• Peter Clarke

Why I Wrote The Singularity Survival Guide

Updated: Apr 25, 2019

The idea for "The Singularity Survival Guide" came to me after months of binging on futurist and tech-related podcasts. I was also reading a lot of Philip K. Dick at the time--one of the few sci-fi writers I've ever really gotten into. It seemed like an obvious idea and I couldn't believe no one had written this sort of thing before. So, why shouldn't I write it?

I'm not any special expert on the singularity, but I did feel vaguely qualified, considering: I've consumed material from all the experts; I've worked in Silicon Valley for several years and am close to that whole tech-as-religion world; and also I've played at least a small role in educating the masses about tech-related issues as the legal tech editor for FindLaw.

Finally, I was obsessed with the idea of the singularity. Not just as an existential threat, but as an obvious next step for intelligent life. All technicalities aside, it just seems natural that humans will spawn a new life form through technology. Even if there's no scientific certainty to this, there definitely is poetic certainty. All big-picture narratives of our culture are pointing in this direction. The more I learned about the technical details of how the singularity might come about, the more obsessed I became.

But, qualified or not, I realized very quickly that this idea of a "survival guide" was not going to be easy to bring to life. My first attempts were utter failures. I'd get a few paragraphs in and then have to stop and do research. By the time I came back to finish the thought, I'd be mortified by how dull and technical the writing sounded. I eventually had to set the project aside. It wasn't going anywhere. But I kept coming back to it every few weeks or months. I'd open the file, skim through my various false starts, feel repulsed, and start again from scratch. The false starts just kept piling up. Finally I had to admit that I'd been defeated. I just wasn't the person to usher "The Singularity Survival Guide" into the world.

A few more months passed and it was still on my mind. It struck me that I had been taking the topic too seriously, too literally. Why not make it a work of fiction, or at least quasi-fiction? Why not add characters, a backstory, a plot? I started taking notes and the ideas just kept coming. The final piece of inspiration I needed was the book "The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival & Manners" by JP Donleavy. It's a sort of humorous guide for social climbing, with chapter titles like: “Ass Kissing and Other Types of Flattery,” “Associating with the Bootless and Unhorsed,” “Upon Nude Encounters with Servants,” and “Upon Being Puzzled by the Meaning of Life.” It turned out to be the perfect blueprint for putting a structure to "The Singularity Survival Guide."

From that point, the book practically wrote itself. I sketched out a basic outline for the book and then just started writing. I wrote mostly by hand as I rode the train through Silicon Valley to work and back (commuting from Oakland to Sunnyvale). At night, I'd transcribe everything from my notebook and start on new chapters before bed. Unbelievably, in about three weeks the entire first draft of the manuscript was complete.

The book may not be what you’d expect. Its premise is pure fiction and its “advice” is either comically practical or over-the-top absurd. But it is exactly what I wished that it would be, from the moment I was struck by the thought: “This seems like an obvious book idea. So, why shouldn't I write it?”

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