Tuesday, September 17, 2013

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Does Thomas Pynchon Play Second Life? Because His Latest Novel Includes a Virtual World That's Like It

Thomas Pynchon Second Life

Bleeding Edge, the latest book by Thomas Pynchon -- i.e., the world's greatest living novelist -- is set in New York just before the 9/11 terrorist attack, and it includes an online platform called Deep Archer, which is this:

It’s not exactly a web site, not exactly a video game, but it acts similarly to both. It is, essentially, a safe space for coders to hide or share information. Under the guise of avatars, users are able to wander through a variety of digital worlds and communicate with other avatars in attendance. The pixelated landscape comes into focus slowly for Maxine. She “recognizes from a thousand train and bus stations and airports… the smoothly cross-dawning image of an interior whose detail, for a moment breathtakingly, is far in advance of anything she’s seen.”

Some have already noted the similarity of DeepArcher to Second Life. Pynchon, who's famous for incorporating well-researched details in his novels which perfectly nail the historical period the stories are set in, is savvy to include a virtual world in DeepArcher -- right around 2001, virtual worlds were becoming an object of wider fascination beyond gaming. (And of course, Linden Lab itself launched right around then.)

All this makes me wonder a question I never thought I'd ask: Has Thomas Pynchon himself been inside Second Life?

The famously reclusive author would find SL an ideal place for him -- the chance to be in a world inhabited only by people with pseudonyms, with bizarre avatar names that already sound like characters from Thomas Pynchon novels. Whatever the case, Pynchon isn't the only world-class novelist outside of science fiction to start writing about virtual worlds -- fellow New York novelist Jonathan Lethem did so for his 2009 novel Chronic City, and definitely included Second Life (and this very blog) as a reference point:

As for Second Life and virtual worlds, Jonathan Lethem says Chronic City explores them as subjects for readers who might not otherwise be personally interested with them. "My book is my own tentative step in that direction, to say, 'Hey look this is part of real life'."

I wonder if Pynchon took Lethem's advice, and logged in. Lethem, by the way (and to bring it all together), wrote the New York Times review of Pynchon's novel.

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Several years ago I saw an avatar named PP Arnold hanging out at Ahern. I enjoyed thinking she was the "real" PP Arnold. And what better place for a celebrity hide in plain sight

Debbie Trilling

I don't know if Pynchon has been in SL or not but we named our first homestead "Gravity's Rainbow" in honour of his monumental novel of the same name.
The region still exists on the grid and occasionally attracts Pynchon-tourists.

Paypabak Writer

I know there is a writer's group that meets regularly in SL, with Michael Stackpole and Robert E. Vardeman attending. Been doing it for years. Another writer whom I suspect has been visiting SL is Charles Stross where the influence of changing bodies/appearances is evident in Glass House, Saturn's Children, and his latest, Neptune's Brood.

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