Jon Evans thinks a lot about the future and has oodles of experience writing exciting novels full of action and suspense. In his new techno-thriller, Exadelic, Evans blends these two facets into a thoroughly exhilarating portrait of a future where artificial intelligence discovers occult magic and reality is revealed as something frighteningly malleable. Today, Jon is here to talk us through aspects of his ideation for Exadelic.
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In 2021 I finished my novel Exadelic, then set it aside to cool for a few months, as is my way. Upon rereading it, I did not think: ‘Aha, fame and fortune, mine at last!‘ Instead I thought: ‘My God, what have I done?’ It’s an unusual book. Reviewers and early readers call it “really weird” and ”mind-bending” and “absolutely wild” — and those are the raves. But here’s the thing. While the book has not changed … it’s suddenly a lot less weird than it was two years ago.
Exadelic begins in the present day, with a massive AI breakthrough with potentially drastic consequences. Back then, the notion that something vaguely similar might actually happen in our semi-foreseeable future was a laughable idea relegated to Twitter’s wackier fringes. Today the discourse is very different. I give you four recent headlines:
- “We must slow down the race to God-like AI”
- “What are the chances of an AI apocalypse?”
- “Our Oppenheimer Moment: The Creation Of A.I. Weapons”
- “AI poses ‘Risk of Extinction’ on Par with Pandemics and Nuclear War, Tech Executives Warn”
The Financial Times, The Economist, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, respectively. Not exactly a list of publications known for starry-eyed science-fiction extrapolation, and/or wild-eyed prophecies of doom! …But here we are.
Exadelic supposes our knee-jerk fears of AI doom are quickly superseded — because the breakthrough AI, when trained on ancient texts of occult magic, discovers that fundamental substrate of our universe is actually an interlocking swarm of cellular automata, more like software than hardware. (A notion not original to me; Stephen Wolfram has long suggested our universe is fundamentally “a vast array of interacting computational elements.”) As such, apparent violations of the laws of physics, sometimes a.k.a. ‘magic,’ are merely side effects of bugs in that substrate. But if the universe is more like software than hardware, it may have some sort of programmer … which, we soon learn, apparently looks with extreme prejudice on any discovery of its secrets.
Is the notion that our entire universe is ultimately made of software, which is full of bugs, which can be hacked and wielded as magic—and therefore a universe in which reality itself is programmable—kinda bonkers? Well, yes. But does a bonkers universe-as-software story work surprisingly well as a metaphor for our uncertain-but-guaranteed-
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