Of all the “sci-fi-come-true” ideas to emerge from computer research, one of the most intriguing is virtual reality (VR). Here’s a look at the progress to date of this high-tech grail quest. Virtual reality is the term (coined in 1989) for a computer-generated “world” with which the user can interact as if he were actually part of it, ideally with no awareness that the experiences are all created by the machine. Entertainment and education (to mention only the most obvious areas) would be utterly transformed by its full implementation. Perhaps not surprisingly, the original impetus for developing such a system came from the military, with flight simulators for high-performance jets. Moody (I Sing the Body Electronic: A Year with Microsoft on the Multimedia Frontier, 1995) focuses primarily on the University of Washington’s HIT lab, which he describes as “the world’s leading VR research center,” and its director Thomas A. Furness III. Furness got his start designing fighter plane cockpits during the Vietnam War. He left the air force and moved to Seattle in 1988, where he began assembling a team of young computer hotshots to find civilian applications for his ideas. Some of the wild-eyed hackers of those early days were eccentric even by Seattle standards, and their primary loyalties were often not to HIT but to their own visions. Furness’s management style did little to keep them in line: “Tom loved to burn out competent people,” said one of his former protÇgÇs years later. Despite this, there was continual progress toward the dream. Much of the early research was aimed at developing the VRD—a device to project computer images directly onto the retina, rather than force the user to wear an unwieldy helmet or goggles. Moody gives the reader a detailed, often highly amusing account of how far VR has come, and a hint of where it is likely to go. An eminently readable account of life on the cutting edge of cyberspace.