Virtual realities.

The worst thing about being a kid was that no one told me the truth about my situation. In fact, they did the exact opposite. And, of course, I believed them, because I was just a kid and I didn’t know any better. I mean, Christ, my brain hadn’t even grown to full size yet, so how could I be expected to know when the adults were bullshitting me?

So I swallowed all of the dark ages nonsense they fed me. Some time passed. I grew up a little, and I gradually began to figure out that pretty much everyone had been lying to me about pretty much everything since the moment I emerged from my mother’s womb.

This was an alarming revelation.

It gave me trust issues later in life.

I started to figure out the ugly truth as soon as I began to explore the free OASIS libraries. The facts were right there waiting for me, hidden in old books written by people who weren’t afraid to be honest. Artists and scientists and philosophers and poets, many of them long dead. As I read the words they’d left behind, I finally began to get a grip on the situation. My situation. Our situation. What most people referred to as “the human condition.”

It was not good news.

I wish someone had just told me the truth right up front, as soon as I was old enough to understand it. I wish someone had just said:

“Here’s the deal, Wade. You’re something called a ‘human being.’ That’s a really smart kind of animal. Like every other animal on this planet, we’re descended from a single-celled organism that lived millions of years ago. This happened by a process called evolution, and you’ll learn more about it later. But trust me, that’s really how we all got here. There’s proof of it everywhere, buried in the rocks. That story you heard? About how we were all created by a super-powerful dude named God who lives up in the sky? Total bullshit. The whole God thing is actually an ancient fairy tale that people have been telling one another for thousands of years. We made it all up. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

“Oh, and by the way … there’s no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. Also bullshit. Sorry, kid. Deal with it.

“You’re probably wondering what happened before you got here. An awful lot of stuff, actually. Once we evolved into humans, things got pretty interesting. We figured out how to grow food and domesticate animals so we didn’t have to spend all of our time hunting. Our tribes got much bigger, and we spread across the entire planet like an unstoppable virus. Then, after fighting a bunch of wars with each other over land, resources, and our made-up gods, we eventually got all of our tribes organized into a ‘global civilization.’ But, honestly, it wasn’t all that organized, or civilized, and we continued to fight a lot of wars with each other. But we also figured out how to do science, which helped us develop technology. For a bunch of hairless apes, we’ve actually managed to invent some pretty incredible things. Computers. Medicine. Lasers. Microwave ovens. Artificial hearts. Atomic bombs. We even sent a few guys to the moon and brought them back. We also created a global communications network that lets us all talk to each other, all around the world, all the time. Pretty impressive, right?

“But that’s where the bad news comes in. Our global civilization came at a huge cost. We needed a whole bunch of energy to build it, and we got that energy by burning fossil fuels, which came from dead plants and animals buried deep in the ground. We used up most of this fuel before you got here, and now it’s pretty much all gone. This means that we no longer have enough energy to keep our civilization running like it was before. So we’ve had to cut back. Big-time. We call this the Global Energy Crisis, and it’s been going on for a while now.

“Also, it turns out that burning all of those fossil fuels had some nasty side effects, like raising the temperature of our planet and screwing up the environment. So now the polar ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, and the weather is all messed up. Plants and animals are dying off in record numbers, and lots of people are starving and homeless. And we’re still fighting wars with each other, mostly over the few resources we have left.

“Basically, kid, what this all means is that life is a lot tougher than it used to be, in the Good Old Days, back before you were born. Things used to be awesome, but now they’re kinda terrifying. To be honest, the future doesn’t look too bright. You were born at a pretty crappy time in history. And it looks like things are only gonna get worse from here on out. Human civilization is in ‘decline.’ Some people even say it’s ‘collapsing.’

“You’re probably wondering what’s going to happen to you. That’s easy. The same thing is going to happen to you that has happened to every other human being who has ever lived. You’re going to die. We all die. That’s just how it is.

“What happens when you die? Well, we’re not completely sure. But the evidence seems to suggest that nothing happens. You’re just dead, your brain stops working, and then you’re not around to ask annoying questions anymore. Those stories you heard? About going to a wonderful place called ‘heaven’ where there is no more pain or death and you live forever in a state of perpetual happiness? Also total bullshit. Just like all that God stuff. There’s no evidence of a heaven and there never was. We made that up too. Wishful thinking. So now you have to live the rest of your life knowing you’re going to die someday and disappear forever.

“Sorry.”

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Man created God in his own image and likeness, on Halloween.

The gods play games with the fate of men. Not complex ones obviously, because gods lack patience. Cheating is part of the rules. And gods play hard. To lose all believers is, for a god, the end. But a believer who survives the game gains honour and extra belief. Who wins with the most believers, lives.

Believers can include other gods, of course. Gods believe in belief.

There were always many games going on in Dunmanifestin, the abode of die gods on Cori Celesti. It looked, from outside, like a crowded city.* Not all gods lived there, many of them being bound to a particular country or in the case of the smaller ones, even one tree. But it was a Good Address. It was where you hung your metaphysical equivalent of the shiny brass plate, like those small discreet buildings in the smarter areas of major cities which nevertheless appear to house one hundred and fifty lawyers and accountants, presumably on some sort of shelving.

The city's domestic appearance was because, while people are influenced by gods, so gods are influenced by people.

Most gods were people-shaped: people don't have much imagination, on the whole. Even Offler the Crocodile God was only crocodile-headed. Ask people to imagine an annual god and they will, basically, come up with the idea of someone in a really bad mask. Men have been much better at inventing demons, which is why there are so many. 

*Few religions are definite about the size of Heaven, but on the planet Earth the Book of Revelation (ch. XXI, v.l6) gives it as a cube 12,000 furlongs on a side. This is somewhat less than 500,000,000.000,000,000,000 cubic feet. Even allowing that the Heavenly Host and other essential services take up at least two thirds of this spate, this leaves about one million cubic feet of space for each human occupant-assuming that every creature that could be called 'human' is allowed in, and that the human race eventually totals a thousand times the number of humans alive up until now. This is such a generous amount of space that it suggests that room has also been provided for some alien races or - a happy thought - that pets are allowed.

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