J. Nostradamus Schulman? (Part II of II)
Read Part I here.
Here Come the Paperless Books!, 1987
The inability of my literary agent to sell my already-sold-to-the-movies novel-outline-and-chapters to a New York publisher to be my third published novel — and a six-month-long Writers Guild strike that killed a movie deal I had in development with a production company for CBS — left me frustrated that my chosen career as a writer was entirely subject to the whims of major corporate-owned media. I observed that the bottleneck was always distribution. The distributors — book publishers and book-store chains in printed media, and movie studios, TV networks, and theater chains for movies and television productions — were in between me and the audience I wanted to reach. What if — I asked myself, not as a plot device but as a real-world business model — I could find a way to take out the middle-men and be able to offer myself as a writer directly to readers?
In 1987 there was not yet a World Wide Web, but there were home computers that could transfer files to each other by using telephone modems. There were many “bulletin boards” — which were computers set up to receive incoming calls from other computers — and there were several large companies — The Source, Compuserve, and GEnie among them — which had thousands of subscribers who logged on to share files with each other. File transfer speeds were slow as molasses and usage both of telephone lines and of the commercial computer services were expensive –so file-sizes had to be kept extremely small. But using new file-compression techniques, a book-length text file could be transferred relatively cheaply.
I saw an entry point into a market whereby instead of having to sell my book to a publisher who would attempt to get it shelved in bookstores where readers might consider buying it, authors such as myself could offer our books directly to readers as compressed text files, and readers could then print them out and read them at home or in their offices.
But, being an experienced science-fiction writer, I was able to use the same techniques I’d used to build fictional futures to extrapolate what a developed market for what I called “paperless books” would look like in a few years, as all phases of computer technology and data transfer progressed.
In doing so — beginning in 1987 with a self-published booklet I handed out at the American Booksellers Convention, titled Here Come the Paperless Books! — and in comprehensive detail in a course I gave in 1989 through the New School/Connected Education — I outlined what in just a few years would become today’s World-Wide-Web-based Amazon.com, utilizing online catalogs with browsing, samples, and reader reviews of downloadable text-and-graphics books, music, and movies — Kindles and iPhones to download them onto — and easy direct access from creative author/producer to readers and audiences.
Nothing supernatural about it.
I did found and operate two companies to implement these ideas. But that’s an article for another day.
The Frame of the Century?, 1999
Beginning with his criminal trial then closely studying new evidence brought out in his civil trial, I became convinced that all that might have been proven in two trials was that at some time after the murders and before the police arrived, O.J. Simpson had driven to the murder scene of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and an unfortunate waiter, Ronald Goldman, and transferred a few drops of blood to his Bronco and from there to his Brentwood home. To me everyone was always asking the wrong question about O.J. Simpson’s claim that he was framed. His defense team accused a racist and corrupt LAPD of framing Simpson — never an implausible scenario if you’re familiar with LAPD history — but the question that had never been asked nor answered was whether the killer — or an accomplice — could have diverted suspicion away from himself by planting evidence against Simpson.
In my book I examined a number of Brown-Goldman murder scenarios, but the one which has become the most prophetic is where I suggested that even the DNA blood evidence against O.J. Simpson could have been manufactured in a laboratory, really needing only the knowledge that it was possible.
But there was one additional possibility I discovered. If you didn’t have enough of O.J.’s blood, Dr. Frankenstein could make more for you.
Dr. Frankenstein, as it turns out, could be anyone with a high school diploma and a job in a biochemistry lab. Any lab doing criminalistics would do. So would most university labs. It just required a device called a thermal cycler used for PCR testing of DNA, and common lab equipment such as a blood centrifuge.
Five thousand bucks worth of lab equipment that could be ordered on an 800 line, paid for by credit card, and delivered by mail, anonymously—and another couple of hundred dollars in chemicals. The techniques had been in use for a decade, and everybody who worked in the field knew it could be done.
Any policeman who’d ever spent any time talking to a lab technician, or had to be briefed on DNA procedures for a criminal case, would know about it, too.
He’d need a drop of O.J.’s blood, as a reference sample. Type the red blood cells for ABO and enzymes. Do PCR on the white blood cells to clone the DNA—as much as you need. Shipp wouldn’t even necessarily need a drop of O.J.’s blood as a reference sample. If he had a lab blood report giving O.J.’s ABO type, ESD, and PGM subtype—used in case O.J. needed a blood transfusion— then all he would need is a sample of O.J.’s DNA—and he could get that from a used Kleenex, or a fingernail clipping, or a follicle from O.J.’s hair.
Now you get a test tube of blood of the same ABO type. Centrifuge the blood to separate the red and white blood cells. Heat the red blood cells carefully to destroy the enzymes, while preserving the ABO typing, and pour in enzymes matching your reference sample. Then take the white blood cells and subject them to X-rays or short-length ultraviolet to destroy the DNA. Do PCR testing on the white blood cells to make sure none of the DNA is left. If it is, give them more radiation.
Then take the DNA you’ve cloned using PCR and mix well with the now DNA-free white blood cells, and mix it back with the red blood cells.
Voila. Instant O.J., suitable for use at the crime scene of your choice.
–J. Neil Schulman, The Frame of the Century,
Pages 93-94, Pulpless.Com, June, 1999
Nobody at the time I wrote this took it seriously. Crazy Neil.
Nobody, that is, until August of this year when Forensic Science International: Genetics — reported on in The New York Times described in detail precisely how DNA blood evidence could be created in a laboratory and planted at a crime scene.
According to The New York Times article,
Scientists in Israel have demonstrated that it is possible to fabricate DNA evidence, undermining the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases.
The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.
“You can just engineer a crime scene,” said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which has been published online by the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.”
Supernatural? Nopers. I was just being thorough — exploring all possibilities — and my training as a science-fiction writer cut in again.
I’m not even the first writer to get this idea of planted DNA produced. Next Wednesday’s episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is titled “Perverted” and you can see a preview of the episode here.
So if not in my novels and non-fiction writings, where are my supernatural prophecies?
I talk about them in my audiobook, I Met God.
So far they aren’t earth shattering prophecies that will rock the world.
Two quick examples.
In 1970 I got psychic inklings that my paternal grandfather was going to die half a day early. He was old but was in great health and robust spirits the last time I’d seen him at a family gathering several weeks earlier. All day — starting around eight in the morning — I was anticipating every time the phone rang that it was a phone call telling me my grandfather was dead. That call came around four in the afternoon — and he’d died around one in the afternoon, hours after my first premonition.
And in 1982 during a Halloween party at a friend’s, I saw a woman dancing when a clear Voice in my head said, “If you ask her to dance, you will marry her.”
I asked her to dance and twenty-one months later I married her.
The Voice hadn’t mentioned anything about our divorce eight years later.
Just as well. If I’d known, I might not have a brilliant and talented daughter in college today.