I was reminded a few weeks ago when 2021 turned to 2022 that this is the 10th anniversary of the publication of the first MetaWars novel. How time flies!
I first put pen to paper (yes, actual paper!) in the Spring of 2010. I’d left a senior job at a production company to embark on a new career as a writer & creator.
As part of putting some distance between my executive life and my new pursuit, my wife and I did a house swap for a few months, trading chilly London for sunny (though sometimes chilly) Portugal to spend time with our new baby. But in the Spring of 2010, the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in Iceland erupted, and its ash cloud grounded all flights across Europe. Suddenly, we were unable to travel; physically cut off from our friends and family.
Everything for me went virtual. It was like a dress rehearsal for the pandemic, and a precursor to the rise of the “metaverse”.
All of my relationships shifted to online: from skype and facetime to social media and facebook. Like it or not, I was living in a type of virtual reality. This, together with the fact that I’d been exposed to the early constructs of virtual worlds when I attended the inaugural Virtual Worlds Forum in London in 2007 (organized by Sarah Frieze), fused in my mind as a conceit ripe for a story world.
The question I asked myself was, if people spend so much time online, and indeed start to prefer it to the real world, then whomever controls the web will control the world. That was the underlying premise that informed the book. So much of the story universe I created is coming true today. Facebook (now meta) is attempting to build an online metaverse and no doubt seeks to be the dominant purveyor of both the software and the hardware. Debates are raging about who should control the digital sphere. Virtual goods and “land” are selling for real money, using NFTs that run on blockchains. The story world of my imagination has become a road map for predicting where our world is going.
And since it is a story, it’s driven by characters:
Matthew Granger is a brilliant coder who developed “the Metasphere” as a Web 4.0 solution; a fully interactive, immersive and persistent virtual world where users could bio-connect (using a future version of BCI (brain-computer-interface) to project their consciousness into a virtual world via an avatar generated by the subconscious mind. It was the dominant platform, a true monopoly, so much so that the regulators took it away and effectively nationalized it.
Jonah Delacroix is an awkward teenager who physically lives on the top floor of a shuttered London bus with his mother, Miriam. But he lives his true life inside the Metasphere, where he goes to school, sees his friends, and communes with the digital ghost of his dead grandmother. When Jonah discovers the disused avatar of his dead father, he tries it on but then can’t shed the digital skin. A case of mistaken identity leads to tragedy, and Jonah discovers that his dad was a double-agent in the battle for control over the Metasphere; seemingly working for Granger as his private pilot whilst secretly supporting a group of internet insurgents fighting for a free, fair and open internet.
Samantha Kavanaugh may be about Jonah’s age, but she’s wiser and more cynical; she’s been following her father, Axel, around the world blowing up server farms and disrupting Granger’s monopolistic hold on the future. She’s grown up believing that they are doing important work, but is increasingly understanding that perhaps she and Axel are simply pawns in someone else’s brutal game. She and Jonah begin as enemies and slowly become allies and eventually best friends.
At one point, there was a part of me that considered writing a non-fiction book about the coming evolution of the internet. But as a storyteller, I thought it’d pack a bigger punch to use character, emotion and narrative arc to explore the themes of the digital future.
Of course, the sub-genre of “ViFi” (virtual-fiction) has become popular. I was notionally aware of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash novel, and indeed named my “Metasphere” as a deliberate nod to his word “Metaverse.” I wasn’t to know that in America, Ernst Cline was busy writing Ready Player One, which published just before MetaWars and envisioned a much nearer-term future where users connect to the Oasis via virtual reality head-sets and haptic suits. Full disclosure, I still haven’t read his book or the sequel, mostly because I didn’t want to get anyone else’s ideas into my head when I was commissioned to write the sequels.
There are now four books in the MetaWars series, making for an epic action-thriller arc with an ending that I hope readers find deeply satisfying.
It’s strange – and strangely satisfying – to think how prescient that first book was, and how its predicted future is playing out in both the real and the virtual worlds.
See you ‘round the Metasphere!