The “simulation hypothesis” is a theory that we may actually just be part of an artificial simulation. Think The Matrix if it was the whole universe, not just a big city. But if that’s true, what happens when the simulation starts to break down? Such is the jumping off point for Parker Peevyhouse’s new cyberpunk-adjacent, post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel Strange Exit (hardcover, Kindle). In the following email interview, Peevyhouse discusses what inspired and influenced this novel…beyond, of course, The Matrix.
Photo Credit: © Crystal Jones
To begin, what is Strange Exit about, and when and where is it set?
Strange Exit is set a few decades after nuclear apocalypse, on a ship orbiting Earth, where survivors live in a simulation meant to prepare them for a return to Earth’s surface. Lake is one of the few people who remember that reality waits, and she spends her days trying to wake the “sleepers” who are stuck in the sim. No one can leave the ship while anyone is still inside the sim — and the ship is breaking down. When Lake rescues Taren from the sim, he goes back in with her to help her clear everyone out. But as their grasp on reality starts to slip, and their partnership starts to fracture, they’re soon making very different decisions about who to save — and who to sacrifice.
Where did you get the idea for Strange Exit and how did that idea evolve as you wrote it?
My first idea for the novel was about a teen girl searching a simulation for her sister, with the help of…her sister. While Strange Exit is still about Lake navigating a computer program with help from a simulated version of her young sister — and a newly-rescued boy named Taren — the story has evolved into a wider plot about Lake searching for all of the “sleepers” who are lost in the sim. She knows her sister didn’t survive the nuclear apocalypse, and so patrolling the sim is the only way Lake can be with Willow, even while she knows Willow isn’t real. Which means there’s a huge risk that Lake will succumb to the sim and decide she’d rather be with her “sister” than leave for a reality where her sister no longer exists.
Strange Exit sounds like it’s a dystopian cyberpunk sci-fi novel. Is that how you’d describe it, or are there other genres at work in this story as well?
I’d describe it as a post-apocalyptic novel. Lake and the other teens who are caught in the simulation are some of the only survivors of nuclear winter, and their longing for the world they’ve lost is what keeps them trapped in the sim. This is their last chance to say goodbye to the people and neighborhoods and landmarks and natural wonders they’ve known and loved and which no longer exist in the real world. It’s a story about what happens right after disaster and right before rebuilding, when you can still use the last vestiges of technology just before it all finishes breaking down for good.
It’s also been designated a “young adult” novel by the Ancient Order Of They Who Decide Where In Barnes & Noble To Place Things. But do you think an older adult — say, one who’s going to be 52 next week — do you think he’d enjoy it as well?
52 is the perfect age for reading Y.A. novels set in ever-shifting simulations.
Actually, my publisher and I are making an effort to market Strange Exit to adults as well as teens. If Ready Player One is adult and not Y.A., then Strange Exit can easily sit on either shelf.
Strange Exit is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Strange Exit but not on anything else you’ve written?
I had a unique experience while writing this book: I attended a workshop (Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop) with about a dozen other writers, where we talked about the science behind space travel and other types of technology. The workshop guided some of my decisions about the novel, especially the complications the characters run into when they discover what’s at the heart of the simulation and what’s driving the ship’s breakdown.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big impact on either what you wrote in Strange Exit or how you wrote it? Because it sounds like you’ve either seen The Matrixmovies or need to right away.
The Matrix was one of the first DVDs I ever owned! I loved all the rules and quirks that Neo had to learn about The Matrix in order to master it.
Another influence for Strange Exit was Inception, which also has a lot of great rules (more rules than plot, really!). My editor insisted that I develop clear rules for the simulation in Strange Exit, and as a result, the most interesting plot points revolve around characters figuring out how to manipulate those rules.
But most teens who read Strange Exit will probably be reminded of the TV show The 100, which is also set after a nuclear apocalypse and includes a season in which some of the characters go into a simulation.
Now, as you know, some sci-fi novels are stand-alone stories, while others are part of larger sagas. What is Strange Exit?
It’s a stand-alone. Since the premise is that the simulation breaks down over the course of the story, the setting would be pretty hard to revisit after the novel ends.
Well, unless you stole that bit from Rick & Morty about it being a simulation…in a simulation. Speaking of which, earlier I asked if Strange Exit had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. Has there been any interest in adapting Strange Exit into a movie, show, or game? Or an episode of Rick & Morty?
There are so many corners of the simulation to explore, and so many ways the program can be manipulated — I’d love to see Strange Exit made into a TV show. Different episodes could focus on separate factions building strongholds in the sections of the sim they’ve carved out for themselves. It’d be so cool to see this setting played with over and over again until its inevitable disintegration.
And if that happened, who would you want them to cast in the main roles?
I think Anya Taylor-Joy [Glass] would be great in the role of Lake.
Finally, if someone enjoys Strange Exit, what similarly cyberpunk-ish sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff is fast-paced, plays with some really fun tech, and blurs the line between real and not-quite-real. Plus, it has battle-bots, memory implants, and megacities.