Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Prophet of Bones


Paul is an extremely talented scientist. This is why he has been asked to join an expedition to the island of Flores in Indonesia. Paul is tasked with gathering some DNA from a pile of bones that the group found. Instantly, Paul knows something is different about the bones. However before Paul can solve the mystery, the expedition is shut down.

Paul and two other crew members go on the run. Later one goes missing, the other one is killed and Paul in the process loses an eye. Now, Paul is more then determined to uncover the truth.

I am left walking the fence on this one. On one hand I enjoyed the science element and mystery in this book but on the other hand I did not care for the stop and go action. I would get into this book and then it would slow down to conversation. For me I did not find the conversations between the bad guys to exciting. Even though I know these were the times when I was suppose to pick up on what Paul discovered and the big climax ending. For me, I never fully committed 100% to anyone but Paul. So for me it felt like the action and hype would pick up again whenever Paul was involved.

So to recap…Paul was great, the science fundamentals intriguing and kept things interesting, the action ok, and the ending alright. The ending came a little out of left field but don’t know if this was on purpose to hint that we have not seen the last of Paul? Maybe, maybe not. I would not mind seeing Paul again. This book is worth a look


P A R T I

If this is the best of all possible worlds,

what are the others like?

VOLTAIRE

The Prophet set his nine- millimeter on the kitchen counter.

He leaned forward, bleeding hard into the sink, the only sound a

rhythmic tap of blood on stainless steel. Th e blood struck in little dimesized

drops, bright red, gathering into a pool on the metallic surface. He

hit the knob with the back of his hand and cold water swirled down the

drain.

Behind him, feet crunched on spent shell casings as two men entered

the room.

“My disciples,” the Prophet said. He did not turn. “I knew you’d fi nd

me here.”

But his disciples, for their part, remained silent. Th ey pulled chairs

out from the table and sat. Th ey cocked their weapons. First one, then

the other, making a point of it.

Somewhere in the house a TV blared daytime talk, or something like

it— intermittent applause, and a deep male voice saying, She a damn lie,

that baby don’t look nothing like me, and the crowd hooting and hollering

its approval.

Th e Prophet splashed cold water on his face, trying to clear the blood

from his eyes. Head wounds bled like a bitch. Th ey always looked worse

than they were. Well, not always, he thought. He remembered the guard

! 1 1

4 TED KOSMATKA

at the lab and clenched his eyes shut, willing the image away. Sometimes

head wounds were exactly as bad as they looked. Sometimes they fucking

killed you.

Th e Prophet peeled loose his tattered white sweatshirt, revealing a

torso lean, and dark, and scarred. Tattoos swarmed up both arms to his

shoulders— gang symbols across his deltoids, a crucifi x in the center of

his chest. He wiped his face, and the shirt came away red. Th e Prophet

was not a big man, but wiry muscle bunched and corded beneath his skin

when he tossed his stained shirt across the room. He was twenty years

old or a thousand, depending on who you asked. Who you believed.

Th e Prophet turned and regarded his faithful. A smile crept to his

lips. “You look like you could use a beer.”

He walked to where the dead woman lay against the refrigerator. He

kicked her body out of the way enough to open the door. Glass bottles

clinked. “All they have is Miller,” he said, a kind of apology. Blood trailed

across the yellow linoleum. Not his blood, he noted. Not this time. He

carried three beers back to the table and collapsed into a chair.

His faithful did not smile. Th ey did not reach for their beers. Th ey sat

in their dark suits and black sunglasses; they sat perfectly still and

watched him. Th e fi rst was young, blond, baby- faced. A white scar ran

diagonally across his upper lip where a cleft lip had been surgically corrected

in childhood. If anything, the scar made him more boyish. Th e

one imperfection in an otherwise perfect face. He held his gun casually,

arm resting on the table. His white shirt collar was open at the neck,

black tie loosened. Th e second man was older, darker— all jaw, chin, and

shoulders. Th e hired muscle of the pair. But Babyface was still the one to

watch. Th e Prophet knew this at a glance.

“What’s your name?” he asked the blond.

“Does it matter?” the blond answered.

Th e Prophet shook his head. “I guess not.” Babyface was right aft er

all. In heaven there would be no need for names, for all are known to the

eyes of God.

“We’ve been looking for you for a long time, Manuel,” Babyface said.

Th e Prophet leaned back in his chair and took a long swig of beer. He

spread his hands. “My followers,” he said. “You have found me.”

“You’ve cost a lot of money,” the blond continued. “Which is some-

PROPHET OF BONES 5

thing our employer could forgive.” He took off his sunglasses and rubbed

the bridge of his nose. He looked up, and his eyes were a bright baby blue.

“But you’ve also caused a lot of trouble, which is something he cannot.”

“I never asked forgiveness.”

“Th en we’re agreed on the issue. None asked. None given.” Th e man’s

pale eyes bore into him. He leaned across the table, pitching his voice

low. “Tell me something, Manuel, just out of curiosity, between you and

me, before this thing goes the way it’s gonna go— what the fuck were

you thinking?”

Th e Prophet wiped a runnel of blood from his face. “I was called

for this. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh, I suspect you got that right.”

Th e Prophet sipped his beer.

“So then where is it?” Babyface snapped, seeming to lose patience.

Th e Prophet didn’t answer.

“Come on, Manuel. We came such a long way. Don’t give us the silent

treatment now.” He tapped the muzzle of the gun on the table.

“Our most holy is resting.”

“Most holy?” Babyface laughed and shook his head. “You know,

I thought that most holy bullshit was a joke when they told me.” He

turned to his partner. “You hear this shit?”

But the muscle only stared, jaw clenched tight. Babyface turned back

around. “Or maybe this is all just some game you’re playing. Some elaborate

con that didn’t work out the way you wanted. I heard you’re one to

play games.”

“No game,” the Prophet said.

“So you believe it?”

“I do.”

“Th en you’re out of your mind aft er all.”

Th e TV droned on, fi lling the silence, the deep male voice cohering

again from out of the background noise—I told you she was lying about

it. I told you.

“Where is it?”

Th e Prophet lowered his eyes. “I laid him upstairs on the bed. It’s

peaceful up there.”

Babyface nodded to his partner. Th e second man stood. “You don’t

6 TED KOSMATKA

mind if we check, do you?” Babyface asked. Th e second man turned and

disappeared up the stairs, taking them two at a time. His footfalls crossed

heavily above them as he moved from room to room.

Babyface stared from across the table, his blue eyes deep and expressionless.

Th e gun never wavered, held casually in a soft , pale hand.

Th e footfalls stopped.

Th e Prophet took another long pull from his beer. “I fed him every

three hours, just like I was supposed to.”

“And did it matter?”

Th e Prophet didn’t respond. In the distance, the TV broke into

applause again. Th eme music, end of show. Th e footfalls crossed above

them, slower this time, coming down the stairs. A moment later, the

second man was back, carry ing a dark form wrapped in a blanket. Th e

bundle didn’t move.

Th e blond man fl ashed his muscle a questioning look.

“It’s dead,” the big man said. “It’s been dead.”

Th e blond turned to him. “It’s not your fault, Manuel,” he said. “Most

of them die in the fi rst few weeks. Sometimes their mothers eat them.”

Th e Prophet smiled. “He will rise again.”

“Perhaps he will,” Babyface said. “But I’d like to see that trick.” He

raised his gun.

Th e Prophet took a fi nal, cool swallow, fi nishing his beer. Blood

dripped from his forehead and fell to the stained Formica table. He

glanced around the room and shook his head. He saw broken dishes,

stained wooden cabinets, dirty yellow linoleum. He looked at the dead

woman, resolute in her silence. “Nothing good will come of this,” he

prophesied.

“Th at’s where you’re wrong,” the blond man said. He smiled, and the

old surgical scar curled his lip slightly. “Th is part will make me feel a

whole lot better.”

“Th ough you strike me down, there will be other prophets aft er me.

I won’t be the last.”

Th e muscle placed the body on the table, and the blanket opened at

one end. A small, dark arm swung free of the blanket— a tiny distorted

hand. A hand not quite human.

PROPHET OF BONES 7

“I’ve got a secret for you,” Babyface said. “God hates His prophets.

Always has.”

“God cannot hate.”

“Th at’s blasphemy,” the blond man said. He lift ed the gun to Manuel’s

face. “God is capable of all things.”

He pulled the trigger.

Paul liked playing God in the attic above his family garage.

Th at’s what his father called it, playing God, the day he found out.

Th at’s what he called it the day he smashed it all down.

Paul built the cages out of discarded two- by- fours he’d found under the

deck and quarter- inch mesh he bought from the local hardware store. He

gathered small scraps of carpet, odds and ends of plywood, a bent metal

bracket that used to belong to his mother’s old sewing machine table.

Paul drew the plans out carefully on graph paper during the last week

of school.

Two weeks into summer break, his father left town to speak at a scientifi

c conference. “Be good while I’m gone,” he father warned him as

they stood in the foyer. “Keep studying your verses.”

“I will.”

Paul watched from the window as the long black car backed down

the driveway.

Because he wasn’t old enough to use his father’s power tools, he had

to use a handsaw to cut the wood for the cages. He used his mother’s

sturdy black scissors to snip the wire mesh. He borrowed hinges from

old cabinet doors, and nails from the rusty coff ee can that hung over his

father’s unused workbench.

! 2 1

PROPHET OF BONES 9

Th at eve ning his mother heard the hammering and came out to the

garage.

“What are you doing up there?” She spoke in careful En glish, peering

up at the rectangle of light that spilled down from the attic.

Paul stuck his head through the opening, all spiky black hair and

sawdust. “Nothing.”

“You’re doing something; I can hear you.”

“I’m just playing around with some tools,” he said. Which was, in

some sense, true. He couldn’t lie to his mother. Not directly.

“Which tools?”

“Just a hammer and some nails.”

She stared up at him, her delicate face a broken Chinese doll— pieces

of porcelain reglued subtly out of alignment.

“Be careful,” she said, and he understood that she was talking both

about the tools and about his father.

Th e days turned into weeks as Paul worked on the cages. Th e summer

wore on, Lake Michigan humidity cloaking the region like a veil. Because

the wood was big, he built the cages big— less cutting that way. Th e cages

were enormous, overengineered structures, ridiculously outsized for the

animals they’d be holding. Th ey weren’t mouse cages so much as mouse

cities— huge tabletop- sized enclosures that could have housed border

collies. He spent most of his paper- route money on the project, buying

odds and ends he needed: sheets of Plexiglas, plastic water bottles, and

small dowels of wood he used for door latches. While the other children

in the neighborhood played basketball or wittedandu, Paul worked on

his project.

He bought tiny exercise wheels and cedar chip bedding. He pictured

in his head how it would be once he fi nished: a mouse metropolis. Rodent

utopia. Th e mice themselves he bought from a pet store near his paper

route. Most were white feeder mice used for snakes, but a couple were of

the more colorful, fancy variety. And there were even a few En glish

mice— sleek, long- bodied show mice with big tulip ears and glossy coats

that felt slick under his fi ngers. He wanted a diverse population, so he

was careful to buy diff erent kinds.

10 TED KOSMATKA

Th e woman at the pet store always smiled at him when he came in.

She was in her sixties, with bright, bottle- red hair and a pleasant, chubby

face. A bell above the door would ring as he stepped inside the shop, and

then he’d walk to the back, bend low, and stare through the glass at all

the mice for sale. He’d tap his fi nger on the glass. “Th at one,” he’d say.

“And that one over there— the brown one in the corner grooming itself.”

“Th ose are good ones,” she always said, no matter which mice he

picked. “Th ose are good ones.”

Th en the woman would pop the lid and reach inside the cage while

the mice ran in berserk little circles to avoid being caught. Catching the

mice wasn’t easy. Paul understood their fear. For most of them, when

that hand came down, it meant death. It meant they were about to join

the food chain. He wondered if they sensed this, if they sensed anything

at all. He wondered if they thought the hand was the hand of God.

“It’s okay,” he whispered to them, willing them to be still. “Not this

time.”

Th e woman put the mice in little cardboard travel boxes so he could

carry them home in his paper- route bag. Later in the eve ning, when no

one was watching, he snuck them up to the attic.

While he worked on their permanent homes, he kept his mice in

little glass aquariums stacked on a table in the middle of the room. He

fed them scraps of food he stole from the dinner table— chunks of buttered

bread, green beans, and Ritz crackers. During the last weeks of

summer break, Paul stood back and surveyed all he’d created. It was

good. Th e fi nished cages were huge, beautiful habitats. He’d heard that

word, “habitats,” when doing research about zoos. Paul understood that

his cages weren’t natural habitats; they didn’t have plants and rocks

inside them. But Mus musculus wasn’t a natural animal, not really.

Maybe for a mouse, a habitat didn’t have to look like nature. Maybe it

looked like this.

In the attic, Paul opened the lids on the aquariums and released his

mice into their new enclosures one by one. Th e mice advanced cautiously,

sniffi ng the air— the fi rst explorers on a new continent.

Th at aft ernoon, to mark the occasion, he set out on his bike to the

local grocery store, where he bought a head of lettuce as a treat for

the mice. He brought along his pad of graph paper, stuff ed into his

PROPHET OF BONES 11

paper- route bag, and on the way back stopped at a park a few blocks

from his house. Th e late aft ernoon sun slanted through the trees. Th e

park was mostly empty. A few older kids hung out on the bleachers near

the tennis courts. Kids his own age played near the swings.

Paul looked down at his graph paper and studied his designs. Already

he could see ways in which the habitats might be improved. He put pencil

to paper, bent over his work, and so didn’t hear the footsteps behind

him.

“What you doing?” Th e voice came from directly behind him.

Paul turned. It was Josh, a kid from his school, two grades older.

“I said, what you got there?”

“Nothing,” Paul said. He knew Josh well. Knew his tactics from the

schoolyard, all smiles and friendly until it turned bad.

“Doesn’t look like nothing to me. Let’s see.”

Josh grabbed for the notebook and Paul jerked it away.

“Leave me alone.”

Th e older boy slammed the pad out of Paul’s hand and then kicked it,

scattering the pages across the ground. He laughed. “I didn’t really want

to see it anyway,” he said, and walked off .

Paul bent to pick up his drawings. Th e pad had split apart, and the

papers were drift ing away in the wind. On the bleachers, one of the older

kids cackled. Paul had nearly gathered the last of his drawings when a

sudden gust carried the fi nal sheet toward the swings.

A narrow, sandaled foot came down on the paper, catching it.

“Th at guy is such a jerk,” came a female voice.

Paul looked up from the sandal. A girl from the neighborhood. He’d

seen her around but had never spoken to her. She didn’t go to his school.

He could tell by her long hair and dress that she went to Nearhaven. You

could almost always tell Nearhaven kids that way. Just as they could tell

the pubbies. And there beside her, on the swing, was a small boy. She

bent, picked up the paper, and handed it to Paul.

“Th anks,” he told her.

“You’re as big as him. Why’d you let him do that?”

Paul shrugged. “He’s older.”

“I’m Rebecca, and this is my cousin Brian.”

“Paul.”

12 TED KOSMATKA

Rebecca turned and looked toward the bleachers. “We should go,”

she said. Josh was talking to the bleacher group now, glancing meaningfully

in their direction.

Paul followed Rebecca and her cousin out of the park, riding his bike

slowly as they walked beside him. Th e cousin, it turned out, was a quiet,

gap- toothed boy of seven who was staying with Rebecca’s family for

summer break. Paul had no cousins, and he felt a momentary pang of

jealousy. He had no family other than his parents.

When they arrived at her house, he was shocked to fi nd how close

she lived. On the other side of the street, one block down.

“We’re practically neighbors,” he told her.

Paul rode his bike up her driveway. Th e screen door squeaked as she

opened it, but she didn’t step inside.

“Th ose papers,” she said. “What were you drawing?”

For a moment, Paul wasn’t sure how to answer. She must have sensed

the hesitation. “You don’t have to say if you don’t want to,” she added.

Her saying that made it possible. So he told her.

“What do you mean, ‘cages’?” she asked. She let the screen door close

and sat on the stoop.

He pulled the pad from his paper- route bag. “Here,” he said.

Rebecca took the papers, and her cousin leaned close.

“Construction plans, I guess you’d call them,” Paul said.

She fl ipped to the next sheet. Th is one showed his largest cage, drawn

out in intricate detail.

“You built this?”

“Yeah. It wasn’t that hard.”

“It looks hard to me. Where is it?”

“In the attic over my garage.”

“Can we see?”

Paul glanced in the direction of his house. “No, I better not.”

Rebecca fl ipped the page and studied the fi nal drawing carefully. “It

must have taken you a long time to put all this together.”

“Months.”

“What are they for? I mean, if these are cages, what’s supposed to go

inside?”

“Mice.”

PROPHET OF BONES 13

She nodded to herself. “Mice,” she repeated under her breath, as if it

made perfect sense. “Where’d you get the stuff ? All the wood and nails.”

Paul shrugged. “Here and there. Just scraps, mostly. Other stuff I had

to buy.”

Th e little cousin fi nally spoke: “My parents don’t let me have pets.”

“Neither do mine,” Paul said. “But anyway, the mice aren’t pets.”

“Th en what are they?” the boy asked. He stared over his cousin’s

shoulder at the drawings.

“A project,” Paul said.

“What kind of project?”

Paul looked at the graph paper. “I’m still working on that.”

Th e bell rang at two thirty- fi ve.

By two forty- nine, school bus No. 32 was freighted with its raucous

cargo and pulling out of the parking lot, headed for the highway and

points south and east.

Paul sat near the back and stared out the window, watching the

Grand Kankakee Marsh scroll by. Around him, the other kids talked and

laughed, but only Paul sat silently, fi dgeting with the large blue textbook

on his lap, waiting for the road to smooth out so that he could read. As

they crossed the bridge, he fi nally opened his life sciences book.

Today Mr. Slocam had gone over the study guide for the test.

Figure 73 showed two ellipses graphed like a crooked half- smile

between an x- and a y-axis. Th e caption explained that the fi rst slope represented

the number of daughter atoms. Th e second slope represented the

parent atoms. Th e point of intersection of the two slopes was the element’s

half- life.

“You will need to know this for the test,” the study guide declared in

bold heading, followed by a series of bullet- pointed facts.

Th e study guides were always like this.

Need to know this for the test. Th e common refrain of the public

schools, where academic bulimia was the order of the day— and tests

simple exercises in regurgitation. Paul knew the drill.

Th e bus made several stops before fi nally pulling to rest in front of

his house. Paul climbed out.

14 TED KOSMATKA

His father was out of town again, at another scientifi c conference; so

dinner that eve ning was a quiet undertaking. Later that night he went

up to his room and copied his study guide onto a series of fl ash cards.

Just before bed, he found his mother in the kitchen. “Will you quiz me?”

“Of course.” His mother’s doll face shattered into a smile.

Th ey sat at the dining room table, and his mother fl ipped the fi rst

card, on which was drawn two crooked lines on an x- and y-axis. “Describe

the point of intersection,” she said.

“It’s an element’s half- life.”

“Good,” she said, fl ipping to the next card. “When was radiometric

dating invented?”

“In 1906.”

“Which method?”

Paul thought for a moment. “Th ey used helium as an intermediate

decay product of uranium. Th e results were rejected for years.”

“Rejected by whom?”

“By evolutionists.”

“Good.” She fl ipped to the next card. “In what year did Darwin write On the Origin of Species?”

“In 1859.”

“When did Darwin’s theory lose the confi dence of the scientifi c community?”

“Th at was 1932.” Anticipating the next question, Paul continued:

“When Kohlhorster invented potassium- argon dating.”

“Why was this important?”

“Th e new dating method proved the earth wasn’t as old as the evolutionists thought.”

“When was the theory of evolution fi nally debunked completely?”

“In 1954, when Willard F. Libby invented carbon- 14 dating at the University of Chicago.”

“Good,” his mother said and fl ipped another card. “And why else was he known?”

“He won the Nobel Prize in 1960, when he used carbon dating to prove, once and for all, that the earth was fi ft y- eight hundred years old.”

Q&A with Ted Kosmatka, author of PROPHET OF BONES
Q&A with Ted Kosmatka,

author of PROPHET OF BONES

Q. You are well known in the science-fiction and fantasy genres for your highly praised short stories and first novel, The Games. What inspired you to write Prophet of Bones—a thriller?

A. The novel was actually inspired by a conversation I had with a co-worker about young-earth creationism. In 2005 the Kansas Board of Education held a series of hearings in an effort to introduce intelligent design into science classes in public schools. Statistics show that there are a huge number of people who believe evolution to be false, and the reality is that some of those people are in charge of educational policies. I think I imagined the novel as a way of granting young-earth creationists their argument. Here is a universe where the earth truly is young—provably, verifiably, by carbon 14 dating. But nothing else is different. The fossil record of the novel is identical to our fossil record, only now these bones must be faced within the context of a creationist world. It’s another window into the argument, and presents a case, I think, that a young earth would present a far more disturbing picture than the world we actually inhabit.

Q. Prophet of Bones is an extension of your widely acclaimed short story “The Prophet of Flores,” which has been printed in several year’s best science-fiction and fantasy collections and translated into several languages. Why do you think it struck such a chord with this audience? What was the motivation for expanding the story?

A. I honestly try not to think too much about what an audience might do with a story I write. It’s nice when a story gets good reviews or a positive response, sure, but the best writing always comes from a place of humility, and the last thing you want to ask yourself while writing is, Will people like this? I’m very much from the story-belongs-to-the-reader camp. It's totally up to the audience how to interpret a story, and the writer doesn't have any control over that. My main motivation for going back and expanding from the original premise was that I wanted to know what happened next. My mind kept returning to it again and again, and at some point I realized that I had a lot more I wanted to explore.

Q. How did you prepare to write Prophet of Bones? What kind of research was involved?

A. I think my whole life was a kind of research for this book. I studied biology in college and have always read everything I could get my hands on—from scientific journals to scholarly tomes on human variation. I went to Catholic school growing up, but at the same time I was always very interested in science and evolution and genetics, so I had these two very powerful and contradictory dogmas competing for my attention and loyalty—or at least that’s how I felt at the time. I’m much less conflicted about it now, but I suppose it made an impact on me. Science and religion both seek the answer to similar queries: Why are we here? How did we get here? And these are questions I was particularly interested in for some reason. I was bombarded with these two very different perspectives, and most of my early experiences as a child trying to understand my place in the world were colored by the tension between these different worldviews.

Q. The book is grounded, in part, by real science. Can you share some of the most important scientific foundations that were critical to your research?

A. Well, the most important bit of science critical to the story, of course, was the discovery of those strange fossils on the island of Flores. Without that discovery, I doubt I would have had a way to tell this kind of story. The science of genetics also plays an important part in the novel. As much as possible I tried to use real science in the story, though truthfully the genomics revolution we’re undergoing right now reads a lot like science fiction. Many of the great anthropological questions of my childhood are now being answered in no uncertain terms by genetics. It’s absolutely astounding what we’re able to learn from just a small bit of DNA.

Q. In 2003, Mike Morwood actually discovered a human-like species known as “the Hobbit” on the island of Flores. This find plays a key role in the plot of Prophet of Bones, which is set in an alternate world where Darwin is discredited and the earth is known to be only 5,800 years old. Why did you choose write the tale as a twist on the truth?

A. Twists on the truth always make the best stories, I think. I’ve always been drawn to intractable scientific arguments, and at the time when I first came up with the idea for the book, there was a lot of fighting about what this particular fossil might mean. There was one camp that felt the fossil was just a pathological human and another camp that felt it was something far different. To some extent, I think, that argument is still going on, though evidence has certainly mounted in favor of one particular interpretation. I use a lot of my stories as a way for me to think about problems I’m interested in; and to a lot of people in anthropology, these fossils present themselves as one of the most unexpected and fascinating problems to have burst on the scene in a very long time. Also, as an outlier in the cannon of archaeological finds, the Flores fossils were a great tool for investigating what it truly means to be human.

Q. Your résumé includes a wide array of jobs: fast-food worker, housepainter, security guard, college tutor, zookeeper, laboratory analyst, endangered-species researcher, stage actor, and video-game writer. How did working in such varied environments help you write this novel?

A. I think for a writer, anything that broadens your experience can only be a good thing if your goal is to understand the world. Doing a bunch of different jobs over the years is certainly one way to gain a lot of different experiences. (It also could mean you’re just not very good at anything, so it is by no means always a mark of distinction.) I’ve always been experience-hungry, so that might have played some part in my work history, though it’s hard to say. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to work in the fields I’ve been interested in. This novel probably draws most directly from my experience working in a research lab, and possibly a bit from my time as a zookeeper. They say that you should write what you know, so it was nice to have actually worked in the kinds of places I’m writing about.

Q. You currently work as a writer at Valve, which is home to some of the world's most popular video games, including Half-Life, Portal, Dota 2, Left 4 Dead and Counter-Strike. How is writing for a digital medium different than writing for a printed medium?

A. Writing for a digital medium above all else requires flexibility. The job can change a lot from week to week, depending on what you're working on. You get pulled in new directions all the time. In writing print fiction, you are the master of everything that happens in your story, but in writing for video games, you are a part of this large collaborative process. You have lots of really smart people to lean on and bounce ideas off of, which is awesome, and the process is in some ways very democratic. Your ideas

have to win people over. The best ideas tend to win out in the long run, and then you go out as a team and institute those ideas.

Q. The main character in Prophet of Bones, Paul Carlsson, is a scientist. You studied biology at Indiana University and went on to work as a lab technician. You also bred mice in your basement as a young boy, something Paul does in the book. How did your own life inspire Paul’s character?

A. I think I’m very much like Paul in a lot of ways. We’re interested in the same questions, and driven by many of the same motivations. I suppose we have a lot of the same fears and insecurities. But for him, it is all experienced through the lens of life lived in a creationist universe, whereas I live in one more consistent with evolution. So while we’re interested in the same questions, the answers will be very different.

Q. You already have another book in the works. Can you give us any hints as to what it’s about?

A. Well, I haven’t pinned down a title yet, but the book will be a continuation of my early novelette “Divining Light,” which was nominated for a Nebula Award in 2010. It’s another lab-opera, and I’m beginning to sense a trend in my fiction. Stephen King writes about writers in trouble, and John Grisham writes about lawyers in trouble. I seem to write about scientists in trouble. So this will be my third novel centered on laboratories. And again, it’s me being drawn to another intractable scientific problem, in this case, the famous two-slit experiment. It’s a story about quantum mechanics, and in it, a researcher discovers that reality is not exactly what it seems to be. Life hangs in the balance.

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