In this section we present interviews with authors of contemporary science fiction. This issue presents an interview with Peter W. Shackle, the author of “A Disruptive Invention”
Interviewer: Tell us about the title of this book.
Peter: When you work with venture capitalists, the holy grail which they are all looking for is a new invention which is so powerful that it pushes aside all technology that preceded it. In that sense this story is about just such an event, that they call “A Disruptive Invention.”
Interviewer: I noticed that "A Disruptive Invention" is your first novel. What made you want to write a work of fiction when I know that you are already a distinguished contributor in the electrical engineering community?
Peter: Like everybody else I had noticed in movies like "District Nine" and "Independence Day" the concept of enormous flying vehicles that were somehow suspended in the air, able to repulse the force of gravity. At the same time as I browsed through scientific literature, I came across numerous articles concerning the Fifth Force which predicted that there should be a coupling between electric currents and gravity of a nature that would allow gravity to be repelled at will. People have been theorizing about this for thirty years or so, and yet nobody has ever found it. So I set about answering the question, "What would happen in contemporary American Society if somebody did actually find the Fifth Force? Suppose that it really was there all the time, and it was just that up until now everybody had been looking for it in the wrong way?
Interviewer: How did you imagine what would happen?
Peter: I did some historical research. First of all the technological development of Fifth Force technology could not come easily. The work involved would be somewhat analogous to the Manhattan Project in World War 2. The significance to our society would be like the early development of Rocket Science in the nineteen forties. What the US government did then was to gather up all the people who really knew what Rocket Science was about (who were nearly all Germans from the Peenemunde Research Center), plus their families, and set them all up to work in the security of the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. There they were able to develop Rocket technology in peace and security, and the entire space technology that the USA has today sprang from those 118 families who were relocated to Huntsville, where the Redstone Arsenal is located. My thesis in this book is that faced with a dramatic new technology that was obviously going to replace Rocket Science, the reaction of the US government would be exactly the same - they would round up everybody who knew about it and set them up in the security of the Redstone Arsenal to develop the new technology.
Interviewer: So you forecast that a new space race would develop?
Peter: Exactly. With the almost infinite economic and military possibilities that spring from the application of the Fifth Force as it has been predicted, the great powers would obviously stop at nothing to grasp the technology.
Interviewer: The concept of Fifth Force repulsion seems pretty far fetched. Do you think people will take it seriously?
Peter: Well, you only have to use a search engine to look for "The Fifth Force" and you can quickly learn that people have been predicting it and looking for it for the last thirty years. I know of two technical people who have been so convinced by the scenario described in the book that they have carried out "The John Sykes Experiment" in which the principal protagonist discovers the Fifth Force and turns the whole aerospace industry upside down. So yes, some people who think about these things really have taken it seriously.
Interviewer: In the book the flying vehicles that are created using the Fifth Force come out looking just like flying saucer UFOs. Did you make this happen on purpose?
Peter: On the contrary. In my imagination I put myself in the position of the characters in the book and worked out using physics principles what would be the problems that they would encounter and how they would cope with them using early 21st century technology. I was actually stunned when it emerged that a Fifth Force flying vehicle needed to be round, and needed to have four structures symmetrically placed underneath and a huge array of lights. It looks so much like a caricature of a UFO that it was embarrassing, actually. So I made the characters in the story embarrassed about it too, as you will have read.
Interviewer: Talking about the characters, the character Judy Chen bothered me because she mangles the English language so badly. I was wondering at first whether you were making hundreds of typos?
Peter: In the suburbs of Los Angeles there are whole communities of Chinese folk who still preserve their Chinese customs and values. English does not rate very highly amongst these values, and so when they have to interact with the rest of the population they speak a simplified version of the language which the rest of us know as "chinglish." Judy is actually speaking chinglish, and in the book her speech is a pretty accurate rendition of the contemporary chinglish speech. Two Chinese friends of mine have checked out her speech and actions in detail and vouch that she is reasonably authentic. Perhaps the only criticism is that she looks and speaks like a Chinese but acts like an American girl, and they made the remark that this always happens in films and novels.
Interviewer: I was cynical to see that you had the new technology tested at Area 51 of all places. Isn't that a bit hackneyed?
Peter: Indeed it's an embarrassment that the story has to live through. The Fifth Force flying technology is a dramatically new aerospace technology that is clearly going to replace the entirety of the existing US aerospace industry. Area 51, which is really called Homey Airport, is the place where they test out things which the government does not want the rest of the world to know about. So without a shadow of doubt this is where this new technology would be tested. I have highly placed friends with security clearances in the aerospace industry who provided consulting on how this would really happen. What is kind of a joke is that Area 51 is already associated in contemporary urban legend with UFOs.
Interviewer: I looked at maps of Long beach and Huntsville, and the place names mentioned really do exist. Did you make an effort to make the book authentic?
Peter: Absolutely. Every government functionary mentioned really exists. Every building mentioned really exists. All the technology mentioned is standard technology consistent with the early 21st century. As a matter of interest I actually went out touring around Long Beach where the story starts and found a commercial premises which would be suitable for the company Electrolev that the protagonist John Sykes started in the story. The location of Electrolev is really a supermarket though, as story enthusiasts have already concluded. Many of the scenes around Huntsville that are described are still there to be seen to this day. The locations in Huntsville, Las Vegas, Long Beach and Baltimore that are mentioned in the story I have personally visited.
Interviewer: With all this realism, I am left wondering if this is a story that really happened?
Peter: This story is indeed fiction. However the 1979 movie : "The China Syndrome" was fiction when it was written but the world has come amazingly close to the basic premise of a nuclear reactor meltdown described in the story several times since then. I would not be surprised if this novel is predicting things which may happen in this century. It will be fun to see the future unfold.
Interviews with Science Fiction Authors