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Virtual Sci-Fi

Everyone here knows this, I hope: Mark Zuckerberg did not invent the Metaverse. He invented a neat way for Harvard nerds to meet co-eds online.

The term metaverse was first coined in 1992 by the American science fiction writer, Neal Stephenson, in his engrossing novel Snow Crash. Stephenson’s virtual world is populated by weird characters, including the most literally named protagonist ever. Hiro Protagonist lives in the metaverse, but in RL he’s a pizza delivery guy for the mafia. Of course.

Snow Crash, and several other Stephenson novels, are considered works within the cyberpunk sub-genre of sci-fi. That sub-genre and the essential idea of a VR universe in which an entire story unfolds were first introduced in 1981 by a mathematics professor and sometimes sci-fi author named Vernor Vinge. Vinge’s novelette, True Names, was probably the first cyberpunk story. His VR universe is called The Other Plane, and it is populated by warlock hackers for whom the most serious mistake is accidentally revealing their true names and possibly suffering true death as a result. His protagonist has a slightly less obvious nom de plume, Mr. Slippery.

Stephenson and Vinge are both youngsters compared to the original masters of the golden age of sci-fi, and there were stories even back then featuring VR settings. Way back in 1950, Ray Bradbury published the scariest sci-fi story I’ve ever read, about a VR room used as a convenient babysitter for the kids. This is such an excellent example of sci-fi where speculative science is an essential element (this was a year before the first commercial digital computer, UNIVAC, was unveiled!), but it isn’t about the science at all. Please follow the link below and read this absolutely terrifying short story, The World the Children Made, which was later re-titled The Veldt.

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