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Imagine a world with no money, religion, or boundaries - one Peoria author did

Author James Kemper holding his new philosophical science fiction novel
Jody Holtz
Author James Kemper with his new philosophical science fiction novel.

Imagine a world where there’s no religion, no boundaries, no money, and everyone had everything they could ever want or need, thanks to artificial intelligence.

That’s the idea that Peorian James Kemper explores in his new philosophical science fiction novel, Imagine There’s No. While Kemper admitted the inspiration for writing the book stemmed from needing to take a break from another book he’s currently working on, he’s been thinking about this idea of technology for quite a while now.

“I'm a native of Delevan, Illinois, moved to Peoria to go to Bradley University…and one of the classes I took right here at Bradley… was called society and technology....It was a critique of how technology is affecting the human condition. And that was something I wrote a very large thesis paper on in the late '80s, early '90s…and really thought about ever since, and that is what this book is about,” explained Kemper.

The book takes place in 2093 in Peoria, Illinois and follows the first-person viewpoint of an old and anxious psychologist named Elliott Bourne. In this world, everything anyone could ever want, or need is provided by an artificial intelligence platform called Joogle. When Bourne is instructed to teach 15-year-old Grace about what he believes has been erased in this new world, he begins to grapple with the same ideas people ponder today, such as God, quality, excellence, right, and wrong.

Kemper said the ideas of quality and excellence are prominent topics in the book.

“In the book, I do challenge the old way of thinking about what quality is and throw in a component that maybe quality isn't about winning, like my generation thinks,” said Kemper. “My generation seems to tie quality, excellence and winning as the same thing when they're really not. In this book, it finds a way, a thread through Grace, the main character in this book, that she finds something different in quality. Winning is separate. And that gives me hope.”

The front and back cover of Kemper's novel
Jody Holtz
The front and back cover of Kemper's novel

While the book provided Kemper with a hopeful outlook, he noted it can be read in many different ways.

“So, the title Imagine There's No, it's right from John Lennon,” said Kemper. “And in his song, you imagine, you know, if there's no heaven there, you imagine there's no boundaries, no money, all these different things. And I mix this with AI, artificial intelligence. Imagine…if artificial intelligence makes it so there's no money, makes it so you know, religions kind of dissipate. Imagine what life is like like that? Is it dystopian or is it utopian? And the book is written so you can decide,” he said.

While the book leaves much up to individual interpretation, Kemper said he believed a world like this could happen in the future when considering the similarities between how people live now and what’s depicted in the book.

“People are stuck to their…cellular telephones, the screens as people call it. You look around, and it's hard to see people looking up at leaves and things in the sky. They're stuck right there. Even when people are talking to one another, they're not looking at each other…they're stuck to their device. And I really only foresee this getting worse,” said Kemper.

Kemper noted it’s easy to write about what you know and what’s around you, which is why he chose to set the story in Peoria. Like Elliott in the book, Kemper has noticed shifts in quality and excellence around the Peoria area, too.

“I think that Peoria back in the heyday in the 1920s was this thriving, bustling city that got smashed by…Prohibition…and never quite came back. And then obviously, the big giant yellow machine came into town and helped us out. And we're, you know, going down a path, but I'm hoping that for Peoria, we find that quality,” said Kemper.

Kemper belives OSF is doing amazing things in the city, and also attributed the shift to remote work after the pandemic as a reason many of his personal friends have been moving to the area from bigger cities.

“And they make a great home here,” Kemper added. “So, you know, quality, Peoria, where it was and where it is…I don't know how to compare the two, but I can say…I have great optimism for where Peoria can be.”

The book has only been available for purchase for about a month. Kemper recently hosted a book signing at Hearth Restaurant in Peoria Heights.

“Had well over 100 people come, signed over 80 books there. We plan to have another book signing, a couple more possibly in Peoria in a month or so. Looking at Chicago and Dallas, Florida, having book signings, possibly one in LA,” Kemper said.

For those looking to keep tabs on the future book signings, Kemper recommended heading to Facebook to follow his author page.

His new book is currently available online at Amazon, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, and locally at I Know You Like a Book in Peoria Heights.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program and development director, All Things Considered host, as well as the producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.