Grace Bridges told our readers about this novel last week. I (Valerie Comer) had the opportunity to read an advance copy and chat with the author, P. A. (Paul) Baines.
VC: Grace tells me you're a Brit living in the Netherlands with an MC who's a Brit living in America before setting off for space. Wow! How do you come to be living in Holland? And how did your MC wind up living in the USA instead of in Europe?
PAB: How I ended up in Holland is a long story (or it can be, depending how talkative I'm feeling). I was born in the UK, but raised in Africa where I picked up Afrikaans. I returned to England and found work in Belgium based on my familiarity with the Belgian flavour of Dutch (it's quite close to Afrikaans). I then landed a contract in Holland for similar reasons and have been here since.
For my MC, I originally wrote Alpha Redemption for the US market, so had him as an American. It seemed the obvious choice because of the USA's long history of space exploration. Later when my editor read it, she said that my language is clearly that of an Englishman. She suggested either adapting my language usage to American, or have my MC as an Englishman who moves to the US when he is young. That way, he could retain some of his Englishness and thereby enhance his feelings of being alone and not fitting in. Also, it allowed me to draw on my own experiences of moving to a new country while still young. You never really lose your roots, I think.
VC: Tell me about the type of research you did for Alpha Redemption.
PAB: I had to do quite a bit with regard to light-speed travel and the "time dilation" effect. While the story is set in space, I have never really thought of it as science fiction. The sci-fi elements I introduced were just tools to carry forward the human drama. There are no light sabres or space battles, but travelling through space at high speeds does have some peculiar effects, and I wanted to make sure I got my facts right, plus I was able to use some of those effects in my plot.
A central part of the story is the main character, Brett, growing younger. Traveling at speeds close to that of light is thought to create a time-dilation effect, where the clocks on the spaceship slow down compared to those on Earth. So a nine year round trip to Alpha Centauri would seem much shorter for the travellers. This is accepted as fact because it has been replicated in a laboratory. With Alpha Redemption, I took the idea a step further and introduced the idea of "genetic reversal," which I thought would be an interesting side-effect of actually reaching the speed-of-light barrier. So in the story, Brett grows younger as he travels through space. It isn't time-travel, but more a reversal of his genetic clock.
VC: Have you ever been faced with the difficult choice Brett was, to leave your family behind for a decent job? What did you draw on for that part of the novel?
PAB: The choice Brett faces in the book, to leave his family and travel to find work, is actually one I faced about ten years ago. I found work in Europe and we had to choose between splitting up or pulling the kids out of school and travelling together. We decided we wanted to keep the family unit together and opted to home-school our children because there was a possibility that I would have to move around quite a bit. It made things much more difficult in some ways, but at least we have never been apart. That whole episode definitely provided plenty of inspiration for the story.
VC: You created an Artificial Intelligence for this novel. Do you think the time is coming when this type of curious computer might become a reality? Can a computer learn to believe in God?
PAB: I remember seeing a billboard about ten years ago, advertising a laptop computer. Under the main picture was a statement claiming that there was more processing power in that one machine than was used to put man on the moon. In 1965, Gordon Moore (co-founder of Intel) predicted that the number of transistors per square inch on a computer chip would double about every two years. His prediction has been surprisingly accurate for over forty years and has become known as "Moore's Law". If we look at how far computing technology has come in such a relatively short period, I think it s only a matter of time before we can build a machine that is able to do more than just follow programming rules, but also adapt and learn. And if that happens, self-awareness might very well be possible. And if something is self-aware, I can't see it being too long before it wants to know what happens after the power is turned off, and if it has an eternal soul that will live on after it "dies".
The fun thing about science fiction is you get to explore these sorts of questions. The idea of a computer achieving self-awareness is only fiction at the moment, but there may well come a time when we do manage to create such an intelligence. Then what? What do we tell it when it asks difficult questions about itself? And what if those questions are not enough for a mind hungry for knowledge? It may very well discover God and see Him as the answer to those question.
So, in short, the answer is: definitely maybe.
So what is Alpha Redemption really about?:
Ever fantasize about being on a manned space expedition? Brett Denton didn’t. Not until tragedy struck his family and he had no reason to stay on Earth. Nothing to lose, nothing to gain. The perfect person for a mission with no guarantees.
As Brett hurtles through space, he endures sessions of immersion in a gooey pool, in which he sleeps during the faster-than-light portions of the trip. In between, he spends time reading, working out, eating, and getting to know the ship’s computer, whom he names Jay. Jay has been programmed to desire knowledge. As the trip wears on, Jay becomes curious about many things, including God, whom Brett has no use for since his family tragedy.
Besides the development of this unlikely friendship over the journey, strange things happen to Brett. With each successive awake period, Brett gets a little younger in real time. And with each successive sleep period, Brett relives the portion of his life that corresponds with his younger self. This has the strange effect of time stretching in both directions at the same time from the novel’s start point. This gets a bit tricky, but Baines manages to keep it together and interesting even when the reader is hurtling backwards in time.
Interested in reading Alpha Redemption? Grace at Splashdown Books is offering one reader a copy, anywhere on Planet Earth. If you'd like to put your name in the hat, please add your email address with your comment before Saturday, September 4, replacing @ with (at) and .com with (dot) com.
"Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws."
P. A. Baines writes science fiction that is both contemplative and profound. Educated in Africa, he works as an analyst/programmer and is studying towards a degree in Creative Writing through Buckinghamshire New University in England. He currently lives in a small corner of the Netherlands with his wife and two children and various wildlife.
Valerie Comer writes contemporary romance set in British Columbia, Canada, as well as fantasy set in uncharted dimensions, which does not seem to include outer space. Her day job is split between flooring sales and writing. She lives on a small farm with her husband, an energetic dog, two psycho kittens, several hives of bees, and a herd of Herefords. Visit her website and blog to find out more about the various writing projects she has in progress.