Who is the Real Crowely?
Allen Crowley is the writer of the new Lux BLox-themed science fiction novel, Mars is for Misfits. But the Crowley name has haunted him and the imagination of many youngsters. We get to the bottom of all of this , and find out about this Crowley, and what he’s all about.
Written by Staff
Hi Allen, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Well the first question comes from a couple of our Lux Blox kids. “Are you related to Victor Crowely, the the disfigured antagonist character in Adam Green’s Hatchet films?
I don't know if I’m related to Victor Crowely, but I am related to Aleister Crowley. He’s a distant uncle.
Well that’s pretty amazing, since you have been drawn to writing science fiction. Aleister Crowley, for the uninitiated, was an English occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, painter, mountaineer, and novelist. He founded the religion of Thelema, identifying himself as the prophet entrusted with guiding humanity into the Æon of Horus in the early 20th century. A prolific writer, he published widely over the course of his life. Pretty wild uncle. So what was your childhood like? Any ceremonial occult magic?
My childhood was pretty fantastic. At night I would listen to the crickets chirp and the lions roar as the sun set. Yeah, I grew up in Fort Worth
Texas near the Zoo. My early days were spent chasing fire-flys, horny-toads (actually North American Spinney Lizards, Phrynosomatidae), snakes, and turtles. When I got older,
I'd chase peacocks at the zoo, so the zookeeper could clip their wings. Spent a good bit of time playing outside, climbed trees, fishing for perch, catfish, and gar in the Trinity River. Jumped off a train bridge into that river too. Hopped trains. Launched rockets. Played football and "Army" with the neighborhood kids.
What led you to joining the Army?
Well playing 'Army' as a kid may have influenced my decision to join the Army. But also my parents were pacifists and had been card carrying members of The Youth International Party, Yippies. So joining the National Guard in High School seemed like the best form of youthful rebellion.
Speaking of young people, what do you think is the best advice young people are not getting these days?
Treat the world like the amazing opportunity that it really is. Things are better now for human life everywhere on earth than ever in the past. Opportunity usually comes disguised as hard work.
Any time you hear someone complain about something, ask yourself how you can solve their problem. They'll pay you for that and you'll find no shortage of work. When someone says 'the world is the way it is.
'Remember, gravity isn’t changing any time soon, but the way people interact with the world is changing all the time.
What do you think is the worst advice they are getting?
Worst advice; fit into the status quo. The only thing people need to try to fit into is being the best person they can be. If you can do that you will find a person you esteem, value, and who brings something worthwhile to the world.
Allen, you have been writing the novel, Mars is for Misfits, it’s first chapter was published on the Lux Blox blog on July 4th, 2020. Was there any significance to publishing it on that date?
Both Mike Acerra and I love this country very much.
"Independence Day" is a celebration of what makes this country unique; the ideas that people can govern themselves and that the free trade of ideas and values will improve life for all.
Mike and I Had been kicking around the idea of the story for a while. The celebrated "Birthday" of our country seemed like an auspicious occasion to launch a project about humanity moving on beyond our planet and expanding what it means to be human. Plus we needed to stick a pin in the calendar because sometimes a deadline makes things happen.
So before taking on writing science fiction and working in the movie industry, you had a career in the United States Army. What did you do for Uncle Sam?
I had a 32 year career in the military. In that time I did a lot of different things. I served as an enlisted soldier and as an officer. I served on active duty, in the National Guard, and in the Army Reserve. I got trained in a variety of tasks and I trained others. I spent a good chunk of my career overseas and some of that on the two way range. Basically I did whatever was needed to defend our nation.
How did your experiences affect your outlook and temperament as a writer do you think?
Well I've got thirty-two years of experience in the military, but also more than twenty-five years out of the military so I have a lot of experiences to draw upon. Everyone draws upon their experiences, especially writers. I was exposed to science before elementary school and to science fiction in middle school, but in the military I learned that much of it was more real than I had imagined. Exploring ‘what could happen if?’ was another thing the military trained me to do. Asking that question fuels a lot of my writing.
You have a family that has had to move around with you because of your government work. What kind of challenges did that present to you guys?
The US Military is super good at taking care of families (might not seem like it at the time, but yeah). Part of that is not making it a challenge for the Soldier. It is still quite often a challenge for the rest of the family.
My wonderful wife, Suellen, daughter, Natalya, and son, Aidan, rose to that challenge and became better people for it. My admiration of them is immense.
Moving was not always easy, but everywhere we went gave each of us new opportunities, challenges, friends, and exposure to different ways of life.
Your wife is a high school history teacher?
Well actually she is teaching US Government at the moment, but she is also certified to teach History, English, and Journalism, and she has taught all of those at various times in her career.
Teaching government this past couple of years has been interesting for her. At the Federal and local levels we have tried a lot of new things. People have responded to some by marching in the streets.
There has been a lot of discussion about the nature of these experiments and the people conducting them. I’m glad students and teachers are creating the opportunity to discuss current events along with the standard material covered in class.
What do you and her think about the times we live in?
I think it's a bit like the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." I find the times we live in exhilarating. She's a bit less enthusiastic.
Our society and humanity in general are on the brink of several game changing advances in technology. Over the last fifty years computing power has grown exponentially, we have mapped the human genome, our understanding of various materials has expanded and along with that how we manufacture and use things.
We have developed new ways of interacting with each other and new ways of organizing human behavior. I think soon we will start to witness the synergy between the types of artificial intelligence we are already using daily, the infrastructure we build, and how we interface with it.
Smart infrastructure, AI, and BioTech will come together in new ways. But which ways, we haven't figured out yet and what we will see in the next few decades will be the places where those three things overlap. Those are the least predictable areas that are on the horizon. I think it's great and it will only get more interesting.
Do you think most people see life through a historical lense?
I don't know about 'most' people. I think as people get older they tend to see life through a more historical lense. But life experience augmented with education is considerably more powerful than either one on their own.
I think so, yes. Human needs have not changed that much since the dawn of humanity. The way we satisfy those needs has changed continuously and dramatically.
These interesting times we live in call for each of us to be able to change lenses and study events, people, and things in different ways.
Comparison against historic examples is one very good way, just as comparing contemporary governments can lead us to best practices. There’s an old saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I’d say, “There’s more than one way to study a cat.”
What would you say are your biggest influences as a writer?
Reading, Learning, and Doing. Those are so fundamental as to be too vague to work with perhaps. So many influences over the years it is hard to pick a few and to do so would slight the others in a way. To really boil it down, I’d have to say there are authors, movies, and real events.
To name a few authors; the ABC’s of Science Fiction; Asimov, Bradburry, and Clark. It is easy to look back on those things I read in Middle School. Of course there’s an alphabet of other great writers, Daniel Abraham, Ben Bova, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Suzanne Collins, PK Dick, SH Elgin, Ty Frank, Jane Fancher, Neal Gaiman, William Gibson, Aldus Huxley, Franz Kafka, Madeleine L’engle, Ursula K Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Michael Moorcock, Richard Morgan, Larry Niven, George Orwell, Jerry Pournelle, Philip Pullman, Thomas Pynchon, Ayn Rand, Alastair Reynalds, Carl Sagan, Neal Stephenson, Jules Verns, Kurt Vonnegut, HG Wells, Roger Zelazny and a few others I’m sure I left off, like Jenny Martin, Leslie Lutz, L. D. Robinson, and A. Lee Martinez.
Every bad sci fi movie contributed to my thinking and a bunch of good ones too. 2001 A Space Odyssey still remains one of my favorites.
Lots of events, from getting to stay home from school and watch the Apollo launches and the moon landing to skylab to leaving journalism class at TCU to go into the newsroom and watch the Challenger explosion. Many more recent events, latest movies, and newly released books continue to shape my writing.
What books would you recommend to anyone who wants to be a human being?
This is a great question and of course I have a list, in no particular order, and I'll keep it to ten.
The Politics Industry by Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter
Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians by Joe Quirk
Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Cities by Monica L. Smith
Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
Originals by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Ultralearning by Scott Young
Principles by Ray Dalio
Of course, there are more and more coming every day, but I recommend reading any of these before looking at the news again. They are all the kind of books that help people understand themselves and provide new ways of looking at events to gain better understanding.
You are interested in entrepreneurial things and business. Any books you’d like to recommend?
Yes, I'm very interested in free trade and the entrepreneurial aspects of business. There are so many books for business. Start with the ones above. Also find the nearest Startup Weekend and participate.
What truly inspires me is the entrepreneurial spirit of solving problems and adding value. Don't see enough art in the world? Make some. Think corporations are greedy? Start your own.
The way we do business and who we do business with is one of the most powerful aspects of who we are as people. I believe in creating change in the world by creating things. Not tearing things down. If you build it "Better" they will come.
What’s something about the Army that most people don’t know?
The Joint Command system. The Army, Air Force, and Navy, don't fight wars on their own. They are combined under joint commands and joint commanders fight wars.
The real job of those three services is to provide trained, ready, and equipped Troops to the joint commands. I'd also like to give a shout out to the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marines who provide substantial, valuable support to the defense of our Nation in peace and war.
Did Army experience give you a perspective that helps you in your writing? If so, what is it?
I did a lot of writing in the military; regulations, orders, memorandum, correspondence, white papers, and the like so that helped tremendously. But the perspective I gained is more about how communication moves through the world like a game of 'telephone'. It’s passed along whisper-to-ear even when it’s the media shouting to the masses.
I think no operation that I was ever involved in was ever reported as accurately as I understood it from my experience. That is not to say it was false news or miss reported, but all along the way there are people pushing their own agendas, keeping some things secret, wanting to highlight others, each for their own or their organization's reasons.
People sort what they experience through their own filters before telling a story too, so this phenomenon happens at psychological and sociological levels, with and without intent or malice in most cases. There is never just one story and there is usually more than one cat.
How would you explain Mars is for Misfits? What’s it about? Why are you writing it?
Mars is for Misfits is a fun action story about people living on Mars in the future. It's a story where humans are living and working on Mars, settling a new frontier.
It's a story about living in a place where not everything fits in a standard box like back on Earth. Fortunately the people there, especially the kids who have always been humanity's R&D department, are learning new ways to adapt to their new environment.
My hope and one of the reasons that inspired me to write it is that by playing with new kinds of toys children will learn new ways of solving problems.
I really Lux Blox and recommend them to everyone. In this case, I asked myself, "What would the world look like after a generation of children develop new ways of thinking based on new ways of playing?
How did you and Mike Acerra meet? We hear he’s difficult to work with. How do you do it?
Well, I’m glad you’re not just throwing me softball questions. A lot of people pack about four hours of work into an eight hour day. When those folks encounter people like Mike who try to get sixteen hours of value out of a workday there’s sometimes a bit of a culture shock. Me, I find it inspiring. We met online I think I was researching “new toys” and “how kids become astronauts.” I found the page and contacted him on social media. We’ve been communicating ever since.
What is the biggest challenge for you in writing science fiction in general, and Mars is for Misfits specifically?
In general, keeping up with the science, learning about people, and developing the craft of writing. Specifically, working with Mike. Haha, I mean that in the best of ways. He’s smart and has really good ideas about elements to focus on in a story. I’m not accustomed to having my own hands full of ideas and having someone throw two or three more handfuls at me. It’s sometimes hard to catch them all, but it’s a wonderful problem to have.
Is Mars is for Misfits a kid’s book? It’s about a toy, but the story seems to have adult issues and situations.
Let’s not kid ourselves, kids live in the same world adults do. Even awesome kid’s books like, Where The Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen, deal with some adult issues, but do so in a way that it doesn’t detract from the story for youngsters.
I think the material is suitable for highschoolers and beyond, even mature middle schoolers. Middle School is when I read Brave New World and 2001 A Space Odyssey. Plus all the Edgar Rice Burroughs I could get at the dime store. They were not carried in the school library.
You are somewhat of an idealist. Or is it futurist? You seem to explore and think about technology and policy that can save the planet and humanity. Is that fair to say?
There is nothing good or ill but our perception (and use of it) makes it so. We currently use artificial intelligence in an amazing amount of things and it hasn’t conquered the planet yet.
We’ve been treating human ailments based on our knowledge of biology for centuries, the notion that because our knowledge gets better, we will destroy ourselves with bio-tech seems absurd to me. Of course I’m also keenly aware that any tech that can be used for good can be used for ill also. I think the question really boils down to, ‘Do you think people can improve?’ and yes I do.
So many veterans come home with health issues. What do you think about this? Is there something we can do better as a nation for our veterans?
In general, our society does a poor job of relating to people with prosthetics or physical differences. Additionally mental issues associated with trauma are also poorly dealt with. It’s differentiating enough to be different, but to add a dimension of having become that way through public service and to be treated badly for carrying those wounds (visible & invisible) can add a layer of additional trauma.
In the past we had compulsory service and so more people understood what it meant to ‘be a soldier’. With a volunteer military fewer people understand what it means to be a cog in that system. It is important to help veterans reintegrate into civil society.
Me, I’d like to be a guinea pig for all the latest upcoming biotech. It’s not for everybody, but the VA could provide a large pool of veterans who volunteer for human trials. Just say’n.
The story has a Marine protagonist who was severely injured and is brought back to life to go on a new mission after nearly 20 years on ice. Your son is a Marine. This must be an interesting thing for a writer.
It is and I think about that while writing. A lot of writing is about what we have already experienced and thinking about it through new lenses. I think my son would handle this kind of situation well. He takes a lot in stride and continues to thrive. The military changed a lot during the thirty-two years I was in. I’m sure it will continue to change and adapt to our ever changing society.
What are the biggest threats to our future? To The American project?
I think most people consider as threats the same things that can be our saviors. Things like artificial intelligence, bioengineering, near instantaneous interconnected global communication, bio-tech interface, nanobots, sonic screwdrivers. It just depends on how we embrace them.
It’s about staying true to one's values, not blindly, but with evaluated study. I think the real threat to this great American experiment is the lack of study of American Values as expressed by the founders and how those values have evolved over time.
Those people had their flaws, but the system of self government they created has been amazingly resilient over the last couple of hundred years.
Based on your experiences, What don’t we understand about young people?
Children are not simply small adults who are missing a few facts that we can plug into them during school. Children are the research and development portion of the human race. Adults are working out the kinks in the old ways and making them smoother.
The kids bring disruption with new ideas and new ways of doing things. I know you’ve been doing your job well for the last ten years, but a child will ask, ‘Why do this at all?’. Kids look at things freshly. This is known to adults as ‘Thinking from First Principles’. This fresh look guides the world into wonderful innovation, especially when nurtured by adults who may have seen the downside of some ideas that have been tried before.
What don’t we understand about how the world works?
People. We got the rest of it figured out. It’s us we don’t understand well enough.
If you were all powerful , how would you improve the world?
I like to think, if I were all powerful, I’d leave it alone. The key areas I see for us imperfect mortals to work on would be politics, individual vs group dynamics, economics, and how to make education more available and effective. Along with exploration of the oceans and space. The other item is treating aging as a disease.
Why did you and the Lux Blox folks want to make Mars is for Misfits?
Lux Blox is full of imaginative people. That’s part of the reason their product continues to evolve in so many wonderful ways. There are lots of people all over the world thinking, “How can I tweak this to make it better?” This is a great question and the folks at Lux Blox take it one step further and look to ‘First Principles’ to create original ways of making things better. We realized that this business is not about selling toys, it’s about inspiring generation after generation of people to think in new ways.
Just like toys, stories are a way to get people to imagine life and possibilities. I think that gets to the heart of it. But it might have looked a little more like … ‘Let’s write some fiction and see if we can inspire some folks.’ Other than ourselves, a few people have liked the story. If you don’t like it, pick up your own building blox and make a better one. You get a fresh start at that every day.
What are the main ideas of the story?
I like to say ‘Unintended Consequences’. A rock is about as neutral as anything can be. But going back to the first use case we can see that even technology capable of being the corner stone of multiple philosophies that would shape human kind, with Cane and Able a rock could just as easily be a murder weapon. Look to the opportunities and aim for a better world.
How is this story related to the toy Lux Blox?
So imagine if our greatest efforts at creating a way to terraform a planet turned out to be equally able to destroy one also. Might not be what we were intending or planning for, but in the wrong hands or simply unmanaged it could be disastrous. But as far as stories go, it gives our heroes a lot of problems to solve and opportunities to create new problems. Try building something with the blox.
What are your plans for Mars is for Misfits? Publishing it as a book? A Netflix original?
I want to keep rolling along as a serialized fiction for a while. Once we have enough material out there I want to pull the past writing down and revise it as a novel and/or screenplay. Continuing to post new material fairly regularly. Novelizing something tends to make it more concise and allows for linking the beginning and end in a way that serialized writing does not.
So I think the subsequent books will be interesting in a different way than the more free form posts. Likewise conversion to a screenplay calls for different considerations. I think none of those things will be exactly alike and I’m interested to see how the medium influences the message.
Here is an excerpt from chapter 7, Girls go to Mars, from Mars is for Misfits.
“Sheila woke with a pit in her stomach. It gnawed at her. Hands sore from being clenched, her body had assumed a tight fetal position. She remembered she had done something regrettable. She was shaking.
“Oh my god.” she groaned into her pillow. Nightmares filled the three hours she actually slept. She was in territory she’d never experienced before. Intense hunger, thirst, loneliness, and a grotesque pain. She was glad to be awake until the new reality crashed in on her. She had listened to Lincoln!
Last night it seemed like a decent idea. Especially coming from her little brother. Simply swap the sample jar with the specimen their dad had found yesterday with an identical sample jar. Take it with them to school and secretly use the school's equipment to learn more about it. Once home again switch the sample tubes back.
Simple. Why did all the problems with that plan elude her until now?
She heard the front airlock closing. It was too early for her dad. She got up and walked through the kitchen and to the front of the turtle bungalow. Through the hexagonal window she saw their Ford rover rolling out of the drive with its lights off.
It must have been her Uncle Jessup. He had taken the Ford and left the Tesla for mom and dad’s big adventure that day.
Sheila thought that the whole thing downright stupid. That her mom thought she could track down that thing's origin in a mountain range the size of the Rockies was crazy.
Her dad and Uncle Jessup couldn't talk her out of it. No surprise there. Her mom was hard-headed. It worried Sheila. She respected her mom in a lot of ways. She was a great scientist. But she could have moments of perfect confidence without a shred of evidence.
The lights in the kitchen turned on behind her and she jumped.
“You're up early. It’s only 4:30.” Her dad stood by the coffee maker in an old orange suit liner he used as pajamas. “Did you get your paper done on your Brainiac thing?”
“‘Brine-iac. And yes. But Mr. C is letting us hand them in on Monday since…”
“Since today’s Halloween.” His voice lifted.
“Did your brother get his work done? Looked like he waited till the last minute.”
Oh no, Lincoln let dad see him working last night. She tried to sound casual. “Yeah. We packed up our projects in the green bags by the east hatch.”
“Great! You know your mom and I will be out the best part of the day.”
She appreciated his enthusiasm for mom’s craziness. He totally supported her.
“Are you really going to look all over Lycus Sulci for where that thing comes from?”
“Well, not exactly. We are going to look for any clues to where it may have originated.”
“Why is mom so convinced of what that thing is? She hardly even looked at it.”
“I don’t have too.” Said Maggie as she walked by on the way to the storage lockers.
Sheila and Dean gave each other startled looks. Dean continued to make coffee. Sheila stood there.
“Jessup’s already gone.” Said Maggie returning with a note in her hand.
“I saw him leave in the Ford a few minutes ago.” Said Sheila, feeling a tug of annoyance toward her mom and dad.
“He told us he’d leave us the Metafora last night. He’s gone to see some old pal.” Maggie said, holding her hand to her head. “Sheila, can you grab me the bottle of ibuprofen?”
Sheila, welcoming a chance to move, spun on her heels, and headed down the hall to the medical cabinets. She decided to jump into her brother’s room.
Lincoln was under three layers of covers and she couldn't make out where he was. She kicked the biggest blob.
“What the hell!” A head emerged from the blob.
“Listen, evil-genius! Mom and dad are in the kitchen and we need to rethink your wicked plan.” “Huh? Oh yeah. It’s a wicked-awesome plan. Besides, it’s too late.”
“What do you mean, ‘too late’?
“I made the switch last night. The sample with the larva’s in my equipment case by the hatch.”
‘Why would he lie?’, she thought. “I saw it on the table where we left it last night! I even saw it moving.”
“What you saw, my sister, was a meal worm from my terrarium.” He smiled his cocky smile.
“Bull. It had mandibles and those same stripes-thorny things.”
“Oh yeah. Happy Halloween.”
She could hear the same enthusiasm in his voice as in her dad’s. “Seriously?”
“A little glue and your microdot pens and hair I found in the sink.”
“God, you’re disgusting.”
“We do what weez gots to do, sis.” He held out his hands, palm down, in a calming gesture.
“Well don’t say anything about this to your idiot friends.”
“Just meet me in the Lab at lunch and don’t be late.”
“You don’t be late!”
Sheila ran from Lincoln’s room to the infirmary and got the bottle of ibuprofen her mom had asked for. What could she say? Lincoln’s plan was on the rails now and picking up speed, but there would be no shutting it down once it catapulted into space.
Lincoln curled back into the ball he’d been in all night. He stared at a poster from the latest remake of Dune. The massive sandworm poised with its mouth agape in front of Paul Atreides. Why did he feel so differently this morning? Why did he dream he was so hungry, so thirsty, so horribly lonely?