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Simulated reality in fiction


Simulated reality in fiction

Simulated reality is a theme that pre-dates science fiction. In Medieval and Renaissance religious theatre, the concept of the world as theater is frequent. Works, early and contemporary, include:


  • Literature 1
  • On screen and stage 2
  • Theater 3
  • Animation, anime and cartoons 4
  • Film 5
  • Television 6
  • Interactive fiction 7
  • Computer and video games 8
  • References 9


Title Author Year Remarks
Accelerando Charles Stross 2005 A collection of related short stories, assembled as a novel, chronicling the life of a man and his daughter both pre and post-singularity.
The Algebraist Iain M. Banks 2004 Posits a religion according to which 'The Truth' is that our universe is virtual.
Amnesia Moon Jonathan Lethem 1995 On a road trip, two characters set out from a post-apocalypse Wyoming town and encounter a succession of alternate realities, including one shrouded in opaque green fog, another luck-based political system, and it is suggested that these divergent alternate realities emerged to obstruct an alien invasion of Earth. Homage to Philip K. Dick.[1]
Breakfast of Champions Kurt Vonnegut Jr. 1973 Kilgore Trout, an amateur science fiction writer, writes a story that mocks individualism by suggesting that there is only one human man and one God, and the rest of humanity are robots, made to test the man's reactions; hence, a kind of simulated reality.
Chronic City Jonathan Lethem 2009 Several strands relating to virtual reality games and virtual objects, but then events in the "real world" lead the reader to conclude that the "real world" is a simulated reality which is accreting errors and anomalies.
The Circular Ruins Jorge Luis Borges 1940 (not simulated reality, but subjective idealism/solipsism).
"The Cookie Monster" Vernor Vinge 2004 The characters come to doubt their own reality. This story was reprinted in several anthology collections, won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Novella, and was nominated for the 2005 Nebula Award for Best Novella.[2] One reviewer rated the story "A+" and praised "the central mysteries which Vinge so very skillfully unwraps for you over the course of the story itself."[3]
Darwinia Robert Charles Wilson 1998 An alternate reality spontaneously appears over a large portion of the Earth, covering most of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. In this alternate reality, evolution proceeded in an entirely different direction, so that the human race never existed. The rest of Earth is unaffected and presumably the people who had lived in the affected area vanished into non-existence.
Dead Romance Lawrence Miles 1999/2004 Part of the Virgin New Adventures series of Doctor Who spin-off fiction, but mostly disconnected from the rest of the series. he novel is set on a version of 1970s Earth within a "bottle universe," invaded by powerful beings from the greater universe beyond. It is suggested that these beings are fleeing their own invaders and that their universe is merely a bottle within a yet greater cosmos.
Diaspora Greg Egan 1997
Discourse on Method René Descartes 1637
A Dream of Wessex Christopher Priest 1977 Released in the United States under the title The Perfect Lover. A team of specialists undergoes a sort of computer-monitored group hypnosis to create an alternate England, hoping to improve their dystopian world, but their utopia is endangered by one member with foul emotions and megalomaniacal ideas.
The Dueling Machine Ben Bova 1969
The Electric Ant Philip K. Dick 1969
Electric Forest Tanith Lee 1979
Epic Conor Kostick 2004 The inhabitants of a whole world play in a virtual world for their real income and status.
Eternity Greg Bear 1988 In particular, his introduction of the Taylor algorithms as a means of determining the simulated nature of an artificial environment.
Eye in the Sky Philip K. Dick 1957 After a nuclear accident, seven victims successively pass a range of solipsist personalised alternate universes, including a geocentric, magic-based universe and a hardline marxist caricature of the contemporary United States. Tom Shippey wrote that it might be "a private fantasy world, watched over by a Vast Active Living Intelligence System."[4]
Feersum Endjinn Iain M. Banks 1994 Describes a version of Earth with very extensive virtual reality capabilities.
Flight: a Quantum Fiction novel Vanna Bonta 1995 Posits that our universe is a virtual metaverse whereby collective and individual consciousness creates reality on the quantum level.
Forever Free Joe Haldeman 1999
The Futurological Congress Stanisław Lem 1971
Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality Philip Zhai 1998 A philosophical speculation on the ontological status of the extreme form of virtual reality that combines with teleoperation, in comparison with what we perceive as the "actual" or "physical" reality. An array of thought experiments is constructed for the purpose of philosophical investigations.
The Girl Who Was Plugged In James Tiptree Jr. 1974
Glasshouse Charles Stross 2006
Halting State Charles Stross 2007 The plot centers around a bank robbery in a virtual world.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams 1979–2009 Earth was designed by an alien supercomputer called Deep Thought to find the Ultimate Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe, and Everything (the Ultimate Answer already established as 42), using organic life as part of its operational matrix. However, early on in the first book Earth was destroyed just before the critical moment of read-out, leading to the events of the rest of the series. Later, part of the action takes place in a synthetic universe.
Idlewild Nick Sagan 2003 This novel contains a simulated school inside a simulated world.
Illusions Richard Bach 1977 A pilot on the Midwest summer barnstorming circuit meets a messiah who shows him that the world is merely "like a movie" designed by "the Master" to entertain and enlighten humanity.
Irreversible Liz Maverick 2008 A young woman relives the most perfect week of her life over and over without being conscious of it, the subject of a corporate experiment to create and maintain a time loop. The week is totally manufactured, with actors hired to play friends and colleagues, medication designed to keep her tranquil, and an entire set of "stage hands" working to keep up the authenticity of the sets as they change for various occasions.
Loop Koji Suzuki 1998
The Man in the High Castle Philip K. Dick 1962 Initially, it appears that Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire won the Second World War in an alternate, occupied United States. However, the I Ching divinatory tool discloses this as an apparent illusion.
A Maze of Death Philip K. Dick 1970
The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect Roger Williams 1994
Mona Lisa Overdrive William Gibson 1988
Moongazer Marianne Mancusi 2007 A post-apocalyptic underground society pacifies its citizens by plugging them into a simulated version of New York City before the war, meanwhile telling the people that they are actually traveling to an alternate reality where they can escape their constricted lives.
Neuromancer William Gibson 1984 In this future, cyberspace has taken on the attributes of virtual reality.
Old Twentieth Joe Haldeman 2005 A group of immortal humans sets off on a thousand year voyage to explore an Earth-type planet. To amuse themselves, they use virtual reality to take trips to the twentieth century; but when the trips start to go wrong, a virtual reality engineer discovers that the simulated world is ruled by a self-aware computer... who may be running a more complex simulation than they can ever imagine.
Omnitopia Dawn Diane Duane 2010 Features a MMOG called Omnitopia that contains multiple player-built worlds that can compete for popularity, earning real-world money.
Otherland Tad Williams 1998
Permutation City Greg Egan 1994
Phase Space Stephen Baxter 2003 Includes several short stories pertaining to simulated realities, particularly in reference to their solving of the Fermi Paradox. Most notably the framing story "Touching Centauri," but also "Poyekhali 3201," "Glass Earth, Inc." "Tracks" and "The Barrier," which explores the Zoo Hypothesis.
"The Princess Ineffabelle" Stanisław Lem 1965 A short story from The Cyberiad.
Ready Player One Ernest Cline 2011 Set partially in a simulated reality named the OASIS.
The Reality Bug D. J. MacHale 2003 Is set on a world destroyed by simulated reality.
Realtime Interrupt James P. Hogan 1995 Is set in the near future, a cyber reality with its creator trapped inside.
REAMDE Neal Stephenson 2011 Though not set within a simulated reality, the novel stars the creator of a hugely popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game and discusses many of the behind-the-scenes operations in its creation and success.
The Remnants series K. A. Applegate 2001 Set on a ship that creates virtual landscapes
The Restoration Game Ken MacLeod 2010 A mysterious anomaly leads to the revelation that the characters are living in a simulated world, which is in turn embedded within another simulated world.
"The Seventh Sally" Stanisław Lem 1965 from the Cyberiad
Simulacron-3 Daniel F. Galouye 1964 Also published as Counterfeit World. Adapted as the film The Thirteenth Floor (1999).
Snow Crash Neal Stephenson 1992 Romanticizing the perilous world of some young hackers, the novel discusses the history and nature of language and virtual reality, among many other topics.
Sophie's World Jostein Gaarder 1991
Surface Detail Iain M. Banks 2010 In which a civilization uses computer simulation and mind uploading to create and populate Hell.
They Robert A. Heinlein 1941 A short story that focuses on a man who believes the universe was created to deceive him.
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch Philip K. Dick 1965 In this future, alternate states of consciousness are mediated by widespread and legal use of hallucinogens.
Time Out of Joint Philip K. Dick 1959 Ragle Gumm is trapped within an artificial reality that resembles small town America in the late fifties. It is disclosed to be a strategic simulation run by a Terran government at war with its separatist lunar colony in 1998.
The Trouble with Bubbles Philip K. Dick 1953
Ubik Philip K. Dick 1969 Several former corporate employees are killed but their consciousnesses remain sentient, albeit decaying, in a simulated shared hallucinatory experience.
Valis Philip K. Dick 1981 In this departure, it is our own world that is stated to be a hallucinatory overlay, produced from a gnostic demiurge that is malignant- although it may also be a visual and auditory hallucination produced by authorial schizophrenia
"The Veldt" Ray Bradbury 1951 A short story from The Illustrated Man, this grim tale describes two children who prefer their simulated-reality nursery to their parents.
Vurt Jeff Noon 1993
Pollen Jeff Noon 1995
Automated Alice Jeff Noon 1996
The Wonderland Gambit series Jack L. Chalker 1995-1997 A trilogy that pays homage to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Words Made Flesh Ramsey Dukes 1987
"You're Another" Damon Knight 1955 This short story about a character who finds himself in a bizarre, perhaps movie-based reality was frequently reprinted, and was translated into French as "En Scène!".[5]
Crystal Nights Greg Egan This short story is a tale of a group of scientists that create a simulation of a world to explore evolution and societal development. Eventually they reveal themselves to the inhabitants and are treated as gods, but then their creations realize there is more than meets the eye and plot their escape. Available here:

On screen and stage


  • La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream, 1635), a Spanish play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681) that evolved from the legends of the early years of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha
  • Possible Worlds (1990) and the 2000 film adaptation

Animation, anime and cartoons

  • .hack//SIGN, an anime series about a person whose mind is trapped in an online computer role-playing game
  • 12 oz. Mouse, an American surreal comedy/thriller minimalist cartoon
  • Aeon Flux (1991) took place in a cartoon world
  • The Big O, by Hajime Yatate and Chiaki J. Konaka, N.B. the reality in question has not been confirmed as simulated, but it is extremely likely.
  • Danger Room, a training simulator from the (X-Men) universe
  • Detective Conan: The Phantom of Baker Street'(2002)
  • Eternal Family (1997), surreal comedy anime OVA
  • Gantz by Hiroya Oku
  • Ghost in the Shell (1995), postcyberpunk anime film and series
  • Lyoko, the virtual world run by a super computer in the animated series Code Lyoko
  • Log Horizon (2013), an anime series on players being transported into the game world after an expansion update.
  • Megazone 23 (1985-9), an anime OVA series created by Noboru Ishiguro and Shinji Aramaki based on a simulated reality of Tokyo controlled by a super computer
  • Noein, an anime directed by Kazuki Akane and Kenji Yasuda where a simulated reality is created
  • Paranoia Agent by Satoshi Kon
  • The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest (1996-1999)
  • Robotech: The Movie (1986), anime adaptation of Megazone 23
  • Serial Experiments Lain, anime series by Chiaki J. Konaka
  • Sword Art Online (2012), an anime series about players trapped in virtual reality by the creator until they clear the game.
  • Zegapain (2006), anime series



Interactive fiction

Computer and video games


  1. ^ Kelleghan, Fiona (July 1998). "Private Hells and Radical Doubts: An Interview with Jonathan Lethem".  
  2. ^ Von Ruff, Al. "Bibliography: The Cookie Monster".  
  3. ^ Alexander, Justin. "The Short Stories of Vernor Vinge"What I'm Reading #46 - . The Alexandrian. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  4. ^ Shippey, Tom (Aug 17, 2012). by David F. Dufty"How to Build An Android by Philip K. Dick, and Eye in the Sky"We Can Build You: Tom Shippey reviews .  
  5. ^ Von Ruff, Al. "Bibliography: You're Another".  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ especially starting with Ultima V which simulated people's daily activities using a schedule, which was novel at the time
  8. ^ Max hallucinating on Valkyr - [the note reads] You're in a graphic novel & Michelle Payne: [the note reads] You're in a computer game, Max.
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