Hot on the heels of the wonderful success of The Crisis of Civilization (2011) and the book on which it's based, A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), I'm involved in a number of endeavours to build on what we achieved, including some exciting new initiatives under the umbrella of the Institute for Policy Research & Development.
However, the thing I'm going to introduce now is my current writing project: The Zero Point.
Yes. The Zero Point is my first novel. It's a political science fiction thriller, and what I envisage to be the first in a trilogy.
The Zero Point has been in the making for almost four years - I started writing it while I was also working on Crisis. When I first started, it was a bit of fun when I had some time on my hands (oh the good ol' days...). But working with Dean Puckett to make The Crisis of Civilization opened my eyes to a whole new arena of creative communication and expression. The process of making the film increased my ability to engage as both a speaker and a writer, and helped me to learn how to make complex ideas accessible to a wide audience. And that created a whole new world of possibility for me to consider.
While I will always seek to ground myself in rigorous scholarship, my Crisis experience made me even more interested in exploring new ways of communicating. One medium I decided to experiment with is fiction.
I wrote The Zero Point with a couple of overlapping goals. Obviously, I wanted to entertain. I love reading political thrillers, science fiction, and fantasy - and I love movies and TV shows which can combine strong characters with exciting plots and fast action. So I wanted to write something that I myself might like to read - something straight up fun, cool, and intriguing.
But I also felt that a novel could be a medium for expressing ideas and reflections which would perhaps never make it into my academic or journalistic work; for exploring possibilities that may well be speculative, but could yet throw light on some of the big global issues we face today and how they're already changing our lives, often for the worse.
I've kept the project quiet until I felt reasonably confident that I was really onto something. I'm pleased to say I'm now at a point where I'm comfortable with letting you guys know that this is what I'm working on - the novel is now complete, has gone through a series of successive painstaking re-drafts and edits, and is in the last stage of editing.
What's the Story?
So what's the novel about you're probably (hopefully) wondering. The novel's about a lot of things.
On the one hand, it's a fast-paced high octane action adventure replete with violence, profanity, political intrigue, conspiracy, and suspense with a dash of science fiction and even paranormal weirdness.
On the other, beneath the glossy surface, it's a dystopian reflection on how excessive secrecy in the intelligence community can compromise democratic accountability and endanger national security; and the fact that technology, no matter how unbelievably powerful, cannot save us from crises of our own making.
And with those big themes in mind, it's very much about addressing the crisis-ridden zeitgeist of today's world. But what's it actually about?
Well here's the blurb:
In a near-future dystopian London on the brink of collapse, a reluctant ex-soldier fighting to clear his name after being framed for the assassination of the Prime Minister uncovers an ancient Nazi conspiracy to unleash imminent Quantum Apocalypse.
Great Britain in the near future. Mass riots. Economic depression. Power cuts. And another war to stabilise Iraq.
When Prime Minister Carson is brutally assassinated by Islamist extremists, police officer and Iraq War veteran David Ariel goes on the run after becoming an unofficial suspect in a compromised investigation.
As London is locked-down under martial law, the threat of Middle East Armageddon looming, the love of Ariel's life - renowned war correspondent Julia Stephenson - warns of a wider plot to bring the West to its knees, before going missing in Iraq. In a frenetic race against time to elude death and stop the next attack, Ariel is forced down a blood-soaked path of no return facing off against unscrupulous terrorists, bent coppers, and double-crossing secret agents.
Traumatised by his past and haunted by inexplicable visions, Ariel's hunt for Carson's killers leads him unwittingly into the heart of an international conspiracy involving Nazi black weapons projects during the Second World War. As he struggles to retain his sanity, conflicted over his return to violence, Ariel finds himself caught in the crossfire of a secret battle to control terrible technologies that could rip apart the fabric of spacetime itself.
What makes this project special, for me, is that although it's an unadulterated work of speculative fiction, it's inspired throughout by the real-world: the strange and dubious history of Western intelligence agencies, highly classified efforts to weaponise the potential and theoretical implications of quantum physics, and a possible near-future on a planet crumbling under the weight of climate change, energy depletion, and economic crisis.
A Pre-Publication Award!
Earlier this year, while no one was looking (except my wife), I submitted an early draft of The Zero Point to the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. After some months of serious nail-biting tension, I was delighted to discover that The Zero Point was a Second Prize Quarterfinalist in the Award.
Since then, I've been editing and re-writing away to make the novel the best if can be...
When's it Ready?
Well, first off, for all those out there who've ever been fans and supporters of any of my work, I think you'll be really excited by this novel, and I want you to know about it now and support the project by spreading the word!
Secondly, I'm not yet decided on how I'm going to proceed with publication. The traditional route - through my literary agent - is the obvious one as it's what I've done for the most part throughout my writing career; but friends and colleagues have urged me to seriously consider going the non-traditional Indie route of self-publication. They think I'm in a great position to make the project a massive success without relying on an 'outmoded' publishing model. I don't really know the answer, and, well, I thought I'd ask you. What do you think?
Thirdly, I've consulted with a few people in the know in the novel writing world, who've confirmed that one of the best ways to get feedback is to use beta readers. I gave this a shot a while back and was fortunate to nab some really wonderful critique friends, but admittedly my approach to doing so was a bit haphazard. As I'm in the final stage of editing, I'm now at a point where the novel is ready for a final beta reading, with a view to solicit critique and feedback! This is YOUR chance to get involved in the finalisation of the novel, winning an acknowledgement in the book, and helping me to take it to that next level.
But there's a BUT.
Naturally, there are only a very limited number of ZP Beta Reader positions available, and certain qualifications are required. If, by now, you're an aspiring ZP Beta Reader, you should be the following:
1. A lover of reading, in particular enjoying a diverse range of fiction
2. Constructive and reasonably articulate - someone who is able and willing to give specific and constructive genre-specific feedback on plot, character development, writing style, and so on (you don't need to be an expert by any means, or have specific experience, but you should be confident about communicating)
3. In possession of decent English language skills and a healthy respect for spelling and grammar (though you won't be asked to proof-read so don't worry!)
4. A person of honesty, integrity and reliability who can commit to providing feedback within a mutually-agreed time frame
5. Someone who doesn't mind a good literary dose of brutal violence, nor gratuitous profanity - and may well get their rocks off on both
If you think you're a good fit, would like to be a ZP Beta Reader, and can't wait to read and give feedback on an exclusive copy of my draft manuscript, please apply in writing directly to me at nafeez.ahmed AT iprd.org.uk, with a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you fit the above criteria.
Applications will close on midnight, GMT, Sunday 7th October. The countdown to the zero point begins...