Garn Press Interviews: Author Denny Taylor – Writing Split Second Solution
Garn Press: What freaks you out?
Denny Taylor: To write a scene and then find I am living it.
GP: For instance?
DT: I wrote a children’s story in the 1980’s called “Katrina’s Children” in which something terrible happened and children were separated from their parents and they walked in long lines and were put on buses and sent away.
I was told it would never happen, that we would never treat children this way. But I was a first responder following Hurricane Katrina and I spent time in a shelter that had 5,000 people who had lost their homes in the big storm sleeping on cots not knowing what was going to happen to them. There were many children in the shelter who were separated from their parents, and there were walls covered in small pieces of paper on which was written “I’m looking for . . .” and “Have you seen . . ? ” messages.
And buses were arriving to take people away from the storm-devastated region. People including children were being put on buses not knowing where the buses were taking them.
“Do you realize you have written this?” David said when I spoke with him on the phone from Louisiana.
“Written what?” I asked, so caught up in the moment that the question seemed like a non sequitur.
“Katrina’s Children,” he said. “You wrote it.”
GP: A coincidence?
DT: Possibly. In some instances I think it is possible that to observe as intensely as an ethnographer does can lead to insights into future events that a casual onlooker might not see — so not so much coincidence as the anticipation of events based on close observation.
GP: That’s all?
DT: Not exactly. Some scenes that I have written are more difficult to explain in this way.
GP: Can you give an example?
DT: Yes. In my novel Split Second Solution, which is set in Louisiana and New York City in 2022, there are many scenes that I would say are based on close observation and anticipate events that could possibly take place. What I hadn’t anticipated is the rapidity of the occurrence of the events I had written about actually taking place. One reader asked me when I had written the novel, because the events in it were taking place as he was reading it. He called it “eerie”.
GP: Could you be specific?
DT: In Split the Lunatic Eight have taken power – billionaires who answer to the Ginger Tom, who seized power when the democratic system of government I the U.S. disintegrated. The creation of the fictional Ginger Tom character precedes the rise of Donald Trump. Trump is a close facsimile.
The Ginger Tom has the backing of militias who are controlled by the Super Recognizers. The people call the Super Recognizers “Sick Reapers”.
About a week ago I saw a NY Special Unit in black riot gear with sub-machine guns at the 72nd Street subway station, which was surreal given there is a scene in Split in which the main protagonists are being hunted by the Super Recognizers who are known as the Sick Reapers – right there by the 72nd Street subway.
We have reached a time in U.S. society when corporations backed by the authorities can employ militias and use ferocious dogs – as they do in Split – to attack unarmed people, many of whom are indigenous, trying to protect their sacred land, as they are at Standing Rock.
GP: One of the reviewers calls Split is a futuristic urban fantasy that supposes a very different world albeit less than a decade away, but one that’s all too frighteningly plausible considering today’s culture. But your futuristic fantasy seems to be speeding up. The militias at Standing Rock are armed and dangerous, and the authorities are behaving like Sick Reapers strip-searching the Earth protectors – do you really think this could happen in New York City?
DT: I do. We are in denial of how dangerous the path we are on has become.
GP: Okay. But let’s go back. You didn’t answer the question. You are often ahead of “common knowledge” because of a lifetime of close observation, but there is nothing strange about this. Many people have this capability. The question is are there scenes in Split that cannot be so easily explained?
DT: Many people anticipate events based on close observation. And we’ve all had those moments when we say to ourselves, “Of course! That was bound to happen!” But I think many of us also have inexplicable moments when we “see” something that actually occurs in the future.
GP: You’re skirting around the question. In your writing are there such moments that you cannot explain?
Humor me for a moment. Here’s what you wrote in your piece on not voting for Trump: Ian Fleming’s “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action” has been bothersome of late. The Goldfinger quote has become attached to the question: Can fiction foretell the future?” More terrifying: Does Split Second Solution foretell what is going to happen to us?
DT: (Laughing) I shouldn’t have written that! But it’s an interesting question! I was writing about an unexplainable scene in Split and used it as one of many “freaking” reasons I couldn’t vote for Trump.
GT: Okay. What’s the scene?
DT: The scene takes place in 2022 in Central Park near the ruins of Columbus Circle. The Ginger Tom — who is one of the Lunatic Eight – arrives by helicopter with his militia controlled by the Super Recognizers, otherwise known as the Sick Reapers.
“We’re with you Ginger Tom!” people cry, crowding around him.
Then a baby cries.
GP: Do you want to read what happens next?
DT: Okay. Just so everyone knows – Word is one of the main characters in the novel. She is the last Truth Keeper. Death also has a leading role. Death, who often appears as Cat and is totally neurotic about people dying, splits the last second of Word’s life after she jumps into the Hudson River to get away from the Sick Reapers who are going to rape then kill her. The entire novel takes place in that split second as she recounts the story and the other characters, including Death (Cat) try to figure out how to save her.
Let’s see. I’ll pick up the story here. Word is recounting a scene in which the Ginger Tom appears:
“In the crowd people shouted, ‘We’re with you Ginger Tom!’” Word said, shaking her head. “I’ve no idea why he liked the people calling him that, but he smiled and waved, and taking a baby from her mother’s arms he held her up and the crowd clapped and someone said, ‘Isn’t he great!’ as he gave the baby to one of the militia and said something to him. In full riot gear the militia man took the baby back to her mother who was holding her arms out but instead of giving the baby back to her mother he grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the crowd and took her off.”
GP: Go on.
DT: I wrote the scene before the Primaries. It was months later that David called and said, “Watch the video I just sent you.” The video is chilling. Trump’s actions when a baby cries follows the storyline of the Ginger Tom with his apparent kindness masking his malevolence towards the mother and the baby. Trump is talking about China. You can insert the transcript if you like:
“I have the biggest bank in the world as a tenant of mine.”
A baby cries.
“Don’t worry about that baby. I love babies, so –
“I love babies. I hear that baby crying. I like it. I like it! What a baby. What a beautiful baby. Don’t worry, don’t worry.”
Trump mimics the mom.
“The mom’s running around like –”
Trump’s facial expressions and hand movements conveying the mother is flustered.
“Don’t worry about it, you know. It’s young and beautiful and healthy and that’s what we want –
“Okay. We have a piggy bank. They have ripped us to shreds.”
The baby is still crying.
“Ripped us absolutely to shreds –
“Actually I was only kidding. You can get that baby out of here.
“That’s alright. Don’t worry.
“I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I am speaking.
“People don’t understand. That’s okay.”
DT: Freaky happenstance? Possibly. Coincidence? I’d say so. But it does happen more frequently than I’d like.
GP: Let’s pick up on the predictions in Split that are based on close observation.
DT: There are many aspects of this time that are unnerving that are very much a part of Split. One is that we are creating a world that is beyond our biological destiny – which is certainly played out in Split.
GP: What do you mean by “biological destiny”?
DT: We have reached the end of “evolution” as Charles Darwin knew it. First, without thought for the consequences we are strutting our technological prowess by making life forms in petri dishes, cloning animals, and mixing biological life with machines. Second, to fulfill our irrational desires we’re orchestrating the extinction of many biological life forms to such a degree, that we have entered the sixth age of extinction – with so many life forms dying out, the planet is on the brink of ecological collapse.
GP: And in Split you have created a world beyond our biological destiny?
DT: Yes (laughs) in 200 pages! Seriously, while Split is filled with our astounding human capacity to rise up against tyrants and injustice, it also exposes the impact that such tyrants – the Lunatic Eight — are having on people and the planet.
GP: Okay. So we have three ideas crashing into each other – “biological destiny” “tyrants and injustice” and “people rising up” – do you want to say something about that?
DT: Okay. Let’s switch them around: first, tyrants and injustice; second, interfering with our biological destiny; and third, people rising up. And let’s complicate the question by bringing us back to the idea that Split predicts a possible future that all of a sudden is actually taking place.
GP: You’ve got so many ideas in the air –
DT: That’s the fun isn’t it? Rejecting linear explanations, challenging dualities. In Western Culture we are addicted to the linear and often can’t see beyond the dualities that we create.
GP: Stick to the task: first tyrants and injustice.
DT: Mmm one response would be that tyrants have used linear explanations to establish and perpetuate dualities.
GP: Stick to the question.
DT: Okay, tyrants and injustice.
In Split the government that exacerbated the deep divisions in U.S. society has fallen – although this is implied and the readers understanding emerges as they get deeper into the novel.
The government has been replaced by the Lunatic Eight – first working in collaboration with the government and then replacing them. Here I will use the Koch brothers – who are NOT in the novel – as examples of billionaires who wield huge power and have a tight grip on Washington.
One of the Lunatic Eight is the Ginger Tom – a 2012 character who I admit now seems very much like Donald Trump. Few would argue against the idea that Trump has hijacked the political process and that he is challenging the Republican Party in ways that neither Democrats nor the people have ever been able to do.
In Split the political establishment has crumbled. Literally, the political system has fallen without a coup. The enormous wealth and power of the Lunatic Eight – if you’ll excuse me for saying – trumps the establishment and annihilates them.
In Split each of the Lunatic Eight has power over different aspects of the lives of people in society. One of the Lunatic Eight is the Freaky Geek, who could be any one of so many billionaire technology giants who use their enormous wealth to thwart the people and destroy what’s left of U.S. Democracy.
GP: Which brings us to the ways in which tyrants in Split – and in real life – are interfering with our biological destiny?
DT: It does. And this is where the whole scenario gets interesting. Few of us would challenge the idea that the billionaires in society have enormous power and they are shattering the underlying principles on which US democracy is founded. Similarly, few would argue that the political elites are not compromised or that they are not on the brink of demise.
GP: In Split you leap from the fall of the government and the rise of the Lunatic Eight to –
DT: The take over by technological life forms.
GP: Not happening. Isn’t that just too far fetched?
DT: Not at all. It’s happening. Have you listened to Stephen Hawking lately? I’ve been studying existential risks for about 20 years, although I would not have used that term until about 5 years ago.
The TED I just recorded addresses some of the existential risks that young people will face. The astrophysicist Martin Rees has an editorial in a 2013 edition of Science in which he asks why there is a denial of catastrophic risks and the imminence of a cataclysmic event from which humanity might not recover.
GP: And you worry about this?
DT: I must admit this is a question that bothers me a lot. I think I am driven by it. We are in denial of the future we are leaving for our children. It is callous and reprehensible.
GP: We know about climate change and that the kind of response needed by society is disastrously absent. But you’re saying – writing about – other risks, the misapplication of technologies.
DT: Rees calls the risk of Artificial Intelligence running amok as “disquietingly real” and he writes, of AI events that “if they occurred once, (would) cause worldwide devastation.”
GP: And that’s what has happened in Split. The political elites have lost power because fanatical oligarchs –the Lunatic Eight – have ousted them.
DT: Trumped them. Yes. Narcissism, greed, and the illusion of political power have corrupted the democratic process and the government has handed over power without a bang or a whimper. Pathetic.
GP: And in Split, the oligarchs – the Lunatic Eight — have been done in by the technological life forms they created – the Super Recognizers who you call the Sick Reapers.
DT: That’s about it.
GP: Couldn’t happen.
DT: Wake up! It’s happening! We’re in denial. Humanity is facing unimaginable existential risks. Martin Rees with Nick Bostrom (who coined the term “existential risk”) and Jaan Tallin (founder of Skype) are all associated with the Cambridge Centre for Existential Risk, and they present powerful reasons why we should all be concerned about the rapid development and use of AI without transparency and global agreements and regulations.
These researchers all speak and write about the possibility that this is our species last century, but (and here is where alarm bells should be going off) that is not the position of the political or corporate elites or the oligarchs who make their money from the application of military developed technology.
For them the emphasis is on AI opening up new markets and new opportunities for “progress” – which includes advanced technological weaponry that can self actuate. While regulation is in its infancy the US has been using AI in weapon systems for decades, which is supposed to result in “safer” and “more humane military operations”.
GP: And you’re saying —
DT: AI will/is already directly impact our children — if you remember the Rice/Klein report on public education and national security there can be no doubt that some of the curricular changes mandated in public schools are driven by the massive advancement in AI.
GP: And you are saying all of this is in Split?
DT: All of this was ever present when I wrote Split Second Solution. It might seem like a fantasy and some of the characters clearly fall in that category but the role of AI is frighteningly real and is based on my research on AI.
GP: And you’re trying to get the message across in a novel?
DT: I know it’s a bit far fetched. Write a novel to entertain and warn the world. But isn’t that what writers have always done? I’ve no idea where to put all this stuff except in a novel. We all live our lives small in the global arena of AI and existential risks, but it is imperative that we try to participate nevertheless – and anticipate.
GP: — which is the reason for the Chomsky quote, “It’s not that there are no alternatives. The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous. So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture. Unless people do something about it. We always can.”
GP: Let’s change topics.
DT: Let’s not! Let’s leave it here and perhaps you can ask me some more questions later.
GP: Okay. We can pick up later – perhaps explore the ideas in the letters to the reader at the beginning and end of Split – and how we’ve been misled.
DT: Sure. I’ll look forward to it.
Split Second Solution is a modern fable, a magical love story that is both strangely mysterious and terrifying real.
It’s 2022. Word and X-it, both born in 2000, have been hunted since Word’s mother was murdered in 2008. They’re stuck in the Split Second between life and death when they land on the doorstep of a strange old crone.
Along with Word and X-it you’ll meet Et, a creature from another galaxy who often appears as the old crone, andDeath who likes to appear as Cat, Bat, Kiss, Gaga, and Bowie. Also in the story are Aisha and Jamaal, who are graffiti artists being hunted by Sick-Reapers and A.I. – artificial intelligence hostile to biological intelligence – running amok in New York City.
Their survival depends on Death splitting time to save Word from the Sick Reapers who are searching for the mysterious box Word’s mother gave her just before she died.
The magic of the Split Second Solution is that science and myth are combined to tell the truth. Word is the Last Truth Keeper, and by reading the story we just might save the world!
Split Second Solution is about survival, a call for youth to respond to the deadly conflicts occurring within political arenas … Profoundly allegorical and woven with allusions, the conversations and encounters of the characters go beyond “genre tradition” – challenging perceptions of race, gender and love. – Josefa Pace, Sonoma State University
Denny Taylor’s futuristic urban fantasy, Split Second Solution, supposes a very different world, albeit less than a decade away, but one that’s all too frighteningly plausible considering today’s culture … Split Second Solutionchallenges your imagination and makes you see the world and its potential in an entirely different light. – Jack Magnus, Readers Favorite
Split Second Solution reminds me of the works of Neil Gaiman– especially the Sandman Series. Denny Taylor has created a unique love story filled with mystery, science, and myth … I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves a tale well told that challenges the reader as it entertains. – Kris Moger, Readers Favorite
There’s a lot going on in the futuristic novel Split Second Solution … The more you read, the more you learn, and you still feel like you want to know a whole lot more. I loved this book and I would love to read the next one in the series as well. – Samantha Dewitt (Rivera), Readers Favorite