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I am Ransom Stephens. I'm a novelist, physicist, and technologist as well as a beer-swilling Raider fan, a father, and a friend of dogs. I spent 15 years doing particle physics research at some of the big labs including Fermilab, CERN, SLAC, and Cornell, including several years as a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Arlington. I gave up my tenured gig to become the Director of Advanced Technology at a wireless web startup. And now balance my work as a novelist with high tech consulting and live in Petaluma, California, where I can see the little mountain where I grew up.
My latest Book, The 99% Solution, is the best I've done so far: a mix of humor and suspense with history and world politics. I'm shooting for a humor-suspense buzz like in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but instead of Indy digging through ruins, I've got three swashbuckling hackers--close friends who work and live together and disagree on nearly everything--digging through big data to predict the future. I call them the Time Weavers. The first Time Weavers story features a powerful but gullible woman who gets caught between radical anarchists and equally radical oligarchs. The next installment will be Too Rich to Die.
When I write fiction, I do my best to bring you complete intense characters and put them in situations where they have to make tough decisions involving the Right Thing to do. I like fallible heroines and heroes who try to do their best, Like Ryan in The God Patent, my first novel, and Farley in The Sensory Deception, my second. In the new one, it's Simon, Fiona, and Volodya trying to navigate their way forward with the fate of the world on their backs. Many of the people who've read my books have encouraged me to let my sense of humor loose. Judge for yourself. Simon, Fiona, and Volodya are quite quirky.
The germ of the Time Weavers came to me at the Vienna airport. I saw a middle aged man in a trench coat shopping in one of those little airport drug stores. A little girl turned the corner and he scared the crap out of her. She ran away and he looked like he was going to cry. Clearly a complex man beneath the so-adult-looking facade, and I thought, what if he suffered delusions and truly believed them? What if his delusions came so close to choosing the future that he could convince others of this special ability? I let the "what ifs" go and realized that this man would need constant supervision. The next day I found myself in an elevator with mirrors on every wall and wondered how that character would react to seeing so many versions of himself--which is real? which is happiest? which married the love of his life and which didn't? and what if he had an element of control of which reality he could live in?
I got the idea for The Sensory Deception from a news story about a polar bear who washed up on an Iceland beach, scared the shit out of a few people, and was then shot by police: what would it be like to be, actually be, that polar bear? And not in an anthropomorphic way. What technology would it take to put people into that frame of mind? How would it affect people? What could go wrong? Then I thought about all of my favorite elements of stories and so we get pirates, Moby Dick, and a sympathetic but evil villain. Stir in my own experience as a Silicon Valley consultant and add venture capitalists and engineers.
I thought of the premise for my first novel, The God Patent, when I was a physics post-doc—that time in my life when I understood stuff like relativity and quantum mechanics better than I ever had or ever would again, even when I was teaching it. I was working on the D-Zero experiment at Fermilab, commuting from the University of Florida. One night I was walking my hound dog, Gator (yeah, what an imagination; if you yell Gator in Gainesville dogs come running from every direction), thinking about religion as a leap of faith and what religion might require the smallest step of faith. The idea became Katarina’s model of the soul. Thirteen years later the plot came together at 4am in a Washington DC Holiday Inn (jet lag as muse). The setting in Petaluma at Dodge Nutter’s Victorian house and the Skate-n-Shred hangout. Ryan’s best friend, the Christian evangelist Foster Reed, took many (many) revisions, I suppose because he is the character least like me. Ryan’s girlfriend, Emmy Nutter, was easy, writing from a woman’s point of view seemed like a challenge, so I made her more like me than any character I’ve ever written and (loosely) based her on my hero, the great mathematician, Emmy Noether. In her first scene, my Emmy explains Noether’s Theorem in conceptual terms.
My only nonfiction book, The Left Brain Speaks The Right Brain Laughs: A Look at the Neuroscience of Innovation & Creativity in Art, Science & Life, emerged from the research I did for my The Sensory Deception. It's an irreverent take on neuroscience for anyone interested in how their brains work. Though I’ve written hundreds of science articles, this is my first full-length work of nonfiction. I keep the jargon to a minimum because I think science is easiest to understand without the reader having to learn a bunch of new vocabulary. The publisher encouraged me to relax into the first person so there’s humor and wisecracks.
The idea of using our brains to understand our brains has that self-referential quality of a picture within a picture within a—you get the idea. Each chapter presents two concepts that refer to each other like Talent & Skill, Animals & People, Alone & Together, Life & Death, building up to an understanding of the interplay of Art & Science. I learned a ton from researching and writing this book. First, when you discuss the brain, things like left-right, nature-nurture, analysis-creativity, the issue is always “and” not “or”—we are feedback loops within feedback loops. On the downside, I had to relinquish my self-identity as a rugged individual (moment of silence, please) and come to terms with the reality that, yes, we really are in this together. Damn.
I hope that you find this book helpful and that you laugh with me and, in a couple of spots, maybe even get a little melancholy.
There are longer descriptions of how I got the ideas for my novels at my website, ransomstephens.com
Thank you for reading my books and, if you have a chance, for posting a nice review. I take everything my readers say to heart and have learned a ton from my reader reviews—feel free to send me a note: ransom [at] ransomstephens [dot] com or www.ransomstephens.com.
Thanks for all of your help!