Fifteen years ago, my political thriller/sci-fi novel, I, Carlos was published in hardback by Seven Locks Press. It was an instant success, and I did book signings in west coast bookstores from San Diego to Seattle. I’d only been writing for a few years and had two previous thrillers and an academic book on brain injury under my belt at the time. I was still working, both as a professor and for the county health department, and it had taken me a couple of years to write the novel. I quickly sold the screenplay rights, although I’m still awaiting the production of a film.
I, Carlos began as my idea about how to create consciousness in a computer. At the time I wrote the novel, I had studied the topic quite a lot, particularly from a neuroscience point of view, since I had done research, written, and taught in that field. In addition, I’d read books by philosophers such as Daniel Dennett, David Chalmers, and Owen Flanagan on their view of what consciousness was. I was particularly intrigued by Dennett’s theories about how self-consciousness could “emerge” from a narrative without it having to be directly programmed (either by a programmer into an AI, or by genetics into a brain) and by the neuropsychological work of Michael Gazzaniga, demonstrating people’s tendency to create coherent narratives about their actions even when their brains are deprived of input as to why they did something. I developed a general understanding of consciousness having two parts: one is the so-called qualia, which are our sensory experiences, which may be intimately tied to the physiochemical qualities of our nervous system. The other is the narrative structure in which we sense ourselves as a character acting within a coherent story about our lives. I tried to explain my ideas in a couple of unsuccessful attempts to publish in philosophy journals. I was, perhaps, ahead of my time, because in 2016, the psychologist, Lee Roy Beach, along with Byron Bissel and James A. Wise, published A New Theory of Mind: The Theory of Narrative Thought, which was a more or less complete theory of how the core of conscious experience has a narrative structure, and how that is related to brain function.
Discouraged with finding an academic journal willing to publish my ideas about consciousness, I decided that I would put them in a novel. What was most problematic about my theory was the question of how to give a computer sensory experiences. For the novel, I solved this by placing a computer chip within a live brain, so that the chip presented the narrative and the host’s nervous system produced the sensory experiences. I invented the idea of “neurostories” which were essentially stories, with images, played on a computer chip attached to the neurons in someone’s brain. The character would feel as though he or she was acting out the story, with his or her own nervous system providing the sensory experiences to accompany the story on the chip. In I, Carlos, the protagonist has a heart attack during his neurostory experience and becomes partially brain dead, with the computer chip, which contains the neurostory, taking over his consciousness, leading him to believe that he is a character in the story.
I had the foundation for a provocative novel, but what I still needed was a plot. Since neurostories were, in fact, films going on in one’s head, I chose, what I considered to be the all-time best thriller, Frederick Forsythe’s The Day of the Jackal, which was both a best-selling novel and a highly successful film in the early 1970’s, and was about an assassination plot against French President, Charles De Gaulle. Of course, I couldn’t copy the plot or scenes directly from Forsythe’s book or the film, loosely parallel to that of The Day of the Jackal, but set in early 21st century Los Angeles, instead of 1960’s France, and gave the character the identity of the famous—and real—international terrorist and assassin, Carlos the Jackal. I made Carlos’ nemesis in the novel, Detective Nyles Monahan, be the opposite of the dashing Carlos. He’s a middle-aged, obsessive, careful, cop, who I imagined as resembling Dustin Hoffman, in his role of the investigative reporter in the film Agatha.
It’s now 2019, fifteen years after the first publication of I, Carlos. The publishing world has changed. eBooks are now more popular than print books. My publisher, Seven Locks Press has reduced its publishing output to the occasional classic from its backlist and has given me back all the rights to my novel. Given the new digital age, I decided that it was time for both a paperback edition and an eBook edition to come out.
I’m looking forward to the day I, Carlos is made into a film. The ideas behind neurostories are still viable and I am even more convinced that the theory of consciousness described in the novel is close to the truth. New research in neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and medicine is making implanted computer chips a reality and I firmly believe that we are approaching the time when artificial intelligence will achieve consciousness. In fact, I have written a new novel, Ezekiel’s Brain, which will come out in late 2020 or early 2021, based on this idea. It is the first in a series of science fiction novels involving a future group of conscious AIs who explore the galaxy and an AI copy of a human brain, named Ezekiel, who is part of their ship’s crew.
I, Carlos is speculative. It is both a political thriller and a science fiction novel. It seems to me to be as fresh in 2019 as it was in 2004. I hope you’ll agree.
In order to reach as many readers as possible in this celebration of I,Carlos’ fifteenth anniversary, I have lowered the price as far as Amazon will allow: the paperback edition is only $10.95 and the Kindle eBook is an amazing, 99 cents! The price will eventually go up, so take this opportunity to read—or re-read—this fantastic thriller, soon, hopefully, to be a movie.
To buy I, Carlos on Amazon, click HERE!