Nancy Kress is joining us today to talk about her novel, Observer. Here’s the publisher’s description:
If we can alter the structure of reality, should we? In OBSERVER, scientist Robert Lanza, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, is joined by Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Nancy Kress to confront the space between biology and consciousness.
Dr. Caroline Soames-Watkins’s star has been on the rise. But when she accuses a superior of sexual misconduct, the Twitterstorm that follows upends her career. With few professional options and an impoverished sister with a disabled child to support, Caro is willing to consider a mysterious proposal from her great-uncle, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Samuel Watkins. Sam Watkins has invested untold sums of money to build a medical facility in the Caribbean. But he is very sick and in urgent need of a surgeon to perform a unique procedure developed at his island compound. The procedure isn’t for the cancer surely killing him. It is to offer new life of a truer kind.
Helped in his mission by the eminent physicist George Weigert and the young, charismatic tech entrepreneur Julian Dey, Sam has gone far beyond curing the body to develop a technology that could solve the riddle of mortality for the soul. Though wary of the project’s secret aims, Caro signs on for the chance to secure a future for her sister and herself. What she encounters is something so much more profound than she ever could have anticipated. It will put her on the precipice of a humanity-altering discovery. It will lead her to a level of interpersonal connection that she thought was only for others. And it will throw her into a kind of danger she never imagined.
What’s Nancy’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit in Observer, the novel I co-authored with Dr. Robert Lanza, occurs early in the story. Caroline Soames-Watkins, a fledgling neurosurgeon, is on a tour of the research facility where she has been offered a job. She is shown around by the charismatic Julian Dey, chief of software development, and Dr. George Weigert, an elderly British physicist who is passionate about physics but socially awkward. Both bombard Caro with information, none of which explains what she really wants to know: What is her role here?
But Caro didn’t want to ask more questions until she’d had a chance to formulate them with greater precision, since How can you be so deluded did not count as scientific precision. She needed to sort out everything she’d already heard. How much sleep had she gotten last night? Three hours, tops. She was accustomed to going without sleep—no one got through med school without acquiring that ability—but this was exhaustion of a different sort: emotional, intellectual. More than sleep, she needed to be alone to think. Sleep, however, was a good excuse. She said, “Actually, I’m pretty tired.”
“I can imagine,” Julian said. “Two flights, and now all this information. Let me show you to your room.”
Before she could say more, the door opened and a man entered. “Julian, the police are here. I told them that Dr. Watkins is ill, and they wanted to speak to whoever else is in charge.”
Julian rose. “Okay, Caro, this is Aiden Eberhart, my chief assistant. Dr. Weigert will show you to your room. Sixth on the left, George.” He and Eberhart vanished through the door.
Weigert looked at her doubtfully and said, “If you’d like just a bit more clarity on decoherence—”
Caro said, “Later, Dr. Weigert. I’m feeling a bit decohered myself.”
And Weigert, surprising her, went in an instant from an overly erudite and possibly deluded theorist to a likable old man, and laughed.
Why is this my favorite bit? Because it is a brief moment of genuine connection between two almost-strangers whose life paths have had nothing in common. Weigert offers her what he knows best, and Caro declines the offer on his own terms, not hers, and with gentle humor. The exchange thus defines them both. In other novelists’ fiction, I am a fan of this kind of small, significant moment between characters, and delighted when I can include such moments in my own stories. It feels to me very human. Observer is concerned with big ideas: the nature of reality, the limitations and possibilities of consciousness, the uses and abuses of technology. But it is the small moments that, repeated often enough, can forge large relationships.
Nancy Kress is the author of thirty-six books, including twenty-eight novels, four collections of short stories, three books on writing, and over 100 short stories. Her work has won six Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Nancy’s most recent work is Observer (Story Plant, January 2023), co-written with Dr. Robert Lanza. Her work has been translated into two dozen languages, including Swedish, Danish, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Polish, Croatian, Chinese, Lithuanian, Romanian, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, Russian, Hungarian, and Klingon, none of which she can read. In addition to writing, Nancy often teaches at various venues around the country and abroad, including teaching each Clarion several times, a semester as Picador visiting lecturer at the University of Leipzig, and a week-long writing workshop in Beijing. Also Taos Toolbox, a two-week intensive workshop in writing SF held each summer in New Mexico, with Walter Jon Williams.
Robert Lanza, M.D. Named one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” Robert Lanza is a renowned scientist and author whose groundbreaking research spans many fields, from biology to theoretical physics. He has worked with some of the greatest minds of our time, including Jonas Salk and B.F. Skinner. A U.S. News and World Report cover story called him “the living embodiment of the character played by Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting” and described him as a “genius,” a “renegade thinker,” and likened him to Einstein. The father of Biocentrism, he has been pondering the larger existential questions since he was a young boy, when for play he took excursions deep into the forests of eastern Massachusetts observing nature. This fascination with the nature of life infused his entire career, leading him to the very frontiers of biology and science.