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Avatars in the Metaverse: Virtual Reality

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virtual realitySometimes Virtual Reality is a playground, sometimes a serious simulation environment, sometimes a drug-like escape, and sometimes it’s frighteningly indistinguishable from actual reality.

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Neal Stephenson. Reamde.

In 1972, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa farming clan, fled to the mountains of British Columbia to avoid the draft. A skilled hunting guide, he eventually amassed a fortune by smuggling marijuana across the border between Canada and Idaho. As the years passed, Richard went straight and returned to the States after the U.S. government granted amnesty to draft dodgers. He parlayed his wealth into an empire and developed a remote resort in which he lives. He also created T’Rain, a multibillion-dollar, massively multiplayer online role-playing game with millions of fans around the world. But T’Rain’s success has also made it a target. Hackers have struck gold by unleashing REAMDE, a virus that encrypts all of a player’s electronic files and holds them for ransom. They have also unwittingly triggered a deadly war beyond the boundaries of the game’s virtual universe, and Richard is at ground zero. Racing around the globe from the Pacific Northwest to China to the wilds of northern Idaho and points in between, Reamde is a swift-paced thriller that traverses worlds virtual and real. Filled with unexpected twists and turns in which unforgettable villains and unlikely heroes face off in a battle for survival, it is a brilliant refraction of the twenty-first century, from the global war on terror to social media, computer hackers to mobsters, entrepreneurs to religious fundamentalists. Above all, Reamde is an enthralling human story, an entertaining and epic page-turner from the extraordinary Neal Stephenson.

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JD Robb. Fantasy in Death.

Bart Minnock, founder of the computer- gaming giant U-Play, enters his private playroom, and eagerly can’t wait to lose himself in an imaginary world, to play the role of a sword-wielding warrior king, in his company’s latest top-secret project, Fantastical. The next morning, he is found in the same locked room, in a pool of blood, his head separated from his body. It is the most puzzling case Eve Dallas has ever faced, and it is not a game. . . .  NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas is having as much trouble figuring out how Bart Minnock was murdered as who did the murdering. The victim’s girlfriend seems sincerely grief-stricken, and his quirky-but-brilliant partners at U-Play appear equally shocked. No one seemed to have a prob­lem with the enthusiastic, high-spirited millionaire. Of course, success can attract jealousy, and gaming, like any business, has its fierce rivalries and dirty tricks-as Eve’s husband, Roarke, one of U- Play’s competitors, knows well. But Minnock was not naive, and quite capable of fighting back in the real world as well as the virtual one. Eve and her team are about to enter the next level of police work, in a world where fantasy is the ultimate seduction-and the price of defeat is death. . . .

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Ben Bova. Death Dream.

It’s the ultimate adult playground. Cyber World will use the latest technology in computer-produced virtual reality to provide thrills and chills beyond any ever experienced at a theme park. Here children of all ages will live out their wildest fantasies: fly jet fighters in combat, take part in a gunfight at the OK Corral, play in the World Series, or take a walk on the moon or a trip inside the human body. Way beyond video games or rides, Cyber World’s simulations are indistinguishable from reality and have a pulse-pounding, often terrifying, immediacy. Dan Santorini has been hired by ParaReality, Inc., the Florida-based high-tech firm behind the project, to make sure that Cyber World opens on schedule. But violence shadows the project from the very beginning. First Dan’s young daughter, Angela, begins to see disturbingly sexual images in the VR programs used at the company-supported school. Then Dan learns that an Air Force pilot has suddenly died while using one of the flight simulators. As the line between fantasy and reality grows razor-thin, only one thing is clear: Something is terribly wrong behind the scenes at ParaReality, and Dan and his family may be the next victims. Now he is thrust into a real-life game in which the stakes are life and death and everyone is a suspect: Kyle Muncrief, the company’s hard-driving CEO who wants the park opened at any cost and who harbors an obsession too dark to name…Jason Lowrey, an eccentric programming genius whose single-minded passion for his work could lead him to betray anything or anyone, even his best friend…Victoria Kessel, Kyle’s right-hand woman who has found in power the ultimate aphrodisiac…and the Inquisitor, a mysterious, sadistic collector of secrets who represents a powerful and shadowy consortium with a common interest: to shut down Cyber World before it opens. All too soon Dan realizes that he and his family are caught in a terrifying trap – a trap in which their worst dreams can all too literally come true and the only way to wake up from the nightmare…is dead.

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Pat Cadigan. Tea From an Empty Cup.

Yuki, a lost soul in a sprawling urban jungle, loses her lover in the seamy underground of chic cybersex clubs and kinky designer dreams, and Konstantin, a hardened cop, is called to the scene of a mysterious death: a young punk in a locked Artificial Reality booth, his throat slashed without any signs of a struggle. There have been other such deaths while in AR, and rumors of a new level in the game where those deaths occurred. To discover the truth behind a spreading web of lies and darkness, Yuki and Konstantin must make harrowing journeys into the dark heart of cyberspace – to an apocalyptic artificial world where virtual violence can be as deadly as the real thing and ancient Asian gods conspire to bring a nightmarish new reality to life.

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Ernest Cline. Ready Player One.

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed. It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them. For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig. And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. A world at stake. A quest for the ultimate prize. Are you ready?

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Jeff Noon. Vurt.

Vurt is a feather – a drug, a dimension, a dream state, a virtual reality. It comes in many colors: legal Blues for lullaby dreams. Blacks, filled with tenderness and pain, just beyond the law. Pink Pornovurts, doorways to bliss. Silver feathers for techies who know how to remix colors and open new dimensions. And Yellows – the feathers from which there is no escape. The beautiful young Desdemona is trapped in Curious Yellow, the ultimate Metavurt, a feather few have ever seen and fewer still have dared ingest. Her brother Scribble will risk everything to rescue his beloved sister. Helped by his gang, the Stash Riders, hindered by shadowcops, robos, rock and roll dogmen, and his own dread, Scribble searches along the edges of civilization for a feather that, if it exists at all, must be bought with the one thing no sane person would willingly give.

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Rod Rees. Demi-Monde: Winter.

The Demi-Monde, a computer-simulated military training world populated by some of history’s cruelest sadists and tyrants, begins bleeding into the real world when the U.S. President’s daughter becomes trapped inside and enlists the assistance of a reluctant teenager to escape.

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Rudy Rucker. The Hacker and the Ants.

Silicon Valley programmer Jerzy Rugby’s quest in life is to create a truly intelligent robot and he spends his days in his virtual office, lab, funhouse testing area for his creations. Until strange viral ants, millions of them, begin invading his computer and start spreading throughout the country via cable tv lines and making him public enemy #1.

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Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash.

In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosaNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he is a cyberwarrior.In the computer universe he is tracking down a virus that is striking hackers everywhere and threatening to bring about infocalypse.

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Stephen Cole.  Z.Rex.

You’re 14 and find yourself on your own. Your father, who has developed the world’s cutting edge research on virtual electronic game-playing, has been missing for weeks. And suddenly you’re being hunted by men with guns, your picture is on the news, and, worst of all, something seemingly impossible is chasing you—a savage, man-eating dinosaur. How can that be? Why is everyone trying to capture you? And what is your strange connection with this 21st-century prehistoric monster? Steve Cole has created an absurdly gripping and kid-friendly thriller that will capture imaginations. If Jurassic Park were to meet Alex Rider, the result might well be this irresistible new novel.

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J.A. Henderson. Bunker 10.

Something is going terribly wrong at the top secret Pinewood Military Installation, and the teenage geniuses who study and work there are about to discover a horrible truth as they lead a small military force trying to retrieve data and escape before the compound self-destructs.

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Ursula Poznanski. Erebos.

Sixteen-year-old Nick quickly becomes addicted to the mysterious computer game Erebos, but when the game, which can manipulate its players, sends him on a dangerous mission, the line between reality and the virtual world becomes blurry.

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Vivian Vande Velde. Heir Apparent.

While playing a total immersion virtual reality game of kings and intrigue, fourteen-year-old Giannine learns that demonstrators have damaged the equipment to which she is connected, and she must win the game quickly or be damaged herself.

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