The Poisoned Pen is hosting Lincoln Child for a virtual appearance on July 12 at 6 PM (9 PM EDT). He’ll be talking about his latest novel, Chrysalis, and signed copies are available in the Web Store. https://bit.ly/3AkBd2r
But, before you attend the program, you might want to read “The story behind Chrysalis” from Lincoln Child’s recent newsletter.
Dear Friend and Reader,
Instead of sending out a newsletter just to announce that my new thriller, CHRYSALIS, is about to be published, I thought I’d use this space to tell you a little bit about how the book came into being.
If you’ve read any of my Jeremy Logan novels, you may remember he calls himself an ‘enigmalogist’—somebody who solves the strange mysteries no one else has the patience or skill set to address, from the Loch Ness monster to Bigfoot. Initially, I cast him as a modern-day version of the ‘supernatural sleuths’ that were popular in pulp fiction a century ago: a ghostbuster without the campiness. But I soon realized I wanted Jeremy to have the range to address non-supernatural problems as well: terrorists, perhaps, in addition to King Tut’s curse.
A few years ago, I had just completed Logan’s last adventure, FULL WOLF MOON, and was contemplating what he should confront next. Vampires? Zombies? I say this now with tongue in cheek. But for me it was a big deal: as always, I wanted the story to be cutting-edge and driven by techno-thrills, and that meant blowing the dust off any Saturday-afternoon-matinee monsters I decided to bring into the story…along with all their quaint cliches.
I was brooding over this, and had more or less decided on a plot (to be titled WHAT SLEEPS BENEATH), when I attended my daughter’s college graduation. At one of the post-ceremony parties, I fell into conversation with two surgeons who were discussing pacemakers. It’s a little unsettling how casually doctors talk amongst themselves when there are no patients around. Anyway, I soon learned that pacemakers, and implants in general, had progressed much further than I’d ever imagined. What particularly intrigued me was the idea that implants could be ‘upgraded’—not only by replacing them with something smaller and newer, but by modifying their firmware.
In retrospect, it makes sense. But initially I was incredulous. If you own any relatively new cell phone, or smart TV, or even a car, you’re probably familiar with firmware updates: those annoying, often unexpected intervals when the device stops to download something, and you’re warned not to touch it lest you incur dire consequences. This is not the same as upgrading your apps: what’s happening is that your device is modifying the code etched into its own hardware—at a level below the awareness of any operating system or device driver.
Firmware, like software, can have bugs. Thinking about this, I realized I didn’t much like the idea of wearing a pacemaker, version 1.1, only to discover one day that I’d been upgraded to firmware 1.2—and then the next day, learn this new release was flawed. If the device in question was a cell phone, the worst that could happen is it might act strangely, freeze, or get ‘bricked’ until firmware 1.2.1 came along to patch the error. Bummer, admittedly. But if that happened to a device that was keeping you alive…
In the same conversation, I learned a couple of other things that surprised me. Some implants now use radiofrequency, or conductive telemetry, to send or receive signals. Also, the number and kind of implants is growing almost exponentially, year over year.
Fast-forward half a decade from now. Does that mean—if I have some cutting-edge device implanted in my skull to ward off, say, early-onset dementia—some hacker could ride in on a carrier wave, or set off an EMP weapon nearby, and turn the beneficial technology in my head into something out of a nightmare?
This was fascinating, alarming…but also of particular interest to me. It dovetailed, in an unexpected way, with something else that had been on my mind: virtual technology. VR is coming up fast in the rear-view mirror, and I’m not sure we realize just how influential and dominant it’s poised to become.
For those of a certain age, it wasn’t that long ago cell phones were novelties, used just to make calls or, sometimes, play games. Now, they’ve utterly changed our lives and are practically glued to our hands. It’s the same with the web-enabled software these phones run, which could scarcely have been imagined when Netscape first introduced its browser. But it’s the speed at which these devices have become a vital part of our lives I find most astounding. Now: imagine being able to do anything you currently use the web for—watch a football game interactively, play chess with someone halfway around the world, blog, buy groceries, ‘doomscroll’—not at your desk or hunched over your phone, but from within a virtual environment of your choice that looks, feels, and even smells real, but doesn’t require you to leave your chair. A virtual environment where Big Data companies—just like they do today—pay for a “storefront” or some other persistent method of getting your attention…or money.
Don’t let that thought go quite yet. Imagine a virtual mall, or resort, or club, or neighborhood you can walk through—interact with, converse or argue in, purchase things at—from the comfort of your couch. And then consider that this same multitasking hardware and software, to maximize profits and economies of scale, is probably also being used to keep your heartbeat regular. Or your vision correct. Or your insulin levels healthy.
As a thriller writer, it’s my job to look at things everybody else takes for granted and imagine how they could go spectacularly wrong. Traveling home from my daughter’s graduation, I put aside the Jeremy Logan idea I’d started working on and began to develop another. And this time, the story’s building blocks came together with almost frightening ease—because, to me, it was all true…or rather, soon to be true. All I needed was a conglomerate, with a toe in both the medical and computing fields, that could take this existing potential and bring it to critical mass…except with far, far different results than expected.
That company, and that novel, is CHRYSALIS. Thank you for taking the time to read this. And I hope you’ll let Dr. Logan tell you the rest of the story.
With warm regards,