Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview John Stuart Goldenberg, who is here to talk about his new novel “Oneiro.”
John Stuart Goldenberg is an American author living in the South of France, where he writes from a luxury boutique hotel he owns and operates on the Riviera.
John studied Music Theory & Composition at Lamar University. He underwent undergraduate studies at George Mason University in Virginia, and graduate studies at George Washington University in Washington D.C.
He has lived and worked in over forty countries writing everything from advertising copy to functional specifications, as well as science fiction, historical fiction and general fiction. Arthur C. Clarke probably had the greatest influence on his work, and he includes Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams as favorite authors. John visited Clarke at his home in Sri Lanka and became acquainted with Vonnegut in Reykjavik. His writing emphasizes “hard” science fiction against a backdrop of realism, mystery and action, spiced with sprinklings of dark irony…ranging through art, music, language, physics, cosmology, genetic biology, and even cuisine.
Tyler: Welcome, John. I’m excited to talk to you about your novel “Oneiro” but first, will you explain the title to us since it’s quite an unusual word?
John: The focal action of Book One takes place on an island called Oneiro; a Greek island amongst hundreds in the Aegean archipelago. Oneiro is a Greek word that translates as Dream, which is intended to convey both the spirit of the island and the book.
Tyler: Will you tell us about the main character, Philip Carr?
John: At some time in our lives we all encounter someone like Phil Carr. He basically represents what we may work towards and aspire to as humans —only Phil’s attributes are endemic to his nature.
Phil is essentially a happy loner. He’s smart, good looking, physically adept and completely lacking in the need for human support or companionship. He has no family per se, other than a drunken uncle. No friends. He does have a superb education, a keen intelligence, a good deal of money and an impressive prowess with women. He is totally independent, self-sufficient and self-reliant. Event will call upon these strengths and force Phil to develop them to extraordinary lengths.
Tyler: What do you think will make readers find Philip attractive or make them able to identify with him?
John: I’m unsure whether readers can readily identify with Phil. In some respects he represents an incipient subgenus of Homo sapiens. Not a new species by any measure, but sufficiently differentiated to endow Phil with attributes exotic to the human norm.
Therefore, Phil’s character must be very likable to draw the reader into the story and empathized with his trials. He achieves this through his wit, his good looks and his quickness. This serves to make him a very attractive character, allowing him to attract us towards him. Then we learn to appreciate his intelligence, his somewhat unique insights, and his singular talent for situational acuity – formulating near instantaneous decisions. These strengths combine to form Phil into an exceptional leader, a critical attribute in navigating his way through the challenges and perils of his journey.
These are offset by Phil’s weaknesses. His predilection for alcohol. Good food. Women. Physiologically, Phil’s gifts allow him to lavishly indulge himself in such pleasures without suffering any ill effects. Again, he is capable of a life style most of us fantasize about. However, they do provide him another dimension. Making him more human and hopefully, believable.
Tyler: John, I am intrigued by your discussion of Phil’s relationships—that he does not need friends or relatives, but he has a liking for women nevertheless. Would you describe him as a maverick type, or someone unable to make an emotional commitment, or is this a strength of his character? What made you decide to create him in this manner?
John: I consider this aspect of his persona a strength. I do not consider him as either a maverick or as unable to make a commitment. He is simply a loner. This an attribute, or perhaps a requisite, of leadership.
He lives in a world comprised more of his own visions than of other humans. This does not imply his values differ materially from those around him (not a maverick); and he has the ability to strongly and rapidly make serious commitments, albeit pretty much confined to his duties.
Whether maverick, noncommittal, or loner…these characteristics do not preclude a very healthy appetite for the ladies. Most successful leaders share in this propensity. It is his weakness for women that leads him into making poor decisions from time to time, which is a useful device for developing the story.
Tyler: John, will you tell us about Philip’s reason for going to a Greek island?
John: First, he goes to the island as a simple assignment by his law firm, wherein he was specifically requested by a very influential industrial group. A good deal of money is involved. It all seems a little mysterious. So he finds it fun, flattering and even a bit glamorous.
Second, he finds the island to be a remarkably beautiful and pleasant ambience. Understandably he is highly attracted to the job offer(s) extended. President of the island’s industries and Chancellor of the island’s very advanced university.
Third, when he is fully briefed on all the activities and objectives of the island, he finds them to be extremely worthy and utterly unique. He feels his past and seemingly inevitable future lacks challenge and a sense of purpose. Conversely the island is uplifting, even inspiring, and he shoulders his new duties with great enthusiasm and a renewed resolve.
Tyler: Where did you get the idea to set the novel on a Greek island? In your biography above, it sounds like you have traveled a lot so I assume you visited Greece as well?
John: I have visited Greece many times. I enjoy the people, the food, the geography and most certainly the weather. Many sites—for example Delphi—provoke a real sense of wonder. To walk the dizzying heights where Alexander strode and the Oracle would portend the future is unforgettable.
I also needed lots of good weather to tell the story; and the seas there are perfect geographically and geologically. Plus I needed an island easily accessible to Europe, the Middle East and the U.S.
All in all, a Greek island suited ideally.
Tyler: Would you expand further on what you mean when you say you needed “good weather” to tell the story. How does weather function into the story?
John: Much of the first and second books are set on or under the sea. The sea is intrinsic to Phil’s character and his development. Therefore, good weather is mandatory to allow the action to take place undistracted and with visual clarity.
Tyler: Without giving away the plot, can you tell us about the science fiction aspect of the novel?
John: It all starts with eugenics. That branch of science which suffers misunderstanding and abhorrence from nearly every quarter of humanity—with good reason.
When we think of eugenics we conjure images of goose stepping Nazis, horrible human experimentation and grotesquely misguided visions of “master races” emanating from mysterious misty mountain tribes in India.
Many people may be unaware that prior to the monstrous eugenics visited upon the world by WWII Germany, many countries (the U.S., U.K., Denmark, Canada and many others included) actively engaged in their own forms of eugenics. Iconic American thinkers such as Oliver Wendell Holmes made somewhat perverse rulings based on their interpretation and acceptance of this science. (In point of fact, most serious scientists will not credit eugenics as actually comprising a legitimate science today).
A premise of the novel is that humans allow their differences to truly divide them. Engender hate and fear. Act to the determent of our species and perhaps militate towards our destruction.
Another premise is that if we eliminate these differences—without prejudice or bias of any sort—we may eliminate the pernicious elements that threaten us—we may even improve the overall genome called human. The volatile problem with eugenics lies in the reality that man lacks the wisdom to apply its principles without dreadful abuses. The chief scientist of Oneiro, a Dr. Craig Webber, has elegantly overcome this problem, clearing the way for human advancement.
All our lives we are told that we use only a very small part of our brain. Does this apply to our DNA as well? The majority of human DNA endures the distressing moniker of “junk” DNA. Leftovers from hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Perhaps older than the Earth itself? Perhaps as old as the cosmos? One thing is certain. This excess DNA, junk or otherwise, has a staggering capacity for information. More information than our bodies can ever exploit. This begs the question: What wonders may dwell within those infinitesimal swirling helices of creation?
Tyler: John, will you tell us a little bit more about Dr. Craig Webber—what is his purpose in studying eugenics? Is he on his island another Dr. Moreau waiting to happen?
John: Dr. Webber is a very benign character. He is an MD and a scientist who is deeply concerned with the human condition, and even more so with human evolution. Happily he is exceptionally wealthy. Therefore, after some frustration with university life and corporate endowments he decided to “open his own shop” away from the politics and controls of academia, industry and governments. There is nothing spiteful in his actions. He’s actually quite harmless and exceedingly happy in his work. He is far removed from Dr. Moreau. There has never been, nor will there ever by any genetic monstrosities forthcoming from Oneiro.
There is nothing secretive about activities on Oneiro (aside from understandably withholding developments from the outside world). He invested a great deal of time and money recruiting the finest scientists for his island. Thousands of people are involved and Dr. Webber is not a mad scientist ensconced in shadowy solitude on a desert isle. He even reports to a Board of Directors who are not remotely foreboding. In fact they are relatively innocuous denizens of banks, board rooms and country clubs. All is as it seems. And all are very positive in their attitude towards their work and the world.
Seems idealistic? Not in my opinion. Most reasonably successful humans do not suffer from paranoia or megalomania. And I hope Oneiro is a sufficiently fascinating tale of its own merits. Not dependant on overworked subplots and intrigues.
Tyler: Can you tell us how Phil gets involved with Dr. Webber and his studies?
John: Phil was recruited by Dr. Webber, based on extensive background information commissioned by the Board of Directors. Webber was not directly involved in Phil’s selection and there are some intriguing connections which clarify as the story transpires.
Tyler: In your marketing descriptions of the novel it describes the novel as taking place “against a backdrop of hard science fiction, supported by a substantial body of background research.” Will you tell us what you mean by “hard” science fiction—I assume it’s more realistic than fantasy?
John: I will never understand the relationship that seems to conjoin:
A.) Unicorn and heroes and wizards and lizards, with;
B.) Astrophysics, cosmology, mathematics and nearly every scientific discipline from which imagination draws upon, to create science fiction.
On the one hand is a body of action, adventure fantasy literature. Good fun. Much of it very well written and imaginative. Fiction? Yes. Science? No. Science Fiction? No.
Gifted authors such as Anne McCaffrey and her Pern series were the primary influences which began blurring the line between Tolkien and Wellsian schools. Their works were excellent and there were some intriguing elements of science fiction laced throughout.
Soon however, the breakaway was complete; and we found ourselves up to our reading glasses in witches and warlocks. Not science fiction. I feel a rash creeping up every time I see two so disparate genres cohabiting bookstore shelves as a single classification. Thank God Harry Potter is classified as children’s literature!
Within science fiction there are several subsets:
- Consider the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan and several others. Their works emanate from a penetrating command of their subject…extrapolation of such knowledge extended by time and research…and how these sciences might affect man and mankind. The finest of such works use the science to provide us insight into ourselves. Hard science. Hard science fiction.
- Then there’s the rocket-ship and ray-gun stuff. Westerns set against the stars. Always fun. The classic space opera.
- Then there’s the science fiction based on the premise that given enough time and space, anything is possible. Write a no-holds-barred, scientifically undisciplined piece of fiction. Large on good reading and imagination. Small on science.
- Then there’s the Star Trek stuff. Great stories, good jargon, imaginative plots. Forget the science. This stuff is the past and present master of pseudo-science.
- Finally there’s the body of science fiction that draws exclusively upon philosophy, metaphysics and ontology. Difficult to write. Challenging to read.
So, the definition of “hard” science fiction is fiction based on actual science, or educated conjecture.
Hopefully Oneiro qualifies as “hard” science fiction.
Tyler: Thank you, John, for the detailed definitions—since you are writing “hard” science fiction, it requires knowledge about science, so will you tell us about some of the background research you did in writing the novel?
John: I invested the largest amount of research in biology…that is to say genetics. I am already somewhat well founded in astrophysics, law, paleontology and archeology. The elements regarding religion, politics and philosophy were essentially my ravings. I was required to do some fairly extensive digging regarding the section dealing with fear training (Applied psychology).
All in all, I devoted the most time to reproductive biology. I found the blastiocyst (far from state-of-the-art present day genetics) extremely interesting, and the key to the problem I was trying to solve. Later books will fuse genetics with quantum and sub-quantum mechanics. The result of this juxtaposition will require the ensuing three books to gradually come clear. I believe the conclusion of this odyssey will astound.
Tyler: John, you express some deep philosophical ideas in the novel, as well as ideas to solve world problems, such as food shortages. If I remember correctly, Jules Verne wrote about similar things in his novels—so I’m curious if you feel there are any science fiction writers specifically who have influenced your own ideas and writing?
John: Arthur C. Clarke (everything, especially “Childhood’s End” and “Foundations of Paradise”), Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker series), Kurt Vonnegut (“Breakfast of Champions,” “The Sirens of Titan,” “Wampeters, Foma and “Granfalloons”), Dr. Carl Sagan (“Contact” & “The Dragons of Eden” [nonfiction]), Theodore Sturgeon (everything) and Robert Heinlein (“Stranger in a Strange Land” & [+/- ] “Time Enough for Love”).
Tyler: What is it about “hard” science fiction that fascinates you, and what do you believe is the benefit it offers to its readers?
John: Hard science fiction has a discipline about it, and I believe that ultimately comes through to the reader. If this is achieved, it lends credibility to the work and the reader finishes with insights that have value. In my opinion, when a novel is indeed “hard science” and written within the disciplines of the science itself…it is a crisper, more satisfying read. Science fiction has always struggled to find recognition in “serious” literature. Unfortunately it has become more the province of (using the popular term) geeks, Trekkies and Dungeon ’n Dragoners. Science fiction has a serious role to play in literature. Perhaps more serious than we appreciate. And that’s a “hard” role.
Tyler: John, will you tell us a little more about yourself beyond your biography above—how did an American come to live in France and operate a hotel?
John: I lived in Paris for several years and owned a townhouse in the medieval village of St. Paul de Vence on the Riviera, between Cannes and Nice. After a contract in Luxembourg I was looking for sun. Luxembourg is a beautiful country. But their weather is described as “used British weather.” This drew me back to the Riviera. After years of living in hotels, I wanted to manage one myself. Do it right. According to my own standard.
Tyler: Living on the Riviera sounds romantic and the ideal kind of life for a writer—is it glamorous—how does it affect your writing, and does it enhance it, or do the operations of the hotel eat into your writing time?
John: I write during the day and spend time with our clients in the mornings and evenings. As such, it does not materially take away from writing. The Riviera is glamorous. The Grand Prix in Monaco, then the Cannes Film Festival kick off the season sending us actors (Star Trek too!), composers, pianist, producers, architects, doctors, politicians, musicians, painters and writers as guests; and they are fascinating over a drink on the terrace. Enhance. Definitely enhance.
Tyler: I understand “Oneiro” is the first of several novels you have planned. Will you tell us about what we can expect next from your pen, John?
John: I have just completed an historical novel about the Cold War entitled “Daughter of Pallas.” I am completing the second book of the Oneiro Series, which as you indicated, will ultimately span four volumes…and a great deal of space/time. We will travel in our private world for decades. We will visit the galactic congress called Kosmas. Then we’ll return to an Earth that has advanced beyond recognition. Finally, we may sort the whole thing out. Maybe speculate some on the nature of creation itself.
Also in the works are a novel which takes place in Sri Lanka; and a nonfiction about a real character, a friend who worked with British Intelligence in the Middle East after WWII. Many others to follow.
Tyler: Thank you, John, for allowing me to interview you today. Before we go, will you tell our readers about your website and what additional information they may find there about “Oneiro”?
John: My website address is: john-goldenberg.com. They will find excerpts from most of the books in print and in process. We have a modified chat and email facility. They’ll certainly be excited to see some photographs of me. Of actual interest we’ll be adding things such as this excellent interview….with my thanks.
Tyler: Thank you, John. It’s been a pleasure. I’m impressed with your vast plans for both the number of future books and the topics. I wish you much success with your writing.