If catching up on reading during these unprecedented times has been on your checklist, look no further than the River Ward’s own backyard.
Bridesburg resident Courtney P. Hunter, 26, is set to release her self-published debut novel, Sentience, on Oct. 30.
Hunter began writing the book three years to the date it will be released on Amazon.
And, while this is the aspiring author’s first crack at the literary world, she’s no stranger to the arts.
Hunter is a lifelong dancer, and one of her pieces is the premise for the novel.
“I produced a contemporary dance piece for the 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival that served as the single source of inspiration for my now novel’s plot,” she said. “I learned storytelling through dancing, and I learned dance at Anna Marie’s Academy – a dance studio in the Mayfair area that just recently announced its closure after 40 years of service to the community.”
The piece centered around the ethics of artificial intelligence, AI, and before it played out on a stage, inspiration struck Hunter in her car.
“Without really realizing what I was doing, I used to spend time making up characters in my head while I was in college driving from classes to jobs to internships,” she said. “I let my imagination run wild during my time in the car.”
Her characters from her car rides and the world depicted in her Fringe Festival piece soon collided.
“Once I finished that piece, I knew I wasn’t done with the world I created, and I figured if I infused the characters that I created in my head into the world I built during the dance piece, it could make for a really cool story,” Hunter said.
And, while Hunter was determined to see her world come to life on the pages of a book, the process forced her to confront the status of her mental health head on.
“I struggle with anxiety and depression, and I hit a really rough patch after I finished the first draft,” she revealed. “… I was certain that would be the cure all, just as I had been with events and achievements in the past. It wasn’t, and from there, I really had to work to reframe my relationship with creative achievement and output. … So I ended up taking some long breaks in the process of creating the book, and I really worked to get to a place where I can be aware of the unhealthy patterns I have with productivity and output, so that I can actually enjoy my accomplishments.”
Sentience is science fiction, and two major influences on Hunter’s work were the movie Ex Machina and the robotic artwork Female Figure by Jordan Wolfson.
“Both of these pieces of media are centered around AI, and I remember after I watched each, I felt stunned and shocked,” Hunter explained. “I desperately wanted to make art that would make other people feel how I felt after consuming those two pieces of media.”
Hunter also pointed to her favorite movie, Jurassic Park, as a source of inspiration.
So, what can readers expect from Sentience?
Sentience is set in a natural preserve, where 24 individuals participate in a Turing Test set up by a technology corporation.
Over the course of the test, the individuals encounter controllers designed to elicit human response and emotion.
The four artificial intelligence individuals do not know they are not human.
“When you read Sentience, you can expect a fast-paced adventure that explores the depths of human nature that emerge when someone plunged into an ethical dilemma. It’s a survival-style test where humans try to discern who among them is AI,” Hunter shared. “The experiment is rigged with all sorts of things to elicit emotion out of the AI in order to test their ability to blend in – that means action, thrill, chaos and even a little bit of romance. … Sentience is all about what happens when you take science too far in pursuit of profit.”
Although Sentience has yet to hit the internet, Hunter already has her sights on the future.
“I’ve already started a sequel that’s sitting at around 30,000 words right now. I put it down to focus on promoting the book, and when I decide to drop back into writing, I’m not sure if I’ll pick that up or start something new,” she said. “Either way, you can definitely expect another book from me. My dream is to have it produced into television or film, I’ve made a list of writers and producers from my favorite shows that I’d like to send a copy to. I’m just working up the nerve to do it!”
Courtney Hunter will host November Meetup: Creative Journey with Courtney via Zoom on Nov. 4, at 6 p.m. For more details about the reading and talk and Sentience, visit https://www.courtneyphunter.com/.