Augmented Reality in Fiction

We’re talking about augmented reality games in class this week. We’re also going to be discussing Ender’s Game soon, which is a novel that explores themes relevant to this class. In that spirit, here are four novels from the last decade that feature augmented reality as themes or important plot features.

The first is William Gibson’s Spook Country, which features augmented reality in the form of locative art. These are art installments, tied to a place by GPS technology, that require a virtual reality rig to access. In the novel, the installments are about augmenting the experience of visiting a given space.

Spook Country is a great novel, but it isn’t about games. The next three are.

Rainbows End Cover

Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End is about games and education. The protagonist is Robert Gu, who at the start of the novel has been cured of Alzheimer’s disease. He has to relearn a lot and to learn many new things including wearable computing and augmented reality interfaces. His granddaughter is well-versed in these technologies and uses them for school and play. Their different takes on the same technology are interesting in terms of what we’ve been discussing in class. Another compelling idea in the novel is the idea of belief circles, which are competing virtual realities.

Daniel Suarez’s Daemon and its sequel, Freedom(tm), are techno thrillers dealing with network security. The second novel in particular is relevant to our interests, as it’s about a shadow U.S. economy that takes the form of a Massively Multiplayer game. People earn reputation in the system, which translates into power. They access the system using wearable computing. It’s life itself as an augmented reality game.

Rainbows End is a novel that takes place in the future, but both Suarez’s novels and Spook Country take place in the present. It’s fascinating to watch the interplay between how available technology plays out in fiction and how fiction influences technology.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Craig Belpedio
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 10:48:33

    I love William Gibson. Even though Spook Country is not about video games, it’s a very good example of what augmented reality can do.

    If you want an interesting take on VIRTUAL reality check out his Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive). They have a “matrix” (basically like the internet but in VR form) that they plug into via electrodes on a pad attached to the forehead, projecting their consciousness into the matrix.

    Not only that, but those books are awesome, especially Neuromancer (basically started the cyberpunk movement). I highly recommend them.


    • Candra G.
      Feb 17, 2011 @ 11:26:29

      I am also a huge Gibson fan, Craig. The Sprawl novels were a hallmark of my high school years.

      candra getting her book signed by william gibson

      My inner sixteen-year-old was over the moon when this photo was taken (that’s my copy of Spook Country he’s signing).


      • Craig Belpedio
        Feb 17, 2011 @ 11:29:31

        I hope you know how insanely jealous I am at this very moment.

        THAT IS SO COOL!

  2. Anthony
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 12:39:30

    I’m sure as Gibson fans you’ve probably heard of Neal Stephenson, too.

    He has a great book called “The Diamond Age; Or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” in which a girl (an orphan, if I remember) comes into possession of a primer, a nanotech based device (a superfancy laptop) which teaches her about the world as she experiences it – very much a “just-in-time” view of learning.

    He also has another book, “Snow Crash,” in which there are people known as “gargoyles” who wear augmented reality gear (goggles with lots of cameras, and a backpack with a powerful computer for recording, analyzing data, etc.).


    • Candra G.
      Feb 17, 2011 @ 12:53:33

      Yes! I plan to talk about Stephenson, especially Snow Crash, when we get to Second Life in class. And The Diamond Age should have its own post in a blog about video games and learning.


  3. barryfishman
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 18:14:34

    I’d like to weigh in with my (current) favorite sci-fi author – Cory Doctorow. His books range across many themes, but usually take place in a just-slightly-in-the-future version of our own society where people use all kinds of augmented reality tools to monitor and manipulate the world around them. A great place to start is with “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.” Oh, and Cory makes all of his books available for free under a Creative Commons license! You can find Down and Out here:
    Cory is also the editor of Boing Boing, the great meme-setting blog, and a sought-after thinker on the topic of copyright.


    • Candra G.
      Feb 20, 2011 @ 18:22:00

      I recommend Doctorow’s Little Brother. Gotta love the secure network the characters create with their X-Boxes.


  4. Maria Kramer
    Feb 22, 2011 @ 17:53:40

    Hey, I just heard about a book that’s coming out soon that looks to both fit into this discussion and segue nicely into our eventual exploration of Second Life. It’s called Ready Player One. Here’s the description:

    “Reportedly bought for something like $500,000 and already slated for filming, this novel from Fanboys screenwriter Cline features a geeky kid named Wade Watts who gets caught up in a worldwide virtual utopia called Oasis. There he finds himself on a virtual treasure hunt for a very real treasure. Described by as a blend of Avatar, The Matrix, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, this book promises to be really, really big.”

    It’s not yet in stores or libraries, but keep a weather eye out — this might be very interesting to read, once you know all there is to know about games and learning. 😉


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