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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 401

Readers of Prisoner’s Dilemma will recall that in his earlier novel, Powers brought Walt Disney to De Kalb, Illinois, to create a virtual world, a scale reproduction of the entire United States, but Disney’s projected world is not computer-generated. The virtual reality portion of Plowing the Dark is related to...

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Readers of Prisoner’s Dilemma will recall that in his earlier novel, Powers brought Walt Disney to De Kalb, Illinois, to create a virtual world, a scale reproduction of the entire United States, but Disney’s projected world is not computer-generated. The virtual reality portion of Plowing the Dark is related to the Microsoft Corporation, although the company is never named. The setting is Seattle, the home of Microsoft. Many of the concerns are ones that suggest Microsoft. Stevie Spiegel, involved in a project to turn a room, “The Cavern,” through computer engineering into anything one wishes—the Sistine Chapel, the pyramids of Egypt, Michelangelo’s David—calls upon a friend from his college days to help him, but he cannot reveal to her exactly what it is that he is attempting to achieve. Adie Klarpol, a disenchanted New York artist, has blind faith in what Stevie is doing, although she is not aware fully of the dimensions of his work. Her talent in art is vital to Stevie’s project with the TeraSys virtual reality team. She is to re-create past artistic events and to trace the lineage of art history to such artifacts as the Lescaux Cave paintings.

Meanwhile, Taimur Martin, thirty-three, has arrived in Beirut to teach English. He leaves a pregnant girlfriend behind in the United States. Shortly after getting to Beirut, he is kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists, thrust into holding facilities, and chained to the wall. As his confinement drags on, he creates his own virtual realities to preserve his sanity, dredging up memories from the past and shaping them into realities in his mind. At one point, after months of being held hostage and seeing no hope of escape, he attempts suicide.

Powers explores the origins of being in this novel and at one point comments, “All those old dead-end ontological undergrad conundrums? They’ve now become questions of engineering.” One cannot reasonably argue that virtual reality will not change human existence perceptibly, but Powers tempers this conclusion with the virtual realities that Martin creates as a means of his own transformation during his imprisonment. His virtual realities have nothing to do with engineering.

Sources for Further Study

The Atlantic Monthly 286 (July, 2000): 95.

Booklist 96 (May 1, 2000): 1653.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 7, 2000, p. K-6466.

Library Journal 125 (April 1, 2000): 132.

The New York Times, April 22, 2000, p. A15.

The New York Times Book Review 105 (June 18, 2000): 12.

The New Yorker 76 (July 3, 2000): 83.

Publishers Weekly 247 (April 7, 2000): 48.

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