Monday, February 12, 2024

Virtual Book Tour + #Giveaway: The Babel Apocalypse Audiobook by Vyvyan Evans @VyvEvans @GoddessFish



by Vyvyan Evans

GENRE: Science Fiction


Language is no longer learned, but streamed to neural implants regulated by lang-laws. Those who can’t afford monthly language streaming services are feral, living on the fringes of society. Big tech corporations control language, the world’s most valuable commodity.

But when a massive cyberattack causes a global language outage, catastrophe looms.

Europol detective Emyr Morgan is assigned to the case. Suspect number one is Professor Ebba Black, the last native speaker of language in the automated world, and leader of the Babel cyberterrorist organization. But Emyr soon learns that in a world of corporate power, where those who control language control everything, all is not as it seems. After all, if the mysterious Ebba Black is to blame, why is the Russian Federation being framed for an outage it claims no responsibility for? And why is Ebba now a target for assassination?

As he and Ebba collide, Emyr faces an existential dilemma between loyalty and betrayal, when everything he once believed in is called into question. To prevent the imminent collapse of civilization and a deadly war between the great federations, he must figure out friend from foe—his life depends on it.

And with the odds stacked against him, he must find a way to stop the Babel Apocalypse.

Book Website (including ‘Buy’ links)


Ebba was all too aware that she was viewed as an anomaly by pretty much everyone; she was neither feral nor out-soc. So, some of her students—especially those from outside the Republic, such as the Grand Union, and other places too—thought she must be breaking the law. It was a common misconception. She had even once been reported to the authorities by one of those types. For being an unchipped ghost, as they called her. That made her laugh; a dark laugh at the irony of it. The mutes, she called them. Those who had been fitted with Universal Grammar tech.

But while she officially resided in the Nordic Republic, and as long as she remained there, Ebba wasn’t doing anything illegal. The Republic was something of a curiosity even among Tier One states, never having passed a lang-law. Yet this singular absence was offset by the special requirements of Nordic birth licenses. To have one granted, prospective parents had to consent to their newborn being fitted with Universal Grammar tech. So everyone got a language chip at birth anyway, together with an ear implant transceiver. Which meant that voice command tech was, for all intents and purposes, de rigueur even without a lang-law. But that was the Scandinavian way. In the Nordic Republic, they organized freedom.

For her part, Ebba knew it wasn’t her. It was everyone else who had the problem. “That’s what you would think,” her braver, typically male students told her. “You’re Ebba Black.” Ha! Whatever that means. How do they know what Ebba Black would think anyway?

Interview with Vyvyan Evans

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

There are two books that stand out for me, that have influenced how I conceive of what fiction can do. Both these books ingeniously explored the impact of language on how we think and experience (illustrated through the conceit of a protagonist learning an entirely new, and alien, language).

The first, Babel-17 is by Samuel R. Delany. It was first published in 1966 and was joint winner of the Nebula Award for best novel in 1967.

The eponymous Babel-17 is a language that alters the perceptions and world-view of any who speak it. This is a conceit that draws upon the principle of linguistic relativity.

Linguistic Relativity holds that divergence in the grammatical organization and lexical structure of the language we speak alters the habitual perception of the world around us, even dramatically changing how we think. As an example, we now know that the brains of Greek speakers perceive certain colours differently from speakers of English because of how Greek labels for colour divide up the colour spectrum. This is an unconscious consequence of speaking Greek versus English.

In the novel, Babel-17 is the language spoken by Invaders, as they wage an interstellar war against the Alliance. The novel’s protagonist, Rydra Wong, is a linguist and cryptographer who possesses a rare ability to learn languages. She is recruited by the Alliance to try and decode the language of the invaders, Babel-17, to uncover clues for attack vectors.

Babel-17 is an exemplar of a very high-concept conceit. When Delany was writing the novel, linguistic relativity was still only a hypothesis, first dubbed the Spair-Whorf hypothesis in 1954.

Delany asks a classic ‘what if’ question: What if the language we speak fundamentally changes the way we see the world, the way we feel, our belief systems, the way we act? Babel-17 then explores the logical, and extreme consequences of this proposition.

In the novel, as Rydra Wong learns the strange, alien tongue, she starts to see the world, and think as the invaders do. And the consequence is that she starts to become one of them. She ultimately betrays her own command and her government, acting as an agent of the Invaders.

And in this way, Delany shows that in the context of warfare, when the notion of linguistic relativity is taken to its logical extreme, language can serve as the most powerful weapon of all.

The second is the novella, Story of Your Life, written by Ted Chiang and first published in 1998. This story was subsequently adapted as the major motion picture Arrival.

Again, this story features a linguist as its main protagonist, Dr. Louise Banks. The story involves Banks narrating the events that led to the arrival of her new-born daughter. In so doing, she explains how her work, translating the language of the alien Heptapod species, led her to understanding time in a new way, where she could perceive her past and future simultaneously.

The consequence is that as learning a new (alien) language transforms thought, the novella explores issues relating to linguistic relativity, determinism and freewill.

How do you select the names of your characters?

My fiction writing focuses on the impact of language and communication, and how both can potentially serve as a means of control and even destruction, especially with the advent of AI.

For this reason, the names of characters have linguistic significance, based on geography and the semantic, historical and even professional implications of the names.

For instance, one of the protagonists of The Babel Apocalypse is Ebba Black. The first name, ‘Ebba’ is a typical Scandinavian female name, reflecting the geographical origin of the character. The name itself means strong or brave and reflects Ebb Black’s fearless disposition. Her last name, ‘Black’ reflects the moral ambiguity of her character, and also her role as a so-called “black hat”, a computer hacker extraordinaire.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I do. There are a number of ‘Easter eggs’ hidden in the book. And there are clues and ‘bread crumbs’ for readers too, that set up important plot points and threads in later books in the Songs of the Sage series.

What was your hardest scene to write?

A number of scenes come to mind, but I’ll opt for one in particular: the scene in which Ebba Black meets the book’s narrator and lead investigator, Emyr Morgan, for the first time. This scene was tough to write not just for the emotional pathos, but also for the stakes involved. It is also the scene in which Ebba explains what is lost when humans give up and hence lose language to AI.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

The six books in the Songs of the Sage series are linked by four protagonists, whose fates and lives are interlinked, and who crisscross each other through space, and time, all intersecting in a variety of ways.

The central theme of language as the hallmark of what it means to be human is explored in a variety of ways. Also explored is the way, in the future, language can be used as weapon against those who use it, when science and AI take over.

As language entails involves symbol use, the book series, perhaps naturally, also dwells on other aspects of human imagination and symbolic behavior, including religious experience and belief systems, themselves made possible by language.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

The Babel Apocalypse is a sci-fi mystery set in a high-tech future where language is no longer learned but streamed to neural implants. Powerful corporations control the technology, and when a cyberattack causes a global language outage, detective Emyr Morgan is tasked with finding the one responsible. What he discovers leads him to question everything he’s ever known.

The Babel Apocalypse’ is conceived as warning of the future dangers of technology, and how giving up on the hallmark of what it means to be human—language—leads to catastrophe and the potential collapse of civilization. When we lose language, we all lose.

The mouthpiece for the warning, in the novel, comes in the form of Professor Ebba Black, the last native speaker of language in the automated world. In her words: “They who control language control everything.” And within a landscape where entire populations have given up on language learning, for reasons of convenience, and hence must lease it back for monthly streaming subs, then these populations really are entirely dependent on big tech.

The book’s warning comes in several forms, given language streaming technology would have significant societal, ethical and civil liberty implications.

One example relates to the consequences for language itself. And that is, in just one generation there would no longer be any native speakers of language left; hence, there could be no going back to how it was before.

This entails that individuals become constrained by decisions made by big tech and governments, in terms of words and lexical choice. As one example, imagine a particular state that outlaws abortion under all circumstances. Such a government might then proscribe the word “abortion” itself. Hence, say in the US, someone might stream English and not be able to describe the concept, using the word. This, in effect, also outlaws the very concept itself.

There would then be the Kafkaesque situation whereby in another English-speaking territory, where abortion remains legal, language streaming providers censor the word in one state, but not in another.

But this kind of potential for censorship of thought, by permanently cancelling words, might also lead to a situation where autocratic regimes can abuse the technology for their own ends. The concerns are perhaps obvious, and even worse than imagined in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Thought itself can be controlled at a stroke, for entire populations, by limiting freedom of expression in language.

What inspired you to write The Babel Apocalypse?

Today in the twentieth first century, we are on the brink of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, sometimes dubbed 4IR. This is where automation and connectivity, via the internet, will dramatically alter the way in which we interact with each other, as well as everything around us, in our increasingly joined-up technological environment. And I predict, in less than one hundred years from now, this new technology will transform many aspects of our daily lives that we currently take for granted, including language itself.

Indeed, in 2015, many of the world’s leading scientists, warned, in an Open Letter and accompanying report, against the new dangers of AI, as a consequence of 4IR. This Open Letter was issued in response to new breakthroughs in AI that, without adequate control, might pose short and long-term existential threats to humans.

But potential dangers come not just from the use of AI, in the sense of, for instance, The Terminator series of movies, in which AI seeks to wage war and destroy the human race. New implantable devices, that will enhance how we as humans can interact with our new tech-landscape, will also give rise to potential dangers. Language is, arguably, the single trait that is the hallmark of what it is to be human. And yet, in the near-future, language-chipped humans, or ‘transhumans’, will have enhanced abilities that bring new opportunities, as well as ethical challenges and even threats.

Self-evidently, in a world where most people have undergone language chipping, this would soon lead to a situation in which in the automated world there are no native speakers of language left. And with an entire population entirely dependent on language, were that language streaming ecosystem to fail, then the consequences would be catastrophic.

The Babel Apocalypse imagines a situation in which a cyberterrorist attack on language streaming servers in low Earth orbit leads to just such a global language outage. Such an event, with its low probability, would be one for which humans would be completely unprepared. In The Babel Apocalypse, entire populations of people, literally at a stroke, lose the ability to use language, becoming feral. And hence, the consequences for civilization become catastrophic.

Hence, the concerns alluded to in the book relate, ultimately, to what it means to be human; and whether implantable AI can and should be allowed to replace previously fundamental aspects of the human experience. Moreover, these concerns highlight the abuse that arises from the commoditization of what we previously assumed to be a human birth-right, namely language.

Can you tell us a little bit about the next books in Songs of the Sage book or series?

There are six projected books in the series which, in increasing turns, examine the role and nature of language, and communication. The thematic premise is that, in the wrong hands, language can serve as a weapon of mass destruction. This overarching motif is explored, across the six books, both from Earth-bound and galaxies-wide bases.

As language involves symbol use and processing, the book series, perhaps naturally, also dwells on other aspects of human imagination and symbolic behaviour, including religious experience and belief systems, themselves made possible by language.

The second book in the series, The Dark Court, is set five years after the events of the great language outage depicted in The Babel Apocalypse. It explores how the language chips in people’s heads can themselves be hacked, leading to a global insomnia pandemic. The Dark Court will be published in May 2024, as book 2 in the series.

Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Babel Apocalypse?

The Babel Apocalypse is set in the near future when language is no longer learned, but streamed to neural implants in people’s head, controlled by powerful bug tech corporations.

There are two main protagonists. The first is Emyr Morgan, a cybercrime detective, charged with investigating who’s behind the cyberattack, that is causing the imminent collapse of civilization.

The second is Professor Ebba Black, heiress, linguist and hacker extraordinaire. In a desperate race against time, Emyr and Ebba have to figure out who is behind the outage and how to prevent a war between the great federations.

The book is a genre-blending, sci-fi mystery-thriller that will make you think about language in a whole new way. It will appeal to readers who enjoy speculative fiction or dystopian tales with a touch of romance.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I enjoyed most getting inside the characters’ heads. I did so by building up a detailed “portrait” of the person, including their actions. And then I unpick what must have led to those actions, their thought processes. This helps to get to know a character, what makes them tick, so to say.

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Dr. Vyvyan Evans is a native of Chester, England. He holds a PhD in linguistics from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., and is a Professor of Linguistics. He has published numerous acclaimed popular science and technical books on language and linguistics. His popular science essays and articles have appeared in numerous venues including 'The Guardian', 'Psychology Today', 'New York Post', 'New Scientist', 'Newsweek' and 'The New Republic'. His award-winning writing focuses, in one way or another, on the nature of language and mind, the impact of technology on language, and the future of communication. His science fiction work explores the status of language and digital communication technology as potential weapons of mass destruction.

Connect with Vyvyan Evans

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a copy of the audiobook

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