Metaverse of Neal Stephenson

Author Neal Town Stephenson (born 1959)
Author Neal Town Stephenson (born 1959)

The term Metaverse was coined in Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel, and refers to a convergence of physical, augmented, and virtual reality in a shared online space (Metaphysical Universe).

Neal Town Stephenson (born 31 October 1959) is an American writer known for his works of speculative fiction and technology publications. Stephenson’s first two novels—The Big U (published in 1984), and Zodiac (1988) did not attracted much critical attention on first publication. The Big U was a satirical take on life at American Megaversity, a vast, bland, and alienating research university beset by chaotic riots. Zodiac (from 1988) was a thriller following a radical environmentalist in his struggle against corporate polluters.

Stephenson’s breakthrough came in 1992 with Snow Crash, a cyberpunk novel fusing memetics, computer viruses, and other high-tech themes with Sumerian mythology, along with a sociological extrapolation of extreme laissez-faire capitalism and collectivism. Snow Crash was nominated for the British Science Fiction Award in 1993 and the Arthur Clarke Award in 1994, and it established Stephenson as a major science fiction writer of the 1990s.

Snow Crash, Bantham Books, June 1992
Snow Crash, Bantham Books, June 1992

Stephenson recalled: “This book germinated in a collaboration between me and the artist Tony Sheeder, the original goal of which was to publish a computer-generated graphic novel. In general, I handled the words and he handled the pictures; but even though this work consists almost entirely of words, certain aspects of it stem from my discussions with Tony… it became clear that the only way to make the Mac do the things we needed was to write a lot of custom image-processing software. I have probably spent more hours coding during the production of this work than I did actually writing it, even though it eventually turned away from the original graphic concept…”

The story of Snow Crash opens in Los Angeles in the early 21st century, an unspecified number of years after a worldwide economic collapse. The novel presents the Sumerian language as the firmware programming language for the brainstem, which is supposedly functioning as the BIOS for the human brain. According to characters in the book, the goddess Asherah is the personification of a linguistic virus, similar to a computer virus. The god Enki created a counter-program, which he called a nam-shub, that caused all of humanity to speak different languages as a protection against Asherah (a re-interpretation of the ancient Near Eastern story of the Tower of Babel).

Stephenson imagined the Metaverse as a successor to the Internet, as it might evolve in the near future. Moreover, it is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. Resembling a massively multiplayer online game, the Metaverse is populated by user-controlled avatars, as well as system daemons. Although there are public-access Metaverse terminals in Reality, using them carries a social stigma among Metaverse denizens, in part because of the poor visual representations of themselves as low-quality avatars. Status in the Metaverse is a function of two things: access to restricted environments such as the Black Sun, an exclusive Metaverse club, and technical acumen, which is often demonstrated by the sophistication of one’s avatar.