Question: The Immortalists is the story of a billionaire's desire to stop aging. What was your inspiration for this unique take on the age-old fountain of youth tale?
Kyle Mills: The myth of the fountain of youth is one of the oldest and most widespread in history, with writing on the subject dating back before Christ. The one thing that all those stories and elaborate quests had in common was that they were nonsense--just another example of our superstitious nature. With all the recent advances in genetics, though, the myth is quickly becoming a reality. Not many people know it, but not all animals get old. Lobsters, for instance, just seem to keep going until they get sick or something eats them. The idea that we could identify the portion of their genome that provides longevity and splice it into our own becomes less far-fetched every day.
This brings up a lot of interesting issues. Our history isn't exactly one of equality and benevolence, and death is hard-wired into our minds and societies. Will the people who discover this therapy pass it along to everyone, or will they try to keep it for themselves? Would our population explode if life expectancy suddenly rose to 500 years or more? Would advancement grind to a halt if scientists and politicians consolidated their positions, then stagnated in them for centuries? Would our existence become less life and more a tedious, endless avoidance of death? All this is perfect fodder for a thriller because change can very easily turn into chaos, and chaos makes for great stories.
Q: What kind of research goes into writing an in-depth medical thriller?
KM: I spent a number of months on research before putting pen to paper. The main character's daughter suffers from a rare genetic disease that causes her to age at a wildly accelerated rate. The disease, a real syndrome called progeria, generates some fascinating questions about the causes of aging and whether it can simply be "cured." Unfortunately for my friends and family, I am now a fount of useless information about genetics and aging, but I think that extra effort gave The Immortalists its realism and the sense that it could actually be happening right now. In truth, it probably could.
Q: You recently stepped into Robert Ludlum's Covert-One series by writing The Ares Decision. What is it like to become part of such a rich canon with a devoted readership?
KM: A bit frightening. I have to admit I almost didn't accept the job--those are pretty big shoes to fill. But in the end, I'm glad I did. It was a really fun project, and I found that I still could learn a thing or two by studying the works of one of the genre's masters. Even better, Ludlum's fans have been really enthusiastic about The Ares Decision, and I think I came out of the project a stronger writer.
Q: Your father was an FBI agent. How much does that background find its way into your writing?
KM: A great deal. Spending so many years hanging around FBI and CIA agents, soldiers, and diplomats gave me an inherent sense of what makes them tick. It also gave me a long list of people I can contact when I need the final word on how that world works.
Q: What are you working on now?
KM: A new installment of Robert Ludlum's Covert-One series. It's a novel about a new technology that I think will be the next step in human evolution. Of course, the question becomes whether that step will save us or destroy us.
Q: Which books do you like to read over and over again?
KM: George Orwell's 1984 for its incredibly dark take on human nature. Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart, a book about Apartheid-era South Africa that has a more hopeful view of our species. And Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, an entertaining and enlightening book about why we are who we are and how much of our destiny is already written on the day we're born.