McClelland’s ambitious debut novel envisions a future in which the vanishing line between virtual reality and “organic life” causes an antisocial genius to conduct the ultimate evolutionary experiment.
In the mid-21st century, Raymond Quan is an expert hacker, the creator of virtual “v-worlds” and a member of the controversial, corporate-sponsored Human Mind Upload Project in Ann Arbor, Mich. He falls unexpectedly for a co-worker, Anya Cordovil, and works up the courage to ask her on a virtual date. He offers to teach her yoga, and the couple poses together in the same tropical v-world—but from their separate v-chambers. Indeed, Raymond is so removed from “pre-virtual civilization” that he recalls the 1984 film The Karate Kid as “some old, 2-D movie.” Later, Raymond refers to A Midsummer Night’s Dream virtual mini-adventure and assumes that Shakespeare “was some sort of flowery-but-clever soft-porn script writer.” When Anya asks Raymond on a real date, it terrifies him but leads to his first real kiss. Soon Raymond’s shady hacker past catches up to him—in the form of detectives and FBI agents—and he decides to escape “reality prime” by illegally uploading his consciousness into Nurania, “a world of his own dark, mischievous inspirations, turned inside out.” Things don’t go as Raymond expects, as it turns out that his paradise has been programmed for destruction. Disembodied and tossed from avatar to avatar, Raymond tries desperately to get back to reality. Author McClelland clearly relishes the surreal universe he’s invented, just as Raymond “savors the primitive richness of his organic life” and creates new personae and worlds with aplomb. The author has a particular gift for describing the technological advances, brand names, pop-cultural references and unique detritus of a society dependent on machines for survival and ravaged by virtual-reality addiction. Although the writing style can occasionally be a bit bland, McClelland’s slick imagination remains in full gear until the novel’s unpredictable conclusion.
A thoughtful tale resembling a sci-fi video game viewed in a funhouse mirror.