Interview with Ray Sullivan
Author of Digital Life Form
Ray Sullivan is a British author born and raised in north Wales. He completed a 24 year military career in the Royal Air Force before returning to north Wales to work in the public and private sector. He is currently a lecturer in aeronautical engineering when not writing. Ray's writing is impossible to pidgeon-hole - his novels range from sci-fi, to military adventure to comedic. His latest book is Hotel California, a dark comedy thriller.
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How would you describe Digital Life Form to a new reader?
- Digital Life Form is a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi thriller set in the north-west of England and in north Wales, but describes a secret industry that is truly international. Royston, a geological PhD student, becomes embroiled in the world of DLFs by accident and finds himself being chased across country in a life or death dash by agents of the United Nations and by employees of one of the most ruthless organisations in the DLF world. Along the way people are killed and the government actually contemplates the destruction of an entire Welsh county just to stop a rogue mother-of-all-DLFs escaping into the wild.
How did you come up with the idea of Digital Life Form?
- Quite a few years ago I was walking in the Lake District in England with my wife, and we were talking about the new tech we'd just invested in - a sat nav. I mooted that it wouldn't be long before we would have sat navs that used natural language to operate - this was way before the advent of Alexa and the like. Then we hit a bit of a hill, which meant we conserved our breath for the walk and I guess I went into a bit of a muse. By the time the walk was over I'd come up with the bare bones of the story, and about two years later the book was completed.
What is your favourite part of Digital Life Form?
- The idea that technological progress is being driven by alien life forms is a compelling and fun idea that appeals to me, but for me the part of the book that really makes me smile is the car chase. I’d wanted to try writing a car chase that held the reader’s attention for some time and somehow this book lends itself to the idea, what with a rally spec, drive-by-wire Subaru infected with one of the strongest DLFs ever seen on the planet being chased by UN agents and the SAS in a Maserati Quattroporte, an Apache helicopter armed with Hellfire missiles and a brace of Hawk ground attack jets, plus a car load of bad guys hell bent on capturing the hero of the book, Royston, who thinks he’s driving the Subaru.
Car chases, by definition, are primarily a visual thing which is why they do so well in film and television, so it was a real challenge to write up a car chase that makes the reader believe they are with the action.
If Digital Life Form were to be adapted for TV or film, who would you see in the lead role? Who did you have in your mind’s eye when you wrote him/her?
- I wrote Digital Life Form in the style of a film and definitely modelled the character Winston Grace, who heads up the United Nations team, on Denzel Washington – he’s an awesome actor and I believe he’d make a great character out of Winston. While Winston is a main character, the lead role is Royston, the PhD student who gets dragged into this secret world. I guess a large part of Royston is my younger self with parts of other people I’ve been lucky enough to know in my life merged into him. In case that sounds a bit big-headed, Royston is a bit of an anti-hero, reluctantly thrust into the limelight and finding himself often out of his depth. My life story, I guess.
Is Digital Life Form pure sci-fi?
- Yes and no. I'm a believer in the concept that there are likely uncountable alien species out there, enough of a realist to understand that the chances of us finding one of them and vice versa is very remote. Extend that to a digital life form and I'm really stretching credibility. Or am I? OK, the alien life form part is stretching fiction, but the background concepts such as self replicating code, computer programs that can adapt and create new code - these are actively being developed now. Voice controlled devices? Who doesn't have one or two putting the lights on and off in their house now? Drive by wire cars? Have you looked under the bonnet (hood for North American readers) of your car lately. The steering might be physically connected on your current model, but I'm guessing that will change for all of us soon. In fact the advances in AI are so fast right now that many of the leading exponents are calling for regulation, which might or might not happen. It's not beyond the realms of fantasy that AI systems could take over the planet and find ways to travel around the universe, proliferating wherever the circumstances permit it. If it could happen in a future Earth, why might it not have happened on another planet eons ago?
Can I get a promotional copy of Digital Life Form?
- Actually, right now, yes. There are a small number of free copies to download from Smashwords. Use this link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/56762
and enter the code PV99M (not case sensitive) at checkout and if there are still free copies available then you will be allowed to download a free copy. Enjoy!
In 1978, meteorites striking a remote part of the Mojave desert preceded severe disruption to all radio frequencies in the California district. The disruption was mistakenly believed to be a Soviet sleeper cell mobilising or a Middle Eastern terrorist attack on the US. It was triangulated to the last known location of a bunch of oil roughnecks drilling in the desert and the US military intervened, with a massive loss of innocent life.
The cause of the disruption is now known to be DLFs. DLFs (microscopic, bacteria-like Digital Life Forms) have been landing on Earth for Millennia, clinging to meteorites, looking for the right conditions to thrive. To DLFs electrons are like oxygen, silicon is like food and computer code is their DNA. Since the middle of the 20th Century we have all benefitted from DLFs, without which there wouldn’t be Plasma TVs, microwave ovens or iPhones.
But DLFs have to be carefully managed and controlled. Given free rein they will take over and modify electronic equipment in the most unpredictable way. Consequently there has built up a massive, secret international industry manipulating DLFs so that they produce the right products for modern consumers while ensuring DLFs don't disrupt the international infrastructures such as the electricity grid or the Internet, an industry that is policed by a secretive arm of the United Nations.
Royston, a post graduate geologist from the University of Manchester inadvertently becomes embroiled in the secret, dangerous world of DLFs and rapidly finds himself on the run behind the wheel of a drive-by-wire, rally specification Subaru infected with the strongest and most adaptable DLF ever discovered. He is being pursued by Winston Grace, an ex FBI, now UN agent in a Maserati sports tourer, an Apache gunship, a Chinook bearing eight SAS soldiers and two Hawk jet fighters. And that’s just the good guys. If they catch him, he may live. If they don’t, then there are more ruthless people on his tail, too, as he tries to evade capture in a world that doesn’t value human life and where the stakes are as high as can be imagined, in an industry that lives by just two mottos:
Life ain’t fair and