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Friday, September 22, 2006

Review: "After Life," by Simon Funk

About a month ago, a commenter by the name of Simon Funk stopped by my other blog, Kill The Afterlife, to say hello, and to mention that he had just finished writing and publishing a book, "After Life." I decided to give the book a read, and boy am I glad I did.

Simon Funk is a man of many talents. In addition to being a writer and an all around great thinker, he is also a man who works in the field of Artificial Intelligence, or A.I. And that's what his book, After Life, is about. You see, Simon Funk's book isn't about an immaterial dimension that ghosts go to after their bodies die (a dimension which the title of my other blog demands be destroyed), but it is about continuing one's consciousness outside of one's biological body here in the real world. And that is an idea that I wholly support.

The book is written in first-person, through the eyes of the main character, Alex Harris, PhD. Alex has just figured out how to transfer one's consciousness from a biological brain into a man-made computer. He performs the procedure on himself, and as a result, the entire world is changed. Perhaps the most significant change, though, occurs in Alex's own consciousness.

After transferring his consciousness to a machine, Alex experiences a series of unusual events. Some of these events seem like dreams, and some seem all too real. At first, the experiences are very puzzling to the reader (and to Alex himself), and don't make sense. But as the story unfolds, the pieces fall into place and produce a very mind-blowing cohesive picture.

Simon Funk is a very skilled writer. His writing is very personal and involving; I felt like I was Alex himself trying to make sense of the strange situations he kept finding himself to be in. But Simon Funk is not afraid to dig deep into the technological, philosophical, and ethical questions that naturally arise when consciousness, identity, and life itself are permanently altered.

Simon Funk also knows his stuff when it comes to Artificial Intelligence. His writing incorporates technological concepts used in today's A.I. field, yet he presents the ideas in a way that just about any reader can grasp. Simon also provides a familiar, human perspective to these ideas. What the reader ends up getting is an excellent mix of technological, philosophical, ethical, and emotional perspectives on the main character and his story. Allow me to quote a passage from chapter 1:

What makes the process tolerable is that half the drugs we're using are devoted entirely to protecting the brain. Specifically, we completely halt the processes that normally lead to the physical changes underlying the formation of memories. In effect the brain is held in a sort of chemical deep freeze, a state immune to change, but still able to function in a purely reactionary way. Other drugs keep the necessary neurotransmitters and nutrients replenished, and also keep the level of spontaneous activity as low as possible. This latter point would amount to keeping the subject unconscious, except that we then go in and light up their brain with activity much as if they were conscious, but completely under our control. In some sense, we have drugged their will to sleep, closed their eyes and ears, and replaced all of that with a machine that decides exactly what they're going to think, see, hear and feel in each moment. Yes--some day this could lead to the ultimate virtual reality experience, but that's a long time off. Right now there's no real coherent thinking or experience going on. We don't know nearly enough, nor have the compute power, to do that. Right now, it's just a random nightmare of disconnected thoughts, feelings, and sensations, experienced in rapid fire succession and immediately and forever forgotten. But that's enough--that's enough, I believe, for us to reconstruct the mind within the brain.

So, why am I talking about carburetors and grandmothers instead of cheese and mazes, considering we've only really done this with a mouse? Because I've been having nightmares about this for days. Because...I am going to have it done to me. Or maybe I already have.

As you can see, both the story and the writing style in Simon Funk's After Life are delectable.

My one gripe about this book is that it was too short. The book is 25 chapters, and in printed form it is only 160 pages. I literally tore through it as fast as I could, and the end of the story came all too quickly for me. But isn't that what happens with most good books? In addition, the book is short because it's writing style. While it gives you significant morsels of the story, it skips a few details here and there. This was obviously done deliberately as a way of leaving certain things unsaid so that the reader can either fill in the blanks with their imagination, or be left with questions in their head to ponder. This book definitely makes you think, no question about it.

Simon Funk's After Life is an all around excellent book. I can't remember the last time I read a fiction book that got the gears in my head to turn so much. I also forwarded the book to my good friend David Mills, author of the #1 bestseller Atheist Universe, and Mills had nothing but praise for Simon and his book.

I therefore highly recommend that you read After Life by Simon Funk. I also recommend that you purchase the book from Lulu. Simon is currently selling his book from Lulu at cost, so it will only cost you around 8 bucks, and it comes with a beautifully designed cover (also created by the author), and good production quality. I suggest you buy it now while the price is low, because I have been repeatedly trying to convince Simon to sell it for a profit (hey, I am a capitalist).

Finally, be sure to tell your friends about the book, as right now word-of-mouth is the only form of advertising being used to promote it, and the word definitely needs to get out about this excellent book.

Post a Comment


At 9/22/2006 6:17 PM, Blogger Bill declaimed...

Thanks for the recommendation. I don't read much fiction at all, but this seems like one I'll try out!!

At 9/22/2006 6:51 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Great Bill, thanx!

I know what you mean. I stopped reading fiction years ago, but I was glad to have came across this book.



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