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Q&A With Dan Ronco

May 31, 2008
Daphne Hayden, DNS News Anchor, interviews Dan Ronco in 2012 regarding Unholy Domain, his visionary novel. Ms. Hayden appears as herself in both PeaceMaker and Unholy Domain.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: I've found your biography online at Dan Ronco, and I know you have not one, but three degrees: Chemical Engineering, Nuclear Engineering and Computer Science. Why so many?

DAN RONCO: It's my nature. I'm never satisfied, always looking for the next challenge. My career has been like that, too. First I designed nuclear reactors, next I became a Partner in a huge accounting and IT consulting firm, then President of a small software company and finally a General Manager with Microsoft.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: So how did you go from technology guru to writing a novel?

DAN RONCO: After more than two decades in the IT business, I felt that it was time to do something else. Although I loved working at Microsoft, 70 hour weeks and heavy travel take a toll. Besides, I had been thinking about writing a novel for years, but hadn't made much progress. It was time to choose. So I left my job and concentrated on writing.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: You're much better looking in person. Trash that photo on the cover of Unholy Domain.

DAN RONCO: Well, I was trying to look author-ish. Guess it didn't work.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: In your first novel, set in 2012, PeaceMaker a Windows-like operating system is infected with an intelligent virus, leading to a shutdown of computers across the globe. With Windows computers so widely used, could this really happen?

DAN RONCO: Software terrorism is already a threat, and it will grow over time. Every time a new virus attacks Windows, someone has to detect and report the problem, programmers have to develop and distribute a fix, and millions of users have to apply the fix. A relatively slow process, but it works as long as the virus isn't too destructive, doesn't spread too fast (or secretly) and doesn't evolve too rapidly (the fix won't work if the virus can change tactics). In PeaceMaker, I envisioned a fictional virus attack that exceeded these parameters. At some point within the next decade, a terrorist may be capable of launching such a sophisticated attack.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: PeaceMaker and Unholy Domain have been touted as the first two books of an anti-technology trilogy. Is that true? What are the books about?

DAN RONCO: My stories dramatize the question: how much technology is too much? The first novel, as you know, illustrates the consequences of a runaway, lethal computer virus. My new novel, Unholy Domain, set in 2022, considers the meaning of being human as artificial intelligence begins to approach human intelligence. It takes a hard look at what I believe will be accelerating conflict between science and religion. The last book of the trilogy, set in 2025 and tentatively titled Tomorrow's Children, considers the risks and benefits of genetic engineering.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: You didn't really answer my question. Don't your books warn against the continuing growth of technology?

DAN RONCO: It's clear to me that the exponential growth in technology over the next two, three decades will bring incredible change to our society, possibly beyond our ability to cope. Whether that's anti-technology, well, I'll leave it for the reader to decide.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: Scientists and the clergy are already in conflict over issues such as evolution, homosexuality and abortion. You believe it will get worse?

DAN RONCO: Without a doubt. Consider a few emerging issues. Should we enhance capabilities such as intelligence, athletic ability, beauty or health through gene manipulation or artificial components? If so, who gets the enhancements? Should human cloning be permitted? Should an intelligent robot have the same rights as a human? Does God care if we evolve into a new species? Should we allow artificial intelligence to approach and possibly surpass human intelligence? These issues will shake the foundation of organized religion as never before.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: I see what you mean. Complex issues, no easy solutions. Must the novels be read in chronological sequence? Do you have to be an engineer to understand the technology in the novels?

DAN RONCO: First and foremost, I wrote the novels to entertain a reader who enjoys thrillers or science fiction. If you can use a computer, you will have no problem with the technology in my stories. Although the novels are all consistent with each other, each is a self-contained story. You can read them in any sequence, so just start with the one that most appeals to you.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: How long did it take to write your novels?

DAN RONCO: Including research, I have been working on the trilogy for about eight years. Not full-time, but I try to write three to four hours per day on average. Tomorrow's Children will be complete in a few months, so I have dedicated a big chunk of my life to this work.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: What lessons have you learned as a writer, and what changes would you make if you could start over?

DAN RONCO: When I started, I had no idea how difficult it is to write well. I thought that once you had the concept for the story, the words would just tumble out of your mind onto the page. Man, was I wrong. Every word in your story must have a reason to be present, and it must convey the right shade of meaning. Extremely difficult, but what a feeling of satisfaction when you get it right.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: The women in your novels are highly unusual to say the least.

DAN RONCO: I knew we were going to get into this.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: Don't get alarmed, I think it's a good thing. Your female characters are beautiful, smart, tough and physically strong. I particularly like Darlene Duboski, DoubleD as you call her. How did you come up with this amazing woman?

DAN RONCO: DoubleD isn't really that unusual, if you think about it. She's the culmination of a long-term evolution. Today's females are bigger and more athletic than previous generations. Go to any workout facility and what do you see? Plenty of women. And not just doing aerobics, either. Pumping iron, pushups, building their strength against all manner of exercise machines. They're dropping baby fat and showing off lean, hard muscles. Not that they are becoming bodybuilders (although some do), but they are not the women of your mother's generation either.

Drive around town and you'll certainly come across a jogger. What's the gender most of the time? And she's probably setting a fast pace, too.

Muscles are no longer solely a masculine domain. Check out the ladies playing basketball or tennis, let alone the boxers. Not a wimp in the bunch. Title IX has opened the door for women to excel at sports, and they are succeeding. You want to see Serena Williams or Mary Pierce getting ready to serve a cannonball at you? I don't. That doesn't mean today's women aren't as beautiful or sexy as previous generations. I think they look better, actually, with their lean, athletic figures.

DoubleD -- and many of my female characters -- are based upon this new model of femininity. They are just as tough and smart as the men, and they don't take a backseat to anyone. Damn sexy, too.

DAPHNE HAYDEN: Kudos to you! I couldn't agree more.
About the Author
Dan Ronco's expertise in engineering and computer science infuses his fast-paced techno-thriller Unholy Domain with detail and authenticity. His second novel, it warns of the looming clash between religion and advanced science. Visit Dan Ronco.
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