Sunday, February 15, 2015

Science in Fiction (#1): Etherworld by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam

Welcome to this month's Science in Fiction feature! Science in Fiction is a meme I created to showcase the wonderful aspects of science in Young Adult fiction novels. For more information and previous feature, check out the "Science in Fiction" tag!

This month, I'm featuring Etherworld by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam!

This is the sequel to Elusion, and the conclusion to the duology. The Elusion series digs into the concept of virtual reality, and the dangers and consequences related to it. 

So today, I'm going to talk about virtual reality!

Let's define it, shall we?

an artificial world that consists of images and sounds created by a computer and that is affected by the actions of a person who is experiencing it.
a realistic simulation of an environment, including three-dimensional graphics, by a computer system using interactive software and hardware.

to have the effect of concrete existence without actually having concrete existence.

Virtual reality is a difficult concept to define. In Elusion, we're dealing with an app that was created for people to relax and be on a virtual vacation. The app Elusion is highly addictive, and people start to take drugs to allow their brains to keep them in Elusion for longer periods of time, which is extremely dangerous. It's like being stuck in your own video game - except it was a paradise, so no one really wanted to leave.

The concept of virtual reality isn't entirely new in Young Adult literature. One of my favorite series, the Under the Never Sky trilogy by Veronica Rossi, includes technology that isn't quite like Elusion, but deals with a virtual world. 

Virtual reality is rapidly developing. Oculus and Google have products that are basically virtual reality apps. So, virtual reality is becoming "a thing", right? Surely it can't (and won't) be that bad? Except that, like we can see in the Elusion series, it's possible to become addicted to virtual reality. It can become confusing to tell what is real and what is not. 

Here are dangers related to virtual reality:

- Time: syncing up time in real and virtual worlds isn't all that easy. In Elusion/Etherworld, Regan often marvels at how she is in Elusion for quite some time, but returns to the real world and an hour or less has passed. I imagine this would be highly confusing.

- A world built on algorithms: think about your computer - doesn't it malfunction sometimes? You can't connect to the Internet? The computer is loading slowly? The screen glitches? The sound isn't working, randomly? All these little errors are really inconsequential (unless there is a bigger problem at hand), and go away pretty quickly. But imagine placing yourself into a WORLD, built on technology and algorithms. The tiniest glitch in the system could mean anything. It could mean nothing. Or it could mean the system collapsing while you're in it. I'm not an expert on virtual reality, so I wouldn't know what happens after that...

- You're physically connecting your body and brain to something: virtual reality is all about using your senses to take you somewhere else, somewhere in your mind. It sounds great, but bottom line, you're letting something invade your mind. Willingly, but nonetheless. Perhaps the marketed goal of virtual reality is to provide an escape for people. But administrators of the program have access to your privacy, no? Personally, I imagine it's like the government spying on your phone conversations. Except it doesn't have to be the government. On that vein...

- Anyone can hack a program/app: has your Twitter been hacked? Your Facebook? You know of anyone who has had either of those hacked? I think Taylor Swift was a recent victim of hacking. I wouldn't want someone to hack into a program that syncs with my mind. My memories. My thoughts. This is pure extrapolation on my part, but with the way technology is going, it's not far from possible.

- All of the dangers already associated with video games: lack of physical social life/skills. Physiological addiction to dopamine, a chemical released in your brain that is often released after playing a video game. Loss of interest in real-life activities (as a basic example, think of how much time you spend on your computer or on your phone...)

(There are plenty more dangers/risks/consequences. Really, we could be here for a while. I've barely made a dent in the health effects.)

Why is virtual reality a good thing?

- Education: you could learn a language through virtual reality, I'm sure. People could use virtual reality programs to study new exercise routines. That sort of thing.

- It's fun: a new type of entertainment/recreation! What's not to like!

- You could try things you might not try in real life: if you can't die in a virtual world (I'm skeptical of this statement though), then why not try something you're afraid of? Go bungee jumping? Climb a small mountain! Swim across the English Channel!

- It's probably cheaper to do these things via virtual reality: granted, I'm sure getting the tech will be very expensive. But you could go on vacations to the beach in virtual reality, and not have to pay for airfare and whatnot. I imagine.

- It can be used in the medical field: a medical student could practice removing teeth or something, using virtual reality. No mistakes made to a real person!

- The time difference: in Elusion/Etherworld, you could spend hours in Elusion but minutes in the real world. That's pretty powerful. Waiting in line for a hamburger? Plug in and zone out for a few minutes - a few hours, really.

(Like with the dangers/risks/consequences, there are plenty more positives/benefits to virtual reality.)

Moral of the story: virtual reality will probably be commercially used pretty soon - people will be getting their hands on "paradise" in the next generation or less, I surmise. Love it, hate it, fear it, can't wait for it, it's coming. There are plenty of dangers and risks associated with it (I haven't even scratched the surface), but there are great positive outcomes too.

Be sure to check out my review of Etherworld tomorrow! This duology is definitely worth reading, if just for the exposure to a fictional perspective on virtual reality.

To my readers: what is your opinion on virtual reality?


  1. Wow, this is really interesting! I never thought about what would happen if the virtual reality was hacked, etc. and I definitely wouldn't want to be using it if that happened :/ But I do agree that we'll probably see more virtual reality pretty soon. I don't know how much it will be used at first but I can see it being a huge thing in the future. Thanks for this post, it was great!

    1. The future is today, Zareena! I'm wary of the whole concept of virtual reality. It's scary in fiction, I imagine it would be scary in real life! :O

      Thank you so much! <3

  2. YAY! Finally Science in Fiction has started! I was wondering when you'll be starting this feature, but I know you've been so busy!

    This is so interesting! As with anything new, even more technology based there are many pros and cons, and I feel like virtual reality can be useful but will end up being not as bad as we'd fear, but not as good as we'd wish. Plenty of people with trouble already to focus on the real world will have even more trouble to diferentiate between real and virtual, and it'll probably be used & abused... but just imagine being able to travel to the stars via virtual reality!!
    Fantastic post Alyssa!

    1. Once a month! Mid-month, it looks like.

      I can imagine the ADD problems virtual reality could cause. And right - use and abuse will be huge. It's terrifying, in my opinion! But I agree, going to outer space would be interesting...

      Thank you!

  3. YAY for first post of new meme :D It looks awesome Alyssa. <3 Thank you for writing and sharing it all :D I must admit that I want this whole virtual reality thing. Sort of. Sometimes. It sounds like fun, hah :D At least for a little while. <3

    1. Hopefully it won't be too scary then? If it's your thing, then hey, enjoy the simple (and not-so-simple) pleasures in life :D

  4. Yay! I've been waiting for this meme to start. It's a really interesting concept, especially as a science-major-to-be. When you lay it all out like that, the concept of virtual reality is actually kind of scary! Like the hacking bits? Not something that you typically think of when you think of all the good things that could come out of virtual reality being commercialized. Very well thought out post--can't wait for more of them!

    1. Aww! Thank you so much, Gabbie! I'm honored! And we'll find out all about virtual reality soon ish, I suppose. There's no telling in the future!

      Thank you! <3

  5. This is so cool, Alyssa! I feel so informed. :) Do more, do more!

    The idea of virtual reality seems very cool to me, but it also really freaks me out. I mean, we're pretty darn glued to technology as it is... How bad would it get if we had something so immersive?

    1. THANK YOU!! I will! Next one is scheduled for March 15th.

      Personally, virtual reality freaks me out too... I don't really want to be around when it hits the fan and things go wacky.

  6. Really interesting post! And a great topic, since virtual reality can easily become a huge thing (in the near future)!

    Have you ever read Ready Player One? That's actually has a lot to do with virtual reality (and it's a pretty awesome read too if you like gaming/80's pop culture, haha).

    1. Thank you! And I don't recall... I don't think I have. I've read Epic by Conor Kostick though. I'll looking into Ready Player One, I'm curious! :D


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