Biodigital: A Novel of Overmind Emergent
Biodigital is a novel, first published as an Ebook via Unglue.it, about a Silicon Valley tech genius/messiah and the quasi-religious cult of transhumanist computer designers and brain hackers who follow him. Its plot ostensibly concerns Gulf War Syndrome, a mysterious ailment reported by veterans of the first Gulf War (1991). It's set in the early-to-mid 1990's but presages many developments that are just now appearing in the real world.
Careful readers may notice that this is the same description that I used for Acts of the Apostles, about which more below.
As American-led forces assemble in Saudi Arabia for the largest military operation since Normandy, computer designer Todd Griffith discovers a secret function buried within the Kali chip. That night he is shot in the head. Five years later, burnt-out Silicon Valley software engineer Nick Aubrey boards a "red-eye" flight to Boston and winds up seated next to a very disturbed man who claims to know the secret of Gulf War Syndrome. Over Utah, Nick's chance companion meets his dramatic demise, and the police accuse Nick of murder. Soon the police are the least of Nick's worries. On the run from a Silicon Valley tech messiah and the hacker cult that venerates him, tempted by exotic foreign beauties, betrayed by those closest to him, Nick must solve the Gulf War enigma or spend the rest of his life on the lam. The only person who doesn't want a piece of Nick, it seems, is his estranged wife Bartlett, a genetic scientist with secrets of her own. All clues lead to a pharmaceutical laboratory in Basel Switzerland, where scientists are working on submicrosopic machines to rearrange human DNA. But Nick can't find out what's really going on without Todd's help, and Todd's been in a coma for nearly half a dozen years.
Careful readers may notice that this is nearly identical to the synopsis of Acts of the Apostles. What gives?
Biodigital and Acts of the Apostles
The novel Biodigital is a half-new novel largely based on Acts of the Apostles. To a rough approximation, the texts of Acts and Biodigital are about 60% congruent. Each book also contains another 40% of material that is not in the other. So they're the same but different, kinda like different versions of Superman or Batman "origin" movies, or the original (John Wayne) and remake (Jeff Bridges) versions of True Grit. Or maybe like the 1858 and 1867 editions of Leaves of Grass.
Got it. But What's the Difference Between the Books and Which One Should I Read?
Acts of the Apostles is a more convoluted book than Biodigital is. Its plot has curlicues and diversions and intricacies and improbabilities. Depending on your tastes, this is either a bug or a feature. (In my opinion, it's a little of both). Biodigital is more straight ahead, more of a pure thriller, more Dan Brown than Neil Stephenson, which in some ways makes it a less sophisticated book. But on the other hand, the roles of four characters, most signicantly Nick's wife Bartlett, are substantially enhanced in Biodigital. And as a consequence, the actions of the main villain are also seen to be much less arbitrary than they are in Acts, and hence even more sinister. Plus, I've rewritten the opening chapters to make them more logical and faster paced than their counterparts in Acts. And significantly, because Bartlett is on stage much more in Biodigital than she was in Acts, so too is her science. I think the overall verisimilitude is enhanced, given recent real-world developments in brain and genetic sciences.
One more point: Acts of the Apostles is part of the Mind over Matter trilogy, which also includes Cheap Complex Devices and The Pains. But most of the parts of Acts that hook into these other two books are not present in Biodigital.
This is so fascinating! Give Me the Gory Backstory of How You Decided to Remake Your Classic "Acts"!
Here's how Biodigital came about. About four years ago I sold the rights to Acts of the Apostles, my 1999 self-published novel that has acquired a modest but passionate fan base, to a small publishing house (call it "U") whose titles I much esteemed. The terms of the deall were that some "small edits" might be required before the book could be published; the editorial director ("V") would direct me. As the process of "cleaning up" the book began, it became clear that V had in mind a book substantially different from Acts. Although the main plot and most of the characters were the same, some sub-plots and characters were to deleted, some characters changed names and/or took on greater or lesser roles than in the original book. It was pretty much a wholesale overhaul. I did it because I wanted to see how the book would do with a "real" publisher.
Although many of the changes sought (or demanded) by V were clearly improvements, as time wore on the process became less and less fun. Every change I made gave rise to new demands for ever more revisions. Although my editor had some good editorial instincts, V and I simply had very different conceptions of what the book was about. Among other things, at V's direction I deleted most of the "hooks" that connected Acts with the other two books in the Mind over Matter trilogy. At some point we decided that the book was different enough from the original Acts of the Apostles to deserve a new name. I christened it Biodigital.
Anyway, after I had spent a year revising Acts / creating Biodigital, U and V finally declared that they were finally happy with it. But, to my dismay, they then said that they weren't going to publish it (I supsect that their money was running low, but I don't really know). In any event, the rights reverted to me.
So I put the book in my virtual sock drawer for more than two years, not sure if I liked it well enough to go to the trouble of publishing something that might only confuse or annoy people who had already read Acts. On the other hand there was a lot to like about it. So, I decided to spend a little while undoing the enforced changes that I least liked and throw it out to the world to see how it did. Which I'm now doing, what what.
John Sundman and Creative Commons
The Creative Commons license was formally introduced to the world at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference in 2003. John Sundman was present at the conference, and put his two then-existing books (Acts and Devices) under the license immediately. Thus they have been available for free download from various servers for more than a decade. Who knows how many people have already read the books this way? Not me. At least it's gotten me a little notice (and perhaps a place in Commons Heaven, if there is such a place).
And now I'm releasing yet another book under Creative Commons. Under my contract with Gluejar, this book been set free after a period that was reduced every time someone made a purchase.
Why read this book? Have your say.
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