Sunday, January 06, 2008

Addicted to the future? E. M. Goldman, The Night Room (New York: Viking Penguin, 1995)

Seven teenagers are invited to take part in a virtual reality programme which "anticipates" their future, casting a projection based on their hopes, ambitions and characters. The first five each have worryng experiences, but most worrying is the absence of one of their number. All the data suggests that she died in high school. They set out to protect her.

It turns out that someone whose girlfriend has split up with him on the basis of the projection he saw has planted a "death" in the programme for the sixth person to go (the final clue is when the teens realise that a shift in the order has changed the target: the person missing in the first projection is not the same person as was missing in the other four).

The book has much to offer: first these are real characters, not avatars, who react in ways that make sense for who they are. Each of them is a complex person with personal politics stitiched into a wider school scene (no "righteousness" on diplay of either liberal or rightist type). Goldman is also careful to emphasise that what is presented is a projection, not a real prediction. None of it may be true. All the students are competent in individual ways. Parents are portrayed as complex and as people who are part of their children's lives without being rescuers'. One of the students reads sf and carefully feeds her reading into the book (which is in part a thinking through of a science fiction convention speech about the real life perils of a holodeck).


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