Interview with Terry Hill, author of In the Days of Humans: Third Exodus
Terry R. Hill was classically trained with a B.S. in aerospace engineering and a Masters degree in Guidance, Navigation & Control Theory with an emphasis on neural-network simulation. He has worked for NASA for the last fifteen years with a very satisfying career as an engineer and project manager spanning programs from space stations navigation software, to next generation space suit design, to exploration mission planning, to mitigating the effects of space on astronauts. While supporting the manned space program has been a life-time passion, writing of different worlds and alternate futures has filled his spare time.
He enjoys writing most science fiction, specifically alternate near-term (not-too-distant) futures or distant (utopian and dystopian) futures. But when the mood strikes and time is available, occasionally will delve into the human condition.
In the not-too-distant future, humans successfully created true artificial intelligence. In the ensuing struggle between Man and Machine to gain control of their respective destinies, the Earth was devastated. But humankind…‘won’. Only a small portion of the planet was not thrown back into the stone-age. Delivered by the forces that brought the AI into existence, the African continent was shielded at the time of the Great War. This island of humanity became the last foothold of civilization and the last hope for a future. One hundred years later with the now rapidly vanishing resources on Earth, the scientists and the government of the United African Nations embarked on a bold new plan for a select few to leave their ancestral home to find the resources and possibly a new future. Col. Adamini, commander of the Yamakarā, its crew, and a small team delivered to Mars, is tasked to explore the solar system and to make a new home for humankind. Unknown to them, they will be Earth’s last hope when unforeseen forces threaten the total annihilation of the human species once again. Through a surprising twist of fate, they find an unlikely ally that will be required for their survival, testing everything Col. Adamini has known to be true and just; placing humankind on a new and unsuspected path into the future.
Q. Did your experience working at NASA help you with technical aspects of your book?
A. Yes, most definitely! Because of my fifteen-plus years at NASA I deliberately wanted to show what could and could not be done with regard to our current state of technology and how much further we would have to go to be able to support a long-term colony in a very short time. With reports of asteroids flying by us and our moon almost monthly and our ravenous appetite for raw materials and procreation, I wanted to make clear to the reader where the big leaps in technology would have to take place for us to make an off-Earth colony successful if we got into a pinch and had to leave Earth.
There were other aspects where my experience influenced the writing such as crew procedures for missions, what it would be like to live in a vehicle without gravity, the physical characteristics of the different planets, moons and asteroids they visit, etc. My goal is to give the reader a credible experience in an incredible situation.
Q. We usually focus on horror here, but “In the Days of Humans: Third Exodus” seems to be pure sci-fi. Do you think it is, and if so in what ways is it like or unlike other works in the genre?
A. Yes, in all classical senses Third Exodus is pure science fiction. However—yes, there’s always a ‘however’—I would also venture to saw that it crosses over multiple genre lines just by the nature of the story and multiple plot-lines. Living through the drama and political posturing, the terrorism and the violence that facilitated the end of the world in chapter one and then living through the world that was left after the apocalypse, some might consider it an action-thriller / horror.
A sizable piece of the book takes place on Earth and includes covert ops, political corruption, murder, action, and personal emotional, gut-wrenching decisions to be made—not everyone gets to escape the end of the world the second time. This portion of the book would really fall within the political / action-packed fiction arena where you would expect similar plots as what you might find in a Clancy novel.
In addition to the realistic world of space flight, I wanted—and to some degree had to—introduce more fantastical technology to keep the plot moving along and to facilitate the epic nature of the novel story line. Certain sections of the book might be familiar in approach to what we saw in the first Star Trek movie where they spent a significant portion of the movie trying to figure out what V-ger was. But I also want to give readers something more to chew on other than just a nice action-packed sci-fi novel. I didn’t want to have the philosophical threads be so weighty that the average reader couldn’t slog through and enjoy just the story, but I did want to throw some ideas out there that would sit in the back of the reader’s mind and percolate questions. I’ve saved the intense philosophical questions for the follow-on novel to Third Exodus! J This next novel is dark, intense, uncomfortable, messy, horrifying, and in your face about a lot of things that are “normal” to being human that we tend to not want to address or confront.
And lastly, there is the human element, the human condition, that I feel is critical to examine and place into the text. Life is about our experiences and our relationships, and thus I spend a lot of effort in the book to develop those aspects and the eventual outcomes. People grow, learn, make friends, make enemies, fall in love, have sex, and die – not necessarily always in this order unless you’re a black widow spider.
Q. In your book, mankind wins the war with the machines, but at what a cost! Are the machines still a threat?
A. Ahh! Good question! Yes and no. Without giving away the plot of the book, I will say that you do see a reemergence of “the machine”, Blue, that participated—along with humankind—in the destruction of the planet. But you will also see the new relationship, a different kind of relationship, with “a machine” of alien origin. You will see a hint of Blue again in the second book and a return in the third book. But that is all the teaser I’ll give you for now. J
A lot of what science fiction is, much like the Horror genre, is a literary mechanism which we have developed to explore and deal with our subconscious fears of the future and what it might hold. A good example of a story that addressed both the horror aspect and the science fiction (relative to the time it was written) is Frankenstein by British author Mary Shelley. This novel was a reaction to the birth of the industrial age and how in yet unforeseen directions this new technological world would take humankind. They had no data points from which to understand where this new world was going and if they even wanted to go there. Probably in many ways the world of today would actually terrify those in Shelley’s day.
Science fiction is the vehicle in which we can address the implications of different technologies and the far-reaching political decisions which will shape society going forward into the future. Without exception, Third Exodus does exactly that on many fronts, but primarily addresses what we will do when artificially intelligent machines become aware, what our relationship will be with or to them, and how that will affect how we define ‘being human’. To some, this is an absolutely terrifying prospect, given that the world—and being human—will be very, very different from what we know today.
Q. Do you consider your book to be a post-apocalyptic future story? Is it dark, or mostly hopeful?
A. Yes. To all of it. I like to describe it as a post-apocalyptic future with hope. Plagued with apocalyptic dreams my entire life as a product of growing up during the cold war, participating in ‘duck and cover’ drills in school and living next to an Army ammunition depot during my childhood, I have lived through the end of the world a thousand times. And let me tell you, every single way you do it is horrifying.
But those are futures that come about in worlds where people lose all hope. Normal life is hard enough and can be very, very overwhelming and depressing if you let it, so I always give the promise to the reader that if they will stick with me on the journey through the novel that I will deliver them to a better day. That hope of a better tomorrow is what keeps us as a species driving through the hard times so that we or at least our children will have a better tomorrow. So I carry forward that promise into my novels such that people can have a path through the woods and back into the sunshine if ever they were to find themselves in the worlds within my novels.
Q. Your story takes place in Africa, the last surviving bastion of human civilization – also the cradle of civilization. Was there a poetic synchronicity there, and was it intentional?
A. I would like to say yes. That point, that irony, really was the crux of me wanting to tell this story. Our best evidence so far says that the African continent is the birthplace of what we know as Homo sapiens sapiens. And that people migrated out of Africa in massive numbers on at least two occasions in our species’ history.
So drawing on the fact that history has clearly repeated itself on more than one occasion, I wanted to take it to the next occurrence, but in a modern perspective. When initially contemplating our (NASA’s) efforts in space flight, our successes, our failures, the US current-day, nearly laissez-faire approach to human exploration, I asked myself: What if the US, Russia, Japan, China—none of them—got the job done? What if some unforeseen, unexpected group of people or country were to actually be the ones to take humankind permanently out into the stars? And drawing upon the cyclic nature of history, it took me down the path that ended up as Third Exodus; once again the African continent is the cradle of humanity, and once again humankind will spring forth, but in a new way.
Q. Are the people who populate your post-apocalyptic Africa from all over the world? Did they escape before the disaster, or are they mostly from Africa?
A. Most of the characters in Third Exodus are from the African continent. However, what does that mean in today’s world? Or the Africa of the near future? It means that all of the major cities across the planet are truly international with cultures and races from everywhere else. We see this in the West, in Europe and elsewhere even today. While the general population of the different countries within Africa hold true to the historic tribes and ethnic populations that are there today, the people from the other countries of the world live and work there as well, and of course in the fall-out of the apocalyptic nature of the novel, there should be some expected refugees that will make their way to the only remaining safe-haven on Earth.
Q. How does travel away from their home – into space, I gather – work in your story?
A.Traveling away from their home is really the primary plot driver for the entire book. The story focuses on their journey out into the blackness of space, not knowing what they will encounter only what they know they have to accomplish in order to save the people of Earth. This general theme has been the foundation of many a book throughout history and is used as a metaphor of either unknown changes ahead or even that of explaining societal or ethical changes that have occurred. In this case, besides facilitating the telling of the story, it does symbolize a necessary and inevitable change ahead for humankind.
Q. Finally, is there any technology in your story that you think is especially cool that you would like to tell us about?
A. In the Days of Humans: Third Exodus does incorporate two technologies that I had to create or build upon to enable: 1) the characters to survive in the untenable conditions they find themselves, but also 2) to be able to move the plot along faster than current technology would allow. Currently human space flight takes a looong time. While I allowed months and months of nothing to happen in the first part of the book to give the reader a taste of what space flight is really like, it would have been unbearable for the reader to undertake the whole story with current technology without turning the novel into something that would make War and Peace look like a pop-up book in comparison!
The first technology is what I termed the ‘mass converters’. They are an extrapolation of the current 3D Printing technology that has just recently begun hitting the markets. It’s an alien technology that allows you to build anything, out of anything, so long as you at least know how to build it to start with. So for example, if you want to build a circuit board, as long as you know the design, the material properties, etc., then you can put any material into the mass converter and it will change the atomic properties and arrangement to create the circuit board for you. However, you can’t get it to build something you don’t already know how to create—this was a alien safeguard to help ensure technology that is too advanced doesn’t fall into a naïve set of hands.
The second key technology is referred to as the ‘jump drive’. While this sounds reminiscent of the science fiction technologies of the late 90’s and early 2000’s where they use wormholes and dimensional slip streams to achieve faster-than-light travel, this manifestation is quite a bit different. The jump drive works off the principle that atomic particles are created out the quantum foam in pairs that are connected by a nuance of quantum physics called quantum entanglement that allows them to react in real time with each other, no matter the distance separating them. Einstein called this ‘spooky action at a distance’. Fundamentally, the jump drive identifies a pair of these particles that has one particle located local to the ship and the other in the general location of where they want to go, and by creating a field around the ship that separates it from the normal space-time framework, it changes the quantum potential/probability of the ship from ‘being’ at point A to ‘being’ at point B. So no longer do they ‘travel’, but rather change where they are.
Q. Is there anything you would like our readers to know that you haven’t been asked yet?
A. This is more for the people who do not routinely, or ever, read science fiction. As I have stated before, science fiction doesn’t always receive the recognition of importance in the literary and cultural world other than providing fanciful books, movies, and comics. If one has not read any science fiction lately, then I would encourage doing an internet search for the greats of science fiction, learn what topics and themes are addressed in their works, and perhaps try one or two. I think you will find a new world that allows you to grow intellectually as science fiction provides a safe environment to explore new ideas and the associated consequences.
Thank you for this opportunity to share with you. Happy reading and I hope that you might enjoy my books in the future!
Where to Find Terry Online:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/t.r.hill.author
Where to buy copies of the book:
- Paperback copies can be purchased from: https://www.createspace.com/4446863
- Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/In-Days-Humans-Exodus-ebook/dp/B00FLW1T0W/
- Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/in-the-days-of-humans-terry-r-hill/1117116233
- Kobo Books: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/in-the-days-of-humans-third-exodus
- Apple iBooks – Search for “In the Days of Humans”.