Levinson, Paul 1947-
LEVINSON, Paul 1947-
Born March 25, 1947, in New York, NY; son of Morris (a lawyer) and Matilda Levinson; married Tina Vozick (an educational administrator), April 25, 1976; children: Simon, Molly. Education: New York University, B.A., 1975, Ph.D., 1979 (media theory); New School, M.A., 1976. Politics: Independent. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, walking, rock 'n' roll.
Home—Westchester County, NY. Agent—Chris Lotts, Ralph M. Vicinanza Ltd., 111 Eighth Ave., Suite 1501, New York, NY 10011. E-mail—[email protected]
Songwriter and record producer, 1966-73, radio production assistant, 1972-74, writer, 1971—. Fordham University, New York, NY, visiting professor of communication and media studies, 1998—. Founder and president of Connected Education, Inc., a company offering Internet graduate courses, 1985—.
Science Fiction Writers of America (president, 1998—).
Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist for best short science fiction story, 1996, and Nebula Award nomination, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1997, both for "The Chronology Protection Case"; HOMer award for best science fiction novelette of 1996, CompuServe's Science Fiction Forums, 1997, and Nebula Award nomination, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1998, both for "The Copyright Notice Case"; Nebula Award nomination, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1997, Hugo Award nomination, 1998, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist for best short science fiction story, 1998, and AnLab first runner-up, Analog magazine, 1998, all for "Loose Ends"; HOMer nominee, CompuServe's Science Fiction Forums, 1998, for "A Medal for Harry"; Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award nomination for best short science fiction, 1998, and HOMer nominee, CompuServe's Science Fiction Forums, 1999, for "Advantage, Bellarmine"; HOMer nominee, CompuServe's Science Fiction Forums, 1999, for "Little Differences" and "The Orchard"; Locus Award for best first novel of 1999, for The Silk Code; Lewis Mumford Award for outstanding scholarship, 2000, for Digital McLuhan; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination for best mystery play of 2002, Mystery Writers of America, 2002, for The Chronology Protection Case; Mary Shelley Award, 2003, for The Consciousness Plague.
In Pursuit of Truth: Essays on the Philosophy of Karl Popper on the Occasion of His 80th Birthday, Humanities Press (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1982.
Mind at Large: Knowing in the Technological Age, Jai Press (Greenwich, CT), 1988.
Electronic Chronicles: Columns of the Changes in Our Time, Anamnesis (San Francisco, CA), 1992.
Learning Cyberspace: Essays on the Evolution of Media and the New Education, Anamnesis Press (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution, Routledge (New York, NY), 1997.
Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium, Routledge (New York, NY), 1999.
The Silk Code (novel), Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
Bestseller: Wired, Analog, and Digital Writings, Pulpless (Mill Valley, CA), 1999.
Borrowed Tides (novel), Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
The Consciousness Plague (novel), Tor (New York, NY), 2002.
Real Space: The Fate of Physical Presence in the Digital Age, on and off Planet, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.
The Pixel Eye (novel), Tor (New York, NY), 2003.
Cellphone, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2004.
Also contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Analog. Contributor to anthologies, including Year's Best SF3, edited by David Hartwell, 1998, and Nebula Awards 32, edited by Jack Dann, 1998. Contributor of reviews to New York Review of Science Fiction and Tangent, and of essays to Village Voice, Shift, Industry Standard, Omni, Analog, and Wired. Author of column, "Light Through," Tangent.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
The River that Flows Both Ways (science fiction novel); Space: Humanizing the Universe.
Songwriter, science-fiction short story writer and novelist, media columnist, actively publishing scholar, and professor Paul Levinson is a prolific writer. He is also founder and president of Connected Education, which has offered graduate courses online since 1985. Six of his seven nonfiction books treat various aspects of communications technology, including its history and philosophy. In an online interview, Levinson recalls that his first published piece started out as a letter to the Village Voice in 1971, defending Beatle Paul McCartney from their music critic, but ended up as an article, for which they offered him seventy-five dollars. He accepted and has been actively writing ever since, with more than one hundred scholarly articles, over twenty science-fiction short stories, and numerous essays in magazines such as Wired and Omni to his credit.
Levinson's first book, 1982's In Pursuit of Truth: Essays on the Philosophy of Karl Popper on the Occasion of His 80th Birthday, collected thirteen essays that apply Popper's philosophy of science and theory of knowledge to education, literary criticism, technology, and the visual arts. A reviewer in Choice noted that the book contains enough articles "of high quality" to make it valuable to those interested in Popper.
Levinson is known as a technological optimist, in part because of his 1988 volume Mind at Large: Knowing in the Technological Age. The central idea of this work is that evolution shapes the human mind, which then expresses itself through technology, which then seeks to take charge of evolution. This line of thinking advances "evolutionary epistemology," which argues that as human ideas compete with each other, the best win out and end up naturally selected in a manner similar to competition for survival among species as it was illustrated by Charles Darwin. The twist here, and the reason for the optimism, is that technology itself may eventually be able to alter patterns of evolution. As a work in the philosophy of technology, Mind at Large draws on diverse sources, such as Popper, Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, and Martin Heidegger. It also investigates information and communication technologies, including print, television, film, and computers. Levinson maintains that the rationality embodied in various machines is a long-term guarantee of, as Trevor Pinch phrased it in Technology and Culture, "their progressive and beneficial character." Journal of Communication reviewer Thomas W. Cooper characterized the book as "well developed, documented, and illustrated." Pinch asserted: "a dramatic story, and by and large it is told in an engaging style."
Levinson's next book, 1992's Electronic Chronicles: Columns of the Changes in Our Time, is a collection of short essays that originally appeared online. They provide commentary on the impact of computers, online culture, technology, and pop culture on modern life. Among other things, Levinson compares offline reality with online culture and often finds the former lacking; he also promotes the idea of online education programs. According to Link-Up reviewer Kathleen M. Webb, he "looks to the stars and our future space program to solve Earth's woes." Learning Cyberspace: Essays on the Evolution of Media and the New Education, published in 1995, continues Levinson's advocacy for online education with eleven essays spanning twenty years.
One of the key ideas in Levinson's 1997 volume The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of theInformation Revolution is that information technology's role in facilitating change cannot be overestimated. A related idea is that rather than killing off older technologies, new ones provide the occasion for the older ones to fill a different niche—after television came along, for example, radio became a medium for transmitting rock 'n' roll. Still another idea is that successive technologies are often more abstract than their predecessors—the Phoenician alphabet was more abstract than Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the binary language of zeros and ones used in computers is more abstract than everything else ever was. Levinson analyzes numerous technologies, most of them related to communications, but he also goes all the way back to the invention of the alphabet and other historical events. Information technology has a "natural history" because it is driven by an "evolutionary dynamic" and is an essential element of the natural world. He also argues that "all media become more human in their performance" in that they function in a more "natural" manner—as telephones transmit voices while telegraphs transmit dots and dashes. A Booklist critic called The Soft Edge "thought-provoking and accessible." A Library Journal reviewer deemed it "smart, spare, yet deep, and heartily recommended."
Bestseller: Wired, Analog, and Digital Writings contains eighteen essays and science fiction stories that explore the impact of the information age. Three of the science fiction stories were published for the first time in this volume, while the rest first appeared in publications including Wired and Analog.
Reviewer Gerald Jonas called Levinson's 2001 novel Borrowed Tides "a quirky blend of police procedural and New-Agey Science" in the New York Times Book Review. After new planets are discovered in the Alpha Centauri star system, a manned mission to search for intelligent life is planned. Aaron Lumet is selected for the mission based on the strength of his philosophical position on space exploration. Jack Lumet, an anthropologist, is selected to fly because of his studies of the American Indians' beliefs regarding the cyclical nature of travel on river currents—expanded to a cosmic level, these beliefs form the theoretical basis behind the mission to Alpha Centauri. The ship is expected to perform a risky slingshot maneuver that will allow its return to Earth without using an excessive amount of fuel. En route, the other seven members of the crew begin to doubt the validity of the theories underlying the trip, as they are based on spiritual notions rather than pure science. The crew attempts a mutiny; the slingshot maneuver fails; a strange hulk near the star Alpha Centauri A has deleterious effects on the crew; and time-travel phenomena manifest that threaten the entire mission. Bryan Baldus, writing in Booklist, called Borrowed Tides "a to-the-last-page spellbinder." The book "provides an intriguing glimpse into the mysteries of time and space," opined Jackie Cassada in Library Journal. "The author has created an ingenious narrative that loops back on itself like a Mobius strip," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
In The Consciousness Plague forensic investigator Phil D'Amato returns from The Silk Code to look into the causes of a recent epidemic of memory loss throughout the United States. Following a large-scale outbreak of the flu, former flu sufferers begin having trouble remembering portions of their recent lives. Witnesses to recent murders in Riverside Park cannot remember what they have seen. D'Amato's own girlfriend forgets he recently proposed to her and, after a bout with the flu, D'Amato himself realizes that he cannot remember a full day's worth of events. D'Amato finds that the link is a new antibiotic that kills off bacteria in the brain that enable consciousness and memory. D'Amato investigates the Riverside Park murders as well as the possibility that the new wonder drug might be poised to erase the entirety of human memory. Jackie Cassada, writing in Library Journal, observed that "Levinson's intelligent blend of police procedural and speculative fiction" would appeal to mystery fans and science fiction fans alike. Roland Green, in a Booklist review, remarked on the "superior narrative technique, thoroughly sound if rather conventional characterization," and the "plausible, absorbing, and well-developed" investigative cases.
The Pixel Eye, Levinson's 2003 novel, again features detective Phil D'Amato, who is called in to investigate a report of missing squirrels. But the squirrels that D'Amato seeks are not the run-of-the-mill rodents seen in trees and city parks, but are instead modified surveillance tools, implanted with a variety of recording devices. Whether foreign terrorists or U.S. government agencies are behind the situation, D'Amato knows it is only a short step toward using modified squirrels, hamsters, rats, and mice as nearly impossible-to-detect walking, climbing, scurrying bombs. The novel "delivers another satisfying mix of hard sf intrigue and detective story," wrote Cassada in Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly critic called ThePixel Eye a "breezily chilling story," and observed that "the thought of keeping an eye out for suspicious-looking rodents is enough to send a shiver down most readers' spines."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 15, 1995, Mary Carroll, review of Learning Cyberspace: Essays on the Evolution of Media and the New Education, p. 879; October 15, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution, p. 367; May 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium, p. 1648; March 15, 2001, Bryan Baldus, review of Borrowed Tides, p. 1361; March 1, 2002, Roland Green, review of The Consciousness Plague, p. 1099.
Choice, September, 1983, p. 111.
Journal of Communication, winter, 1989, Thomas W. Cooper, review of Mind at Large: Knowing in the Technological Age, p. 174.
Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Geoff Rotunno, review of The Soft Edge, p. 108; March 15, 2001, Jackie Cassada, review of Borrowed Tides, p. 110; March 15, 2002, Jackie Cassada, review of The Consciousness Plague, p. 111; August, 2003, Jackie Cassada, review of The Pixel Eye, p. 142.
Link-Up, March-April, 1993, Kathleen M. Webb, review of Electronic Chronicles: Columns of the Changes in Our Time, p. 7.
New York Times Book Review, June 17, 2001, Gerald Jonas, review of Borrowed Tides, p. 19; October 12, 2003, Gerald Jonas, review of The Pixel Eye, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, August 11, 1997, review of The Soft Edge, p. 393; February 26, 2001, review of Borrowed Tides, p. 63; January 21, 2002, review of The Consciousness Plague, pp. 68-69; July 7, 2003, review of The Pixel Eye, p. 57.
Technology and Culture, April, 1990, Trevor Pinch, review of Mind at Large, p. 357.
Paul Levinson Home Page,http://www.sfwa.org/members/Levinson (August 7, 1998).
SFF Net Web site,http://www.sff.net/ (November 14, 2003), biography of Paul Levinson.*