PROSPECT — Prospect author John Altson jumped from ABCs to IBM in his new novel published last month.
Altson tackles politics, technology, and divinity in “Luke2.”
The idea for the book struck a year ago, Alston said, when he was having a drink with a friend in New York. Altson’s friend asked him what he was going to write for his next book and the two got talking about politics. Maybe if Jesus stepped in as president, they thought, he could help fix what they feel is a broken American political system.
From that conversation, “Luke2” was born.
In the novel, President Luke Harris is literally empowered with the spirit of Luke the Apostle, who guides his decisions.
“It means that he has the confidence that whatever he does is correct with respect to his religion. … I think that’s what makes the difference,” Altson said.
Using his divine guidance and cutting-edge technology, Harris tackles the nation’s problems.
Before retiring in 2010, Altson worked at IBM Research, where he saw a lot of technology in the laboratory that was not yet available to the public.
In the novel, Luke uses some of this technology to achieve his goals, Altson said.
“I think the combination of technology and religious empowerment is something that’s unique,” Altson said.
As for Luke’s success, he said, it’s unclear whether it stems from technological prowess or divine intervention.
He said he got permission from IBM Research to publish information about some of the company’s latest technology.
“They were all approved by IBM, which was sort of a coup,” Altson said.
In his book, Altson focused on creative solutions for real-world problems.
In the novel, as in real life, politicians are more worried about re-election than doing the right thing for the country, Altson said. He said politicians don’t hear the wishes of the people.
“To my cynical view, a lot of the politicians claim to be doing the right thing when in reality they’re serving themselves,” Altson said.
In the book, Altson fixes that problem by having online opinion polls. The results are posted for the public to view and state congressmen and senators are tied to that public opinion.
Altson conceded that the public may not always be right. The media has a lot to do with the swing of public opinion, he feels.
“I think they’re probably more right than the people that are passing the legislature,” Altson said.
Altson thinks technology holds the answers to many of today’s political problems. For example, he said, today’s voting machines still use technology invented in the 1970s.
He said voters could use the security of financial systems to allow people to vote from home.
Altson also said that supercomputers like “Watson,” that recently beat a champion Jeopardy player, could be used to find a smarter way to access and sort information for intelligence operations.
“You could find things out more quickly if you had Watson looking at everything,” Altson said.
In his novel, the Peace Corps starts doing business development in foreign countries using real time natural language translation. Altson said the software for that translation is available now, but not in a headset like the characters use in his novel. Altson said computers can translate faster and more accurately than human translators.
Altson also believes religion should have a bigger role in public life.
“I think we need to follow a lot of the moral principals that are not only in place in Christianity but Judaism and many of the major religions,” Altson said.
Even with divine help, the path to a better system is not easy for President Luke, who has opposition from left and right and even faces talk of impeachment, Altson said.
Luke faces criticism from the left for violating the boundaries of church and state by bringing religions education to schools and ending all his speeches in prayers. He faces
resistance on the right because he’s trying to help the poor and the suffering, which is viewed as wasteful spending.
“(Luke) also knows that he won’t get everything done and there’s going to be a lot of opposition. …While the goals are idealistic for the president, the book also tempers that will a lot of the problems that would probably occur to that kind of president,” Altson said.
Despite the religious overtones, Altson said the book is mainly a political novel.
Altson collaborated with his brother, George Altson, who helped Altson with the biblical references peppered throughout the novel. Altson described himself as a regular church-goer, but not someone who does in-depth bible study. George, on the other hand, is a Christian fundamentalist with a deep knowledge of all things biblical, Altson said.
“We tried to walk a fine line between writing a book that was over the top Christian and maintaining a balance that was accessible for the general reader,” he said.
He said working with his brother on the project brought the siblings a lot closer. Before, Altson said he talked to his brother, who lives in San Diego, about every three months. Now, they talk nearly every day, he said.
This is not the first time Altson explored religion in his writing. One of his two children’s books was about world religions and how they view what happens after death.
The political novel is a complete departure from Altson’s first two children’s books, “The A to Z of Forgotten Animals,” and “What Happened to Grandpa?”
Altson said he always wanted to write a serious novel, but never had the subject matter to write about.
Altson’s children’s books were self-published, but his latest novel is published by a neighbor who happens to also be an author and publisher.
Altson said he walked over to his neighbor’s house with the first three chapters and the neighbor agreed to publish it, he said. For the audio version of the book, another neighbor’s daughter had experience doing audio books and agreed to record Luke2.
Altson said he didn’t know whether it was the grace of God or pure good luck that brought all the pieces together.
“We’ve just had a great deal of luck or providence … whatever you want to call it, in getting the book together,” Altson said.
Now that the book is published, Altson said he has been working hard to generate awareness.
“What I hope (readers) get out of it is there are some creative solutions to today’s political problems and they need to be explored. The people need to be more involved. It can happen and it should happen,” Altson said.