(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 401 words.)