Paul Levinson, Author

Paul PicturePaul Levinson, PhD, is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC.  His nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), Cellphone (2004), and New New Media (2009; 2nd edition, 2012),  have been translated into twelve languages.  His science fiction novels include The Silk Code (winner of Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction Novel of 1999, author’s cut ebook 2012), Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002, 2013), The Pixel Eye (2003, 2014), The Plot To Save Socrates (2006, 2012), Unburning Alexandria (2013), and Chronica (2014)  – the last three of which are also known as the Sierra Waters trilogy, and are historical as well as science fiction.  He appears on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News,  the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the History Channel, NPR, and numerous TV and radio programs.  His 1972 LP, Twice Upon a Rhyme, was re-issued in 2010.  He reviews  television in his blog, and was listed in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Top 10 Academic Twitterers” in 2009.

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Book Links/Descriptions:

The Plot to Save Socrates

Paul Levinson’s astonishing science fiction novel is a surprise and a delight: In the year 2042, Sierra, a young graduate student in Classics, is shown a new dialog of Socrates, recently discovered, in which a time traveler tries to argue that Socrates might escape death by travel to the future! Thomas, the elderly scholar who has shown her the document, disappears, and Sierra immediately begins to track down the provenance of the manuscript with the help of her classical scholar boyfriend, Max.

The trail leads her to time machines in gentlemen’s clubs in London and in New York, and into the past–and to a time traveler from the future, posing as Heron of Alexandria in 150 AD. Complications, mysteries, travels, and time loops proliferate as Sierra tries to discern who is planning to save the greatest philosopher in human history. Fascinating historical characters from Alcibiades to William Henry Appleton, the great nineteenth-century American publisher, to Hypatia and Socrates himself appear. With surprises in every chapter, Paul Levinson has outdone himself in The Plot to Save Socrates.

Unburning Alexandria

Mid-twenty-first century time traveler Sierra Waters, fresh from her mission to save Socrates from the hemlock, is determined to alter history yet again, by saving the ancient Library of Alexandria – where as many as 750,000 one-of-a-kind texts were lost, an event described by many as “one of the greatest intellectual catastrophes in history.”

Along the way she will encounter old friends such as William Henry Appleton the great 19th century American publisher and enemies like the enigmatic time travelling inventor Heron of Alexandria. And her quest will involve such other real historic personages as Hypatia, Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe, Ptolemy the astronomer, and St. Augustine – again placing her friends, her loved-ones, and herself in deadly jeopardy.

In this sequel to the THE PLOT TO SAVE SOCRATES, award winning author Paul Levinson offers another time-traveling adventure spanning millennia, full of surprising twists and turns, all the while attempting the seemingly impossible: UNBURNING ALEXANDRIA.


Sierra and Max arrive in 2062, and find the world has somewhat changed. Joe Biden was President from 2009-2017, and train travel is much more prominent. Was this due to the scrolls that she rescued from the Library of Alexandria? Heron’s Chronica, which describes how to build a time travel device and was one of the texts Sierra saved from burning, has not yet been published, and Sierra soon realizes that Heron is doing everything in his lethal power to prevent that from happening. Her attempt to safeguard the Chronica, which she left in William Henry Appleton’s keeping, takes her to the end of the 1890s, where she dines, plots, and otherwise interacts with John Jacob Astor IV, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, J. P. Morgan, film pioneers William Dickson and Edwin Porter, and other denizens of The Gilded Age.

The Silk Code

Phil D’Amato, an NYC forensic detective (also featured in several of Levinson’s popular short stories and two subsequent novels), is caught in an ongoing struggle that dates all the way back to the dawn of humanity on Earth–and one of his best friends is a recent casualty. Unless Phil can unravel the genetic puzzle of the Silk Code, he’ll soon be just as dead.

Winner Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction novel of 1999.

The Consciousness Plague

Dr. Phil D’ Amato returns from The Silk Code, winner of the Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction Novel of 1999, with another blend of biological science fiction and hard-boiled police-procedural mystery.

Memory itself is the suspect in The Consciousness Plague – more particularly, loss of memory, in slivers of time deducted from a growing number of individuals, which plays havoc with everything from the investigation of serial stranglings to candlelight dinners. D’Amato, NYPD forensic detective, investigates a spate of unusual cases and finds evidence of a bacteria-like organism that has lived in our brains since our origin as a species and may be responsible for our very consciousness.

A new antibiotic crosses the blood-brain barrier and inadvertently kills this essential bug. Phil himself falls victim to this memory hole, and must struggle to get the proper authorities to pay attention before everyone loses so much memory that they forget that they forgot in the first place.

The Pixel Eye

Squirrels are spying on us in the park. Mice may have organic bombs set to go off in their brains. Holograms are taking the place of real people. Phil D’Amato investigates a case that pits civil liberties versus national security as he seeks to ward off a major terrorist attack on near-future New York City.

Marshall McLuhan and the Kindle Revolution

by Paul Levinson

The Kindle didn’t exist in the time of Marshall McLuhan, which ended on the last day of 1980. But like so much of McLuhan’s work, he was writing more about our own time than his, and not because he was clairvoyant.   Rather, his keen insight into media and human communication provided an accurate roadmap of the future – a future in which a profound revolution, a changing of the guard, is already underway in the gatekeeping of media which was the hallmark of media dissemination prior to the digital age.   The Kindle and the power it gives to authors to reach their audience is in the front lines of this change.

I was always struck by the loss to humanity of what Thomas Gray described in his “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” (1751) poem – a paean to all the “mute inglorious Miltons” who are buried without anyone ever knowing of their great work, because fortune declined to shine on them.

And fortune usually came in the form of publishers and editors, who decided what would be printed and what would not.   Occasionally, we would get a glimpse of what these gatekeepers had kept out, people like John Kennedy Toole, whose novel A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a year after it was published, unfortunately eleven years after the author, despondent about being turned down by the traditional press, took his own life.

By the time I wrote Digital McLuhan at the end of the 20th century, some of the gates were already creaking a bit open. But the advent of social media in the first decade of the 21st century flung them asunder, far and wide. Bloggers for the first time were able to publish their thoughts on whatever topic without anyone’s permission.   This was less important to me than unpublished authors, because they had no access to the public prior to blogging, but even I appreciated the ease and speed with which a blog on any subject could be posted. Then Facebook and Twitter made instant, global commentary on any subject even faster and easier.

The Kindle and what it did for authors of books soon followed. McLuhan himself was not immune to the destructive gatekeeping of traditional publishing. I remember well when he came to New York from Toronto, for the Tetrad Conference I organized in 1977, with a box of “remaindered” copies of his Take Today: The Executive as Dropout (1972) – remaindered, or taken off the market and given to the author for a dollar per book, because the publisher had determined that the book was not selling well enough to warrant its continued publication.

What Amazon has done for the book with its Kindle is allow any author, any human being, McLuhan or a complete unknown, to publish books. I have benefitted from this myself as an author.   My science fiction novels began to be offered as Kindle editions in 2012 – having previously been published in hardcover and paperback by a big traditional publisher – and my novels have sold more books as Kindles since then than any time after they were first brought out years earlier by my traditional publisher.   Other advantages of Kindle in contrast to traditional publishing of books for authors include the ability to publish a book hours after it has been completed (in comparison to the many months or years required in traditional publishing), make edits in the book any time after it has been published, and have sales visible to the author/publisher immediately and royalties payable monthly (in comparison to once or at best twice a year in traditional publishing).   And – such royalties are usually 70% of the list price of the book, in comparison to the 10% authors regularly received for sales of their books from traditional publishers.

Readers also benefit from this immediacy, which allows the book to have a topicality previously attainable in print only in the age of newspapers and their multiple editions during the day.   McLuhan in Understanding Media (1964) had already cited with agreement French poet Alphonse de Lamartine’s circa 1830 lamentation that “the book arrives too late.”   A decade later, McLuhan also noted “the Xerox makes everyone a publisher” (1977).   I entitled my 2014 article about McLuhan in the Journal of Visual Culture “The Kindle Arrives in Time and Makes Everyone a Publisher” to underline the role of the Kindle in this evolution of the book.   The Kindle thus retrieves – in addition to authorial control – the immediacy of classic, multiple-edition newspapers.

Some people worry that the lifting of the gates will open our screens and intellects to a torrent of garbage and unremarkable work.   I worry about what the gates keep and kept out. I worry about John Kennedy Toole; about the Beatles, who were turned down by 25 tone-deaf record companies at first; and about Frank Herbert, whose masterpiece Dune was similarly initially rejected.   I worry about you, teeming with ideas but no way to publish them under the traditional system.   And I’m glad that the Kindle has finally given you and who knows how many of your potential readers a chance.










8 thoughts on “Paul Levinson, Author

  1. Thanks for the update, Bob. I use 1977, because that was the date of the first printed reference I came upon with this observation – in McLuhan’s “Laws of the Media,” in et cetera Magazine, which I wrote the Preface for and edited.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marshall McLuhan first said “Xerox makes everyone a publisher” around 1965-66.

    Bob Dobbs
    Top McLuhan Scholar and Organizer of McLuhan’s archive for the National Archives in Ottawa
    Maui, Hawaii


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