Matt Adcock is the co-host of the hit cyberpunk podcast Hosts in the Shell along with fellow author Jon Richter. He writes cyberpunk and dystopian fiction stories, promoting them through audiobooks, traditional printing, and graphic novels. Inspired by everything from The Dark Knight Batman movie, to the eternal muse that we call Spanish wine, his fiction style is strongly modernized while paying homage to our most ancient values. I interview him thus.
Mark: Matt, your writing lies at the intersection of science and religion. A.I. and singularity have become part of our common vernacular, with growing concerns that we are creating an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent entity. The first church to worship A.I. was recently created to pay homage to this sublime creation. Do you envision a world where A.I. becomes so powerful that it is commonly worshiped as a god?
Matt: This is absolutely the question for our time – we humans are busy building A.I. that is exponentially getting smarter and ‘learning’ how to act like a sentient being… If this is achieved, then surely the next step on the ‘evolution’ of A.I. could be to aim to become or behave as a deity. [Humankind has a history of] wanting (needing?) to worship something ‘more’ than ourselves going back to our earliest ancestors, so I can easily see a mass cult/religion where their “god” is the all-powerful A.I.
This is a theme that I pick up in the next Darkmatters novel ‘Inherent Darkness’ – which also sees the world’s first A.I. serial killer operating through a trial-by-combat ‘game’ that drains your lifeforce if you lose. I am reading quite a bit about A.I. – following some at the cutting edge like Yann LeCun whose tweets I swear will leave you thinking outside the human comfort zone. I have no idea where the current A.I. trajectory will take us but it sure is fun writing ‘what if’ future scenarios! What I found with Complete Darkness is that in the 10 years it took to find a publisher, much of the ‘out there’ tech I thought was science fiction was being made and used [by that time]!
Mark: Absolutely. We learn more each decade than we did the previous century, but let's explore what our learning and technology is ultimately used for. Humankind has a long list of sins. Failing to be stewards of creation, we have exploited the planet and its people for our own superficial gains. Technology has cured many ills, but has also exacerbated our rate of destruction. In this techowrath, is there a technoredemption to be found where new technology cleanses us of our trespasses, or are we doomed to make the same mistakes on other planets?
Matt: Unfortunately for us as a species, as Sigmund Freud postulated – we seem to have a ‘death instinct’, an innate, destructive side to human nature which affects not just ourselves but pretty much every environment we populate.
Channeling A.I. for human ends has had (and continues to have) massive potential for good. I love the term ‘technoredemption’ and will probably use that at some point, but as A.I. is created and used by humans, it also has an incredible potential for aiding us in our self-destructive tendencies (whatever planet we find ourselves on).
Mark: I can certainly see that. Let's return to religion, since it's a central theme in your work. We live at a time where we are close to terraforming Mars, where we are exploring the quantum physics required for teleportation and invisibility cloaks, and where we have mapped the atom down to the tiniest quark. In our hyper-rationalized age, what role does faith have?
Matt: I don’t want to sound heretical but I now see faith as simply a self-help system, which when modeled well can be a social safety net for those most in need. Living a selfless life and helping those around you isn’t the bastion of those who profess a faith but I believe it certainly should be an outworking of it if you claim to have one. Alas, the competing doctrines and zealot mentality of so many ‘believers’ -whatever the faith - has caused it, especially in a religious context, to be a highly damaging influence on the world. Science more than ever is taking us to places where faith doesn’t have the language to articulate – I’m fascinated by faiths of all kinds but not at the expense of scientific fact.
Mark: Yes, it's interesting the journeys we take. One of my professors captured me with his quote, "You begin life taking most things on faith, then you go through schooling and learn the sciences and come to a place of reason. Over time, you deconstruct reality and realize there are so many gaps in what we know, so you have to return to faith to function and to avoid nihlism. So you arrive back at faith but by a different avenue, and it's that journey that makes the difference."
I've seen this cycle of faith and reason, for as I child I grew up Christian and thought everything was completely certain and known, only to find in college that a lifetime of ambiguity awaited. That cycle of faith and reason, assuming they even have to be opposites (which I don't think they do), is part of our overall spiritual and intellectual path in life, and it does provide meaning, ease stress, and allow for self-help as you said.
Returning to your work, your writing marries the distant past with the near future, referencing the ancient city of Canaan on one page and the latest cyber-tech on the next. It includes demons as antagonists but is still science fiction. How are you able to violate some of the conventions of sci-fi without alienating your audience?
Matt: I think good fiction shouldn’t play by any ‘rules’. Some of my biggest influences and most re-read books are by authors like Iain Banks, who pushed boundaries, in the process creating new tropes and writing systems that otherwise we would be poorer without. There are so many identikit (sic). novels rehashing very similar stories with almost interchangeable characters and plot devices that it saddens me. The fact that most large publishers are afraid to take risks on books that step outside the ‘norm’ or ‘proven seller’ models is tragic. I have a nice collection of rejection letters from publishers who deemed Complete Darkness ‘too strange / not conforming to a traditional cyberpunk narrative enough / too deviant in its mixing of genres / too sci-fi / too dark / too religious / too heretical / too filled with footnotes that make if feel like a textbook’ I take all of those as badges of honour… Of course, everyone’s opinion is different but I was lucky to find Burton Mayers Books who were willing to take a chance on it – and it’s been one of their most successful titles.
Now creating comics from the novel and associated short stories set in the Darkmatters Universe is giving me the license to go further. Graphic Novels have a reputation for innovation and changing the rules of the storytelling ‘game’ – and I feel very much a home doing helping do just that!
Mark: Absolutely. Finally, your Twitter tag is your character’s name Cleric20. In the Complete Darkness comic, issue one, you describe your character as a “hedonistic loner, possible savior of the world.” Is this how you see yourself as well?
Matt: It started as a bit of a joke, I had my email and social media as Cleric20 long before the novel saw publication but it never ceases to make me smile, sometimes I do reply in the style of ‘what would Cleric20 say.' I am an only child, very comfortable in my own presence (my imaginary friends are always here tho) – so yeah a bit of a loner by nature - but my day job in communications for 30+ years has meant I’ve had to ‘put on’ a social exosuit and build rapport with a host of people, so that is second nature to me now too. I certainly do not see myself as a possible saviour of the world – but in these strange times, if I was to be granted unnatural superpowers by mistake (as happens to Cleric20) I like to think I would certainly try and use them for good.
Thanks for the opportunity to answer these – I’m always happy to debate and discuss topics on social media, just search for Cleric20 on most platforms or in real life (preferably over a glass of nice Rioja)! If you’d like to get in on the ground floor of my new (and first full-colour comic) What Waits For Us In The Dark (Matter) you can grab it here.