The Exciting Virtual Reality Ride of “Idlewild”
by Michelle Evans, November 2003
“Every kid starts out curious,” writer Nick Sagan told me during a recent interview.
The occasion was a discussion concerning his first novel, Idlewild. Although Nick has written for television shows such as Star Trek Voyager and even the offbeat children’s animated show Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys, he had never tackled a science fiction hardback before.
His personal curiosity definitely comes across in Idlewild. It was instilled in him as a child by his famous father, scientist Carl Sagan, and his mother, artist and screenwriter Linda Salzman.
Nick told me that Carl “engendered within me an absolute awe and wonder about the universe and the way things work. It was such a benefit as a kid growing up to have a curiosity to understand why things are the way they are. Unfortunately, I think that it’s discouraged instead of encouraged in a lot of schooling. Schools exist for the awakening of that kind of curiosity; turning out young kids who are excited about discovering the truth. A lot of schools are only keeping kids off the streets until they are 18, kind of crushing their individuality.”
Nick’s book Idlewild is definitely about discovering individuality. It is a science fiction, fantasy, mystery novel where the lead character must literally find out who he is, where he is, and what is his purpose in life.
The character’s name is Halloween. Considering the gothic surroundings he wakes up to, it is certainly an appropriate name. He quickly realizes that he is in some sort of virtual reality (VR) construct and that he has very nearly died, most likely as the result of an attempted murder. Why this would be done to him and what is the true reality of the world he lives in are the ideas that propel us through this excellent work. Even when you think you have it all figured out, there’s definitely more surprises in store for the reader. The abrupt ending leads you to ask why it has to end at that point. When the central mystery is solved, you desire to follow the characters to see where this will all lead. However, it is a wonderful set up to take us to the next installment of what Nick promises will be a trilogy.
One thing that really stood out for me was his offbeat, whistling-in-the-dark, sense of the absurd.
“I will not deny that there is a wry sense of humor that infiltrates the book. There were a lot of moments in there where I was able to make myself laugh. I feel that if you can do that, then you are well ahead of the game,” he said.
I found his use of virtual reality as a setting by which to tell his story as an interesting juxtaposition about Nick’s real life upbringing.
Nick agreed that, “there were times growing up where I felt disconnected from my parents, and where my childhood took on a surreal quality, like watching Cosmos in science class – I’d go in and they’d show an episode, and I’d watch my dad speak to me through the television for an hour. Very strange. Both my parents seemed larger than life at that age, and I’m sure that influenced my story, both in the protagonist’s questions of identity, and in his (in this case justified) suspicions that reality is suspect.”
Virtual reality is a technology that holds tremendous potential. Where does Nick think that it may take us?
“I think that virtual reality will be the most seductive drug down the road. When technology gets better and better, it’s going to get to a point where people are going to want to spend more time doing that than anything else. I think that virtual reality will be used for a number of things, some good, some not so good. Education. Entertainment. I think that the sex industry will capitalize on it. I don’t think that we’re that far away from saying that, ‘this is my world,’ a place where you can tap in and customize to make the [VR] world as you see it.”
From the mind of Nick Sagan, who also happens to be one of Earth’s first ambassadors to the stars through his recording of “Hello from the children of Planet Earth,” for the Voyager records speeding through dark interstellar space, comes a first novel that should mark the beginnings of a great career for a new generation.