William Neven Interview
Posted: Mar-10-2015 at 7:21am
The Final Word on The Final Phase: an Interview with William Neven
by Heather Hunt
William Neven recently published his first novel “The Final Phase” through 1stBooks. I reviewed his book for SFReader (http://www.sfreader.com/read_review.asp?ID=317) and later had a chance to talk with him about his work. SPOILER ALERT: This interview reveals several plot points, so read at your own risk!
You write that your novel, “The Final Phase”, was written in response to your father’s untimely death as an exploration of life-after-death issues. Why didn’t you opt for a straight memoir or nonfiction essay on these issues? Why a sci-fi novel?
I had written various essays over the years but considered them to be either too dull or too preachy for publication. Besides, as a degreed journalist, [I learned that my point] should be put in a context that will have an impact on the reader so that, not only is life-after-death covered in “The Final Phase”, but so are . . . the questions of  what really constitutes life and  death? . . .
[Also] I felt that writing a memoir about my father—a Chicago policeman who was shot to death with his own revolver while trying to apprehend what appeared to be little more than a phone prankster on . . . September 11th, 1964—would be an incomplete piece since I was only 12 years old at the time.
[I ultimately decided] to examine these issues in the speculative vein . . . because I believed it was by far the best vehicle to use, given that what these scientists from slightly beyond our own time had attempted to devise was in response to what they perceived to be the message of Jesus Christ – which was that we must all love one another as we love ourselves and that we all must truly love God. In their view, this was not decreed by Christ in merely an individual instance but rather in a collective one. To wit: what people do in this life not only affects themselves but also those who are important in their lives as well as everyone else in their present, past and future.
In other words, these “ancient, Earthen” scientists—each a devout Christian, [as] those investigating the mysterious Silver Shield [discover]—saw God as being not only omnipotent but at the same time ever-changing, an evolving entity-essence who promised their mammalian forms an eventual eternal existence if they each abided by those two commandments of His . . . because—if God can do all things—it naturally follows that He must not only be able to create; He must also be able to re-create. And so, these scientists, after considering the natures of many of those billions alive on their Earth apparently determined that, though seemingly simple, this would be impossible for their species to ever accomplish.
Subsequently, they attempted to re-create, themselves, a being like Jesus Christ after both studying how and what Christ did as a PHYSICAL entity following his resurrection from the dead and what that had in common not only with them but also with . . . their own humanoid and hominid ancestors. They also realized that their present science was lacking the means to do that and so [they] sent up [an] unmanned interstellar laboratory (The Silver Shield) with the hope that those in the future might find it and be able to discover a way to reduplicate Christ’s physically-immortal state.
Who do you consider to be your protagonist? Is it Gallion, Thaymiun, or someone else?
Jesof Gallion is the main protagonist although there are others depending on what storyline you are following. . . . His is a love-hate relationship with humanity. He staunchly dismisses any afterlife, save for a Buddhist-like existence where we will all eventually become an unconscious part of the universe, but a part nonetheless that can never be destroyed. His beliefs are in stark contrast to those of his wife, Celescha, who believes in a spiritual life-after-death. Thus, his decision to keep her brain animate after her bodily death preys on his mind for not only has he gone against her expressed wishes and beliefs but he never truly knows whether she – as a brain – is actually she.
You have a distinctive narrative style and dialogue quirks for your characters. How did you develop this style?
Each style was developed through trial-and-error. Those I thought would best fit the character, I kept. As for specifics, Drake’s was most probably inspired by Anthony Burgess’ main character in “The Clockwork Orange” whereas others seemed to take on personalities of their own on their own. . . .
Insofar as the varied dialects and languages go, I felt these would occur naturally over time as members of the human race settled on different planets. In one storyline, I show how a leader is attempting to bring his own people’s [languages] in tune with those of other worlds’, most of whose natives are able to speak the universal language, (Common). I [also] wanted to have characters such as Misee Thrigloan almost always say, “Right, right,” . . . or Gallion [always] saying “Absolutely,” [in order] to help the reader immediately identify the speaker. . . . [S]uffice it to say that, by and large, I tried to have every major [character] known by [his or her] voice alone.
Were you influenced by language- and epic-lovers like Tolkien?
I was first influenced by THE ODYSSEY, DANTE’S INFERNO and PARADISE LOST and then by Isaac Asimov’s classic FOUNDATION trilogy. Of course I read THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS tales with great interest in high school. As for [the size of] “The Final Phase”, it became as big as it did because of all the time I had to work [on] and think about it. The initial germ for its creation came from a pre-college science fiction tale I penned called “A Peace of a Civilization”.
It seems to me like you were trying to create a whole alien world through your unusual use of language. Is that so?
I needed to design not only different worlds but also different cultures . . . such as the Hetons who had different religious rituals and used various languages on their thought-to-be asteroid worlds (which in reality was what remained of a pulverized planet) or the self-proclaimed “perfect people”, The Messamintenemals, who shared a world with a society of transgendered humans, The Chatkens. The Hetons . . . are eventually determined to be a heretofore-unknown alien presence that most feel must be exterminated lest Gallion’s prediction of humanoid extinction be realized. However, they are actually a long-lost race of human beings who are surprised, themselves, to learn that the human race did not destroy itself in a great intergalactic war as long believed—one which the rest of humanity has conveniently had erased from its history.
How did you come up with the "brains as acumens" idea?
That originally came about because I needed a way to underscore that Gallion’s alleged prophetic capabilities were not mystical. Rather, his ability to foresee oncoming events was assisted by others. Consequently, he is shown to believe he needs these ‘Acumens’—the disembodied brains of people who had volunteered the services of them to him after the deaths of their bodies—in order to help make his predictions.
Or the SLIM technology?
SLIM [Specialized Lumenary Intelligence Manifestation] was my response to Gallion’s Acumens. In other words, I needed an inhuman counterpart with human properties to conflict with human ones yet those whose extent of prevailing humanness were not known. Its eventual coordination with the Acumens being unwittingly ordered to be assisted by Celescha’s brain, I thought, was a nice twist to put in the tale; if nothing else, it served to add to Gallion’s own inner anguish.
Can you explain how SLIM works?
First of all, I think I should point out that SLIM was brought in by Thaymiun to discredit Gallion’s predictions, not to study an ancient artifact from Earth. The device . . . “can mechanically assimilate any tendency of any human being anywhere and thereby forecast more accurately than [any one or] any thing.”
It utilizes what is termed ‘personatetics’ or, not only all information available, but also the wisdom and insight of the greatest minds in the galaxy. These enter the user’s consciousness via a series of “intelligence rings”, their importance with regard to a particular line of inquiry generally exhibited by both their coloration and intensity, the selection of any of them left up to the user’s own discretion. [Dull white rings, for example, are known to either include nothing pertinent to a present subject or have already been used.]
I didn’t really understand the whole Drake storyline where he apparently dies, but is alive in some gigantic spaceship that looks like a planet. Is this a representation of purgatory?
The question as to Drake’s being alive or dead is never resolved. I did that so the reader would have to ponder my recurring theme: what really constitutes life and death? . . . Drake, [himself] doesn’t know if he is actually alive at the end, even as he is stretched into little more than a long, flattened mass by the effects of the black hole. Being a by-product of genetic tampering with ancestors of his subspecies [Balishi], he is virtually a captive of his own subsequent perverse make-up. Not having any genitalia for quite some time is his own sort of Purgatory if you will.
The gigantic spaceship (which is actually patterned after our own Earth . . .) proves to be more of a false Heaven than a Purgatory since . . . its creator (an ancient scientist who knows of the existence of Earth and calls himself “The Redeemer”) [intends] that only 144,000 will be issued his version of physical immortality in the end because that is what “his Father” [a.k.a. “God”] has instructed him to do.
Is the Redeemer a representation of the antichrist?
He could be, as could Gallion. The Redeemer though is more of an individual (who is never known to be human or android) who believes—much like the Earth scientists who sent up The Silver Shield—that we, as a species, are incapable of adhering to the two commandments that Christ pronounced. Believing that, The Redeemer sets out to create those he determines are “the chosen ones” to reach that desired, physical state and, as such, his conception of an unending paradise.
You include a list of Bible quotations used in the novel. What are the religious themes in "The Final Phase"?
Some of the quotations are used by The Redeemer and his close associate, Wazir, to control those captured. This is purposely done to show how The Bible can be manipulated even in our times to suit one’s purposes.
As for the Gallion storyline, "The Final Phase" explores two translations of the same verses of The New Testament. . . . Consequently, Gallion, Thaymiun and Shola come to consider how they sometimes seem to come in conflict with each other as well as how several are concerned with Christ’s physical transformation and how each of his closest friends did not at first recognize him after The Resurrection. . . .
Your book is currently 714 very dense pages; have you considered re-releasing a trilogy and including some reader’s aids, such as a character list, galaxy chart, glossary, ship’s register, etc.?
In fact, I have plans to do just that, since the only negative remark I hear with regard to “The Final Phase” is its size. Reader’s aids, such as a character list (which I do include on my web site, www.thefinalphasewilliamneven.com), a galaxy chart, and perhaps some sort of glossary are definitely on the agenda. I also have some minor editing changes I need to make.
What further plans do you have for this story?
Eventually, I may like to pen a screenplay but that is well down the line. Besides the major action that takes place . . . the novel [also] tells stories, some religious, some mythological. It also shows characters debating certain issues – all of which, I feel, might also be considered today.
Do you have plans for other novels, either continuing this story or creating other worlds?
The novel I am working on now (“The Dissolution Solution”) has a lot to do with my own three month stay in a nursing facility where I was sent to die when I was 39. I was given no more than 10 days to live by a team of gastroenterologists due to cirrhosis of the liver in 1992. On my web site, I recall a conversation I had with a young woman named ‘Virginia’ that will most certainly be included in this M*A*S*H-toned tale. [Virginia, by the way, who is the only person mentioned in my dedication, eventually succumbed to cervical cancer.]
I am also hoping to write “Ch-EYE-na”, a comedy about what happens when a Christian Fundamentalist family is sent to live with a Buddhist Fundamentalist family in a sort of goodwill, international exchange program.
THEN I would write a sequel to “The Final Phase”. I have been kicking around some ideas but have nothing definite in mind yet.
Who are your writing influences?
My biggest writing influences were John Steinbeck and William Faulkner. I liked them because they talked about people who seemed to be real. I graduated . . . to Faulkner over time and had initially considered using parts of his address to the Nobel Committee but instead decided to simply allude to it by ending the italicized lead-in to my prologue with “humankind had indeed prevailed.” Were I a writing instructor, his acceptance speech for The Nobel Prize in Literature  would be my first reading assignment because I feel that good, honest writing is very important to our world.
Any other sci-fi authors?
Asimov, Burgess, Heinlein, Silverberg, Pohl, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin [what amazingly beautiful prose!] and Ben Bova. Bova, by the way, presently has a fine essay on his web site regarding Christian Fundamentalism and Human Evolution.
What other information do you want to pass on to SFReader.com readers regarding “The Final Phase”, other writing projects, publishing, writing, etc.?
First of all, I will streamline the ending if nothing else to show that “The Final Phase” is not a work that attempts to judge anyone’s beliefs but simply proposes that loving God above all else and loving one another en masse is not an option. This is why Gallion still stubbornly holds onto his neo-Buddhist beliefs at the end whereas Shola’s views change only a little for example [although in the Epilogue I show that her and Thaymiun’s ancestors are striving to religiously adhere to those two commandments proffered by Christ.] . . .
I currently have a short story appearing in My Legacy literary magazine out of Artemus, PA., [Kay Weems, Editor.] It is a twilight zone-like tale. I am also submitting a short story I have just finished called “The Brown Coconut” to a contest being held locally by The Gulf Coast Writers Association [Ft. Myers, FL] of which I am a member. It intentionally has a Floridian flair to it with an O.Henry ending
copyrightt © 2003, Heather Hunt
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