These stories all have a virtual or simulated reality of some form, or present the possibility. It could encompass everything or it might just be a part of life. The stories that have characters existing in a video game environment, or are centered on video games, have their own section at the bottom. See also:
We’ll start with the big one. For 28 stories set in the world of The Matrix, check out The Matrix Comics: 20th Anniversary Edition.
“How Quini the Squid Misplaced His Klobucar” by Rich Larson
The narrator wants Nat to help him rip off Quini the Squid, a man who runs a large criminal empire. They both hate him for different reasons. Nat had a relationship with him that was abusive. The narrator was blamed for someone else’s mistake during a job, resulting in a beating and no pay. The dual motives of profit and revenge make it an appealing job for both. Quini is in possession of a valuable piece of art. They’ll be able to practice their theft in a virtual environment.
This is the first story in the preview of The Year’s Top Hard Science Fiction Stories 5.
“In the Upper Room” by Terry Bisson
A man prepares to experience a demo version of a virtual vacation. Last year he went on the Amazon Adventure. This year he notices one called Victoria’s Palace. In the demo, there’s a beautiful woman. Her clothing changes when he enters different rooms, but it’s always skimpy. The program isn’t complete, so he can get a deal on a partial version.
“In the Upper Room” is the first story in the Amazon preview of In the Upper Room and Other Likely Stories.
“Pygmalion’s Spectacles” by Stanley G. Weinbaum
Dan Burke leaves a party for some fresh air. Outside, a man starts ranting to him about the nature of reality. He asserts that everything is an illusion. Burke thinks the man is crazy, and just wants to return home to Chicago. The man claims he’s invented a device that creates a simulation indistinguishable from reality.
This is the first story in the preview of The Fantasy Super Pack #2.
“The Defense of Free Mind” by Desirina Boskovich
is working a shift in the greenhouse when the sirens go off. She grabs a rifle from the locker and sets up at the wall, along with the other Defenders. Five people are approaching on a boat marked with the City insignia. The city people all look the same, and they want to conquer Free Mind and control them. The Defenders fire on the boat.
This story can be read in the preview of Resist: Tales From a Future Worth Fighting Against. (32% in)
“They” by R. A. Hogan
Alice is on a ledge looking into the fog below. They told her to go there, the ones who keep humanity safe. They tell her to jump off, but she’s not sure. She uploads the picture to the Connection and her followers encourage her to do it. Alice had made the mistake of asking if anyone had ever disconnected, and worse, she even tried it for a while.
This story can be read in the preview of Science Fiction Stories. (20% in)
“Inertia” by Veronica Roth
Claire’s former best friend, Matt, has been in a car accident. He doesn’t have long left. He’s requested her for a last visitation, a procedure that will allow them to reexperience shared memories. She’s surprised because they haven’t spoken in six months.
Some of this story can be read in the preview of The End and Other Beginnings: Stories from the Future. (20% into preview)
“Summer Frost” by Blake Crouch
Riley watches a woman steal a Maserati from in front of a hotel. He follows her through traffic, while in audio contact with his associate, Brian. She heads north to an estate, as they anticipated. Riley believes his target has gone into the house. He’s going to follow. Brian warns him to be careful.
Some of “Summer Frost” can be read in the Amazon preview.
“The Trouble with Bubbles” by Philip K. Dick
Nathan and Julia attend a contest for the best Worldcraft bubble—an artificial world populated with sentient beings. They don’t like it and want to leave. Before going, they see the winning entry under magnification. It’s a beautiful world full of busy inhabitants. The winner does something that rattles Nathan and Julia.
“Test” by Theodore L. Thomas
Robert Proctor, a young man, is out having a pleasant drive with his mother. When he tries to pass a blue convertible, it swing in front of him, clipping the front of his fender. Robert’s car is knocked to the left.
“Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick
The Clerk enters a backyard in the early morning. He tells the dog about the adjustment planned for Sector T137 at 9AM. There’s overlap that must be aligned—the homeowner, Ed, works in that sector. The dog has to get Ed to work early, before the adjustment starts. It assures the Clerk that it will take care of it. Inside, Ed finishes up breakfast with lots of time to spare.
Read “Adjustment Team”
“Virtually True” by Paul Stewart
A teenager on a train sees a familiar name in a newspaper—Sebastian Schultz. It says this fourteen-year-old just came out of a coma, after being unconscious for six weeks. When he sees the boy’s picture, he’s even more surprised; it’s a younger version of the Sebastian he recently met.
“The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
A family lives in a futuristic house that automatically meets all their needs, including a nursery for the children that can create virtual environments. The parents are thinking about reducing their reliance on technology by taking a break from the nursery and all the automation, but the children are against the idea.
“My Virtual Dad” by Nick Gifford
After cheating on his homework, Jim is grounded—not in the usual way but from unsupervised visits to the virtual world. He gets around this by going to his friend Clifton’s place and using his virtual reality deck. One of the things he does in there is visit his dad, who’s away doing important work. One visit results in him making a decision about his parents.
“The Electric Ant” by Philip K. Dick
Garson Poole wakes up in a hospital bed after an accident. He is missing his right hand but feels no pain. The doctor tells him why. He is disillusioned by the news, as well as another realization about reality.
“Duel in the Somme” by Ben Bova
Tom and Kelso are both attracted to Lorraine. Tom is a cubicle worker at an advanced electronics company. Kelso is his department head and the son of the CEO. When Kelso gets aggressive, Tom suggests a virtual duel. Lorraine doesn’t want any fighting over her, because she’s not a prize you can win. Kelso still wants Tom out of the way.
“They” by Robert Heinlein
A man has been institutionalized for thinking his wife was plotting against him. He has dreams that almost reveal what he wants to know, but he forgets them immediately. He agrees to talk with the psychiatrist over a game of chess. He suspects that he’s different from others.
“Reality Check” by David Brin
You are prompted to perform a reality check. While processing this, you’re told a story about a mighty race that was alone in the universe and wondered why. They reached a crisis point and went extinct in 2174. The narrator occasionally checks in on your progress.
Read “Reality Check”
“Re:union” by Eric Liu
Troy was born twice. He can’t remember the first time, but he tells the story of the second. It started with a football game. It was the last play. He gave his teammates a pep talk and called the play. It went perfectly. They scored the winning touchdown. Troy didn’t focus on the celebration. He looked into the stands for Michelle. It was a game he hadn’t actually played years before.
The beginning can be read in the preview of Re:union.
• Video Games •
“Dupe” by Tony Bertauski
The narrator hears a car horn, sees red and has a cup of coffee in front of him. He doesn’t remember anything before this moment. He doesn’t feel engaged in the environment, and the people in the diner seem to be going through the motions. The scene repeats with some added commotion from outside. Each repetition of the scene allows the narrator to figure out more.
This story can be read in the preview of The Gamer Chronicles. (23% in)
“Abrama’s End Game” by David Shultz
Abrama is summoned to the Grand Temple by Sir Gödel. Abrama is a native, but she understands the language of the outsiders who can appear and disappear suddenly. Sir Gödel has bad news about Abrama’s world. She doesn’t accept that there’s nothing to be done to prevent what’s coming.
“Abrama’s End Game” is the second story in the Amazon preview of After Dinner Conversation: Season One.
“God Mode” by Daniel H. Wilson
The narrator’s thoughts are fractured, but he remembers Sarah amid all the forgetting. He’s a twenty-year-old university student, learning to make video games. He’s on a tram headed for the beach when he sees Sarah faint. She hits her head and is unconscious for a few seconds. That’s the day the stars start disappearing.
This story can be read in the preview of Press Start to Play. (25% in)
“NPC” by Charles Yu
Your routine is to collect iridium near moon base six, have your lunch in the break room and see Carla there. One day you’re in the crease, even though you know you shouldn’t be. There’s lots of iridium, so you stay. There’s an incident that changes your life.
This story can also be read in the above preview of Press Play to Start. (51% in)