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from wigglefish zine

By Kilian Melloy   

Gary Goshgarian, Professor of English at Northeastern University in Boston, escorted Your Interviewer to his office by way of a circuitous route which wound and zagged through the college campus. "It's a short way," he said apologetically, "but so hard to explain that I might as well just show you myself." Sure enough, the walk was brief — but crowded with waves and greetings to every third person we passed: students, one supposed, or colleagues. Stepping from the door of Goshgarian's building even as we approached was another acquaintance, who stopped the professor for a momentary chat about her class assignment. Such is the life, it would seem, of a popular teacher. Goshgarian instructs classes in science fiction, horror fiction, detective fiction, and creative writing.

This particular teacher is also a novelist with a new book out and a new pen name to go with it, and three earlier novels under his own name. There's Rough Beast, in which a family watches its son mutate horribly in the wake of a sinister government plot. Then there's The Stone Circle, a thriller concerning an archaeologist whose excavation of a Stonehenge-like construct provokes visions and threatens him with madness — and his son with sacrifice. The Stone Circle met with acclaim, as critics compared Goshgarian to Stephen King and the Literary Guild book club made it a Main Selection in 1998. The third novel under Goshgarian's own name is called Atlantis Fire, a book which was optioned by Omicron World Entertainment.

Now comes Elixir, penned under the name Gary Braver. Elixir is the story of a scientist named Christopher Bacon, who ventures to New Guinea with a boyhood friend — a native of the region — and is shown the one place in all the world where a unique species of flower flourishes. The flower's healing properties include eternal youth. It's a prospect that inflames Bacon's scientific and personal passions, but attracts unwelcome attention from drug peddlers both corporate and illicit. Suffice it to say that a top-notch thriller is born.

Goshgarian's office — or should I say, Braver's office — proved smaller than one might have expected, and packed with books. Science fiction dominated one shelf, while horror titles loomed on another. Tellingly, there were at least two editions of Dracula, along with books by King, Koontz, and Cook. Braver took his place at a work area that was more like a countertop than a desk. Trim, alert, with a shock of curls that would be unruly if he let them grow long, Braver crackled with words and energy.

The following week, at a book signing-party hosted by Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge (the store is referred to by name in Elixir), Braver was much the same, a non-stop fount of good cheer, waving at new arrivals from across the room, all ears as the guests stopped by to chat, the brightest spot in a somewhat reserved company. (Sample drollery, offered by one fellow at the gathering to another: "An Oxford man walks down the street as if he owns it. A Cambridge man, on the other hand, walks down the street as if he doesn't care who owns it." Oh, I say.) It took a quick wit indeed to keep up with Mr. Braver; wigglefish sent me instead.

wigglefish: How did you, a former physicist, find your way to teaching writing?

Gary Braver: I was trying to find myself! I had gotten a full scholarship to Worcester Polytech, and I had dreams of being a physicist, and I had done well in English. When I got there, I realized I was having more fun starting a humor magazine and doing writing for the newspaper and the yearbook. I was getting much more out of that. I could see words and believe in them. I didn't believe in atoms, because I couldn't see them. And I didn't think I had a temperament to stay in a physics lab the rest of my life. Because we weren't rich and I had the scholarship, I had to stay where I was.

But I planned in my sophomore and junior year that once I got out, I'd go on for a graduate degree in English, and that's what happened. I was much more at home talking about books and reading them and doing writing than I was [with] quantum mechanics and acoustic labs and electronics. So, when I got out, I got a couple degrees in English, and after having seen the light or whatever, resigned myself to a life of books and poverty.

wigglefish: Of course, if you were a physicist, poverty might still be an issue.

Gary Braver: Perhaps.

wigglefish: As you're striving for your great Magnum Opus, The Theory of Everything.

Gary Braver: Yes, right, the Great Monoformula of Science. But I'm happy I had that background, because I started teaching science fiction way back in the seventies, when it was not fashionable. I had read it by the pound when I was a kid, so I'm very much enamored of science and scientific reasoning and discovery.

wigglefish: Which leads to the scientific speculations of your book.

Gary Braver: Yes, the "What if?" stuff.

wigglefish: Your book is a thriller, but obviously it has roots in science fiction. It also seems to owe something to the horror movie genre, insofar as it's the kind of story in which a scientist discovers something he believes will be a great boon, but in the end he starts wondering if he's become a monster as a result of his discovery.

Gary Braver: I don't think he sees himself as a monster; he sees himself as an aberration of the natural order, but his motivation is a fear of losing his mind to Alzheimer's. I mean, he lives the life of the mind, as an intellect, that is his greatest horror. So the horrific side effects of Elixir — which you cannot go off once you're on — adds that dimension. He doesn't see himself as a monster. He sees himself perhaps as a kind of a temporal freak, which he is. He does not grow old. As time passes, not for him but for those he loves, he realizes his freakishness is colossal, and is a source of woe for his wife — who refuses to be on [Elixir], for her own good reasons — and as his son grows older and catches up to his own age, and he projects what will happen when this kid gets as old as he and surpasses him, then he realizes that he is unique and perhaps that leads to his conclusions that he makes at the end. But I really wanted to see him in a moral and ethical dilemma, rather than his being a freak or a monster. He is certainly not threatening to anyone.

Science fiction looks forward, horror looks backward, and the horror is in the degeneration, the devolving effect of Elixir once you go off it, the rapid fast-forward aging. And that horrific aspect ... you know, there's always something horrific in horror fiction, something ooga-booga-ish, but it's also science horror. It's a curious hybrid. I mean, I teach science fiction, I teach horror fiction, and I don't even know what this [book] is. It's a thriller, but it's like science-horror ... a scientific quest leads to both physical and psychological horrors.

wigglefish: So this is not your first book?

Gary Braver: No, this is not my first book. But we had a make-over, a change of name, because it made marketing sense, it's an easier name. But it's more based on the fact that when bookstore chains order books, they look at the sales of the [author's] previous book. [My last book] was modest [in sales], with seven thousand copies. My publisher had died the week that it came out, and they eliminated the imprint and the editorial board [and so forth], so by the time [the book] got pushed over to another desk at Dutton under a new imprint, they had no interest in me, and when the book sold out very fast, they were not enthusiastic about reprints.

So, essentially, it died on the vine. And, even though my publisher had loved it, and wanted to work [with me] on more books, it did not bode well staying with Penguin. So this other publisher, Forge, loved the [new] book, and said, "Will you change your name, and we'll print up a whole bunch of [copies] and give it a [marketing] push." It's cynical. It's the nature of the trade, and there are many writers ... who have had name changes mid-career.

wigglefish: For similar reasons?

Gary Braver: For the exact same reason.

wigglefish: There's an adage that book sellers don't know how to sell books. Do you think this is really what problems in the book trade come down to, or are things not as easy to sum up as that?

Gary Braver: That comes close to it. A friend of mine has a T-shirt that says, "Publishing Business is an Oxymoron." It's both the publishers and the publishing distributors. I don't think many of them really read the books. I think they get specs from the publisher, they're gonna print up 75,000 copies, so the publisher's gonna be behind this, so we'll be behind this and we'll order a lot of copies. [The business] is generated tht way, as opposed to [being] self-generating, where they read the book and say, "Hey, this has got literary merit," and get behind it. It's complicated by the fact that people are looking at numbers and order on numbers without looking at the book.

wigglefish: Getting back to the book in question ...

Gary Braver: Yes, please.

wigglefish: Elixir is, as much as a thriller or horror novel, a study of family dynamics. It's a little unusual for a thriller to involve a whole family on the run rather than one lone hero or hero with a potential romantic interest as a sidekick. What caused you to take your story in that direction?

Gary Braver: The traditional family unit is the fundamental building block of society. At least, it is perceived a such, even though things have been fractured in these days of as many divorces as there are marriages. But I still believe in the family. If that goes, then society will go. It is the very fundament of horror fiction, even some science fiction. Dracula is about a monster attacking a family; it goes for the bride to be, and [then for] the husband. I am a family man first, and then whatever else I do is secondary to that. So I wanted to examine something that was universal — family — where this could take place and cause fractures from up close and personal [in the] family fabric ... that's the wrong metaphor ... tears in the fabric of the family, as well as the more global [dangers presented by Elixir]. But you can't get a reader to identify with abstract global issues if you can't have it personalized, and that's what I wanted. And that's what I thought of: what if it happened to me and I was a scientist, and I invented this?

The story kind of generated from [the question of] what's the ultimate fantasy that transcends sex, money, power? And that's certainly where I got the idea from, but I remember talking to my wife on her birthday — we're driving to the restaurant to celebrate her birthday, and I remember asking her — one of the early scenes in the book is very much like [the moment] where this idea kind of jelled — I asked her how old she thought she [would think] she was if she didn't know how old she was.

She said, "Is this a trick question?"

I said, "How old do you think you are? If you didn't know how old you are and you looked into a mirror, how old would you think you were [based on] appearance and temperament and all that?"

She said that some days she feels old and some days she feels right on target, and some days she feels twenty again. And that got into, wouldn't you like to stay twenty, twenty-five forever? And she thought about it and she said, "No." Which was rather shocking to me.

Then she said, "Would you?"

I said, "Absolutely! I loved being twenty-five, and some days I feel like I want to stay that way." And I said, "Ooh, here is a dichotomy: here are two characters who are in love with each other, and they have completely opposite views of the same fantasy."

I say yes. She says no. And each of us had our good reasons. Mine was impractical, and was not filtered through a kind of moral black box. I examined all the ramifications of it and then later on said, yeah, I guess, but damn it! — my gut says, yeah, I'd shoot up right now! And she said she has no interest, she'd rather die naturally, make room for others, and that became the essential tension which drove this book.

wigglefish: You created a microcosm within this family unit where you could explore these issues.

Gary Braver: Yes, exactly. And I could identify with them, Kilian. I could identify with both her and my [own] views, and [that] made [those views] intimate to me, so when I was dealing with the characters it just flowed. Those issues just became ... I could understand them.

wigglefish: But that's a man thing, isn't it, wanting to hold on to your teeth ...

Gary Braver: (Mimes concern for his hair line by tugging at his scalp.)

wigglefish: ... or your hair, the wanting to stay virile — to stay able to defend you family, hunt the bear.

Gary Braver: Absolutely. Whereas the woman, ironically, who would seem to be the more vain one, given that what seems to drive our entire society is the female image of youth, was much more ethical and moral in her response, and that made some sense to me, too. The hunter wants to go out and pound his chest, and go after bison, whereas the wife says it's time to move on and make room for the next generation. It was a very sobering kind of view. I liked that difference.

wigglefish: Do I take it that you yourself, at this point, having written this book and thought about these issues, remain convinced that it would be immoral or unnatural for people to extend their lives indefinitely?

Gary Braver: I don't think that could happen. "Indefinitely" is the crux there. I think the anti-aging science that's going on now with stem cells and enzymes and all the other kind of miracle drugs they're finding in the rain forest — recently someone came up with a discovery of something called Foxglove which is a flower or plant that grows in the Amazon, [that] has improved Alzheimer's patients. It would be nice if we could protract our lives by another fifty years or so, but it would be problem. We're 6 billion now. We're going to be nine billion in 2020. That's horrendous. But again, I'm really torn — my gut feeling says, sure, I want to live forever, I'm here once. But I realize the problems [extended life would bring about], and I'm kind of grateful I don't have that option. So I'm gonna cop out on the question.

wigglefish: You don't have the option yet, but medicine, genetic mapping, biological science are all closing in on the question of mortality. Progress right now is slow, but it might not be forever. There might soon be ways to extend life, prolong youth, even restore youth. At that point it may become a question for you and for everyone else — at least, everyone who has access to those advances.

Gary Braver: That access may not be available, but I would be in line. Truthfully, I would be in line if they were passing it out. And I hope something comes along — I don't want to be old and infirm, I want to be as vital as I can be for a long time. I want to see my kids and grandkids and all that kind of stuff. But I want to be active, I would hate the thought of retiring.

wigglefish: So the question isn't so much one of living forever as not becoming enfeebled, isn't it?

Gary Braver: Yeah, exactly.

wigglefish: We have doubled life expectancy in our country within the last hundred years. Even with the baby boomers coming up to retirement age, they're a generation concerned with proper nutrition, staying healthy and active. They might not bankrupt the system. They want to stay vital, and that drives the research. The problem might solve itself.

Gary Braver: It's possible. There could be a great reduction in nursing home care, which right now is in the trillions. And if we are living better, and living longer, we don't have those problems: they're pushed up toward the back end.

wigglefish: You could write an entire library on the ramifications, social and economic, of life extension. But do you foresee other problems and objections other than the ones you raise in Elixir?

Gary Braver: I think the ones I raised are just making freakish the nature of relationships. The [possibility] that really gave me the heebie-jeebies was the one about the kid being six years old forever. I mean, for one, it's kind of a bad joke: "Argh, my kid is sixty-six, and he's still six!"

Aside from the hellishness of having a perpetual six-year-old, even if you extended our life span by fifty years or froze [biological age] at the age you administer [a drug like Elixir], there would be horrific kinds of regulations [regarding] who gets [access to] it. Do third world countries which are bursting at the seams get to use it? Countries in Africa, or China, or India? You would have some really horrific problems there.

I did not explore the Malthusian horrors because [the story] was not [set] that far into the future, and it was only two people who were on [Elixir]. That would be one of the other great nightmares, if, en masse, people were extending their lives. We're just running out of resources, running out of food, the droughts and El Niño [related] problems in the Midwest — we're going to be reaching a point, if the global warming horrors continue and the drought continues, we are going to have problems feeding our own country. Then what happens worldwide with another three billion people?

wigglefish: But that makes me think of the other side of the coin. In the late 19th century, in certain parts of society, there was an attitude summed up by the slogan, "Apres nous, le deluge" — after us, let it all be washed away. That's an attitude that we see today in terms of global warming and depletion of resources. But maybe if people thought they were going to be around for an extra fifty years or so it would be a little less easy to shrug off such problems.

Gary Braver: But that says that people have large global visions. We're born short, bald, and brutish. I think we don't change no matter what we've got, whether we're living the lives of angels, or devils, I don't think we are so magnanimous in our visions and magnanimous in what we do. I think we are more, as individuals, selfish and survivalist than [we are] big visionaries. I think if we had the opportunity to take [a life extending treatment] it would cause great rifts in our society. You'd have the Elixirs and the Elixir-nots, too, all that stuff at the end [of the novel], the international crises.

It's the Frankenstein monster: we're tampering with nature. That is the real Frankenstein monster, or it could be. Short term [life extension], ten years, wonderful — we all get an extra decade or so. Even that, probably in the long run the statisticians would prove that there are some really bad consequences there. The longer [we extend the natural life span] would be worse. We can't all be hermits running off into the woods and living longer lives. That would take care of the woods.

wigglefish: Given that these things are happening, that science is opening that box, getting ready to go out there and bring that monster to life, do you see these problems as being inevitable? Or do you think that this is never quite going to work?

Gary Braver: I think some aspect of it will work. I think we are going to make breakthroughs in gene therapy, particularly cell science. I think what's going to happen is, someone is going to open up that little black box that says why cancer cells replicate indefinitely and healthy cells don't — that there's a ceiling. And I think it'll be the enzyme research that will ultimately keep the DNA intact so that in every replication of cells it doesn't get shorter and shorter and shorter [until] death. And they're getting close. The science [in the book] is bordering on the cutting edge, because the people I was talking to were cutting edge. What I get from them is yes, they're going to eventually do something. They're going to find what makes cancer perpetual and the good cells not, and be able to cross something where you would keep the good ones alive and the cancer cells would be in check. So I think that's going to happen, I think the stem cell research will be an adjunct to that — your liver goes, we'll grow you a new one. We're heading in that direction. It's hard to believe that that won't be developed.

There will be some very stringent kinds of regulations on these [advances] because the ethics will have to be worked out — I mean, all the stuff we've been talking about. You kind of hope it won't work so successfully that we can live forever, because then the genie will be out and we'll have all the awfulness. I think in moderate forms of protracting life, [this area of science] would work. How much? Indefinitely? I don't know. We wear out. Eventually, you wear out physically. The joints, the bones, it all wears out, and you can't keep on going back to the body shop and getting new parts. At some point, part of you is going and the rest of you ain't working. So I think that there is a built-in warranty. And I think that exceeding that — I don't know what you are, you're a half-working organism, you've got working liver and kidneys and your eyes are gone.

wigglefish: That brings us back to the quality of life.

Gary Braver: That's quite true, the quality of life would be compromised, I think. If regulations could be made to prevent that deterioration ... but again, there's [the possibility of] all this awful kind of Big Brotherism stuff, too.

wigglefish: Sure, because you open the door to euthanasia, possibly.

Gary Braver: That's right. Mass murder, too.

wigglefish: Is it more than an irony that you make one of the characters in Elixir an international drug cartel figure? I hear a note of satire in that he's the ultimate pusher, of a drug you can never kick.

Gary Braver: I wanted the drug lord to be international so [the temptation of Elixir] could be spread globally among the elite. I made him French and Caribbean just to spare him from the stereotypes — I did not want him to be Hispanic, so [the readers] would think of Colombia and all that. And I wanted him to have a touch of elegance or whatever, some kind of refinement, because I thought that would be the culture to which he would be [offering to sell] the stuff ... But I saw him having the mobility and the financial wherewithal to dispense [Elixir] globally, to the Donald Trumps of the world and the sheiks and princes and princesses of the globe.

wigglefish: Everyone is conscious of the passage of time — that's the backbone of your book, really — but in our culture, which has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, there's a trend away from responsibility and commitment. Did you think about that in terms of your book — what if we had more time to waste?

Gary Braver: Yeah... one of the appeals the protagonist makes to his wife is, look how much more time you could spend being creative. If she were not a creative person, look how much more time you could find [yourself] spending at the mall or in front of the television. And if Regis Philbin kept on taking [Elixir], then we'd be able to watch his show forever! It's hard to dramatize sloth interestingly. If the passage of time were to [have no meaning] to slothful people who just wanted to lie around like fatted cats, I think that that would not be all that interesting, even though that would be certainly an interesting aspect of [what Elixir would mean to the world], that if it were in a movie, you would be able to jump into the future [and see] people just wasting the time — well, wasting it from an outsider's point of view — by being non-creative and more couch potatoey.

One aspect I didn't explore is, if you had world enough and time, you might not be more creative — you might just be more lazy. It might encourage a kind of sluggishness, intellectually and otherwise — the procrastination aspect sets in. You don't have the anxiety of playing "beat the clock."

The other aspect is the workaholics. You know, you get nutty on the treadmill. One aspect could be, people who are workaholics either would slow down, or they'd try to get more in, try to get more money or more this or more that — material acquisition. I didn't explore that, but it does bring in the question of responsibility.

I think it would be a matter of the beast, whoever it is who's got the extra time, what they do with it: more leisure, more play, or more work and more productivity. One of the dreams of Karl Marx was that through technology we'd be able to expand our lifespans. We'd have less time in the field and more time for the ballet. Technology would get people out of following the back end of a mule for eleven or twelve hours a day and get them to be more civilized. However, I don't know how civilized we would be if [we] had more time. Would we put ourselves into greater benefits of society or the arts, or would we be just more slothful?

wigglefish: So in a way, mortality is the engine of progress.

Gary Braver: I think it is. It's kind of [like] necessity being the mother of invention, a quality of "beat the clock" being the mother of invention too ... you know that the clock is ticking down, you know you'd better work. You can even see in the microcosm of a busy day, people scrambling to get a lot done, they come home tired but they may feel fulfilled because they worked eleven hours today. It would be an interesting aspect [to explore] if there were Elixir II, what people would do twenty-five years from now with all their spare time

wigglefish: Before Elixir II comes along, isn't it likely there'll be a movie version of Elixir? Hasn't the book been optioned by Ridley Scott's production company?

Gary Braver: It's been optioned by Ridley Scott, yeah. We're hopeful. The option expires — they renewed it already, they bought this on an outline and the first few hundred pages while I was writing the first draft. The second option is up in July, so we'll know probably pretty soon. Their response has been very pleasing, and I think they're kind of waiting to see what happens [with the book's sales]. They've also had a change — they dumped a lot of execs about two weeks ago, and I think they're sifting and winnowing, but I think this is still one of the items they're thinking of making a movie out of. But, you know ... when I sign something, then it's for real.

wigglefish: You left the door open in the meantime for a sequel if you felt like writing one.

Gary Braver: Yes, that's always there, the end of the book does have a sequelitis touch.

wigglefish: Is this something that you wanted to put in to keep your options open, or was it an editorial suggestion?

Gary Braver: I [did] that because ... there's a parallel. It goes back to the very prologue [of the book] when Chris Bacon puts his hand in the fire — puts his hand in Hell, in a sense — and pulls out the magic flower, and his kid does the same thing [at the end], like father like son, so there's a roundness about it. And I liked the notion of the generational ... even though the kid has seen what has happened [to his father], he's holding his options, he's putting it in the freezer so when he gets to be an older guy, and he starts creaking, he would take it too. But it's also ... I've already thought about a second book, where we'd go with him. He'd be an interesting character to focus on. But the next book is not [merely] Elixir II, it's something else.

wigglefish: So it wouldn't be an extension of the first book; it would be the same character, but you'd give him his own story.

Gary Braver: Yes, exactly.

wigglefish: The book is very cinematic, especially in the sections where you mean to make more of an impact. The prose takes on a poetic quality [in certain key scenes] — it's compressed, it's extremely visual. Do you write poetry also?

Gary Braver: No, but on the visual stuff, I was brought up on movies. I O.D.'d on movies when I was a kid, so I think being part of the movie generation and liking to read visually written prose ... I was dictating a movie in my skull as I did the scenes.

wigglefish: Elixir has the feel of a movie happening as you read the book.

Gary Braver: That is not conscious, trying to make a movie. I think visually, and I don't like books that don't give me a visual handle on what's going on, [when] it's all intellectual and interior. I want that, but I also want to know where and when these people are and what they look like and what they're wearing. I like to see physical movement, too, described. Not just, "He went there," but the steps that got you there. That's how I think. It might be related to all the Warner Brothers beastie movies I saw when I was a kid.

wigglefish: To be turned into a script for a film, how do you think the story would have to be changed? Or rather, how do you think Hollywood might destroy your work?

Gary Braver: Well, that's a well-chosen word! The major transition going from the eighties to the present — I don't know how they would handle that. The first half of the book is kind of the skullduggery, working the formula out, keeping it under wraps, and all the corruption within the pharmaceuticals [company] — the back half of the book is, they're on the run.

If the movie were to come out, I would not like to see them so much on the run that the family dynamics problems, the horrors that are growing, get lost. Those are the important issues, not just all the hopping around from here to there. I would want them not to lose the husband-and-wife relationship and the deterioration of that [relationship] by the "bio-gap," nor what happens when the kid discovers his mother's not really 38, she's 56 years old, and his father is not who he seems to be. That's the essence.

Any good movie is about people, not about bad guys chasing good guys. I would make sure, if I had any say — they could turn this into a Daffy Duck cartoon and not ask me about it — but if I had some say in it, I would make sure that would be held intact. In the first half of the book, we're talking about corruption and people talking about getting the billion dollar molecule to the market. I think that issue is important, and not like a kind of evening magazine [show] talking about Lily or Merck or Eli or some other, Pfizer, rushing to get an anti-cancer drug on the market — but the real corruption of money grubbing, and there is corruption in some of these industries. This would be the big corruption. So I would like that aspect, to have a social statement, to be maintained, and also the interpersonal dynamics. That's the backbone of the story.

wigglefish: In the interview with the publicist's office, you mention the various references to Christian tradition in the book: the rain forest garden with its forbidden blossom, the protagonist's name, Christopher Bacon, evokes Christ and the promise of eternal life, and also Roger Bacon, an alchemist ...

Gary Braver: The very first English alchemist, in the 13th century. He did go for the elixir [of life], he tried to make the Philosophers' Stone.

wigglefish: There's a long, long tradition in human thought of longing for more life, and that underlies a lot of religion as well. If something along the lines of Elixir were to come along, do you see that it would change people's religious views? Or is religion useful only as long as people face mortality and need some promise of something to come after their physical life?

Gary Braver: I think that you could have one of two major reactions. One, the Antichrist kind of stuff at the end [of the book]. And to the other one ... it is not, given the way the religious mind works, looking for a solutions and then twisting everything until it justifies that solution. I would not be surprised, were there an elixir that came from a flower in a rain forest, if to some religious minds this would be seen as God having planting the seeds of immortality, as a reward, that there was just one flower that holds the secret of life. Just as we have snakes in the garden and we have the forbidden fruit, this would be the unforbidden fruit, just the opposite. If there the flower and the extract that could do all these wonderful things, to some religious thinkers this could be the end time. It could also be the keys to the Kingdom that God placed in a flower in the garden, and smart people happen to have found it. And given the fact that there are so many thousands of medicinal plants that do wonderful things for people, why not this be the ultimate plant that God planted, and we who have proven ourselves, and those that find this, if they have virtue too, they also have eternal life.

You could see this as going either way, religiously speaking, because many religions have a form of the Fall — Judeo-Christian [tradition] is the obvious one, but there are others. Yin and yang were once whole and then something stupid happened and they spend eternity trying to get back. And I think the Aztecs have an original creation story where a human being does something stupid. And the Ancient Greeks have Pandora's Box, although that's not a creation story.

I think that, to the religious mind, you could churn this through any black box and come up with some religious kinds of either Revelations or a new Genesis. I think that many people would see this as playing God. And that, to fundamentalists, only God has the right to give life, take life, or protract life, and I think this would be a fundamentalist bugaboo.

wigglefish: What's your next project?

Gary Braver: The next project is another fantasy, on enhancing intelligence. I mean, really kicking it into turbo. And again it deals with families and moral and ethical issues. The working title is Grey Matter.

wigglefish: So once again, more isn't necessarily better.

Gary Braver: That's absolutely true. I wish I had more, though!

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