Newsletter #11 - Earth's Immune System

Hi friends, Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror author Paul James Keyes here with another newsletter!

Last time I talked about the human immune system [LINK TO NEWSLETTER 10 - WONDROUS WORLD WITHIN]. Today’s topic is a question: ‘What is humanity to the Earth? A virus, or its immune system?’

If humans are known for one thing, it’s throwing off the balance of every system we come across like a bull smashing through a china shop. We do this, typically without forethought, as selfish individuals, and we even create systems of destruction that continue on long after our individual deaths in the name of economic gain.

If an alien race were to come to our planet and see what we are doing to it, they would probably say we are a virus to the Earth, hellbent on its destruction. This is, of course, evil alien propaganda, aimed at making us doubt the worth of our own existence. We may act like a virus at times, but unlike any outer space aliens, we are native to this ecosystem, even if we do often seem like the wrench that has been thrown into the proverbial works.

What is the Earth? If you say it’s the physical land that we walk upon, then it isn’t alive, though it does have systems of physics like rivers and evaporation that work over time to cause change, similar in some ways to the systems of life that exist inside of us. If you expand your definition of the Earth to include the whole ecological system that is here, then you must incorporate life into that equation. Life on Earth IS the Earth. We are the Earth.

Recently, NASA conducted a successful asteroid deflection test. We now know that if we spot something unintelligent coming our way, we have the capability of changing its trajectory. This planetary defense wasn’t getting built by any other species. Our human intelligence makes us the perfect candidate for Earth’s immune system. If aliens invade, only humans have a chance at recognizing the threat and mounting some kind of defense. In this way, we are like the macrophages of our own immune systems. We cause damage to the natural systems around us, but we also are our planet’s only shot at an intelligent defense if the time ever comes.

If the dinosaurs were smart enough to deflect an asteroid, we probably wouldn’t have evolved.

Until next time, stay safe out there!

Freebie: Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated - A Fantasy Horror Series


Newsletter #10 - Wondrous World Within

Hi friends, Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror author Paul James Keyes back with another newsletter!

The last newsletter was all about Fantasy tropes and how I use them to subvert reader expectations. [LINK TO NEWSLETTER 9 - SMASHING FANTASY TROPES] Today, I couldn’t resist writing about a topic I hinted at a couple of letters ago—the second most complicated biological system known to mankind: The human immune system.


When you sustain an injury, like a cut to the hand, a lot of really cool and fascinating things happen inside of you. First, the cut introduced possible bacteria and viruses into the surrounding tissue and bloodstream. Your immune system is always on the lookout for threats. It creates hundreds of billions of new cells inside of you each day that roam through your lymphatic system.

Your cells, under attack by a horde of bacteria release chemicals as an alarm signal to your immune system, which quickly responds by sending little soldiers to fight on your behalf. Our bodies really are ecosystems. An invasive species can kill us, unless our immune cells can stop them from spreading.

Macrophages show up first. They are your warrior cells. They are large compared to normal cells and bacteria. They reach out with long tentacle-like arms, grab bacteria, and consume them whole. They can eat about 100 bacteria before they get full and go into a digestive state. If there is too much bacteria, they get overwhelmed, and the next phase of the immune system kicks in.

Next, neutrophils pick up the macrophages’ signals. You only have a few hundred thousand of these at any one time, which really isn’t that many, but the reason for their short supply is because of how they work: They shoot chemicals at the bacteria, and some even explode—and this does damage to your cells as well as the bacteria. They are indiscriminate killing machines that have one goal, eradicate all the bacteria at any cost. Neutrophils only live for a few days before ending themselves, with or without conflict.

As the battle ensues, your blood vessels open up and flood the infected area with fluid. This causes inflammation, but lays the ground for the battle ahead. The fluid is filled with compliment proteins, which overwhelm bacteria and rip holes in them. At this point, if your body detects that the battle is not going in its favor, the next stage of your immune response begins.

Something called dendritic cells go to the battlefield, collect some bacteria, rip them apart inside of themselves and then decorates their outsides with pieces of dead bacteria. The dendritic cell then travel back to the super highway of your lymphatic system and go on a search for a T cell that has the perfect weapon to fight against the bacteria.

Your T cells are probably the most fascinating part of the whole system. There are up to a billion of them inside of you, and each one is built a little bit different from the rest.  Each has its own set of weapons that would be good for fighting a specific shape of bacteria. Each bacteria that exists now or could ever form has a matching T cell that could kill it—a very complicated game of rock, paper, scissors—but first, your dendritic cell must find it! It rubs the dead bacteria parts on every T cell it passes until, usually after a few hours, it finds one that can fight against the invading bacteria.

Once found, the dendritic cell coaxes the T cell into replicating over and over again until there are enough to send to the battlefield as reinforcements. As soon as they show up, chemical signals given off by the T cells reinvigorate the macrophages that are still alive, and together they ravage the bacterial forces.

If that doesn’t do the trick, your dendritic cells continue working to find more help in the form of the perfect B cell that works as a factory to produce the right antibodies to fight the bacteria. It takes about a week to get your B cell antibody factories up and running, but once they do, you tend to always have a supply of those antibodies on hand in case of reinfection by the same strain of bacteria in the future. Your T cells do the same thing, some of them hanging around as memory cells in case their weapons are needed again.

There’s certain a lot to the human immune system. Here’s a video that talks about the same thing as this newsletter with a British narrator and a nifty cartoon depiction of what goes on when you’re injured:

The micro world is pretty dang cool.

Next time I’ll cover my views on what humanity is to the Earth. Are we a virus, or are we its immune system? The answer depends on your perspective.

Until then, stay safe out there!

Freebie: Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated - A Fantasy Horror Series



Newsletter #9 - Smashing Fantasy Tropes

Hi friends, Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror author Paul James Keyes back with another newsletter!

I’ve done a lot of rather sciency newsletters to date—last time I talked about nuclear fusion becoming a reality [LINK TO NEWSLETTER 8 - We Have Ignition]—so today I thought I’d mix it up with a writerly newsletter. Today I want to talk about Fantasy tropes, and how I smash them.

Tropes are reoccurring themes that exist in stories. Writers use tropes to quickly convey ideas to readers, which is great in a pinch, but can also lead to unoriginal content if a writer doesn’t expand or break open those tropes appropriately.

Of course, everything in writing is subjective, but people know whether or not they’ve enjoyed what they’ve read. Sometimes all a reader wants is the sense of the familiar—this is where tropes shine—but to me, when I read, I prefer to be entertained and led to think about new interesting concepts, not just the same old formulas rehashed a thousand times over.

My philosophy as a writer is simple: People need a sense of the familiar to hang on to in order to feel comfortable within a story. Great stories, however, smash your comfort, sweeping your legs out from under you, and leave your beloved characters headless in a ditch—I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin.

In order to smash a reader’s expectations I first need to build-up those expectations. Enter: Tropes.

Popular fantasy tropes, what they do, and how I twist them into compelling original experiences for my readers:

(I got this list of popular tropes from, but the commentary beneath each item is my own)

1. The Dark Lord. An ancient evil from the elder days is once again threatening the world.

This trope is often used as a great call to action for a would-be hero. I have an “evil king” in my Dark Fantasy series, The Arcadian Complex (Read FREE with Kindle Unlimited), but unlike so many other stories, by the time my protagonists confront the ‘big bad’ for his actions, the reader has already learned of a rich backstory that complicates who the true ‘bad guy’ of the series is. Other great stories have complicated the Dark Lord trope before, Star Wars, for example, twisted original audiences expectations when Darth Vader informed Luke of his lineage and cut off his hand. If evil is simply evil and good is simply good, then characters are simply boring.

2. The Chosen One (protagonist) whose job it is to defeat the Dark Lord (antagonist) and restore the natural order of the world. Often a sword is involved.

It’s a very basic story, isn’t it? I’ve read a number of these. One enjoyable one that comes to mind is The Wheel of Time series. I was inspired as a young teen by that series to become a writer. The funny thing about The Chosen One trope is that the one who has chosen the hero is ultimately the writer, and there usually isn’t any more to it than that. Some ancient prophecy maybe, but not a whole lot of answers. A character simply being chosen by fate rather than making their own decisions undercuts their characterization. They aren’t on their path for any reason other than happenstance. I bill my own story as having a man with a prophetic “mark of kings” on his arm. He is prophesied to become king, but if you know my mantra, maybe he really isn’t, and it’s just a branding that affects the way the people around him treat him. I don’t mind characters being chosen by fate when they still have agency and have to grapple with the results of their actions. The point here is that using a trope like The Chosen One doesn’t have to lead to a lack of nuance.

3. The Chosen One or Hero has been orphaned. It doesn’t matter how they were orphaned, only that family members are a liability to your protagonist and a headache to fit into the plot. (See any Disney cartoon for more information.)

And I’ll lump this one in with:

4. The Hero needs a mysterious parental figure. But, never an actual parent. They are there to guide them on their journey and offer advice.

Sometimes tropes can be really convenient. No one—writers, readers, or teenagers up to no good—want to be bogged down with unwanted parental units. Sometimes a complication is simply unappealing to a writer. I’ve written orphans and non-orphans alike, but there’s just something about an orphan’s pain that makes them a sympathetic character. In The Arcadian Complex, the mysterious parental figure is the grandfather. Rather than never talking about the parents, the grandfather is a storyteller himself, and the absence of the parents becomes as important to the story as Harry Potter’s parents were to that world. By having the absent parents still present in the characters’ minds, this trope is officially smashed.

The list of tropes I linked above continues on for another fifty or so points, and is rather amusing, but I’ve already gone on too long for this newsletter. I have no affiliation with that site, so don’t bother clicking the link on my accord—I simply added it as a source for those interested.

If you want to see how I subvert expectations and tell a fantasy story like no other, my links are below!

Until next time, stay safe out there!

Freebie: Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated - A Fantasy Horror Series


Newsletter #8 - We Have Ingition

Hi friends, Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror author Paul James Keyes here with another newsletter.

I call you friends, because last time I trauma dumped on all of you about the nature of life and death. [LINK TO NEWSLETTER 7 - 'WHAT ARE WE?'] I apologize if that was uncomfortable, but I can’t not write about these big moments when they happen. I wouldn’t be being genuine otherwise. Today, I really want to stay cheery, so I’ve picked a topic that truly is one of the greatest and also most recent feats of mankind: Fusion.

That’s right, nuclear fusion. We’ve done it for the first time ever. US scientists at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction that resulted in a net gain in energy after accounting for all the energy used on the lasers that power the reactor. This happened back in December.

We are officially living in a post-fusion world. It will go down in history books as the beginning of a new era in infinite clean energy once the technology can be tested and scaled up (which will take years from now, but still!). It’s genuinely one of the biggest achievements of all time, and I can hardly believe we are all getting to live through this era of such technological advancement. It’s astonishing. If someone told me a decade ago that successful net energy creating fusion would be a reality today, I would probably have said they were delusional—maybe in a hundred years!

The reactor uses an array of 200 lasers to contain a series of explosions started out of a pellet of hydrogen fuel. At a rate of 50 explosions per second, the energy is bounced back in on itself until it grows hot enough to fuse the atoms back together, creating clean, heat energy as a byproduct of the fusion.

Things aren’t going to change overnight. The reactor is only powerful enough to boil about 10 kettles of water currently. This will need to be scaled up substantially to run a power station, but the groundwork has been laid. A world filled with cheap and clean energy, here we come!

Until next time, stay safe out there!

Freebie: Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated - A Fantasy Horror Series


Newsletter #7 - 'What Are We?'

Hi again! Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror author Paul James Keyes, back with another newsletter!

Last time I depressed everybody with a grim look at what AI could mean for our future. [LINK TO NEWSLETTER 6 - AI COMETH] Today, I thought I would be fun to do something a little more cerebral by playing a little game I just made up called ‘define its nature’ where I use logic and scientific knowledge to define the nature of a term you only thought you understood. Let’s start with a big one. The question that I will be analyzing is ‘What are we?’

Other ways of asking this could be ‘What are humans?’ ‘What is life?’ or ‘What is mankind?’. There are nuances here depending on how this question is asked. The questions will get refined along with the definition as we go. This one is different than ‘what is the meaning of life?’ which I believe to be a mostly subjective question. What I propose to answer is ‘What exactly are we?’.

Stick with me here. Now obviously we are beings of matter, which is just compressed energy. Everything is energy. That is about as deep as most people get when thinking about the nature of life. The mistake here is one of definition. Defining what matter is is NOT the same as defining what we are. Don’t get me wrong, realizing matter is energy was a great revelation when Einstein made his famous equation E (energy) = MC^2 (mass multiplied by the speed of light squared). Yes, I know this is boring to non-physics nerds, but it really was a revolutionary discovery—equating energy and mass.

When trying to define what we are there are several logical approaches. You can take the broad approach of defining us as a group i.e. ‘humanity’, or the narrow approach of defining who we are as individual meat structures. I think both are important to any further discussion of the nature of man and mankind.

I would argue that a human is more than just a structure of cells with a stupid look on its face. A human is made up of cells of course, which is matter, which is energy, but we also have literal energy shooting around inside of us. Our neurons pass charges around the brain. We can see an image of this when people receive brain scans. The brain has trillions of connections, making it the most complicated natural system known to mankind (fun fact: the human immune system is the 2nd most complicated system known to mankind. Pretty crazy that out of everything we know about in the whole universe, the two most complex systems are both inside of us—and I don’t even know what #3 is yet, probably another animal’s brain?).

Okay, so we are a physical meat structure made up of matter, combined with a constantly transforming energy structure some might even call science’s equivalent of a soul. If one day we could accurately replicate the electrical structure, it could be like Altered Carbon where your mind is copied into a digital state in which we transcend death—but that’s a whole other discussion for another time.

I don’t think we’ve gone deep enough. There is something more to people. People do not exist separately from the history of humanity. It is what led to our births. Humanity (and more broadly, life in general), like erosion or evaporation, is a natural system. Our cells duplicate; life passes along copies of itself to future generations; new DNA sequences combine at random, the efficient usually survive—the right answer is the one that survives to make more copies. It’s a single step of evolution on an individual scale. Our brains are a byproduct of this evolution of life, so accurately, one could say we are the physical manifestation of the algorithm that all life follows in order to exist—a forever (hopefully) chain of tumbling dominoes of duplication, one cell to the next, one generation to the next.

But we are more than that still! We are other algorithms as well. Our brains make decisions based off of stimuli it takes in from our senses. All of our decisions and the inner workings of our brains are governed by reinforcement learning. It’s physics and math and follows an algorithm. Truly, we learn in a manner that is very similar to how modern AI learns. You experience something, build connotations about the outcomes and make future decisions based off of what you perceive to be the best move.  This may seem metaphysical, but it could be argued that we are the weights behind our learning algorithm. That’s not just our personality, but the culmination of all the experiences that mold us.

It sort of comes down to semantics, but I will define who you are at the beginning of your life as different than who you end up as by the end of it.  Every cross section of you across time is made up of different cells, different energy, as well as the ever evolving algorithm of your mind and decision making.  Really, you are all of it, just at different times.

So now, to put it all together: We are meat structures with storms of energy inside of us who transcend time as a natural system that is constantly changing and evolving. And we’re all just trying to survive.

That being said… A friend from high school killed himself recently. I know I buried the lead on this one. I guess I’ve just been grappling with a few things. It’s times like this that I tend to look inward. Lofty questions like ‘what are we?’ are a comfort to me as I dig deeper into the interconnectedness of the universe. I’ve always had a scientific mind, and as a non-religious person trying to understand my place in the universe, it has to be enough that we exist in the here and now. That’s all we have.

I mean, really. Everything that lives will one day die, and it is only the beauty of our existence that we leave behind that gives any of it any meaning beyond the momentary fancies of our senses. He left behind his wife and three young children. I can’t even imagine what he was grappling with. If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, I beg you, please seek help and have someone get rid of any quick ways out. The emergency number in the US is 988, and the non-emergency number, which goes to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255).

Damn, I hadn’t planned on writing any of that originally, but I needed to get it out. I don’t want to be the depressing newsletter guy, but sometimes life throws you terrible curveballs and all we can do is go on living the best way we know how.

Thank you for being here with me, and as always, stay safe.

Freebie: Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated - A Fantasy Horror Series


Newsletter #6 - AI Cometh

Hey, everyone! Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror author Paul James Keyes here with another newsletter!

Last time we got into the “song” of a molecule and how scientists can broadcast a drug into your mind. [LINK TO NEWSLETTER 5 - THE ‘SONG’ OF A DRUG] This time I thought it would be fun to talk about the fast pace of the advancement of AI technology and how it is changing humanity and our workflows.

My novels; covers created with aid of Dalle-2 and photoshop.

AI has been popping up all over the place this year, faster than ever before. If you haven’t been paying attention, it’s probably starting to get difficult to avoid with the new chatGPT and AI generated profile pictures all over the place. I know I’ve seen a few CGI versions of friends that looked pretty nifty going around on Facebook recently.

As a writer, I have NOT used AI to generate any of the words in my books, but I have used it to aid me in creating cover art image ideas that I worked over further by hand in photoshop. I am sure we will start to see people writing whole books with AI doing 99% of the work load pretty soon. In the future, it may be hard to find a book written by a human, and as sad as that is, we probably won’t be able to tell the difference between an AI story and one written by a human writer anyway by that point.

Hopefully you all will still be fans of this mere human writer when the AI overlords are running all our systems. 

And why shouldn’t AI run everything? Obviously we need to trust the governance of our systems, but AI will be more efficient than humans at basically everything with little to no exception as time goes by. There is absolutely nothing to stop AI and automation from taking over 999/1000 human jobs within a few decades. Humanoid robots like the movie I, Robot are probably in our future (Tesla is trying to develop one right now). Labor will be a thing of the past, and so will most jobs once enough androids are running around.

You don’t see people welding individual car doors these days—a robot arm does that. One technician watches all the machines work and maintains the workforce (well maybe not just one, but you get the point). Humans are becoming obsolete with every passing year. The trouble with this is that our capitalist system doesn’t care to pay the workers whose jobs were displaced by machines. This has always been the case. With automation, everyone is forced into a larger labor pool with fewer and fewer opportunities. The work required to run society is quickly dwindling, while expenses seem only to grow.

In the not-so-distant future robots will be able to take care of us, but we probably won’t be able to afford the Apple and Tesla bots because we will have already lost our jobs to them. A possibly bleak future is on the horizon if we can’t figure out how to make laws that force corporations and the rich into supporting human society. Our labor is trending towards becoming meaningless when compared to the power of AI and automation. There are only so many service jobs to go around. Eventually, the humans that can afford to eat will do so because of a basic universal income, and the rest will starve. That is what capitalism is heading towards without legal restraints, and it is unsustainable.

I’m not sure who the corporations think will buy their products once humanity is too poor to feed ourselves, but I have a sneaking suspicion that companies not providing basic necessities will be the first to go out of business, like dominoes falling until we are all slaves to the remaining companies that provide as little as they can get away with, while funneling their profits to the top .1%. There’s a reason Bill Gates is invested heavily in farmland.

This isn’t about politics, it’s class warfare, only the lower classes doesn’t even realize they are supposed to be fighting back. I did say it was a bleak outlook, right? As an economist, governments poor handling of finances along with corporations abilities to get away with anything is a concerning combo that doesn’t bode well for our future.

Will governments step in and save the people when unemployment and under employment rates skyrocket? I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath. So far, the homeless population has only grown while prosperity seems to be reserved for fewer and fewer individuals at the top of the food chain.

Isn’t AI fun?! Well, at least it helped me make better book covers. The technology lowered the cost of entry for publishing a quality book. I no longer have to rely on any other artist but myself, which I appreciate as a recluse, frantically typing away on my laptop about the end of civilization as we know it. I guess there is a reason I was drawn to create a post-apocalyptic world in my novels.

Until next time, stay safe out there!

Freebie: Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated - A Fantasy Horror Series


Newsletter #5 - The 'Song' of a Drug

Hi, folks! It’s Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror  author Paul James Keyes with another newsletter!

Last time we talked about Avatar: The Way of Water, and how sad it is that it’s apparently easier for people to relate to blue aliens than to actual Native Americans. [LINK TO NEWSLETTER 4 - A CRITICAL LOOK AT AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER] Today, I thought I’d bring you some info about a new technology that absolutely blew my mind. So you’ve heard of A song of ice and fire… but how about the song of a molecule?

I recently read about a new longevity technology being developed by a US startup company called EMulate Therapeutics that I found exceedingly fascinating. They use an extremely powerful microscope in shielded conditions to observe the unique magnetic field of a molecule, drug or RNA sequence and then record it in a wav format, like a song. They then play the “song” of the molecule back to the brain, using technology that can target precise locations and penetrate the blood-brain barrier.

What they discovered was that the brain responds to the sound of drugs as if they were present. It turns out, when molecules interact (dock with one another) information (energy) is passed between cells in the form of magnetic resonance that can be duplicated by a simple wav file. The energy transfer can be done without the physical presence of the drug, and so, like something out of science fiction, scientists have been able to trick the mind into different states with the power of sound.

It’s absolutely wild to think about! The effects have been shown to wear off quickly when the acoustic device is removed, allowing people to stop a treatment almost instantly if they start to experience side effects. For example, the sound of fentanyl was shown to provide pain relief, and the effects wore off within 15-20 minutes of removing the acoustic device. Supposedly, this should help cull the cases of addiction.

Not only does this new tech allow the sound of any molecule or drug to be played to any part of the brain across the blood-brain barrier, but the sound can be broadcast in either targeted or broad areas to elicit different effects. Another absolutely crazy part of this tech is that the sound of RNA can cause genes to either be suppressed or expressed, again either in targeted locations or more broadly depending on the programming of the acoustic device.

Another interesting part of this is that by not having a physical molecule present, there is no actual docking. A lot of messiness is removed by the lack of molecules building up in the system.

Just imagine that, a world where any drug can be delivered with a sound wave, directly and instantly to the brain. The company is currently looking into cancer treatments, pain management, and beyond, including longevity treatments.

Here’s a link to the article:

I can’t wait to see what they do with this one! Kinda scary to think people will be able to express other people’s genes with targeted sound waves, though. We really are living in a sci-fi world!

Until next time, stay safe out there!

Freebie: Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated - A Fantasy Horror Series



Wrought by Fire
Ashen Sky
Howls on the Wind
Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated
Into the Beyond - Part 2: Far From Human
Into the Beyond - Part 3: Fires of Heaven

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