Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks: A hell of a story

This is the 8th Culture novel, and the third that I’ve read, and so far I think it’s the most memorable.

The story focuses on virtual reality, and mainly the virtual realities different civilizations create for their afterlives. Some of them being hells.

With the ability to record, copy and / or upload consciousness, comes the possibility of completely immersive  virtual reality, without even the need for a body. And in certain civilizations, after you die you may be subjected to a continued existence in hell–a virtual world created for the sole purpose of torturing those within it.

Many people (the Culture included) feel that hells are barbaric and uncivilized and should not be allowed, and war breaks out over the debate, the other side insisting they need the threat of the hells to keep their people in line.

This book really made me wonder about reality, and how we can even know it is real. There have been articles here and there, quoting scientists and other popular figures stating that they believe there is a good chance we are living in a virtual reality. But what would make it ‘virtual’? If it’s all we know, then it is all there is as far as we are concerned–isn’t that the definition of ‘real’?

It is a scary thought, though, to consider that we might be nothing but lines of code, able to be manipulated at a whim by whoever is in control of whatever program we are living in. And if whoever is controlling our world in this hypothetical is anything like us humans, then that could be a very terrifying situation indeed…

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