Saturday, July 01, 2023

Boy In the White Room, by Karl Olsberg

A boy wakes up in a white room with knowledge of the world around him but no memories of how he acquired the knowledge (or indeed of who he is).  He eventually is greeted by his father who tells him his name is Manuel, his physical body is comatose, and that he is living within a virtual reality.  His father then introduces him to all of the wonderful things he can do in his meta world.

But something is not quite right.  When a girl claiming to be his sister tries to reach him, his father denies he has a sister and forbids him from contacting her. Suspicious, he uncovers the truth that the man is not his father and that his sister and her friends are trying to rescue him.  But no sooner is he successfully rescued than he finds he has merely peeled away one layer of mystery and revealed a new one.  Soon, he needs to be rescued from his supposed sister!

By the end of the story, Manuel is not sure who is real and who is made up, whether he has finally found the real world or is still living inside a simulacrum, what is his real name, or even if he is a real person.  In the extreme paranoia that this story presents, the conclusion simply raises more questions. It is simply not possible to answer the questions.

This sort of mindf**k book that poses a paradox (in this case of consciousness) would have deeply appealed to me as a teenager so I can appreciate it now.  Beyond that clever idea though, it's not a terribly exciting story and the characters are pretty flat.  So, fun to ruminate over and maybe discuss.

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