Not So Dead
Release Date: July 2017
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What could go wrong when our technologist hero and his quirky team achieve immortality by digitizing their personalities? Clever and ruthless villains want it at any cost. A high-stakes cat and mouse game ensues with apocalyptic danger at every turn.
Follow Sam Sunborn as he teams up with a real Einstein to give birth to an invention that could change the lives of everyone on the planet forever. Enter the Leopard, a driven and demented terrorist, whose mission is to rein chaos and destruction on the Western World. Using the latest technology and a battle of wills and wits, Sunborn and the Leopard engage in an epic global clash. What disasters befall the innocent in the Leopard’s wake? Can Michelle Hadar, a lowly grad student, and Rich Little, a talented Homeland Agent, possibly come to the rescue? Mysteries and surprises abound in this fast-paced thriller.
Always intrigued by the possibilities and the unintended consequences of the latest in technology, my optimist side says what marvels can we achieve. My darker side says how can new things possibly lead to our destruction. It’s the tension and exploration of these themes that I believe can lead to a great story, while revealing the best and worst of human nature.
“This one imagines a world that is both frightening and fascinating. . . . There’s a cutting-edge current to every page that’s hard to resist, so get ready to engage your heart and your mind.”
– Steve Berry, New York Times Best Selling Author
“What if you could live forever, in a digital universe? What if digital immortality was available for all – including a ruthless terrorist who has you in his sights? What if the two of you played a deadlier game in this digital realm than any virtual reality adventure could offer?
All this and more make the thriller Not So Dead exceptional. While some sci-fi in the realm of LitRPG gaming novels already have stories based on digital living, what makes Not So Dead something different is the fact that it embeds a firm thriller element throughout, reaching beyond a relatively obscure genre fan set to tweak the hearts and minds of the general-interest sci-fi or thriller reader looking for something different.
Its plot and premise may lie in a digital universe, but the mechanics and story of Not So Dead have their roots in something far greater than formula writing. Just look at the chapter titles, for one clue of this difference – “Spy Vs. Spy,” “Rook to Queen Eight,” “Quantum State,” and “The Rumble Down Under,” to name just a few of the many intriguing chapters and twists this story takes.
There are obstacles to this winding investigation in both digital and non-digital worlds (“…based on your login, we know who you are and have programmed in a block against speaking with your digital self. We have done the same for each of us. It’s just too dangerous.”), there are progressions forward and backward in the investigation (“I felt like we were living in that old Mad magazine cartoon, Spy vs. Spy. Don’t know why that came to mind. The war on terror has really been more like an endless game of Whack-A-Mole. Sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes you’re behind. Despite what Frank said, I had the uneasy feeling that, at the moment, we were behind.”), and the fact that the characters have a vivid immediate feel to them in both arenas adds tension and realistic involvement to the plot: “I felt like a little kid being left behind and left out. But on second thought I was happy not being involved in another confrontation. My nerves were frayed like ropes about to snap.”
The result is a powerfully-wrought tale of intrigue, terrorism, and threats to immortality that use powerful psychological involvement to keep readers exquisitely on edge until the final surprise. It’s a story designed to reach far from the LitRPG/gamer sci-fi audience and into the hearts and minds of the sci-fi reader who enjoys investigative drama and thriller elements to spice a complex read.”
- Midwest Book Review
"A debut novel explores the possibilities that technology offers to terrorists.
Levin plumbs his career in high-tech and his degree in philosophy to ask important “what if” questions. Primary among these is whether people could live forever through computers. This idea leads the protagonist, Sam Sunborn, down a slippery slope. “Can you imagine a world where we can live on beyond our physical lives in a digital world?” Sam asks. “Where we could still interact with our loved ones, read and enjoy all the ‘pleasures of the mind’ just like when we were alive?” Unfortunately, Sam’s research draws the attention of the Barinian terrorist The Leopard, who sends gunmen after Sam’s team, resulting in the physical death and virtual rebirth of his mentor, Frank Einstein (no relation to Albert). The Leopard, a master strategist, is seeking vengeance for his family, killed by U.S. drones: “These were the so-called virtuous Americans, killing indiscriminately based on shaky intelligence.” Sam figures that the best defense is a good offense. So he gathers a band to inhibit The Leopard’s plans, including his own employees, some young hackers from the U.S. Cyber Command, police detective Al Favor, and Rich Little from Homeland Security. They largely block The Leopard’s scheme to take over America’s air-control system. But then the group must devise a way to stop his master stroke: sabotaging nuclear plants across the nation. Levin’s biggest accomplishment is to make readers ponder which scenarios terrorists could actually accomplish. While people may not yet be able to live on digitally, otherwise, as Levin explains in his Author’s Notes, “all the science and technology in this book is currently available and being deployed.” He also provides links for those whose curiosity has been piqued by his novel. Levin’s pacing is admirable. His story never drags, despite some very technical passages, and leads up to a satisfying twist ending. He’s developed highly believable characters, including the terrorists, who many times end up being one-dimensional in this genre’s tales. Best of all, many of them survive so that future series installments are possible. But the author has set the bar high with this promising, well-crafted debut.
A tense, high-powered techno-thriller." - Kirkus Review
"I have to be honest: hard sci-fi isn’t something I often delve into. I like it well enough, but sometimes it feels like the author is more interested in showing off how well he knows certain scientific theories than in telling a compelling story. This is, fortunately, not the case in Not So Dead. While there is strong science behind the story (with helpful links in the Author’s Notes at the end of the book), the plot itself is able to stand on its own merits. I was sucked into the story from page one, and it wouldn’t let me go until the epilogue.
Sam Sunborn has come up with a brilliant idea: what if it were possible to create a digital memorial for people? This isn’t the sort of digital memorial you’re probably thinking of, a website set up by survivors to remember someone they loved who has passed. This sort of memorial would be set up by the person before their death, so that they could leave messages for their loved ones. Said loved ones could also upload pictures and videos as their way of remembering. It sounds pretty straightforward so far, but then Sam meets Frank Einstein, a neuroscientist who has been working on digitizing thoughts and memories. This is where the sci-fi starts: Frank and Sam team up to upload people’s consciousness onto the Internet, creating virtual immortality.
On its own, this would make for a pretty solid short story, perhaps with some commentary on the mind-body connection and whether we can be defined solely by our thoughts. Charles Levin turns it into a thriller by adding a proper, timely antagonist: a terrorist named Ahmed LaSalam who is intent on bringing America to its knees. He crosses paths with Sam and his team, who soon find themselves in a race against time to stop him.
Not So Dead is the perfect thriller for the twenty-first century. It takes technology we already have and pushes it just far enough that you start to wonder “what if,” without going so far that it becomes entirely unbelievable. The action is fast-paced and exciting, and the hero and villain are set up in a perfectly matched game of cat-and-mouse that left me guessing all the way through. If you’re looking for a thriller with a solid grounding in computer science and modern politics, then Not So Dead is exactly what you need to read next."
- San Francisco Book Review