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The Fluther interview: mattbrowne Part II

12:51 pm

Part two of a two part series, in which we continue to delve into Matt Browne’s enormous brain…

See Part I here.

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Can you describe, in layman’s terms, what you do for a living?

I’m an IT manager employed by a multinational company in Frankfurt, Germany. My team is comprised of about 30 technical specialists and application developers.

Fluther's Avatar In addition to your day job, you are also a published author, something many of us aspire to. Do you have any words of wisdom on the art of writing or the business of publishing to offer us?

Many aspiring writers have sent me emails with exactly the same question. Here’s my advice:

– Resist the urge to think writing your own book is a crazy idea. It’s not! Don’t get discouraged during the process when you get the feeling that you’ll never be able to finish.

– Accept that writing a book takes a lot of time, especially when it’s a new experience for you. Think of it as a project with milestones and unexpected challenges down the road. Your personal project will take even longer if you’re fully employed and have a very demanding day job. So be patient. It can take five years or more, but you won’t regret it. The experience will broaden your horizon, regardless of whether your book becomes a bestseller or you manage to sell a few hundred copies.

– If you are a commuter like I am, buy a dictaphone or some other small sound recording device. A long daily commute can be a real waste of time. Try to develop the story of your book inside your head. Grow and enhance your characters. Think of how to make the plot more suspenseful. Try playing with alternatives. Use the dictaphone, so nothing gets lost. You can always write it down later.

– Do take breaks. When you’ve rewritten a chapter several times, let it rest for a few weeks, or even better, for a few months. Wait, and take a fresh look then. You’ll be amazed about new viewpoints and new ideas being generated. It’ll allow you to make more meaningful changes and the quality of writing will improve further.

– Conduct all the proper research, especially when you’re writing hard science fiction. Build a network of subject matter experts and like-minded people. Access material on the web from a variety of sources.

– Work with peer reviewers. Ask your friends if they’re interested in getting involved. A lot of people greatly enjoy offering critical assessment and valuable feedback. Even small observations and contributions count. The reviewers all become part of your project and part of your story. Working with them can also deepen your friendships.

– Delete, delete, delete! This is probably the single most important tip. Delete words, delete sentences, delete paragraphs, even delete entire chapters. Every word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter has to add value. If that’s not the case, get rid of it. Readers are annoyed by redundant or unimportant parts. Readers don’t like to be slowed down, especially when your book should excite them and maintain its suspense. The following book might help you: Sol Stein on Writing – A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies. The paperback version is available for less than $15. A very good investment, I think!

If you are interested in the wild game of publishing, here’s a section about that on my website.

Fluther's AvatarDo you incorporate or build upon any of the technologies you work with in your writing?

Yes, natural language processing software. My master’s thesis dealt with the future of grammar and spell checkers and the major hurdles which have to be overcome. During my time in Munich it also became obvious that a high-quality machine translation system needs to pass the so-called Turing test to be able to fully compete with human translators. The Turing test is a test of a machine’s ability to demonstrate intelligence. It proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with one human and one machine, each of which tries to appear human. All participants are placed in isolated locations. If the judge cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test.

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In your book, The Future Happens Twice: The Perennial Project, the science of linguistics played an important role. What previous experiences do you have with linguistics and how do you see it relating to computer science currently and in the near future?

The androids in my novel, having learned how to raise children on a starship, are capable of passing the Turing test. Ray Kurzweil, an American inventor and futurist, has wagered that his predictions about a computer program passing the Turing test will be true by the year 2029. On the site Long Bets he is betting against Mitchell Kapor, founder of Lotus Software Corporation for a payout of $20,000. My story is set in the year 2061, so it’s reasonable to assume that intelligent androids will be available by then. More challenging issues than linguistics are actually the hardware of androids, their optical pattern recognition capabilities and fine-motor control. Imagine a team of androids trying to beat the best human basketball team.

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Was this novel, part one of a trilogy, your first book of any kind?

My first serious writing experience was my master’s thesis, which was  several hundred pages long. But the novel was my first work of fiction.

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What prompted you to write it?

I’ve always been a huge science fiction fan. In 1997 I had the idea of creating my own science fiction story. It was merely for fun and perhaps to use the time of my daily commutes in a different way. I didn’t think about publishing. I considered it to be an experiment and an interesting learning experience. Perhaps even some kind of spiritual journey probing into my inner self. You see, everyday I have the fortune of experiencing the immense complexity of humankind, ranging from the love and support that my family gives me to the sheer ugliness of the many natural, political and economic tragedies in the world. These contrasting human and natural activities drove me to question what it really means to be a ‘human being’ in this universe of ours, how we plan to spend our future and what the future holds for us. There are great opportunities as well as dangers that everyone should be aware of. We need a discussion of the ethical issues related to new technologies, especially in genetics and bioengineering, but also in artificial intelligence and nanotechnology.

Eventually I began to write down my ideas and showed it to a good friend. After my first rounds of self-editing, I showed the manuscript to several other friends who would later also become my peer reviewers. They encouraged me to keep going and become a real writer. They told me that my story had potential for publishing. That was a crucial moment. Could I actually do this? Of course I had doubts. Go for it, they said! So, starting out as crazy experiment and killing time in my car, this turned into a real project. And I was hooked. Writing became almost addictive.

The plot itself grew out of my strong interest in space and my desire to make space-related topics known to a broader audience. In the year 2000 the Sunday Times newspaper carried an article by their medical correspondent Lois Rogers titled ‘Couple seek to have twins born years apart’. This was the first time I learned about the newly developed technology of embryo-splitting and decided to use it in my novel. I was particularly interested in the psychological aspects and the ethical implications. Besides that, I was also inspired by Bill McGuire’s book Apocalypse and Surviving Armageddon – Solutions for a Threatened Planet and his message that as a race, we survive on planet Earth purely by geological consent. I asked myself: Is this really true?

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How long did it take, from concept to finished product? Did you always know it would be a trilogy?

Almost 10 years. The most important part was setting up a network of reliable peer reviewers. One was a Dutch child psychologist giving me very valuable tips. And she told me, ‘Hey, I never thought that science fiction could be so interesting and appealing to women’. All of my early peer reviewers got curious about what would happen to the newly founded colony on planet Acantarius. Everyone agreed that the colonists would always wonder about the fate of the people left behind on Earth. Would they eventually attempt to get back? How would they travel back? What would they find on the planet of their origin? Those questions became the basis of Human Destiny, the second book in the trilogy. In the third book, for the first time in history, human civilization makes an attempt to travel to the Andromeda galaxy. The difference for trilogies is the need for planting the seeds in the first novel already, which I did.

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Are parts two and three of the trilogy available yet? If so, where can we find them?

The overall concepts are complete. In terms of the actual writing I’d say about 25% is done. I’m actually looking for a co-writer to help me speed up the completion of the two sequels. Of course, his or her name would appear on the cover of the published sequels.

Is that a hint? If a reader were interested in being your co-author, should they contact you? If so, how?

Anyone interested in becoming a co-writer could simply send me a PM or an email. I’m serious about it.

Fluther's AvatarI bet there are a few Flutherites who might just take you up on that! Thanks so much, Matt, for allowing us this glimpse into your life and your mind. It’s been fascinating!

Interested in learning more about Matt? Check out his website at

Special thanks to rebbel, RealEyesRealizeRealLies, boots, zenele, anartist, LostInParadise, janbb, Dutchess_III, jazmina88, Kevbo, Seek_Kolinahr, marinelife, ubersiren, NinjaColin, and yetanotheruser for suggesting questions for this interview.