Our topic this week here at the LadyKillers literary salon is "Real Life vs. Virtual Life." I don't know about you, but I'm not sure there's enough caffeine in the world for me to do this subject justice on a Monday morning, but you know me. I'm always game. I'm thinking of having a family crest designed with the motto, "I'll give it a shot. How hard can it be? " Except I think this new family motto will look much more aristocratic once it has been translated into Latin and inscribed in Gothic calligraphy.
The question of real life versus virtual life seems new to the current inhabitants of the planet, because computer technology puts it in our faces every day. When we watch a movie, we ask ourselves, "Did the actor playing Spiderman leap off the tops of skyscrapers while shooting artificial spiderweb fiber from his wrists so that he could swing through Manhattan like a monkey through a jungle?" When the inevitable answer is, "No," we ask ourselves, "Did he swing across a movie set with fake skyscrapers behind him, while wearing a safety harness? Or did a computer generate the whole thing?" For most the us, the answer to that question is, "I'm not sure." In other words, somebody just reached in my head, grabbed the concept of reality, shook it up like a cup of Yahtzee dice, then poured those dice back in my head and said, "Have a nice day."
I think we overestimate the newness of this phenomenon. When Og and Olga the Cavepeople sat around the campfire and told stories about wooly mammoths they had slain, their fellow cavepeople were free to take them at their word. Or not. "You should have seen him! He was taller than the trees and the ground shook when he walked and he had one big eye in the middle of his forehead! This here mammoth we just ate is a monster, but you should've seen the one that got away!"
Much, much later, the printing press made it possible for the storytellers in our midst to reach far beyond the small circle of compatriots around our personal campfires. (And we thank you for that, Herr Gutenberg.)
I routinely get emails from people who want to know whether a particular character or place in my stories is real. I do not leap into the world of existentialism and ask them in return to define what they mean by "real" before I answer their question. Why do I not ask them to do this? Because I am not a first-class jerk. I hope. Otherwise, I would just quote some impenetrable bit of Sartre, "Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards," and leave them hating me, with their questions unanswered.
Do I have a point here? Yeah, I do. What was it? I guess my Monday-morning brain is just trying to say that the imaginary creations that we call "virtual" in the video game and movie world are nothing more than the recreation of the imaginary things we've always held between our ears. In some ways, a fearsome alien that has never existed outside a computer's brain or on a movie screen is no different than a fearsome beast that never existed outside the brains of Olga the Cavewoman and her rapt audience. They both have a lot in common with the imaginary characters that I drop into Faye Longchamp's world. Their population grows with every book I write.
Olga's beast was independent of the magical science inside a computer and inside a printing machine, so it may have been the most virtual creation of all. I raise my morning cup of caffeine to Olga and to you all. Cheers!