The genesis of this novel was a blog I wrote on MySpace a few years ago called “Let There Be Ants,” where I considered a mechanical ant farm:
This farm consists of some dirt and water and plants, as well as a few mechanical ants that have tiny programmable brains in them. These ants are also able, by a fun mechanical diversion, to reproduce.
I wrote this blog over the course of forty minutes, with no particular inspiration other than my constant, nagging questions about Christianity and religion in general. Having been raised in a Catholic household where belief was a part of everyday life, I had no reason to question God until one day in junior high when I realized something new and important–there was no philosophical distinction between the Greek and Roman mythology I was learning in history with the stories and fables written in the Bible. Ever since that day my faith has been whittled away by biblical inconsistencies, by the negative impact of Christian fundamentalism on American culture, by the apparent conflict between metaphysics and science. Man’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge has produced medical and technological advances that even a hundred years ago would have seemed like magic to the average person, and has also produced an astoundingly accurate picture of how the world works.far more so than any religious text.
Still, in the words of Fox Mulder, I want to believe. I want there to be a reason for my existence, primarily because meaning would imply a creator, which could mean I won’t die when my body gives up. But during the forty-minute span in which I composed the aforementioned blog, I realized an all-powerful creator fails a basic logic test.
…the best part of all is that every ant is under your control! You alone decide the fate of each ant, because you build the rules. Through your creative propaganda you make the ants believe their actions determine their fate, but in reality they know this isn’t true because you build the rules. After a while a lot of the ants would probably have differing beliefs about [how to get to Heaven], about the rules, and most of them would end up breaking the rules to satisfy their urges while at the same time always feeling guilty about it.
Oh, and don’t forget the rule where all the ants must acknowledge your supreme power over their lives. Every day they are required to get down on their little mechanical knees and thank their lucky stars that you don’t unplug the whole game (which you did one time in a fit of rage, and then later felt badly about that and restarted the game).
If He is all-powerful, if He has a plan for you, it holds that He alone knows what your actions will be and in fact He decides them.
So why, then, does He judge you on them?
Further, a character examination of 70-odd years is fantastically brief. How is it fair that your actions during this short life will decide your fate for the all eternity?
And yet, here we are. Living. Breathing. Asking philosophical questions for which there are and never will be answers.
I came to realize the best description of the universe might be an imperfect creator. That would explain how the universe came to be, and would also provide a handy justification for why so much of it seems fucked up. It eliminates the moral confusion of a loving God who appears to allow so much tragedy.
Research on this idea led me to Philip K. Dick, who, astoundingly, I had never heard of. At least not directly. However, my novels, especially Rift, could have been written by Dick. The more I read about him, the more parallels I found between his life and my own. He wrote novels labeled science fiction, but he wanted to write serious, mainstream fiction. His fascination with alternative universes and simulacra mirrored my own. Some of my favorite films had apparently been inspired directly by Dick’s work.
Originally his appearance in my novel was intended to be a cameo, but as time wore on, Dick managed to infiltrate every part of it. He suggested plot devices and character names. Authors and directors informed by Dick’s work found their way into the story as well. I found myself drinking more as I wrote, just as Dick had. I questioned reality in a way I never had before. Real life and fiction began to interact with each other in a way I had never experienced, and I wondered if Dick somehow guiding me. Sure, I read all about his life on the Internet, in his various novels, but was there more to it than that?
And laugh all you want, but there were drunken moments where I began to wonder if I were Philip K. Dick himself.
Because you can’t really know, can you? No matter how pragmatic you are, how much of a skeptic, if you respect logic and the scientific method you must concede that you cannot know for sure if the data reported by your senses are accurate. And without accurate input, how can you be sure of your conclusions?
What matters more: the nature of reality or the relationships you build in whichever reality you choose to accept?