Virtual reality holds tremendous potential for both entertainment and business applications. Ben Bova introduces it as a deadly weapon in DEATH DREAM. In the book’s opening scene, a fighter pilot dies in a virtual reality training simulator at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The question of how this occurs forms one of the main plot threads.
The primary plot lines involve Dan Santorini, a technician who has left Wright-Patterson to begin work at ParaReality, a company that plans to open Cyber World, the first virtual reality theme park. He is reunited with Jason Lowrey, a creative genius with whom he had collaborated at Wright- Patterson and who now leads development efforts at ParaReality. Lowrey has several simulations in development, but the backers of Cyber World threaten to cut off additional funding. Behind the scenes, Victoria Kessel, a corporate spy and top executive at ParaReality, arranges for the company to take a government contract that will ensure sufficient funding.
Dan begins to question the motives behind ParaReality’s programs after his daughter faints while playing a virtual reality game at school; his fears are confirmed when he is called back to Wright- Patterson to investigate the flight simulator. Lowrey’s megalomaniacal behavior, particularly after he takes over the government program, concerns Dan and leads to a climactic showdown.
Bova cleverly weaves political intrigue and twisted human desires into interrelated plots. Lowrey comes to believe that he is God within his virtual worlds, and Kyle Muncrief, the president of ParaReality, legitimates his manipulation of real people as part of his quest to consummate, through virtual reality, an incestuous relationship with his sister, frozen in his memory as a twelve-year-old girl. Although Bova perhaps exaggerates the scientific potential of virtual reality, he raises troubling questions about its social potential and illustrates the power of artificial experiences to warp real life.