Michael Benedikt, architect and virtual reality researcher at the University of Texas, presents a series of essays that are largely the fruits of the First Conference on Cyberspace, held in Austin May 4 and 5, 1990. Rather than another of the introductory or practical volumes on cyberspace which have appeared in the last few years, it is an interdisciplinary, generally academic attempt to explore cyberspace and map its possibilities. Contributors come from a variety of disciplines, technical and humanistic.
Among the more interesting:
After Benedikt's "Introduction," William Gibson's "Academy Leader," a brief homage to William Burroughs, opens the book. This is symbolically accurate, given that many of the essays give central place of importance to Gibson's view of cyberspace.
Benedikt himself contributes an attempt to chart geometries of cyberspace. It is extraordinarily ambitious, abstract, and difficult, a combination of Euclid and Descartes for the emerging spatial domains of virtual reality. I believe anyone who works through a significant part of the essay will learn something about the possibilities of cyberspace.
Allucquere Rosanne Stone, sociologist and mover and shaker in virtual reality circles, contributes an essay, "Will the Real Body Please Stand Up? Boundary Stories about Virtual Cultures," that invokes postmodern theory as part of a sketch of the history of virtual
Nicole Stenger, computer animation artist from the Human Interface Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, gives a brief, evocative piece called "Mind Is a Leaking Rainbow." In it she says, "What we call reality was only a temporary consensus anyway, a mere stage in the technique."
Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer contribute a history of Lucasfilm's Habitat, a communal cyberspace environment also discussed by Stone.
And Meredith Bricken, who along with William Bricken is a notable talker of sense about virtual reality, has an essay called "Virtual Worlds: No Interface to Design," that describes in some detail the differences in designing, on the one hand, conventional software, and on the other, virtual reality software.
The book also provides excellent illustrations of hypothetical cyberspace databanks, the first attempts I have seen to implement seriously Gibson's descriptions of cyberspace as information contained in abstract forms. Benedikt's long piece discusses some, Marcus Novak's "Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace" discusses others.
There are other essays that will likely appeal to other tastes.
The collection is available in paperback. If you take cyberspace seriously, you'll probably want it.
Cyberspace: The First Steps
edited by Michael Benedikt
The MIT Press, 1991, paperback
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