This online edition was produced in 2020 but the novel was first published as an ebook in 2012. As a result, I've had a bit of time to think about readers' reactions to it, especially the ending - which some readers felt was too downbeat and/or too unresolved.
My own outlook on life is not as pessimistic as the ending might suggest. But for reasons explained in this blog post, I think there is a role for “cautionary tales” where the characters do not get to live happily ever after. That does not exclude the possibility of alternative, happier endings - in fact, part of the point of a cautionary tale is to make the reader think about how those alternative outcomes might have come about.
As for the somewhat unresolved nature of the ending, it reflects the impossibility of getting fully inside other people's heads in order to find out exactly why they behaved as they did. Frustrating as that is, it is something that we all need to learn to live with - so that aspect of the ending also fits in with the idea of a cautionary tale. However, I think that reading fiction helps to ease some of that frustration by giving you a privileged insight into why people may behave in particular ways (even where that behaviour results in damage to themselves and others, as in this story).
So I don't see the unresolved nature of the ending as a counsel of despair - it's more a recognition that there are limits to what we can know for certain. In that respect, it reflects some of the ideas about the function of art which Miles talks about in Part Three, especially the notion that it can help to reconcile us to our limitations. But at the same time, the idea of reality as constantly branching off into a multiplicity of alternative futures does at least allow for the possibility of alternative, happier endings (if the characters had been able to bring themselves to make different choices).
Now for a few brief notes on some of the other ideas or themes which crop up in the novel (and some acknowledgements where I've drawn on other people's thinking):
The notion of the Technological Singularity has been around for some time. It is generally attributed to the science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, but is probably now most closely associated with the futurist Ray Kurzweil, who has written several books on the subject. There are a number of other links to Singularity-related materials on my website. If you feel in need of some light relief from all this high concept Singularity stuff, try this adaptation by Charlie Kam of a well known Gilbert & Sullivan song, retitled “I am the very model of a Singularitarian”.
The internet cult depicted in the novel is a purely fictional creation and is not intended to satirise proponents of the Singularity generally (who, by and large, do not seem to me to be a particularly “cultish” lot). E-Gnosis is more of a “composite” inspired by individual elements taken from numerous cults, quasi-religions and other spiritual movements – see my website for more details. I was also influenced by some of the ideas in Erik Davis’ book “Techgnosis - Myth, magic and mysticism in the age of information” (Serpent’s Tail, 1999). For more musings on links between technology and religion, see this blog post.
In depicting the tendency we all have (to varying degrees) to interpret reality in a way that fits what we want to believe, I would love to say that I always knew this “conspiracy theory” approach to viewing the world would affect the real world (especially our politics) to the extent that it has. Looking back from the vantage point of 2020 on events like the Brexit vote in the UK and the election (and continued popularity with many people) of President Trump in the US, it is very tempting to make that claim.
But the truth is that I did not foresee that kind of world view making the leap from obscure corners of the internet to the mainstream. And to be honest, if I had come up with a plot depicting events like Brexit or Trump at the time I wrote the novel, I would probably have dismissed it as implausible - mainly because I wouldn't have wanted to believe it.
For a more in-depth discussion of “revenge effects” or the unintended consequences of technological developments (which are touched on in Part Three), see Edward Tenner’s book “Why Things Bite Back” (4th Estate, 1997).
The “God Helmet” referred to in Part Eleven was the subject of a BBC Horizon documentary (“God on the Brain,” 2003). However, it appears that the science in this field is some way away from proving the theories discussed in that chapter. The HAARP network, referred to in the same chapter, also exists and has been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories – but officially, its purpose is to carry out research into the ionosphere.
As for the Strong Anthropic Theory and the multiple universe theory (discussed in Parts Eleven and Twelve), the characters in this novel are not physicists (and nor am I); they are simply using (or abusing) those theories for their own purposes. That said, if I am guilty of serious misrepresentation or oversimplification in relation to these or any of the other concepts touched on in the novel, then I can only apologise. Similarly, all errors in this book are entirely my own responsibility.
If you were intrigued by the poems in the first and last chapters of Part Three, there is a bit more where that came from. This material was not included in the original ebook edition. You can read it here or by clicking on “NEXT” at the bottom of this page.
Thank you to my wife, Jo, for reading the draft and to everyone on the (now defunct) peer review site Youwriteon who commented on it. Without that encouragement, I don't think I would've had the confidence to self-publish the novel. I'd also like to thank everyone who has taken the time and trouble to write a review of the book since its first publication in 2012.
This book is dedicated to Jo, Alex and Anna.
Copyright Paul Samael. First published in 2012 on Smashwords (see above). This edition published 2020. The author has asserted his moral rights.
Although I am making this novel available free of charge, I retain copyright in the text. You are free to read it using any device capable of browsing the web but not to make copies of it for any other reason or to exploit it commercially without my permission.
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