Fiction, by default, creates its own world for readers to explore. In Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour book store, the characters create worlds both physical and virtual, crafting miniature landscapes with simple materials and mapping the real world into computer generated vistas. It’s easy to create worlds outside of the page, and there are many worlds under construction just waiting for new architects to make their vision into reality. Here are a few portals into those brave new worlds.
Online – Second Life
Second Life is an online virtual world launched on June 23, 2003. A number of free client programs, or Viewers, enable Second Life users, to interact with each other through avatars (Also called Residents). Residents can explore the world (known as the grid), meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another. Second Life is intended for people aged 16 and over.
Built into the software is a three-dimensional modeling tool based on simple geometric shapes that allows residents to build virtual objects. There is also a procedural scripting language, Linden Scripting Language, which can be used to add interactivity to objects. Sculpted prims (sculpties), mesh, textures for clothing or other objects, animations, and gestures can be created using external software and imported. The Second Life Terms of Service provide that users retain copyright for any content they create, and the server and client provide simple digital rights management functions.
Computer Games – Minecraft
Minecraft is a sandbox game.
The creative and building aspects of Minecraft allow players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally generated world. Other activities in the game include exploration, gathering resources, crafting and combat. Gameplay in its commercial release has two principal modes: survival, which requires players to acquire resources and maintain their health and hunger; and creative, where players have an unlimited supply of resources, the ability to fly, and no health or hunger. A third gameplay mode named hardcore is the same as survival, differing only in difficulty; it is set to hardest setting and respawning is disabled, forcing players to delete their worlds upon death.
James Munroe – Everyone in Silico
In Vancouver in 2036, people are tired of the rain. They’re willing to give up a lot for guaranteed sunshine, a life with no wasted hours. A life free of crime and disease. A life that ends when you want it to, not when some faceless entity decides it’s your time. Those who don’t buy in — the poor, the old, the paranoid — have to watch as their loved ones, their friends, and their jobs leave the city. They have to watch as the latest prestige technology, Self, changes everything — not just the world but humanity itself. On the bright side, the rents have dropped. And in several unexpected ways, resistance is growing. This fascinating work of fiction tells what can happen when the cyberworld becomes more important than the real world.
Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash
This novel depicts a twenty-first-century America that has turned into the classic urban jungle, with most people plugged into “virtual reality” simulations. A computer virus threatens the electronics, and a new drug called Snow Crash threatens human health. A maverick hacker calling himself Hiro Protagonist winds up with the job of fighting both. The book will not seem all that significant to those familiar with the last 10 years or so of cyberpunk and its relatives, but it does come across well as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek exploration of similar territory by a writer new to sf but basically gifted who’s assimilated a good many of the developments in virtual-reality technology since the early 1980s. (From Booklist: Reviewed Apr. 1, 1992) — Roland Green
The Matrix depicts a dystopian future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality or cyberspace called “the Matrix”, created by sentient machines to pacify and subdue the human population, while their bodies’ heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. Computer programmer “Neo” learns this truth and is drawn into a rebellion against the machines, which involves other people who have been freed from the “dream world”.
When Flynn (Jeff Bridges) hacks the mainframe of his ex-employer to prove his work was stolen by another executive, he finds himself on a much bigger adventure. Beamed inside by a power-hungry master control program, he joins computer gladiators on a deadly game grid, complete with high-velocity “light cycles” and Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), a specialized security program. Together, they fight the ultimate battle with the MCP to decide the fate of both the electronic world and the real world!