by Adam L. Gruen
I wrote vCity 1.0 from December 1994 through August 1995.
This was a very fertile period for the development of the Virtual Reality
Modeling Language (VRML), a process with which I was familiar but one in which
I did not materially participate in any way. Ditto on U.S. legislation
attempting to restrict content on the Internet.
At times during this writing period I came close to
despair; it seemed that every time I finished a chapter containing some
(self-defined) fantastic innovative idea or issue, I would see a headline on it
the following week. I now know what it feels like to be second in line at the
patent office. Anyway, my despair was largely related to the creeping feeling
that by the time this novel did get published, my ideas would not only be
considered old hat, but also a cheap rip-off. Or, as the alien once summarized
in Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, "Big Deal. So
What?" There is no greater terror for a writer than to be perceived as a hack.
With the possible exception of waking up one morning and self-perceiving
It's very hard to parody modern culture before it turns
around and embraces you in its iron-hard marketing death grip. I chose the
vCity 1.0 title back in January 1995 for two reasons. First,
because English-speaking marketing departments throughout the world seem to
have gone bonzo about capitalization. Second, because nothing ever seems quite
finished any more, to the point that corporations (and, regrettably,
individuals and legislatures) now routinely release crap knowing that they will
have to fix it later.
It's parody, people. P-A-R-O-D-Y.
Unfortunately, I think this will probably disappear in the
mists of time, and it will not be long before publishers take to labeling
editions of textbooks, cookbooks, and works of fiction with the despised
N.N format. Is this a brand marketing thang, or have we just
reached a state of such an appalling lack of imagination that we cannot come up
with new names for works of literature and art?
THE NARRATIVE AND ITS PECULIAR HOBBY-HORSE GAIT:
vCity 1.0 is a story about a twenty-day
period in the life of a virtual city simulation set in the year 2002 A.D. But
it is also the history of that simulation told from the point of view of 2002
A.D. looking backwards towards 1997, when the simulation was first brought
on-line. In sum, this novel has a lot in common with others of a similar genre
including Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards, 2001 to 1887, B. F. Skinner's
Walden II, and Ernst Callenbach's Ecotopia. Namely, the reader might not know
what the heck is going on.
Ostensibly, the story is about a crisis that erupts when
someone places virtual reality pornography in the vCity. In fact, this is a
book about why vCities should exist, not merely how.
So in the course of writing this novel, I found myself
trying to swim a race and pull my trunks on at the same time. Of course it's
fun to stick to merely a straight narrative, and dog-paddle through two hours
of mindless entertainment. But I felt (perhaps wrongly) that I could not merely
throw the reader into the middle of the pool ala Stephenson's Snowcrash.
Instead, I decided to mix the narrative with more thematic chapters describing
how the vCity worked and why it looked the way it did.
You may not like the results: the novel does have a
narrative flow, but it is stop-and-go, a bit like driving in rush-hour
It may be that years from now, readers coming back to
vCity 1.0 will marvel at its stupidity, explaining such things
as PC mode, HMDs, downloads, kiosks, scapps, and steamrolls. All I can say is:
forgive him. The man who wrote this novel was trapped in the amber of his
STRICTLY NARRATIVE APPROACH?
In the old days, "pacing" was almighty, writing was
sequential, peeking ahead to the end "ruined" the novel, and in general, you
went where the author wanted you to go and that was that, because basically
authorship was dictatorship. But now, after the Glorious Revolution, things are
more democratic. Just because I wrote this novel in order doesn't mean you have
to read it that way.
So if you want to follow the main narrative and skip the
rest, like a bloodhound with its nose to the ground sniffing out a trail, then
you would do best to read the following chapters in this order: 2, 4, 7, 11,
15, 17-20, 24, 26-33.
Then go back and read the other chapters at your leisure.
Or do whatever you want, actually. But remember: with freedom to choose, comes
responsibility to choose wisely. When you learn that lesson, you become an