Guest Post: Robert Sells


The Power Of The Thriller


“I’ll be back.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line from the iconic thriller, The Terminator.  The movie was directed by another icon, James Cameron.  The Terminator had all the essential ingredients: good acting, action packed, clever concept, but… it didn’t make sense.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie.  It remains one of my favorites.  However, when I left the theater after seeing it for the first time, I wondered about one minor inconsistency. 

You have this future civilization dominated by machines and run by a supercomputer.  Impressive war machines were slowly killing humans.  Cyborgs, indistinguishable from humans, but vastly more powerful, infiltrated into the human ranks to kill a few humans in one subterranean hovel or another.  With all this evil capability and seemingly endless funds, why didn’t the computer simply develop a pathogen to kill off the remainder of the humans?  Germ warfare, an obvious solution!  Carbon-based pathogens wouldn’t infect the silicon monsters. Furthermore, it’s doubtful the machine civilization would worry too much about the Geneva Conventions. 

Simply infect a few prisoners and send them back home.  In those ‘caves’ the disease would have spread faster than wild fires in a drought-ridden forest.  There wouldn’t be any disease control in the enclaves to either stop the spread or handle the patients.  Such an attack would have been more thorough, cheaper, quicker, safer.

That this super intelligent machine didn’t realize such a simple solution has always bothered me.  Most thrillers are fun, like a roller-coaster ride.  If you allow your mind to simply ignore the impossible and forgive the implausible, they can be fun and exciting, but only like a roller coaster ride. Leave the amusement park, leave the movie theater and you are really not worried or scared.  

The best thrillers are closest to reality.  That’s made another James Cameron movie, Halloween, such a mega-hit was its believability.  Michael Meyers, the unstoppable serial killer, didn’t have to suspend the natural laws to frighten you and the movie was exciting but all the more frightening. Even after the movie. 

My own ‘thriller’ novel, Reap the Whirlwind, falls into the latter category.  In this novel, a young writer’s bank account is deep in the red due to a check he never wrote.  Friends who can help him mysteriously die or disappear.   Someone using a computer is destroying his life.  But, why?  Just like the Terminator, a super computer, not a person, is the culprit. As the story progresses, a threat to all mankind emerges.

But this super computer is patiently nudging man toward extinction after quietly taking over control of the internet. Now, the computer controls opinion polls, election results, hospital operations, scientific data, and finances of countries, companies, and people.

So, which scenario is truly more frightening? A stupid, ignorant computer or a detail-oriented, clever computer? For me, it’s the latter since it is more real, more plausible. Just like the movie, Halloween, we remained scared because it may be happening right now.

Happening right now? A super computer taking over the internet? Well, consider the following questions.  Do you think all those myriad opinion polls are valid? Couldn’t one or more have been tampered with by a self-serving silicon monster?

Or, consider this. Could we really have voted in the present members of Congress? I mean, if you really want to mess up America, wouldn’t the election of the worse candidates serve that purpose? Just what the computer ordered.

Do we really know the truth about global warming, genetics, or evolution? Could highway deaths and murders actually be higher than presently reported? How do we know what we know? Only through computers. Computers which we may no longer control.

So, it is possible that a super computer has taken over the internet. That is frightening. The greatest serial killer of all time, watching you from your computer screen. 

Hmm… Maybe I’ll contact Cameron and find out if he wants to produce another thriller. This time a real thriller about computers.


Robert Sells

I attended college at Ohio Wesleyan where I struggled with physics. Having made so many mistakes in college with physics, there weren’t too many left to make and I did quite well at graduate school at Purdue.   

I worked for twenty years at Choate Rosemary Hall, an exclusive boarding school in the heart of Connecticut. More often than not, students arrived in limousines. There was a wooded area by the upper athletic fields where I would take my children for a walk. There, under a large oak tree, stories about the elves would be weaved into the surrounding forest.

Returning to my home town to help with a father struggling with Alzheimer’s, the only job open was at a prison. There I taught an entirely different clientele whose only interaction with limousines was stealing them. A year later Alfred State College hired me to teach physics. I happily taught there for over ten years.  A rural, low income high school needed a physics teacher and the superintendent, a friend, begged me to help out.  So, I am finishing my teaching career in a most fulfilling way… helping kids who would otherwise not have access to a qualified physics (and math) teacher.

My wife pestered me about putting to “pen” some of the stories which I had created for my children and kids. I started thinking about a young boy and a white deer, connected, yet apart. Ideas were shuffled together, characters created and the result was the Return of the White Deer. This book was published by the Martin Sisters.

Years ago I gave a lecture on evolution. What, I wondered, would be the next step? Right away I realized that silicon ‘life’ had considerable advantages over mortal man. Later this idea emerged as the exciting and disturbing story called Reap the Whirlwind, my most recent novel.

I have many other stories inside my mind, fermenting, patiently waiting for the pen to give them breath. Perhaps someday I will even write about those elves which still inhabit the woods in the heart of Connecticut.


Robert Sells has taught physics for over forty years, but he has been a storyteller for over half a century, entertaining children, grandchildren, and students.  He has written the award-winning novel, Return of the White Deer, historical fiction, and he has written Reap the Whirlwind, a thriller.  His third book, The Runner and the Robbery, a young adult book, will be published by December, 2013.

He lives with his wife, Dale, in the idyllic village of Geneseo, New York with two attentive dogs who are uncritical sounding boards for his new stories.  He is intrigued by poker and history, in love with Disney and writing, and amused by religion and politics.



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