As a clinical psychologist and parapsychologist, Alan Joshua is fascinated with the human mind and everything that makes it tick. He combined his extensive knowledge with his passion for sci-fi in his action-packed debut fiction novel, The SHIVA Syndrome, which has received rave reviews and has already been nominated for several awards. As our author of the day, we chat with Joshua about the inspiration behind his book, the immense amount of research that went into it and whether or not the human mind is still evolving.
Please give us a short introduction to The SHIVA Syndrome
A professor and parapsychology researcher, [Beau Walker] discovers a key to humankind’s evolution or destruction in this debut thriller…
In the Russian city of Podol’sk, a project partially based on Walker’s work has gone horribly awry, killing thousands and leaving traces of mysteries that threaten humanity’s scientific understanding. Discovering what occurred, and how to prevent it from happening again, falls on Walker and his new friends…But as secrets and revelations accumulate, the team’s combined knowledge and abilities may be inadequate to stop what’s coming. (from the Kirkus Review)
What inspired you to use mind science as a theme in your book?
It was only natural. After all, the mind and its potentials are my field. I’m a clinical psychologist and parapsychologist. Over the years, through education and personal experience, I developed a deep respect and awe for the paranormal potentials of human consciousness. In my personal experience, I’ve explored possible reincarnation experiences using hypnosis, researched so-called “psychic” or spiritual healers, and investigated other areas of parapsychology.
One of the only books that delved deeply into this area was Paddy Chayefsky’sAltered States, a novel he researched for two years. Although the film that was made was relatively popular, very few read the book that preceded it. Chayefsky’s venture into fiction, along with Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land among others books stimulated me to integrate science, science fiction, and parapsychology.
The Shiva Syndrome is your debut novel – what was the experience like?
To say it was arduous would be putting it mildly. My doctoral research and dissertation were a cakewalk compared to the amount of time and effort that went into The SHIVA Syndrome.
Although there were many effortful periods, one of the most stressful was in translating some of the scientific concepts into language that could be understood by readers. Fortunately, it seems to have paid off because many editorial reviewers said some very nice things about the uniqueness of the story and the characters. I’ve even been asked to write a sequel and prequel.
You believe that human consciousness is the final frontier – not space. Why?
The answer to this is complicated and challenging. In spite of our many technological advances, we’ve explored only approximately 5% of our oceans. This should, of course, increase over time. However, I would estimate we understand far less than 5% of the human mind. Newly developed instruments can help expand our knowledge of the ocean and the universe, but only a small fraction of our minds can process the information it receives through our senses. When we speak about the human mind, we have to consider the nature of human consciousness itself, as well as what lies beyond “ordinary” consciousness—parapsychology. Many consider parapsychology to bea pseudoscience. Some bluntly and prejudicially dismiss the so-called paranormal completely. So long as that attitude exists, we limit our understanding of ourselves and reality. In doing so, we’re unable to fully grasp information gained from our exploration of space. In short, to understand our world and the universe beyond it, we have to develop a fuller and deeper understanding of ourselves.
Why did you decide to mix science with spirituality in your book? Those two topics often don’t see eye-to-eye.
That was never a conscious goal. In writing a book, you become immersed in the characters. When that happens, there is a strong tendency for the characters to lead the author in unanticipated directions. Of course, you can resist those urges and images. I struggled with this and decided to go along with the flow of material as much of it seemed to be coming from beyond my conscious mind. Since my subconscious is far greater, deeper, and more powerful than my conscious mind, who was I to argue? At the end, I’m glad that I surrendered.
Beau Walker is a short-tempered, flawed character who also struggles with the duality of his heritage. Why did you make your protagonist such a complex character?
You’re quite right. Walker does not suffer fools gladly. He is certainly flawed, which makes him quite human. He has many struggles, one of which is his African-American/Mohawk heritage. However, who among us hasn’t struggled with questions like who am I, what am I here for, what is real and what is not? I hope that readers can identify with at least some of Walker’s conflicts.
As to why I made him so complex, I did not intentionally construct him that way. As I said earlier, as characters take on greater dimensionality, they exert a force that directs them in certain ways and causes them to act according to their natures.
Tell us a bit more about the title. Why The SHIVA Syndrome?
Many people ask me that question. SHIVA actually has a double meaning. It represents the Hindu God and his qualities of creation and destruction, but it is also an acronym for the research project described in the book. I’ll avoid a spoiler here.
Does your book contain an underlying message? Something you wish to convey to the reader?
Absolutely! I get a great deal of pleasure when a reader truly “gets it.” There are many who read the novel and enjoy it but never quite grasp the core meaning. My first drafts were largely science fiction oriented with a simple moral. It was only after I became more deeply involved that I was able to grasp that there was, in fact, a deeper message that I missed in earlier drafts. So, while I’m very pleased when someone puts up five stars and talks about it being a thrilling book, I’m even more satisfied when that reader has also grasped the deeper issues.
The novel explores a lot of topics, among which are ESP and other paranormal abilities. Do you think the paranormal would ever be explained by science?
That’s a terribly complex answer. Many mainstream scientists close their minds to the possible existence of paranormal phenomena. Despite this, qualified researchers have moved ahead and are learning more about phenomena existing beyond the scope of ordinary scientific understanding. Dean Radin, a well-known parapsychologist, describes the word paranormal as very broad and not very useful. In relation to human capabilities (such as ESP, psychokinesis, precognition, etc.), he refers to these as “supernormal,” unexplainable capabilities above or beyond normal. Although his term is useful, I believe it falls short: supernormal events/abilities are found among ordinary people. In my clinical practice, I’ve been surprised by the numbers of people who have reported supernormal experiences, from out of body and near-death experiences to precognition. I’ve come to believe that supernormal abilities often go unnoticed and exist within us to some degree. Many of them are written off as hunches or coincidences, etc. Others keep their experiences very hush-hush.
One young man saw me for emotional difficulties. I asked him to keep a journal. Weeks later, when I asked to review the journal I learned that he had been having out of body experiences for years. I was the second person who knew about this. His mother told him it was “the devil’s work,” making him feel ashamed and causing him to hide the experience because he thought there was something pathological about him. After having him read Robert Monroe’s book Journeys Out of the Body, he was relieved to learn that he was far from alone.
There are, however, certain individuals who have more–than–average events. In my novel, Beau Walker is one of these. As a scientist, he knows too well the reactions his colleagues would have if he revealed his talents. That’s why he keeps them “in the closet.”
In answer to your question, in spite of the obstructions and roadblocks I believe that science – in a modified form – will achieve a greater understanding of supernormal abilities.
How much research did it require from you to write this book? What was the most interesting aspect of that research?
At least as much research – if not more – as was involved in doing my doctoral dissertation. It was complicated because members of the scientific team in the novel each had their own specialty and, if the book was to be realistic, I had to understand each of the sciences, have the characters relate their information in ways that were relevant to the science yet make it readable. Overall, it was quite an endeavor.
Do you believe that the human mind is still evolving? And would that be in a good or bad way?
Actually, that subject is dealt with in the book. The evolution of the human mind has evolved in small ways over the past 5000 years. I believe the next major breakthroughs that cause significant evolution will come from science, through genetic engineering, for example. That is, unless humanity is foolish enough to further damage the Earth, creating an environment that causes devolution instead.
The Shiva Syndrome has the makings of an action movie. Which actors would you like to see in the lead roles, should it ever get a movie adaptation?
You’re one of many who have seen a film developing from the novel. Strangely enough, it helped to me to write by envisioning films stars as characters. First, I saw Javier Bardem in the role of Beau Walker, a bearded Jon Goodman as Burt Grimes, Morgan Freeman as Lincoln Carter, Anthony Hopkins as Karl Slezak, Diane Kruger as Leigh Kampmann, Jude Law as Allyn Gareth, and Meryl Streep as Julie Thorsten.
What are you working on right now?
At the moment I’m in what you might call the incubation mode. I’m toying with ideas that could be useful in a prequel or sequel.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
This was my first fiction novel, but I have many nonfiction publications that can be found by searching on my name. I would enjoy hearing from readers or potential readers with questions through my website at www.allanjoshua.com .