Telecommunications industry leader writes novels about abuses of science and technology
Thomas J J Starr, a telecommunications engineer living in the Northwest suburbs, has published his third novel, "Retrograde."
Starr, the chairman of a United Nations chartered committee developing industry standards for internet access technology, has applied his technical insights to the novel that explores the internet's vulnerabilities and the disastrous impacts of a cyberwar that goes far beyond the hacker attacks seen in today's news headlines.
For forty-four years, Starr designed and standardized the technology for AT&T's network. "I am always thinking about the impacts of various technologies on society," he said. "Too often innovations, intended to help society, prove to have unforeseen consequences. For example, social media seemed fun and harmless for a while, but now its pervasive negative impacts are more visible."
Readers compare Starr's novels to Michael Crichton's techno-thrillers.
The cyberwar thriller, "Retrograde," has 5-star reviews. In a vicious cyberwar, all of the United States' high-tech weaponry is useless. When the internet and mobile phones fail, the country falls back toward the Stone Age. In a retro twist, America's last hope is the World War II retired battleship USS Missouri, commanded by a maverick captain. The captain's troublesome love affair is woven into the novel.
"If you had asked me ten years ago if I would write fiction," said Starr, "I would have told you that I am an engineer, so I write only nonfiction. However, I was struck by the idea of a man avenging his own murder. It was a story that had to be told, and I was the only one who would do it. So, I wrote my first novel, 'Virtual Vengeance.'"
The story for "Virtual Vengeance" occurred to Starr while he was thinking about breakthrough computer research performed at the University of Illinois where he earned his master's degree in Computer Science. Much of the story takes place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"The story examines what distinguishes humans from machines," he said. "The answer is not what most people think it is."
He feels it is a compelling story about the abuse of technology to brainwash everyone in America. The story elicits how today's internet-based environment influences our thoughts and behavior.
As an author of several technical nonfiction books, he said, "I was surprised to find that I enjoyed writing fiction more than nonfiction. With nonfiction, the story is already done. You just have to tell it clearly."
Starr's second novel, "Fatal Entanglement," reflects the worrisome developments in genetic engineering. The novel tells the adventure of a professor who enlists the help of a mysterious, genetically enhanced woman in a desperate struggle against foes who want to reshape the human species. The future of humankind hangs precariously between a depraved genetic scientist, creating a new species of superhuman warriors, and the megalomaniac leader of the World Peace Institute, executing the ultimate solution for world peace. The mysterious woman in the story was supposed to be a minor character, but as Starr wrote, he found that she was stealing the scenes.
"I fought her for a while," said Starr, "but she was too strong. Eventually, I gave up and let her write the story. I'm glad I did."
Starr encourages others to fulfill their dreams of writing their own books, fiction or nonfiction. Having worked with traditional, big-name publishers, as well as self-publishing, he has found self-publishing is far easier for new authors. Today's self-publishing services can produce excellent books with little or no start-up cost. He advises self-published authors to always have their manuscript reviewed by a skilled proofreader.
"Fortunately, my wife is an excellent proofreader and collaborator," he said. "She put in weeks of work finding a ton of errors in the manuscript. Thanks to her, my novels are in much better shape."
He also tells prospective authors, "An interesting and well-written book will not sell itself. One should consider how to promote the book to its audience before making the effort to write it."
Starr finds book-signing events and social media helpful in promoting his novels. The novels are available as paperback and Kindle eBook at Amazon and other booksellers, under the name: Thomas J J Starr.