Interview with Craig W. Stanfill, Author Of Terms of Service

What can you tell us about your new release, Terms Of Service?

Terms of Service is a thought-provoking exploration of the profound changes we are seeing in our society as the digital world and the all-powerful corporations who rule it play an ever-greater role in our lives and we all wonder, where does it end? This book presents one chilling possibility, and it is every bit as relevant to our world today as George Orwell’s masterpiece was in the aftermath of World War II.

Stylistically, it is a work of contemporary mainstream fiction, focused on the journey of the protagonist and on the world in which she lives. It is surreal in places, heavily laced with satire, mystical realism, and even a bit of absurdism. In terms of subject matter, it lies squarely within the boundaries of the cyberpunk genre: virtual reality and sentient artificial intelligences are omnipresent, and our characters live much of their lives within a VR system that sometimes seems more real than reality itself. The virtual world and the AIs who live within it act as a mirror, reflecting our own existence. It is also a solid work of hard science fiction: everything it portrays is technologically feasible, and much of it is already part of our daily lives.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

Over the last few years I’ve been very much concerned about what I’ve seen going on in our society; as more an more of our lives take place in the context of the digital world, our freedoms are being left behind. To put it bluntly, the internet has become a dictatorial police state in which there is no law, there is no due process, there is no transparency, and we, the people have no rights whatsoever. I was literally on the internet on day one – before day one, in fact – and we thought that our creation would be the ultimate liberator of humanity, a place where free speech and freedom would reign supreme.

How wrong we were.

That’s where I started, but not where I ended up. Along the way I fell in love with writing,  storytelling, and the creative process. I fell in love with my characters and my readers, and I am never so happy as when I find I have brought a smile to the face of someone I will never meet through the miracle of the written word.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

Number one on my list is George Orwell’s masterpiece, 1984. There has never been a clearer exposition of the means and aims of the tyrant, and I consider it to be one of the most important books ever written.

Number two is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I have, since my college days, been a fan of this book and the clarity of the author’s many-faceted vision of heroism and nobility and the ways in which evil creeps into the hearts of man.

Number three is Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges. I first read it in college, and I find his vision of the uncertain boundaries between reality and imagination to be compelling to this day. I count myself lucky to have heard him speak in person.

Number four is Ringworld, by Larry Niven, as fine and imaginative a piece of science fiction as one could hope to find.

Rounding out the list, at number five, is Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; both the book and the film inspired my early fascination with artificial intelligence, which was the focus of the first third of my career, and which features prominently in my novels.

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?

But for the fact that he is dead, C.S. Lewis would be the clear winner here. What would I ask him? I scarcely can imagine; he was a man of such deep faith, moral conviction, and intellect that I think it would be almost presumptuous to go beyond, “Tell me what you are think about today.” That wouldn’t be a bad way to start the conversation, actually; whatever he had on his mind would surely be both interesting and deeply insightful.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

I love the freedom to create literally anything I can imagine. During my career as a software engineer and a computer scientist I have always been constrained by the limitations of technology and by the pragmatics of schedules, resources, and the need to build a business case for my creations. I have enjoyed considerable success in this, but I’ve reached a stage in my life when I want to sit down and let my creative juices flow unhindered. I am never so happy as when I sit down at the beginning of the day, or the start of the week, or the start of a year, and at the end of it I have created something, starting with nothing but a blank piece of paper and my mind.

What is a typical day like for you?

I used to be the quintessential night owl: I was rarely in bed before  1:00 in the morning, and rarely rose before 9:00 or later, but now I find myself, at the age of 64, a lark: I wake up early, usually between 6:00 and 6:30, make myself breakfast, then head to my desk and start writing. I find that to be the time when I am most productive, when my mind is clearest. At some point in the day I will usually work out; some days its strength-work with a personal trainer, other days I hit the road and pedal off 20-30 miles on my bicycle. I am also one of those guys who loves his afternoon power-nap; for whatever reason, I find it difficult to make it through the day without a snooze; that’s just the way my body works, and its always been that way. Other than that, I spend most of the day at my desk, maybe working on software, but more often continuing my writing. AS evening approaches, I head for the kitchen. My wife, Sharon, was our principal meal-maker during the bulk of my career when I was working crazy hours, but about ten years ago my schedule lightened up and I took over kitchen duty, and it makes a welcome break from my time at the desk. Most evenings I’ll get in a few more hours writing, and I’ll usually call it a day around 9:00. We’ll usually watch some TV, chat about the day’s events, bitch and moan about politics and the sorry state of the world while I enjoy a nip of whiskey or other spirits, then turn in around around midnight. I can’t say its an exciting life, but it suits me fine.

What scene from Terms Of Service was your favorite to write?

My absolute favorite scene to write was the “Purple Night Extravaganza,” a wildly surreal event that takes place within the virtual reality system which plays such a big role in the novel. It’s something of a cross between an acid trip, a rock concert, and a political rally that suddenly turns dark and menacing as our hero’s eyes are opened and she finally begins to see through the lies and deception pervading society.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Life’s too short for mediocrity. I tend to do something well, or not at all, and at every point in my lifeI have picked one thing as the focal point of my existence and thrown myself completely into it. I always strive for excellence.

Craig W. Stanfill is the author of the new book Terms Of Service

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