New York XTV scriptwriter Alex Munn staggers drunk through most of his life, having written the first few episodes of a new soap, Real Life, destined to be the first virtual reality broadcast. In his spare time he's created another virtual reality, Munn's World, too gritty and authentic to interest XTV, set in 1850s New York, where participants track down a serial killer known as the Fishman--he slashes his victims as though he's gutting a fish. Neither can Alex handle separation from his beloved wife, actress Larissa. Worst of all, a gang of Asians toting automatics and carpet-cutters are trying to kill him! Then he stumbles into Larissa's apartment and finds her dead--tied up and mutilated as if by the Fishman. Alex's alibi is weird poet Kaye Santangelo, with whom he danced naked on an East River barge before descending into an alcoholic blackout. After being jailed, nearly murdered again, then dramatically escaping, Alex approaches his XTV buddy, computer whiz Zeng, who helped set up Munn's World--only to find Zeng slaughtered, Fishman-style. Someone else clearly has access to Munn's World, but why the elaborate and gruesome frame-up? Kaye discovers the explosive truth in the first episode of Real Life- -which Alex can't even remember having written. Grimly effective New York scenes--both old and new--blend with convincingly extrapolated virtual realities in Foy's (this is his sixth outing) tautly plotted, highly colored cyber-thriller. Still, there are drawbacks: It's overlong and overweight, and the present- tense narrative, no matter how fashionable, doesn't help.