. But that doesn’t end their presence aboard the Brigham: the computer record of their DNA and their personality remains on the ship, available for competition and selection the next time the ship makes planetfall. Celia, for instance, remembers falling asleep the night before she was to go down to the penultimate planet, at which point her personality and memories are recorded. She knows that her previous iteration went down, but only intellectually; she has no memory of it.
It has probably also crossed your mind that two other aspects of “what happens to the original” come into play:
- The original thousand people from whom the DNA and memories were recorded, and,
- The hundreds of individuals who are awakened and go into competition to colonize, but are not successful.
But I’m sure you realize that’s spoiler country.
Ginger: All right, I’ll be fair. No spoilers, but one more question: are you playing with immortality here, Scott? Or, maybe at least one way of looking at it?
Scott: Where is the line between true immortality and machine consciousness? Does a good backup copy of one’s entire personality constitute immortality? Or does immortality require ongoing consciousness? The ability to grow and evolve as an individual?
Certainly such a backup, when installed in the wetware to make it a functional human being, would pass the Turing Test. But is it indeed a consciousness without the wetware?
Ginger: I think the pressing question that most sci-fi / fantasy writers grapple with is, can we recreate consciousness? Certainly, we can produce another being from an identical genome, and make a clone. However, do you suggest that we can similarly “clone” a human soul?
Scott: Juicy question! And one that presumes that “consciousness” and “soul” are the same thing. Both as a rational man, and a person of faith, I believe that our immortal essence, what makes us truly who we are, surpasses mere consciousness.
I love Wordsworth’s poetic utterance:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
(536. Ode. Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood)
I am not ignoring science when I assert that we are more than our current consciousness. Science knows that there are multiple, interlocked aspects of our selves that underlie and, I submit, far surpass consciousness. I believe that our true self is not time-delimited, and is unlimited and therefore eternal.
Without risking spoilers, I will say here that exploration of these considerations comes into extensive play in The Thousand.
Ginger: Now let me go further: do you suggest that a human soul can transcend the death of a body, and jump into another one?
Scott: No, I suggest that I would find it sad to limit myself to the stultifying belief that the body I inhabit is the sum of everything I am, that the electrical impulses that course through the the kilo and a half of my human brain constitute all there is about me.
No, the human soul does not transcend the death of a body, in the sense of the question, since it is already much more than that body. It moves on. Where it moves on to is, I believe, subject to a great many considerations that are beyond our comprehension, constrained as we are by the limitations of our bodies themselves. But I believe we have hints in ethics and religion.
There is a parallel in cosmology: what lies beyond 13.8 billion light years from Earth? We simply do not know, because the electromagnetic emanations by which we ‘know’ the universe did not exist any earlier. There may be–and probably is–something more out there, beyond that 13.8 billion light years away, but we have no way of perceiving it. However, no reputable scientist would presume to conclude that just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean there’s nothing out there.
Similarly, our perceptions of what lies beyond our brains’ physical beings is bounded by the very limitations of that being.
Back to The Thousand: Isn’t it fun to contemplate how all of this would play out, with a consciousness that is rebooted again and again, over thousands of years of interstellar travel? Each previous instance of the recorded consciousness would have presumably lived out their mortal span, and long since passed into what lies beyond. What, then, of the new iteration?
Keep up with Ginger’s Notes (http://www.songofmann.com). More exclusive interviews with Scott E. Tarbet are coming all week long!
Next: Scott E. Tarbet tells me about another dream, this one with a fairy queen. But this is steampunk, and Lakshmi is not a fairy. She is an engineering goddess.
Scott E. Tarbet will appear at Marissa’s Gifts and Books on Friday, October 9th
Have you been dying to meet a rising star in steampunk? Utah fans, here’s your chance.
Marissa’s Gifts & Books, a charming local independent bookstore, is hosting a signing of the new second edition of A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk, featuring the heroic Pauline on a gorgeous new cover, Friday, October 9th, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. Author Scott Tarbet will sign tonight.
Located at 5664 S 900 E, Ste 8, Murray, UT 84121, Marissa’s is your home for hard to find vintage and collectable books, as well as new titles from local authors.
Already own a first edition copy of AMNS?
Bring it by, and get the second edition, autographed, for only $10. That goes for Kindle copies of the first edition, too.
Come in Steampunk costume, and get $2 off your copy of the second edition.