Scott M. Sandridge

A Work in Progress

SpecMusicMuse Double Whammy – Review of Unburning Alexandria plus an Interview with Paul Levinson

Got a nice two-in-one special for y’all today: a review of Paul Levinson’s new book, Unburning Alexandria, plus an interview with the great Lev, himself, an author who has been a mentor to many among both the big and small press. So, without further ado, on with the show!


SpecMusicMuse Review—Unburning Alexandria by Paul Levinson

I spent the past few days trying to figure out how to write this review without sounding like a gushing fanboy. Post-biopsy, I’m no longer worried about anything that involves the word, “gushing.” And as for the fanboy part, I finally decided, “Screw it. Who cares if I sound like one?”

Those who’ve read my review of The Plot to Save Socrates, the book which Unburning Alexandria is the sequel of, knows how much I liked it. Well, Unburning Alexandria by Paul Levinson is one of those extremely rare sequels that end up better than its predecessor. It could be because it’s the second part of a pre-planned trilogy, and we all know how much better the “middle” part of a larger story can be (Cough! *The Empire Strikes Back* Cough!), or it could simply be because it’s just that damn good.

In Unburning Alexandria, our time-travelling heroine, Sierra Waters, disguises herself as Hypatia in order to save as much of the knowledge that got lost when the Library of Alexandria got burned down as she can. Any history buff knows that Hypatia didn’t have a pleasant end, so already the reader is presented with the question of “How is Sierra gonna’ get herself out of that mess(pun intended)without significantly altering history and causing those damnable paradoxes? And with the scrolls to boot?”

That situation, alone, would be worthy of the title, blockbuster, if this were a movie. But there’s also her arch-nemesis, Heron, to deal with—who has personal motivations of his own to insure the secrets in the library meet their untimely demise—as well as a few time-shattering (hehehe) plot twists for her to deal with as well. Like with the last book, you get acquainted with quite a few historical figures of the time period, none of whom get treated as cardboard cutouts, and all of whom have integral roles in the story as opposed to merely making “cameo appearances.”

This book will keep you turning the page from start to finish, twisting your brain like a paradox pretzel while keeping the action hot and heavy (and in a couple scenes, steamy!). If you didn’t fall in love with Sierra in the first book, you will in this one. Indeed, every character, even Heron, has qualities about them that make them worth caring for. Long story short, Unburning Alexandria is by far the best time travel story I’ve ever read. Levinson manages to navigate his way around the paradoxes like a seasoned pro, almost as if he, himself, has travelled through time….

Nah. Can’t be….

Can it?

Best to read while listening to: Epica’s The Divine Conspiracy, with a smidgen of the soundtrack to Gladiator.


SpecMusicMuse—Interview With Paul Levinson

What sparked the idea for The Plot to Save Socrates and Unburning Alexandria?

The Plot to Save Socrates came from my dissatisfaction with the story in The Crito, in which Plato has Socrates refusing Crito’s good offer to escape Athens and its death sentence of hemlock.  I know that had I been sentenced to death by a corrupt government – democracy or otherwise – I would have been on that boat out of Athens in a New York minute!  Humanity as a whole, and mine in particular, come before any government.

In writing The Plot to Save Socrates, I hit up another part of history – the burnings of the Ancient Library of Alexandria – that I wanted to undo.   The loss to humanity of those manuscripts – more than half of Aristotle’s works alone – is immeasurable.  This seemed like a good problem for Sierra Waters, my time traveler, to jump into.

Where’d you get the idea for an awesome character like Sierra Waters? Also, how did you come up with her name?

I always wanted to have a woman protagonist – the heroes of my other novels are all male – and a graduate student in classics seemed like a good place to find her.  I came up with her name as follows:  someone by the name of Sierra Phillips wrote a great review of my first novel, The Silk Code.  I really liked that name.  But I wanted something a little more eternal and flowing through time.  Hence: Sierra Waters.

Time travel stories can get pretty complex. How did you keep all the paradoxes from unraveling the time-space continuum while you were writing the book?

In my first draft, I just write wherever the plot takes me.  But when I go over that draft, I get focused like a laser on making sure all of those loops and twists in the space-time continuum hold up to logical scrutiny.   On the one hand, time travel may well be impossible precisely because of all of those paradoxes at every turn.  On the other hand, if you’re going to write time travel, you’ve got to respect them and give some sort of rational explanation for the events in your story. Stories that ignore the paradoxes or just give them lip service leave me cold.  I tried to better in Socrates and Alexandria.

I have this feeling Sierra’s story isn’t yet over….

No, it isn’t.  I’m writing her third novel right now.  All I can tell you that there will be some changes in the world based on what she’s done in the first two novels.  And there will likely be a part that takes place in the Renaissance.

So, in addition to being a university professor and an author, you also do music. Anything cool out?

Donny Frankel, who played organ and accordion on my original 1972 Twice Upon a Rhyme album, has teamed up with Robbie Rist (Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch) to form a new band called Sundial Symphony.  They’ve recorded two songs from Twice Upon a Rhyme – “Looking for Sunsets (in the Early Morning)” and “Today Is Just Like You” – both written by me, and I’ve released the first on my record label HappySad Records.  Twice Upon a Rhyme and the new Sundial Symphony recording are both on iTunes. The new “Today Is Just Like You” will be there soon.  And there’s a great new Sundial Symphony video of “Looking for Sunsets” which will be up on YouTube by the time everyone reads this.

Anything readers need to know that hasn’t already been covered above?

I’m also writing my fourth Phil D’Amato novel, in which weather is used as a weapon, and my third Phil D’Amato novel, The Pixel Eye, will be published as an ebook by JoSara MeDia any day now.  My first two Phil D’Amato novels – The Silk Code and The Consciousness Plague – are already available as ebooks. If any reads these and has any questions, I’m on Goodreads, Twitter – as PaulLev – and all the good online places.


Paul Levinsons’s novel The Silk Code won the Locus Award for Best First Novel of 1999, and was published as an “author’s cut” Kindle edition in 2012.  His other science fiction and mystery novels include Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002, 2013), The Pixel Eye (2003), The Plot To Save Socrates (2006; author’s cut Kindle 2012;  Entertainment Weekly called it “challenging fun”), and Unburning Alexandria (2013). His short stories have been nominated for Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, and Sturgeon Awards.  Nine nonfiction books, including  The Soft Edge (1997), Digital  McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), Cellphone (2004), and New New Media (2009, 2nd edition 2012) have been the subject of major articles in the New York TimesWired, the Christian Science Monitor, and have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Polish, and eight other languages. He appears from time to time on MSNBC, Fox News (“The O’Reilly Factor”), The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, NPR, BBC Radio  and other TV and radio programs – he likes talking just as much as writing. He’s also a songwriter, and has been in several bands over the years – one had two records out on Atlantic Records in 1960s.  His 1972 album Twice Upon a Rhyme (on HappySad Records) was re-issued on CD by Beatball/Big Pink Records in 2009, and on re-pressed vinyl by Whiplash/Sound of Salvation Records in 2010. He was listed in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Top 10  Academic Twitterers” in 2009, and review the best of television on his Infinitte blog and on Starpulse. Last but not least: he have a PhD in Media Theory from New York University and is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City.

February 11, 2014 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , | Leave a comment

SMM Classic: Review of The Plot to Save Socrates + Interview w/Paul Levinson

(April 1, 2007)

The Plot to Save Socrates by Paul Levinson

An ancient manuscript is found that hints at a time traveler from the future going back in time to save the great philosopher, Socrates, from his death at the hands of the democratic Athenian government. When Thomas O’Leary shows his student, Sierra Waters, the manuscript, she finds herself in a time-traveling adventure in search of Socrates’s mysterious savior – who could be anyone from any time, even her. Of course, when historical figures like the warrior-philosopher, Alcibiades and the inventor, Heron of Alexandria, get involved, the threat of a time paradox becomes more and more dire.
Paul Levinson handles a complicated plot and a multitude of characters in a manner that can only be described as masterful. Certainly not something the average writer would even wish to attempt. And to top it off, he leaves you with a great tale both entertaining and meaningful. It also comes complete with discussion group questions for the philosopher in every reader.
I highly recommend this book, and I won’t be surprised if it wins several awards.

Best to read while listening to: anything from Classical to Gaelic to Electronica/Industrial.

Publisher: TOR
Price: $14.95
Trade Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-0-765-31197-9
ISBN-10: 0-765-31197-6
Genre: Science Fiction

(April 8, 2007)

Interview With Paul Levinson

I had the honor of interviewing Paul Levinson, author of The Plot to Save Socrates, President of theScience Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)from 1998-2001, and who was a guest on my favorite show, The O’Reilly Factor. So yeah. Stoked? Psyched? Words can’t even describe it.

How did you come up with a time-travelling tale about Socrates?

I’ve been bothered about why Socrates didn’t take Crito up on his escape offer since I first read the Crito in a freshman philosophy class at the City College of New York in 1963. As soon as I began writing and publishing science fiction in the early 1990s, I knew I wanted to write a time travel story in which someone went back in time to try and save Socrates. (Incidentally, I had this idea well before Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – in fact, I’ve yet to see the movie. I really should.) Since time travel provokes profound philosophic paradoxes (more on this below), it seemed natural to me write a time travel story about a philosopher.

What struck me most about the novel was the whole Free Will vs. Fate conflict that seemed to be going on in it. Was that idea intentional?

Yes. One of the prime paradoxes about travel to the future is that, if you see someone wearing a red shirt tomorrow, for example, does that mean the person has no choice but to wear that shirt? The truth is, if time travel existed, none of us would have any real control over our lives, because we’d be locked into everything the time traveler sees.

So in The Plot to Save Socrates, the problem the characters have to solve is: how can they know if what they are doing is the result of their free will, or of a pre-ordained fate. And, of course, it’s very hard to know this, certainly hard to prove what’s really going on … and that, to me, was a big part of the fun of writing this novel.

Sierra Waters is a very interesting character. She seems to be in conflict against her own interests at times.

Yes, because Sierra is torn in many ways (like the piece of paper she tears up in the very first paragraph of the novel). First, affection for and then guilt over Max. Love of some kind for Thomas. Passionate, romantic love for Alcibiades. Love of history, and getting things right. So she is in deep conflict, because she knows she can’t have all of these things. About the most clear-cut thrill for her, historically, is Plato’s life. And, of course, we find out at the end that her guilt about Thomas when she was with Alcibiades was … ironic, to say the least.

What type of music do you think is best to listen to while reading and/or writing time-travel stories?

I don’t listen to music while reading or writing – I love music too much, so it’s way too distracting for me. But to see what music I love, and listen to all the time, whenever I can (except when I’m reading or writing), just look at the Music part of my Profile page here on MySpace.

How much of an advantage can podcasts give writers?

Podcasts are wonderful if you have the voice and technical savvy to do them. I love them. They’ve really helped my book sales. You’re talking to your readers – what more can you ask for? So I really recommend doing them to any writer who can.

What other things is your billiant madness cooking up in the near future?

Well, thanks – I’m definitely mad, that’s for sure…I’m writing the sequel to The Plot to Save Socrates right now. When that’s done, I’ll be writing another Phil D’Amato novel (he appeared in my previous novels, The Silk Code, The Consciousness Plague, and The Pixel Eye). And then maybe a sequel to Borrowed Tides.

I now have four podcasts – I may add one or two more. I’ve also greatly expanded my blogging from just MySpace to now and – and I’ll be doing more of that.

I’ve been writing 2-3 television reviews per week – of 24, Rome, andLost – and I’ll be reviewing The Sopranos when it resumes (and concludes) next month.

August 16, 2010 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment