Go to Homepage   Remote Viewing Novel Links Star Wars Actor, Indiana Jones Writer

Billy Dee Williams (Photo by Jay Feinberg, courtesy of Tor Books)

Actors, like little kids, often play the game "Who do I want to be?" And like children, they don't always get their wish. 

Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars' Lando Calrissian and a major star power in Lady Sings the Blues and Brian's Song, wanted to be a psychic in an action/adventure movie or television series. But despite the popularity of shows like The X-Files, roles for multi-faceted, male psychics weren't exactly leaping off Hollywood storyboards. 

Williams saw no reason why that should stop him from playing his dream role. An award-winning artist who moves easily from painted pictures to the moving kind, he welcomed the prospect to move into yet another medium. Given enough time, he felt sure he could write the role he wanted. "But I wanted to do it quickly. So I thought it would be a good idea to collaborate with someone," Williams said. 

A literary agent introduced him to Rob MacGregor, 1996 Edgar Award-winning author of Prophecy Rock and numerous Indiana Jones novels. It proved to be, in Williams' words, "One of those meetings that was meant to happen." 

MacGregor shares Williams' interest in the paranormal. In addition, MacGregor's long-term interest in government "remote viewing" research provided direction for the characters and situations Williams developed. 

Billy Dee Williams
An Actor's Art

As Lando Calrissian, he piloted the Millenium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. As himself, Billy Dee Williams paints impressionistic portraits of the Tuskegee Airmen, the heroic African-American pilots whose real-life exploits changed the course of American military history. 

Click here to read more.

Over a 20-year period from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, the Defense Department and C.I.A. conducted a number of experiments in various psychic phenomena. "The program really developed out of Russian interest in this area," MacGregor said. "The Russians put millions of dollars into psychic research. What happened in the United States came as a reaction to what the Russians were doing." 

According to Defense Intelligence Agency documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, the Soviets explored everything from telepathy (mind reading) to psychokinesis (moving or altering objects through mind power). U. S. research, however, concentrated on finding a psychic phenomenon that could produce consistent, reproducible results. 

Stanford Research Institute (SRI) scientists found that most people could catch mental glimpses of images viewed by a second person, even if that second person was miles away. The scientists called this phenomenon "remote viewing." 

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PSI/Net graphic courtesy of Tor Books

"The scientists would send someone to a particular location at a particular time. Back at the laboratory, the psychic would try to get an impression of where the other person was at that particular time, write about it and sketch it," MacGregor explained to reporters at DragonCon, the Atlanta-based science fiction and fantasy convention, which attracts over 18,000 fans annually. "After a while, the scientists would just take the coordinates of a particular place, which could be anywhere in the world, and let the psychic work with the coordinates." 

And work they did. By the end of the experiments, researchers shifted from using geographic coordinates to using random, six-digit numbers assigned to different locations. To their amazement, researchers found that once a psychic made a connection between even a random number and a given location, other psychics made the same connection. It didn't matter if the psychics knew about the results of previous experiments or not. "Once those numbers were assigned -- however it worked, I don't know -- they stuck," MacGregor said.  

Unlike earlier scientific forays into the paranormal, the Defense and C.I.A. experiments always produced results, some of them quite spectacular. "One of the experiences in the C.I.A. program involved a remote viewer who saw a huge crane at an atomic plant at a secret Soviet site. He described it, drew it, and then this crane was verified by satellite pictures," MacGregor said. 

But, skeptics in Congress and the C.I.A. asked, why do you need psychics if you can see the same Soviet site via satellite? "The difference is that satellites can picture a building," MacGregor said. "The psychics can see what's inside that building, which the satellite cameras cannot." 

Still not good enough for the Department of Defense and C.I.A, which ended their remote viewing programs in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively. The C.I.A., in particular, wanted results that could compete with traditional technologies -- consistent, top-quality results the experimental techniques of remote viewing could not provide. 

But a writer or producer need not worry about statistical norms and experimental consistencies. Story concepts need only plausibility and potential. Remote viewing provided both.  

Rob MacGregor
The Co-Writer's Lot

Two heads are better than one, right? 

If the second head in question happens to belong to Billy Dee Williams, Edgar Award-winning writer Rob MacGregor would wholeheartedly agree. 

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"We're in an era where people are looking for ways to compete without dropping bombs," Williams noted. "And this is one of the avenues people are examining. So I, at least, found it a very intriguing kind of subject matter, especially for television." 

The end of the government research programs also offered a bonus to writers. "After the C.I.A.'s top secret program ended, these people [the remote viewers] were finally free to talk," MacGregor said. "Some of them set up Web sites, and they were very accessible and open to talking about what they had been involved with." 

Williams and MacGregor decided to focus their initial efforts on a book that would combine the realities of remote viewing with the eclectic, action-oriented character Williams wanted to play. The resulting novel, PSI/Net, debuted at DragonCon on July 1.  

"PSI/Net takes up where the C.I.A.'s remote viewing program ended in November 1995," MacGregor told reporters at the book's DragonCon launch. "The idea is, even though the government supposedly is no longer involved in psychic espionage, the psychics -- most of whom were military officers who retired when the program ended -- still have their abilities." 

The book follows the story of one particular retired Air Force major and remote viewer, Trent Calloway. "Trent has an experience in which he sees numbers that related to the numbers used in the remote viewing program," MacGregor continued. "For him, those numbers translated to the White House, but the White House five days in the future, after a backpack nuclear bomb had exploded in Washington, D.C."

This gives Trent five days to convince the Secret Service and the F.B.I. that his vision is real, and stop the bombers. 

Williams views Trent as a kind of centrifugal force. "He's the pivotal character around which everything revolves," Williams said. As an actor, Williams relishes the internal conflicts Trent develops as a result of being both a military man and a remote viewer. 

To raise the potential for external conflicts, Williams and MacGregor did take one liberty with their research. "One of the differences between the actual program and the one in the book is that [the fictional remote viewers] were given a drug to enhance their psychic abilities, which allowed us to move up a notch or two in their abilities. As a result the whole group are connected in a psychic nexus, and it's driving them crazy -- especially when they're split into two groups, and one of the groups becomes involved in the bombing," MacGregor said. 

Rob MacGregor (Photo by Jerry Bauer, courtesy of Tor Books)

But MacGregor couldn't help but wonder the real remote viewers would view the differences between their experiences and those of PSI/Net's fictional characters. "We sent manuscripts to several remote viewers, and I was a little concerned. Like I said, we took it up a couple notches," MacGregor said. "What surprised me were the responses we got back, which are on the back cover and inside flap of the book. Not only were they very complimentary about the story, but they said it seemed very realistic to their lives -- that it was like reading about their own lives. So I felt good about that." 

Both Williams and MacGregor feel good about the PSI/Net sequel they're currently writing, and even better about Hollywood's interest in the concept. 

"We have one producer very interested in pursuing a series, and I've done a treatment for him," MacGregor told the reporters at DragonCon. "He's going to be pitching it to the studios. But one of the problems we've faced is all the production studios for television series want a young hunk and a babe, and there are no young hunks and babes in this book. 

"Obviously, once it's out in book form, anything can happen with it," MacGregor continued. "But Billy, of course, is fighting to be the main character in the story, not just the guy sits back and sends the babe and the young hunk off on their mission. He wants an active role throughout the story." 

Williams is no longer certain he wants an active psychic role off-camera, however. He confessed to reporters that recent psychic experiences left him a little nervous. "I find that when I relax and close my eyes, I start getting pictures of places that seem quite real," he said. "Not only do I get the pictures, but I find myself walking through these places. But it scares me to explore them, because the places have a kind of sepia tone to them, and I keep wondering if I'm about to see something that I really don't think I can handle." 

In contrast, MacGregor enjoyed informal remote viewing experiments he conducted with his wife shortly before the PSI/Net's release. His attempt to visualize the cover of one book out of the several thousand in the MacGregor household came pretty close -- except for the black bear he saw as a Volkswagen. He sees remote viewing and most psychic phenomena in terms of their potential. 

"One of the researchers said something I thought very intriguing," MacGregor said. "He was the one who was behind all of the early research and worked directly with the psychics. Now he says remote viewing really is not about spying on the Russians or seeing what silver futures are going to be. It's really about showing that there's a part of us that's connected with everything in the universe. This is our "non-local mind," the part of us that connects with everything." 

Perhaps appropriately for an actor who's played the hero more times than he can count, Williams sees the issues raised by remote viewing in different terms. "What do you do when you have this kind of access, this kind of power? How do you use it? Do you use it for good purposes or do you use it for bad purposes? I think we're all going to face questions like that. That's why I find this kind of thing so interesting. This is not science fiction," said the man who played Lando Calrissian. "This is real." 

Jean Marie Ward 

Click here to read the Crescent Blues review of PSI/Net.

Click here to learn more about Rob MacGregor.