An interview with Dean Warren, author of The Last Underclass and Growing Young

Dean Warren talks about his novels, as well as his background in missile work, the appeal of the science fiction genre, genetic engineering and the repercussions of breakthroughs, his influences and future literary and analytical works.

Interview by Magdalena Ball

Magdalena: How would you say your background in Missile work has influenced your writing?

Dean: As Director of Strategic Planning for Martin Marietta Electronics and Missiles, I worked directly with military leaders and helped perform system analyses of future battles in order to determine weapons requirements. Training in scenario development and technology forecasting, coupled with my time in the State Department, led to constructing realistic future worlds for science fiction.

Magdalena: What was the impetus for The Last Underclass.

Dean: In the much and unfairly-maligned BELL CURVE by Herrnstein and Murray, I read that equality of opportunity would soon produce two distinct classes. No more brilliant carpenters or plumbers. Anyone with brains would get to college, marry someone equally smart, and have similar progeny. Thus, we would separate into the smart and the dumb. From that unintended but logical consequence of liberal policy I extrapolated.

Magdalena: Why did you pick the year 2152? Are you worried that the book will become dated after that? (especially if it doesn’t match reality?)

Dean: Actually, I have regretted going out so far. Much of my extrapolation seems to be coming nearer. Economic extremities are accelerating, genetic experimentation widening, and knowledge of the brain growing. Population, which is currently expanding at over one percent a year, will reach what some scientists have stated is the earth’s limit of 12 billion in the middle of THIS century. However, I had to give myself time for physics to develop faster-than-light travel and society to harden into almost sub-species.

Magdalena: Was the book intended to be prophetic? Or is it allegorical of today or the direction we are currently moving in?

Dean: Prophetic, I guess. The novel is dystopian, gives the down side of current trends. We can save ourselves, however. Italy, the home of the Catholic church, has a declining fertility rate and is reducing its native-born population! Social structures can be established for narrowing economic differences and thus cutting birth rates of the poorest. Grim projections of trends, from Malthus on, have often proven wrong.

Magdalena:Talk to me about some of the larger themes in the book.

Dean: Genetic engineering for extended life is another driver of THE LAST UNDERCLASS. Microbiologists are currently delving into the causes of aging and have identified chromosome shortening and poor genetic repair as key issues. Strains of mice are outliving their brothers and sisters after genetic manipulation. Imagine, Maggie, the social repercussions of a breakthrough! (My next book, GROWING YOUNG, keys on that coming revolution.)

Magdalena: Much of your work is in the Science Fiction genre. Do you think that Science Fiction has been given a bad rap, and that it is capable of much more sophisticated narrative structures than it is given credit for?

Dean: Some editors have called my writing old “fashioned” because, I guess, it is tied so closely to scientific possibilities. No magical, unexplained faster-than-light travel, no wonderful aliens, no incredible other worlds. I believe that editors often select “escape” over intellectual challenge. That gives the genre a “trash” label that is, in some part, undeserved.

Magdalena: What makes this genre an appealing one for you?

Dean: Because of my technical/military background, I originally tried my hand in Clancy-like adventure novels. Then, the collapse of the Soviet Union invalidated all my plots. I switched to science fiction because current events wouldn’t be likely to destroy a year’s labor. As you can see, I’m interested in larger themes, coupled with adventure. Domestic, personal novels don’t interest me. 

Magdalena: Tell me about your other novel, Man Over Mind.

Dean: MAN OVER MIND is my first science fiction novel. I became interested in the neural basis for behavior by reading Antonio Damasio’s brilliant book DESCARTES’ ERROR. Emotion and feeling, he says, are hard wired in the brain. The computer has no such capability. Thus, I wondered what would happen if you married an organic brain with a silicon master computer. You’d achieve a computer with a human will, or a human with immense memory and logic. Would the two aspects of the same creature fight? The prospect of computer-aided brains is not unlikely. I think the idea makes a rousing story, too. 

Magdalena: You’ve just published a new book, Growing Young. Tell me more about that.

Dean: As I mentioned above, this novel explores the coming scientific revolution that extends life. A dying, old doctor hears whispers of an age cure. He finds a microbiologist and clinic who have developed the nucleotides that make genes produce new, young cells. He becomes twenty-five again and must deal with a rioting world. Who gets the cure? How do we deal with a population explosion when the death rate falls? And he rediscovers the joys of young love.

Magdalena: Do you think that our aging population is a problem we, as a society, are going to have to deal with, or again, is it just good fiction? (in other words, do you use fiction to explore serious social issues, or is it a form of entertainment only?)

Dean: All the journals are full of projections and problems of our aged. Medicine has already extended middle-class lives, but records indicate that the limit of human age is about 120 years. Of course, many species live longer and lizards regrow their tails. Age limits seems to be genetically driven, probably multi-genetic. Science can now replace bad genes with good, in living people. I believe it will succeed in rejuvenating us. Not in my lifetime, unfortunately.
And yes, I use fiction to explore serious social issues but try to make my writing entertaining, also. 

Magdalena: Have you been tempted to write a non-fiction book?

Dean: I’m currently publishing an illustrated memoir: FROM LONDON TO NEW DELHI BY CAR IN 1951, A girl, another guy, and I–all from the London School of Economics–drove a Ford Anglia down through Yugoslavia, the middle-east, Iran, and Afghanistan to India. Lots of adventures. Pushtuns offered me gold napoleons for the girl. I took kodachromes.

Magdalena: Who are your main literary influences?

Dean: My major interests are intellectual, not literary. Jared Diamond’s GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL impresses me as the best book of the decade. Magic realism, fantasy, and flights of emotion are uninteresting rhetoric and don’t make me shiver. Introverted self-analysis carried to a Proustian extreme put me off.

Magdalena: What can we expect next from Dean Warren?

Dean: I’ve finished three volumes of a military science fiction series called THE PACIFICATION OF EARTH. Politically, someone needs to unify the world, I believe. Globalization is an economic first step. World courts are another. I meld this necessity with some of my other themes, like overpopulation, social stratification, and automation. My protagonist is a ghetto youngster who joins the then American Marines. I’ve not arranged publication as yet.