Exogenesis: Blade Runner Meets The Benedict Option
A confession, two novels, and anchors of hope
I have a confession. Peco from Pilgrims in the Machine is my husband. We have both been writing on navigating life in the Age of the Machine, he from a spiritual and neurocognitive perspective, and I from a more educational and digital minimalism perspective. Many of you who happen to read both of our substacks, will recognize the harmony in our themes.
Many of the themes in Exogenesis were birthed out of the heart of our evening discussions on the couch over more than a decade. We were seeing the world around us changing rapidly. Devices, smart phones, and social media crept surreptiously and invasively into the daily lives of people around us. We asked ourselves, “how can we remain human in this time of upheaval? How can we withstand the force of the Machine? How can we provide a solid foundation for our children that will help them navigate through this torrent of change?”
When pondering these questions we experienced two simultaneous reactions:
a sense of helplessness in light of the overbearing, dehumanizing direction of society around us
a sense of hopefulness and conviction that we could make a difference through our daily choices as a family
“The finest dystopian novel I have read in years. A futuristic nightmare that feels all too credible. Peco Gaskovski’s novel is a worthy successor to Huxley’s Brave New World with an added ingredient missing from most dystopian novels—hope.”
—Fiorella de Maria, Author, Father Gabriel Mystery series
"An expertly crafted page-turner, full of unpredictable twists and turns, and a profound meditation on the loss of family in a world of near-total technological control. Exogenesis presents us with the costs of not living a fully relational human life. It makes the choice we face heartbreakingly clear."
The story of this novel begins with another author and another book: Michael D. O’Brien who wrote Father Elijah. This is what happened:
In the spring of 2006, my husband and I had a profound conversion experience, which saved our marriage, and set our lives on a completely different trajectory (this is a whole separate story). After attending our first church service on Ascension Day, we connected with a pastor’s wife which led to many fruitful and life-giving relationships. Soon after we decided to move away from the coastal island where we had been living to rejoin extended family on the mainland. As a parting gift this same woman pressed a book into our hands just as our moving van was leaving. She said that the story reminded her very much of our own experience, and she felt prompted to give it to us.
The book was Father Elijah, an apocalyptic tale exploring the state of the modern world by Michael D. O’Brien. The book moved us deeply, and mirrored many of our experiences in the leadup to our conversion. As soon as we finished reading it aloud to each other, I felt we should write to the author, and retained a hope to one day meet him in person to express our gratefulness for his writing.
Several years passed and nothing seemed to come of this thought, when a homeschool friend of mine invited us for a visit to Barry’s Bay. Their family had moved to this small, northern Ontario village to work at the budding Seat of Wisdom College. Michael D. O’Brien was a founding member of this classic liberal arts college and lived down the street from them.
Knowing I was a fervent reader of O’Brien’s books, my friend arranged a meeting, which is how we found ourselves sitting in his garden sharing coffee and stories. He was a most gracious living saint, living by prayer, effusing calm and solid trust in God’s mercy and grace. He offered encouragement to my husband Peco, exhorting him to pray before and throughout all his writing. I collected some dried flower seeds from his garden, sensing that something had been planted during our coming together. Years passed and my husband continued to write.
Then in late 2021, Peco presented me with Exogenesis, a novel that he had secretly been writing over several months. The hope that it contained, especially read against the dark backdrop of the oppressive pandemic restrictions2 made me burst into tears. I knew that this story must be shared.
As the novel echoes a theme common to‘s The Benedict Option, I tried contacting his agent. Nothing came of this.
I patiently progressed down the list of suitable agents. Nothing again.
Finally, I contactedwho had published Building the Benedict Option to ask for publisher guidance, and she promptly suggested Ignatius Press, the publisher of Michael D. O’Brien’s Father Elijah. This seemed a long shot as they do not generally publish fiction, certainly not dystopian sci-fi fiction, and had highly respected and established authors such as on their roster. To our great elation, Ignatius Press was very enthusiastic and eager to publish the novel, and has just officially released Exogenesis .
So the story has come full circle. Seventeen years after Father Elijah was pressed into our hands, Exogenesis incredibly appears next to it on the Ignatius Press website.
“Exogenesis is a deceptively gentle and even tender dystopia, like an iron fist in a velvet glove. Gaskovski projects likely technological and relational developments, and also shows how these developments destroy essential elements of human life. Exogenesis is a good read and a warning.”
—Ellis Potter, Author, 3 Theories of Everything
"An incredibly compelling, powerful, and timely book. This excellent and exciting thriller about the future forces the reader to consider the nature of the present and the long-term impact of our lives, actions, and assumptions today. How will historians in the future look at the present when it is the past? What future am I making?"
— Richard Shaw, Ph.D., Professor of History, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College
Exogenesis imagines a technological future where a parallel rural society has arisen beside a technologically advanced city, giving it the feel aptly described by one reviewer of Blade Runner meeting The Benedict Option. This parallel society consists of traditional religious people called “Benedites” — much like today’s Amish — who use very little technology. Instead the lives of the Benedites are anchored in family, farming, spiritual faith, and local community.
“Part 1984, part Brave New World, Peco Gaskovski's dystopia nonetheless glimmers with hope: Blade Runner meets The Benedict Option. A vivid read.”
—David Pinault, Author, Providence Blue: A Fantasy Quest
In a world dominated increasingly by technology, many of us are looking for anchors to keep us connected to reality. In Thoughts on Today’s Upheaval and Its Implications,captures this search for anchors as follows:
My impression is that people today, and especially young people, are looking above all else for solid ground; for shelter in the storm. They are looking for the real and the eternal, for that which will not melt into air. They are looking for authority they can trust, when authority has everywhere else dissolved. And they’re looking for loyalty, community, and love that does not falter.
Lyons goes on to write:
I recently visited a lovely “Benedict option” style intentional Catholic community in Maryland, where more than a hundred families have sort of centered around the school (the St. Jerome Academy) there. I was very impressed, not just with what they’ve accomplished as a community, but by the general sense of goodness, humanity, and, well, sanity, that they’ve been able to build there, including for their children. I think these kinds of communities are likely to be a real bedrock of “resistance” moving forward; especially ones that can remain integrated yet distinct from broader society, without being totally isolated. By doing so they can serve as a “parallel polis,” providing not only community and solidarity for their members, but also serving as an example for others in society that a better life is possible.
People in the community that Lyons describes might become the future “Benedites”: an intentional and separate society that has chosen to part ways with the Machine, and to build a life based on a more traditional set of values.
As a homeschool educator I am always interested in the practical, in the applicable. I thus continually ask, “so what does this look like in daily life?” Homeschooling is one way of providing fertile resistance by living and learning through more traditional values and curricula. Others like, , and , are not only homeschooling, but have drawn the line and started their lives as homesteaders.
We need essays such as those encountered on, , , , and , to inspire us and point a way through the Machine. We need a coming together of like minded people at events such as the Front Porch Republic conference this fall, where the guiding theme will be “Living as Humans in a Machine Age”.
We also need stories like Exogenesis that lay bare the choice that we face in a divided world. In the words of Wendell Berry:
“It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.”
Through our writings3 on Pilgrims in the Machine and The School of the Unconformed, and now Peco’s novel Exogenesis, you will gain glimpses of a husband and wife trying their best to point a way through the Machine for their children and others striving to find anchors of hope.
You can now buy Exogenesis right from Ignatius Press as paperback or e-book as well as pre-order for July 10th at other major outlets.
Rhymes with “intermezzo”.
Canada had some of the longest and strictest pandemic restrictions worldwide.