Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Book Tour/Giveaway - Becoming Animals by Olga & Christopher Werby




Becoming Animals
by Olga Werby

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GENRE: Science Fiction Adventure

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BLURB:

Humans have always wanted to know what goes on inside the minds of other animals. But what if humans could become animals? Toby’s father leads a team of neuroscientists directly connecting the brains of humans with those of animals. And Toby is a prodigy at throwing her mind into the animal subjects in his lab—she’s the best there is.

But Toby suffers from cystic fibrosis and she’s not likely to live into adulthood. Could a radical plan to embed her consciousness into an animal allow Toby to survive? And what does it mean to live without a human body?

Can Toby and her father solve the problem of fully merging two beings before she takes her last breath? Will the government succeed in stopping their efforts before they are done? It’s a race against death and into the minds of animals.

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Excerpt:

“You left the girl alone in there?”

Professor Will Crowe looked past Major Watson’s inspection team at the tall military man. He paused before answering. “It’s ‘Bring Your Daughter to Work Day,’” he said.

Major George Watson watched through the one-way mirror as the eight-year-old girl adjusted the brain-to-brain interface cap on her head and continued to play with the rat. This was the lab rat the whole Brats project was designed around—the one with the brain implant that allowed the wearer of the BBI cap to control its movements.

Will shifted uncomfortably. He looked ready to bolt for the door and retrieve his daughter. But Major Watson, not unkindly, put his hand on Will’s shoulder. Now that this unplanned experiment had begun, he was interested in the outcome.

“That used to be your pet rat, is that right?” Watson asked.

“It was Toby’s rat,” Will said. “The doctors told us we couldn’t have allergens in my wife’s environment, so I brought it to the lab. I couldn’t just kill it. But I didn’t think Toby would recognize Rufus…”

Geez, the rat has a name! Watson tried to hide his irritation. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Rufus?”

“Toby named him,” Will said.

The professor was clearly nervous. He must have known how unprofessional this all must appear to the military people who funded Crowe’s brain lab. The army intelligence grant had paid for everything they’d been doing here for the last two years.

Watson knew how much Will hated surprise visits to his lab, but he did it anyway. It was part of his job to stir things up a bit. But he had never expected something like this. Not only bringing a little kid into a top-secret lab, but giving her access to the equipment? The major was too controlled to let his face give away his displeasure, but he had to actively suppress communicating his disapproval. He believed his demeanor should never reveal anything about his internal thoughts and emotions unless he wanted it to.

“I see.” The major noticed that he still sounded irritated. He was always irritated when visiting civilian-run labs—Dr. Crowe’s facility in particular. The man was so touchy. It was so much easier to conduct research when he could just issue orders. He hated cajoling. He wasn’t a babysitter.

But he had to admit that Dr. Crowe’s work on direct neural interfaces was the most promising he’d seen so far. The BBI developed in his lab allowed humans to govern the rat’s movements—direction, speed, and agility—and even more impressively, Dr. Crowe thought human controllers would soon be able to get partial sensory data from the rat’s eyes and ears. Human brain-controlled rats, or brats for short, were a true breakthrough. This was computer-mediated control of an animal with the potential for complete sensory immersion. Thanks to Dr. Crowe’s work, the military would one day be able to send little ratty spies into dangerous or humanly impenetrable areas. This technology would be invaluable in search and rescue operations—collapsed buildings, tunnels, mine shafts—as well as more “delicate” assignments run by some of the covert military units. Human-controlled rats would be the most advanced mini robots on the planet.

“Here, Ruffy,” said the girl, petting the rat. “See? It feels good, doesn’t it?”

“Can she feel what the rat is feeling?” asked Sergeant Martinez—one of Major Watson’s people.

“It looks like she can,” said Dr. Crowe.

“Find out for sure,” Watson said.

“Okay.” Dr. Crowe practically ran out of the observation center.

“I want this recorded,” ordered Major Watson as the professor carefully opened the door to the lab, obviously not wanting to spook either the rat or his little girl.

The lieutenant behind the camera nodded. Everything was being recorded.

“Hey, Toby,” Dr. Crowe called softly. His voice carried easily into the observation room via a set of speakers.

“Hi, Dad!” Toby greeted her father in the high-pitched voice of an excited eight-year-old girl. She was holding the fluffy black-and-white animal in one hand and using the other to scratch behind its brain implant, located just at the back of the animal’s head. She gently giggled at the motion. To Watson, it looked like the girl was able to sense the touch of her own finger on the fur of the rat. In essence, she seemed to be tickling herself.

“Can you feel that?” Dr. Crowe asked.

Toby nodded. “And I can see you too,” she said.

Her back was to her dad, but Rufus was looking directly at Dr. Crowe, tracking the man’s motion across the lab as he approached his daughter. Interesting, Watson thought. If Toby could see anything at all through the animal’s visual perception, it would represent enormous progress.

“How many fingers do I have up?” Dr. Crowe asked quickly, sticking his thumb up in the air and leaning in close—rats had poor eyesight.

“None!” Toby laughed. Watson and his men behind the mirrored wall held their collective breath before Toby added, “It’s a thumb, silly!”

Dr. Crowe glanced into the one-way mirror, at the unseen observers. “What else can you do with Ruffy? Can you show me?”

Toby put the rat on the floor and let him loose. The professor looked back at the door to the lab that he’d carelessly left open.

“Don’t worry, Dad. Ruffy won’t escape. He likes it here,” Toby said.

“Okay. So what tricks can you do with Ruffy?” Dr. Crowe asked.

“I can tell Ruffy where you keep the treats and have him get them,” the girl said.

“I keep the animal treats locked.”

“You showed me already,” Toby said.

The rat quickly ran over to the professor’s desk, scampered up on top, and used its mouth to grab the key to the cabinet that held the rat snacks. Watson watched with amazement as the rat dropped the key to the floor, climbed down, and grabbed the key again. It then ran over to the cabinet.

But the lock was too high up. So Toby walked over and gave Rufus a lift to the second drawer from the top.

“Don’t help him,” Dr. Crowe said.

Both Toby and the rat, in unison, turned their heads toward him. “Dad! Ruffy is too small to get up this high by himself.”

“Okay. But let him unlock the drawer by himself,” Dr. Crowe said.

Toby extended her hand and the rat put the key into the lock and turned it. With a soft click, the drawer opened.

As the rat reached into the drawer toward the snack container, Toby’s nose twitched. “It smells good and bad,” she complained.

“You can smell the rodent snacks?”

“I can smell how much Ruffy likes them. But to me, it smells bad. It’s like it’s yummy and disgusting all at the same time.”

Major Watson was genuinely impressed. The Brats project was further along than he could have hoped. He left the observation room and walked into the rat lab. Stepping right up to Toby, he asked, “What else can you feel?”

“I can hear you all walk around the lab with Ruffy’s ears. And I can taste what Ruffy eats,” Toby said. She frowned. “Daddy, I hate the taste of Ruffy’s snacks.” She started to rip the BBI cap off her head.

“Wait, honey, let me help you with that.” Dr. Crowe rushed over to help remove the prototype from her head. The handmade BBI cap was quite delicate, with wires dangling inside and out.

Without Toby to mediate the rat’s behavior, the little animal dove for the back of the snack drawer, where it tried to hide away from the bright lights and loud noises of the lab.

“How do you feel?” the professor asked his daughter.

“It was fun, but Ruffy sure likes to eat bad things. And it’s weird to be so small,” Toby said.

Major Watson looked over at Dr. Crowe. Vision, hearing, taste, smell, feel, and even proprioception—a complete sensory experience immersion. This had turned out to be a surprisingly effective demonstration of the BBI technology.

And it was surprising in another way too. As far as the major knew, no one in Dr. Crowe’s lab could exercise as much control, or feel so fully absorbed in the animal subject’s perception, as the researcher’s daughter had just exhibited. She’d even displayed some of the rat’s mannerisms—synchronous nose twitching and darting eye movements. Can’t fake that.

“That was excellent work, Toby,” he said approvingly, squatting down to be face to face with the little girl. “I am Major Watson, and I work with your dad…and Rufus.”

“Nice to meet you,” Toby said, extending her small hand.

He smiled and formally shook the girl’s hand. “How would you like to come and help us work with Rufus?”

“Major—” Crowe began.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Toby?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Major—” Dr. Crowe tried again.

Watson cut him off. “Why don’t you take your daughter home, Professor? We will discuss the arrangements this evening.”

He turned to go, but then walked back to the feed drawer and looked at the rat hiding in there, gorging on the snacks. “You might want to put Rufus back in his case before he gets sick.” Then he left the lab, signaling for his people in the observation room to follow.

“I really liked playing with Ruffy,” he heard Toby say behind him. “It’s like a video game, only much, much better.”

Dr. Crowe replied, but the major didn’t hear the words.

This had turned out to be a great surprise inspection after all.




Dear Blogger and Clyde!

Thank you very much for this opportunity to connect with the “Gimme The Scoop Reviews” Blog readers. Hope they find “Becoming Animals” a good read.

I wrote “Becoming Animals” with my husband and partner, Christopher Werby. You can point your readers to the first few chapters of this book here: https://interfaces.com/blog/becoming-animals/

This story won several indi book awards: 2018 Bronze Medal in the Young Adult Science Fiction from Readers’ Favorite and The Independent Author Network Book of the Year Finalist. “Becoming Animals” is fully-illustrated—why do only kids get to have pictures in their books?

The text of the post is below in addition to some background on “Becoming Animals.” If there is anything I can do to make this interview work better for you, please let me know.

Thank you again for allowing me to share my story with your readers!

All the best,

Olga

Here are a few of my sites:

Author’s Website: https://interfaces.com/blog/
Amazon: amazon.com/author/olgawerby
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OlgaWerby/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/OlgaWerby
Company/Publisher: https://Pipsqueak.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDE3BNceupMYgvoaoAps2mg
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/olgawerby/

And I now have a site that allows students and parents to download free educational materials for elementary and secondary school kids to download and do offline: supermarketscience.com. It is still under development, but keep an eye out if you have kids!

About “Becoming Animals”:


Humans have always wanted to know what goes on inside the minds of other animals. But what if humans could become animals? Toby’s father leads a team of neuroscientists who are developing equipment to directly connect the brains of humans with those of animals. Toby is a prodigy at throwing her mind into the animal subjects in her dad’s lab—she’s the best there is.

But Toby suffers from cystic fibrosis and she’s not likely to live to adulthood. Could a radical plan to embed her consciousness into an animal allow Toby to survive? And what does it mean to live without a human body?

Can Toby and her father solve the problem of fully merging two beings before she takes her last breath? Will the government succeed in stopping their efforts before they are done? It’s a race against death and into the minds of animals.


Reviews:


"[A] must-read for every science fiction and animal lover." -- a 5 star review from Readers' Favorite

"[A]s a concept for a novel I found the idea of melding with an animal's mind, in Becoming Animals, to be utterly fascinating and was excited to see how this would develop for young Toby. I became very invested in the characters created by Olga and Christopher Werby and consequently enjoyed this children's/young adult book even more than I thought I would. The amount of honest research that had clearly gone on before penning this novel lent real authenticity to the tale. I had heard much of what was discussed in broad details in various places, but had perhaps not realized the possible implications - this was especially true of the idea of neuroplasticity and our brain's ability to reset and remake neural connections, at will or as required. The book was an incredibly easy read and although the science might be above the understanding of some of the authors' intended audience, it in no way detracted from the understanding of the story. This story is unique, in my opinion, a rare quality in today's book market. I commend the two authors for their ingenuity and creativity and can highly recommend this read. A great job!" -- a 5 star review from Readers' Favorite

"[T]he characters, both human and animal, are unforgettable, and the plot is high-tech fantasy at its finest. Becoming Animals is most highly recommended." -- a 5 star review from Readers' Favorite

"[A] very interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read; a brilliant addition to the libraries of science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as anyone who simply enjoys a good story." -- a 5 star review from Readers' Favorite

"[T]his is a great novel for young and older sci-fi fans." -- a 5 star review from Readers' Favorite


"[T]his a very interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read; a brilliant addition to the libraries of science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as anyone who simply enjoys a good story." -- a 5 star review from Readers' Favorite

A bit about me:

I write in the genres of sci-fi and magical realism. My background is in astrophysics and psychology. Granted, it’s not a very likely combination for a career…a regular career. But it is perfect for a writer!

I wrote “Becoming Animals” with my husband and partner, Christopher Werby. Our book deals with differences between animal and human cognition and emotional states. How are bird thoughts different from our own? How does it feel to be prey? How would a life of a whale be different from a human girl? And what does it feel like when you are dying? We use this setup to discuss not only the various physiological and cognitive differences between various animals and humans, but to also consider the ethics of using animals in research. I hope this book leaves people thinking about it for many years to come.


The Stories I Write and Read

I write science fiction and magical realism. I believe that regardless of genre, a story needs characters that are believable and to whom people can relate. I find that the books I like least have one thing in common—characters that are not sympathetic. If a reader doesn’t like the main character(s), how are they going to enjoy the book?
When we read, we place ourselves into the fictional world of the book. We try on for size the problems and joys the characters experience in the story. If there is no one in a book worth caring about, then the story is ultimately a failure, in my opinion. That’s true for movies and TV shows, too. People like to read about people they admire or empathize with. Take that away, and what are left are some flat caricatures of people, explosions, and perhaps some interesting locations. That’s not enough to hold the reader’s interest, certainly not mine.

My stories usually start with just a tiny idea and then grow as I collect research around that topic. A few years down the line, the little clump of thoughts jells into an idea for a book. But I never know if the book will become a full-length novel or a novella or even a longish short story. I’m a “pantser” – I write without an outline, by the seat-of-my-pants. I just have a ton of research and random thoughts written down on little notes in my note-taking software. By the time I actually start writing a new novel, I’ve usually spent a year or so taking notes and doing research. I tend to have a general idea of what the book will be about, but I have to feel my way towards the resolution of a story. I write to find out what happens next! Once I know my characters and understand their predicament, the story is written by them. They decide what they want to do and how to proceed and how to solve problems that I throw at them. I know this sounds crazy, but it works well for me. Still, the more research I do, the better the outcome. But it is always a mystery how it all works out. I’m always surprised by the end of the story -- the finished book is nothing like I’ve imaged it…but it does contain all of the elements of my research for the story.

I’ve written ten novels to date: https://interfaces.com/blog/my-books/
They are either science fiction or magical realism, depending on the readers’ perception. I like to include real science and novel scientific ideas in all my books, even those leaning more towards magical realism genre. So here are few words about my other books:

“Suddenly, Paris”: What if the world is not made out of atoms? Would it change your high school experience? Would it change how you love? This story focuses on a high school student, Julie Vorov, who suddenly learns something about herself and that turns her world upside down. This book was placed on the Long List for The James Tiptree Jr. Award in 2016. You can read the first few chapters here:  https://interfaces.com/blog/suddenly-paris/

“Coding Peter” is a sequel to “Suddenly, Paris.” It tells the story of Julie’s younger brother Peter. Peter has some very difficult choices to make. Would he be pressed to make the right ones? Read the first few chapters here: https://interfaces.com/blog/coding-peter/

“The FATOFF Conspiracy” is a social satire on the cultural obsession with fat and what happens when the government intervenes… You can be rich and thin, or you can apply for government assistance for fat-reduction procedures… This is a pretty dark, but funny story. You can read the first few chapters here: https://interfaces.com/blog/the-fatoff-conspiracy/

“Twin Time” is a story of identical twins, where one is autistic and the other’s not. It is also a time loop story. I wanted to explore the psychology and family dynamic of a family with a sick child. I wanted to give autism a voice. You can read the results here (the first few chapters): https://interfaces.com/blog/twin-time/ Like many of my books, including “Harvest” and  “Becoming Animals,” “Twin Time” is fully illustrated. “Twin Time” got an honorable mention in San Francisco Book Festival.

“Becoming Animals” is another story of overcoming a life-long illness…by escaping it! The science in this book while extraordinary is not really very far in the future. If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a rat or a bird, this is your opportunity: https://interfaces.com/blog/becoming-animals/ “Becoming Animals” won multiple awards to date.

“Lizard Girl & Ghost” is one of my strangest creations. It is a story of an avatar in a digital world left adrift when its owner becomes ill. It’s fantastical and strange and ultimately very emotional story of life and death in cyber space: https://interfaces.com/blog/my-books/the-apple/

“Harvest” is a story of first contact. It is what one would classify as “hard science fiction.” “Hard” doesn’t mean it is hard to read or understand, just that it has a lot of fun (and accurate) science in addition to a great story. “Harvest” has a lot of great science but it is all wrapped in an exciting adventure and post apocalyptic fun. This story starts with a discovery of a very old alien artifact buried in ice on one of the moons of Saturn. Scientists and the military have to quickly make an assessment: what do these aliens want? Are they dangerous? If so, how could humans protect themselves? But how can we tell when something wants us harm? Some of the biggest cultural mistakes on Earth came about from simple failure to communicate, to understand the alien other. When the other side is overwhelming in power and knowledge, making a diplomatic mistake can end human civilization. It’s a fun premise and a good story. I guess what makes it truly unique is the science—it’s all true! You can read the first few chapters here: https://interfaces.com/blog/my-books/harvest/

“God of Small Affairs” is a cozy mystery with a twist – it’s a story about a god who, by chance, ends up in a small town in Wisconsin and in a middle of a murder investigation. It’s not a science fiction book, but rather a story in a magical realism genre. You can read the first few chapters here: https://interfaces.com/blog/my-books/god-of-small-affairs/

I finished a novella – “Good Girl” – at the start of 2020. It’s about a schizophrenic, multiple personality AI. I will publish it as an ebook in the next few months or so. Look for a link to a free copy in one of my upcoming newsletters.

I’ve also just finished the first draft of “Shuttered Mirror” – a novel about fate. It will be at least another half a year before it comes out, but I’ll keep you updated on my progress on my blog: Interfaces.com.

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AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Olga Werby, Ed.D., has a Doctorate from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on designing online learning experiences. She has a Master's degree from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology. She has been creating computer-based projects since 1981 with organizations such as NASA (where she worked on the Pioneer Venus project), Addison-Wesley, and the Princeton Review. Olga has a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics from Columbia University. She became an accidental science fiction indie writer about a decade ago, with her first book, "Suddenly Paris," which was based on then fairly novel idea of virtual universes. Her next story, "The FATOFF Conspiracy," was a horror story about fat, government bureaucracy, and body image. She writes about characters that rarely get represented in science fiction stories -- homeless kids, refugees, handicapped, autistic individuals -- the social underdogs of our world. Her stories are based in real science, which is admittedly stretched to the very limit of possible. She has published almost a dozen fiction books to date and has won many awards for her writings. Her short fiction has been featured in several issues of "Alien Dimensions Magazine," "600 second saga," "Graveyard Girls," "Kyanite Press' Fables and Fairy Tales," "The Carmen Online Theater Group's Chronicles of Terror," with many more stories freely available on her blog, Interfaces.com.

Links:

http://www.interfaces.com/blog/
amazon.com/author/olgawerby
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4056895.Olga_Werby
https://www.facebook.com/OlgaWerby/
https://twitter.com/OlgaWerby
http://Pipsqueak.com
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDE3BNceupMYgvoaoAps2mg
https://www.linkedin.com/in/olgawerby/

Selected Book Links on Amazon:

“Harvest”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07R8HGKWN/
“Becoming Animals”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B078P6BB6K/
“Suddenly, Paris”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B014OM5158/
“The FATOFF Conspiracy”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B014S0W4WO/
“Twin Time”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LZM578L/
“Lizard Girl & Ghost: The Chronicles of DaDA Immortals”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07FBR7Q1T/
“Coding Peter”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LFP45WC/
“Pigeon”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B014TZ1TQA/
“Fresh Seed”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07FFDZNYB/


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GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE:

Olga Werby will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Please use this rafflecopter code on your post:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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