Programmable Reality and Our Mediated Future
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Programmable Reality and Our Mediated Future

Exadelic by Jon EvansJon 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:

The Financial TimesThe EconomistThe 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Exadelic supposes our knee-jerk fears of AI doom are quickly superseded — because the breakthrough AI, when trained on ancient texts of occult magic, discovers that fundamental substrate of our universe is actually an interlocking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-super-weird future in which our perceived realities will be constantly mediated by multiple tiers of software? Reader, I believe it does.

My original elevator pitch for Exadelic was “Imagine Olaf Stapledon wrote a hell-for-leather action thriller.” (Most of my previous books were thrillers.) That’s a deep cut; few people now read Stapledon, who wrote not so much ‘novels’ as ‘philosophical histories of humanity and the universe.’ But SF has always been the home for big ideas, and such ideas—maybe even especially when crazy—can light up our collective space of possibilities in unexpected ways. My hope is that Exadelic may in some small way add to our ongoing conversation about big crazy ideas.

Jon Evans is an author, journalist, travel writer, and software engineer. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Wired, Quartz, The Globe & Mail, The Walrus, and (weekly, for a decade) TechCrunch. He has traveled to more than 100 countries and reported from Iraq, Haiti, Colombia, and the Congo. He the CTO of HappyFunCorp, was the initial technical architect of, and is the founding director of the GitHub Archive Program, preserving the world’s open-source software in a permafrost vault beneath an Arctic mountain for 1,000 years. Exadelic is his first novel in over a decade.

Order Exadelic Here:

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