My Favorite Bit: Steven Kotler Talks About THE DEVIL’S DICTIONARY

Steven Kotler is joining us today to talk about his novel, The Devil’s Dictionary. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Hard to say exactly when the human species fractured. Harder to say when this new talent arrived. But Lion Zorn, protagonist of Last Tango in Cyberspace, is the first of his kind—an empathy tracker, an emotional forecaster, with a felt sense for how culture evolves and the future arrives.

It’s also a useful skill in today’s competitive business market.

In The Devil’s Dictionary, when a routine em-tracking job goes sideways and em-trackers themselves start disappearing, Lion finds himself not knowing who to trust in a life and death race to uncover the truth. And when the trail leads to the world’s first mega-linkage, a continent-wide national park advertised as the best way to stave off environmental collapse, and exotic animals unlike any on Earth start showing up—Lion’s quest for truth becomes a fight for the survival of the species.

Packed with intrigue and heart-pounding action, marked by unforgettable characters and vivid storytelling, filled with science-based brilliance and cult comic touches, The Devil’s Dictionary is Steven Kotler at his thrilling science fiction best.

What’s Steven’s favorite bit?


To answer that question, I need to tell you about the world where the book takes place. It’s our world, with a few small changes.

First, it’s about fifteen years in the future, so a lot of technology that we’re just starting to hear about now—flying cars, brain mapping, next generation genetic engineering—has had a little while to mature.

Second, it’s a world where a sizable portion of the human population has tried a new drug called Sietch Tabr. Technically, Sietch Tabr began life as a psychopharmaceutical that produces a radical form of hyper-empathy—which is why it hit the market as a novel treatment for autism.

The issue is that Sietch Tabr has serious psychedelic side-effects. While drugs like LSD and MDMA can produce a hive-mind sensation, Sietch Tabr does the same, only the merger crosses species lines, allowing humans and animals to become one. Take the drug while hanging out with your golden retriever, you trip golden retriever. Take the drug with elephants, you trip elephant.

Yet, Sietch Tabr doesn’t just alter emotions, it also changes pheromones. Animals scent humans as friend not foe. Take the drug with tigers, you not only trip tiger, but the tigers treat you as kin. Scientists describe it as, “artificially-induced, bidirectional cross-species empathy.”

Sietch Tabr and the cross-species empathy it produces has fractured humanity. While the drug bonds humans to animals, it’s a bridge that divides. Humans who bond with animals versus humans who don’t bond with animals or humans who bond with this animal versus humans who bond with that  animal. And plants. And ecosystems.

My term for this great fracturing: “The Splinter.”

In this post-Splinter world, Lion Zorn, the protagonist of The Devil’s Dictionary, is desperately trying to figure out why his co-workers and friends keep vanishing. He ends up in a “bird-fetishist” colony— a hanging encampment, built out of sky-nets, dangling three hundred feet in the air, off the side of Seattle’s Space Needle.

The Space Needle colony is run by a woman named Ichika Adel, who is constantly surrounded by birds. One of those birds is an African gray parrot named 2Chainz. Like a lot of African gray parrots, this one can talk. Unlike a lot of African gray parrots, 2Chainz only quotes classic hip-hop lines at completely inappropriate moments.

And this brings us to my absolute favorite bit about The Devil’s Dictionary: It was combing through my hip hop library and trying to figure out which lines 2Chainz will blurt out….  

“Aaargggttt,” shrieks the parrot, “I’m so high I can talk to rain.”


The Devil’s Dictionary Macmillan Buy Link






Steven Kotler is a New York Times-bestselling author, an award-winning journalist and the Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective . He is one of the world’s leading experts on human performance.
He is the author of nine bestsellers (out of thirteen books), including The Art of Impossible, The Future is Faster Than You Think, Stealing Fire, The Rise of Superman, Bold and Abundance . His work has been nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes, translated into over 40 languages, and has appeared in over 100 publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Wired, Atlantic Monthly, Wall Street Journal, TIME, and the Harvard Business Review.

Did you know you can support Mary Robinette on Patreon!
Scroll to Top