Douglas Preston and John Scalzi have a lot in common: their work, of course—they both write speculative and near-future fiction about, as Douglas Preston says, “things we are quite sure will happen.” They both are tech savvy. They both have huge fan bases. And they are each admirers of the other’s books, though, until this week, they had never met. But today they will be at the same place at the same time, shooting ideas at and off each other on the Uptown Stage at 1 p.m. for a discussion entitled “Where Near-Future Techno-Thrillers & Sci-Fi Meet.” The publisher’s description of the conversation predicts that the two authors will discuss the implications of current technologies, the blurred lines between sci-fi and techno-thrillers, and near-future possibilities in a rapidly changing world.
Preston is categorized as the scientific thriller writer, and Scalzi as the sci-fi guy, but they both believe that the lines between the genres are porous. Speculation about the technological future fuels them both as they write books to thrill and entertain their readers. “We will talk about what we fear most and why, and how far away do we think it is,” says Preston. “In our writing we do that. We ask what’s really scary, and we turn it into a story.”
Preston turned one of his greatest fears—the weaponization of artificial intelligence—into The Kraken Project (Forge, May). In the book, NASA sends a probe outfitted with artificial intelligence software to Saturn’s moon Titan. The software gets warped and goes rogue, and calamity ensues, as the software, named Dorothy, plans revenge against its creators. “The book is 90% true,” says Preston, who spent three days at NASA’s Goddard Space Center talking with scientists about their work on AI software in order to “get it right.” Preston says, “I believe in research. The scientists said, ‘We’re not supposed to talk about this but...’”
Scalzi brings his own scary vision of the future in Lock In (Tor, Aug.). Set 25 years hence, five million people in the U.S. have succumbed to a virus that leads to paralysis of everything but the mind. “The brain is functioning, but victims have lost the ability to move,” Scalzi says. He posits a scientific crash program, the equivalent of what led to the moon shot, that within five years finds a way to create a virtual-reality environment in which the locked-in can interact with other humans. But disaster follows, as some of the “locked in” figure out how to control the bodies of unafflicted people and put them to nefarious purposes. (A prequel novella that discusses the lock-in disease is out now as a short e-book.)
“It is amazing how quickly things go from sci-fi to commonplace,” Scalzi says. “It’s a fine line to straddle between giving your reading audience a buzzy experience with buzzy ideas versus giving the characters in your book who are living with the ideas the reality that it’s no big thing. You have to balance that when you write. Douglas and I will talk about that.”
In addition to the Author’s Stage meetup today, Preston will be signing The Kraken Project, 2–3 p.m., at Table 13 in the Autographing Area. Scalzi will also sign ARCs of Lock In at the Autographing Area today, 3 p.m. at Table 13, and at the Macmillan booth (1739) tomorrow at 2 p.m. He will also be participating in the educational panel “The Worst Social Media Advice Ever” tomorrow at 11 a.m. in room 1E02/1E03. —Suzanne Mantell