In a St. Louis hospital in 2055, a dying black newborn is torn from its mother’s arms in the name of science and progress. The medical miracle that follows gives him a pseudo-life that can only generously be called a resurrection.
Thomas Brown should have been aborted as soon as his parents discovered the congenital anencephaly that would kill him anyway. He is brought to term not so that he can live, but so that he can die - and be sold. In the midst of their grief over the son they never really had, the Browns look for solace in the beautiful twin who survived, and count themselves blessed to have a child at all.
Except that Aaliyah Brown’s grief never reaches the stage of acceptance, convinced as she is that Thomas still has a part to play in her life. Her journey to discover what has been done with her son’s organs will reveal the myriad wonders of mid-21st-century medical science. Eyes, liver, marrow - each connected to a small miracle.
But something more sinister than wondrous has been done with Thomas Brown’s brain. The experiment may call into question everything it means to be alive - to be human - even as it promises to change the way information is processed in the IoT. And it is a secret.
I should let Thomas explain it:
“I was conceived but never born. I was birthed but never breathed. I have a brain but no body, and my thoughts are not my own. My identical twin does not know me: I am one of a kind. I have been eviscerated, my organs picked over by a particular breed of scavenger and scattered across the globe. Yet I am whole. I am in a jar but the jar is not my location. I am elsewhere. I am everywhere. I am the city. I am a bridge. I am a means to an end, something to be trod on.
This is not a riddle. This is an introduction.”
Aaliyah will risk the family she knows and loves in a desperate attempt to vindicate her motherly intuition as she hurtles toward a grotesque, impossible family reunion.
Inkshares is the future of publishing.
But seriously. With the publishing industry in flux, Inkshares is innovating at just the right time in just the right ways.
I sometimes describe Inkshares as “Kickstarter for books.” But unlike Kickstarter, Inkshares provides not only a platform to run a crowdfunding campaign, but also editing, design, marketing and distribution services for all the successfully crowdfunded projects. So writers and readers decide together what gets published. Individual writers don’t get to put crap out into the world without a filtering process, like in the self-publishing world, and huge publishing companies don’t get to make top-down decisions either. A perfect balance between the new and the traditional.
Humor me with a thought experiment: Imagine you have no body. All you have is your brain. No eyes, ears, nose, or mouth attached to it. But you are not deaf, blind, or numb to the world around you. Instead of sensory organs you are connected to thousands of other instruments across an entire city. Surveillance cameras are your eyes. Thermometers are your sense of temperature. Sensors embedded in the public infrastructure are your sense of touch. And there are types of information flowing into your mind that no human has ever directly experienced: weather data, transaction histories, health statistics, real-time traffic, the list goes on.
How do you perceive the world?
As you watch events unfold in a society of which you are not a part, what are your thoughts? What do you care about? Which things are good or bad, right or wrong? As your identical twin brother lives the life you would have been living, and your parents go on as if you died years ago, what do you feel?
And what is your conception of yourself? Are you black or white? Do you have a gender? Are you alive? Dead? Human? Do you even know that you exist?
For mad scientist Dr. Jackal, our thought experiment is a science experiment. And for Thomas Brown, our thought experiment is real life. The entire novel is told through Thomas’s "eyes." It’s literally through his lens(es) that you’ll experience the story.
I’m not arrogant enough to claim that the above questions will be answered in my novel. But these questions and more will be creatively explored in the way that only fiction allows: through characters and action; through living, breathing thought experiments. Follow me here on Inkshares to explore them with me, a little bit at a time.
50% of author proceeds will be donated to the Human Trafficking Institute.
My protagonist is a victim. Thomas Brown is a subject in a dehumanizing experiment he never asked to be a part of. He is being used.
More people are being used today than most of us like to think. In 2017 - not in some dystopian 2055 or antebellum 1860 - slavery is alive and well. Slavery, in its modern form of human trafficking. Not far from you, vulnerable people with no safety net are being snatched up and threatened or coerced into engaging in commercial sex acts or labor for no pay. A recent estimate from the International Labor Organization counts 21 million victims of human trafficking worldwide.
The Human Trafficking Institute is one of many organizations now working to fix this human rights issue. Their plan is to beef up the law enforcement capacity in the developing world, where the global poor are currently unprotected. I’ve had the privilege of working for them these past few months, creating website and social media content to build their online presence. Our #InContext series is a blog featuring quotes from heroes of justice movements and the lessons we can learn from their stories. I’m especially proud of this post on my favorite MLK quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
This book can be a small part of raising awareness of the trafficking issue, and hopefully a part of funding a solution.
I’ve come to realize that Thomas’s experience might resonate with a variety of disadvantaged social groups. He comes from a black family. His body has been literally stripped away and stolen from him. He is an orphan adopted into a less-than-ideal single-parent [mad scientist] home [lab], locked in the dim basement. A physically and emotionally stunted child, he is confused about his race, his sex, his gender, his humanity. His agency has been taken. He is not heard. He wonders where he belongs.
Because of this I’ll probably be shouting out to other relevant causes and nonprofits throughout the crowdfunding campaign. Stay tuned.
I’ve already drafted a version of this story. I graduated from Princeton in 2016 with a creative writing minor, and for my senior thesis (one of two, ugh) I wrote a novella called The Experiment Himself. I have to thank my advisors Fiona Maazel and Alex Chee for their guidance on the project, and I have to thank my grader A.M. Homes for her glowing review of the story, which is probably the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. Friends who read the draft have positive things to say. Also, my Dad swears he likes it for reasons other than sharing half of his DNA with the author.
So I already have some proof of concept. But due to time constraints, the 35,000-word novella is nothing compared to the full-length novel that the premise deserves. I’m in the process of rewriting a lot of what I’ve already written, as well as adding themes, characters, and formal play that I couldn’t squeeze in the first time. Not to mention doing all sorts of research that I didn’t bother with last year but will give the finished product a stronger sense of authenticity. This 2050’s urban setting is meant to come to life, and blow your mind. Whether I fully do my ambitions justice will be for you to decide. But I promise to bring you an entertaining, thought-provoking, memorable debut novel.
Thanks for checking this out, and I hope you will drop by again.