Author Rhett Evans: What Would a Virtual Reality Future Really Look Like?

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What would a virtual reality future look like? Our guest, author Rhett Evans, gives us his take below! Don’t forget to check out his new book, The Echo Chamber, where a Silicon Valley heist sets off a dystopian chain reaction!

Good science fiction has to take readers to dazzling places, but there’s a trick. The setting also has to feel authentic. It’s not enough to describe your lightspeed engine with extraordinary details taken straight from a science journal. Readers innately want to connect with the humanity of your characters through a sense of familiar themes and struggles.

That’s something that Ready Player One got right. Readers of Ernest Cline’s book were dropped into a future where the economy is in shambles and humanity seeks escapism in the virtual world of the Oasis. That future wasn’t particularly well built out or explained in rich detail, but it certainly felt plausible enough

I’ve worked in Silicon Valley for several years at a big tech company, and I always wanted to push this idea of virtual escapism a bit further. The Oasis in Cline’s novel is certainly a wonderland. It’s full of beautiful landscapes and varied creatures and games. But today--right now---humanity has technology to escape into and disappear for hours. Social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapcat. Wouldn’t the future virtual world presumably look more like them?

Every minute you spend on a platform like Facebook is tracked, aggregated and evaluated by machine learning. Elaborate software is designed to examine your click and use it to look for opportunities to enhance your experience. You liked a video featuring cute cats today? Great. Now we’ll serve you three more of them tomorrow.

The aim of these platforms is addiction. These companies’ entire business models are built around getting you to visit more often and for longer periods of time. 

So with my book, The Echo Chamber, I wanted to craft a dystopian world that felt more familiar. The virtual world that everyone escapes to in this book isn’t necessarily full of 80s spacecraft and sweeping fantasy worlds. Instead, it’s a places where users can choose to live surrounded by all the news and immersive videos that reinforce their existing worldviews. They can lose themselves in whatever interests that suit them: video game streams, political punditry, even just three-dimensional cat videos, all reinforced by an AI designed to keep them content and clicking.

Because that’s the kind of tech and social media Silicon Valley is best at building. They build tools that supposedly connect their users but actually end up de-socializing them. They sit in separate rooms and stare at feeds on their phones that are tuned perfectly to their personal preferences, hopes and biases. 

These apps don’t challenge us. They don’t make us think bigger—at least, not much bigger. If these platforms did, they would lose those clicks they covet and we’d all go outside more. 

Facebook and other social media platforms have given us the ability to un-diversify ourselves. They create digital realities where it’s easier to connect with people from across the country who share our worldview than the people sitting next to us. And in my novel, I wanted to explore a future where social media is virtual—where Silicon Valley could create a perfect echo chamber that tickled all our senses.

It would be addicting. It would be wondrous. It would be destructive. 

The best science fiction authors always root their dystopias in familiar contexts. The backdrops often feel they were ripped from today’s headlines. Sure, an author can wipe out half of humanity with some horrible virus to set up the world building in their story. But where’s the fun in that?

I tried to do the same with the virtual news and social media worlds of The Echo Chamber. Along the way, I also got to research the structure of the brain for this book and the location of the world’s most powerful satellites. I even relied on my coding chops to build a 16-bit retro video game that ties into the book at https://theechochambergame.com. It’s all been a lot of fun to write and code, and if you’re looking for a new sci-fi this summer with a bit of real-world inspiration behind it, check it out.

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Rhett Evans is a proud millennial and former U.S. Army infantry officer. He now works in the tech industry but divides his time shoveling dirt and taking care of animals at a half acre homestead in northern California where he lives with his wife and three kids. You can check out this new book, The Echo Chamber, on Amazon or follow him on Twitter.

Review: Gwenda Bond's 'Lois Lane: Fallout'

I'll come out with it. Lois Lane and I? I don't know. We never really saw eye to eye when I was growing up. I'm not sure what it was, though part of it may have been that I was obsessed with the darker side of life, and the whole Superman scene was not my bag. But when I saw this book by Gwenda Bond, I knew I had to try it out. First of all, it's a YA novel, which I find I really enjoy reading these days. And part of the premise is that Lois is a bit of a troublemaker instigator, and, well...if you know me, you'll know that's right up my alley!

From the get-go, teenage Lois Lane proves to be a sympathetic character. She's starting in a new school, and is determined to make a fresh start with no more trouble. It seems her permanent record is large enough to have formed it's own gravity well, but not for reasons one might think. It turns out that Lois is a fighter for justice who stands up for victims of bullying and abuse. Because of this...well, she has a tendency to get into trouble. 

Lois's voice pulled me right into the story from page one. All the major characters, in fact are three dimensional and have definite personalities of their own. Bond has mastered the art of having secondary character arcs in a first person point of view novel. Readers get to see aspects of all Lois's new allies, things that make them individuals and make the reader care about them. Even Lois's parents are portrayed in a way that makes them fully-fleshed characters. One criticism I have of some YA books is that they make adults out to be cardboard characters who just don't understand anything. Lois's parents may get in the way of Lois's goals sometimes, but we can see it's because they come from a place of caring. Even from within Lois's head, by their actions and gestures, we can sympathize with them even when Lois doesn't. Perry White, Principal Butler, and Ronda from the principal's office all have their own quirks and personalities.

The plot line of Lois Lane: Fallout is timely and relevant, and right up this geek girl's alley. Fallout deals with bullying, both in person and online, against the backdrop of online gaming and virtual reality. I felt that Bond really "got" the teen gaming culture, as well as the way people talk via internet chat. She captured the insecurities of trying to form a relationship via chat really well (something I remember well from back in my MUD days), the difficulties in judging if someone was being sarcastic or not or if their feelings were hurt. Unlike some YA and other books with a somewhat romantic subplot, Bond didn't go overboard with the insecurities, though. There was just enough to make it seem real, but not enough to make it agonizing or eyeroll worthy. Never once did I think, "Oh for Pete's sake, just shut up," which is what I often say in the midst of teen melodrama gone too far. A lot of authors don't get that teen romance is just like other romance, only perhaps a bit less mature. And when they make it seem ridiculous, even the teens think it's over the top. There is none of that here. SmallvilleGuy really cares about Lois--but most importantly, while he helps her, he never "rescues" her. He lets Lois be strong.

All in all, Lois Lane is a kick ass teen character who has a compelling voice and the personality of someone you'd want to spend way more than just one book with. The book itself was a fun, fast read--I read it in about 4 hours on a plane, and was possibly the most fun thing I've read in months. Adults and teens will enjoy this fresh take on a character I thought had gone stale--until now!

Don't miss Gwenda Bond chatting with our podcast host, Anton Strout, on episode 125 of the Once and Future Podcast!

About Lois Lane: Fallout:

Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. Lois has lived all over and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Keep out of trouble. As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won't be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They're messing with her mind somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it's all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, someone she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy.

About Gwenda Bond:

Gwenda Bond is the author of the young adult novels Girl on a Wire, Blackwood, and The Woken Gods. She has also written for Publishers Weekly and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications, and just might have been inspired to get a journalism degree by her childhood love of Lois Lane. She has an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe, and their menagerie. Visit her online at gwendabond.com or @gwenda on Twitter.

Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy and science fiction stories where heroes don’t always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her work has been published in several magazines, and she was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. Melanie is also a freelance author publicist and publicity/marketing coordinator for both Ragnarok Publications and Mechanical Muse, an independent gaming company. She blogs regularly for GeekMom and The Once and Future Podcast. Her short story “A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis, available now on Amazon. She is the co-editor of Hath No Fury, an anthology celebrating women in speculative fiction, which is currently on Kickstarter and includes stories from Seanan McGuire, Carol Berg, Elaine Cunningham, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Philippa Ballantine, Anton Strout, and more. Follow Melanie on Facebook and on Twitter as @MelanieRMeadors.