The next step after Virtual Reality
Much of the action of Lady of Mazes happens in and around the Manifolds. So what are manifolds and have we seen them before in SF?
As with the idea of thalience in Ventus, there's no single answer. But here's two ways to think about manifolds:
When I go back to the prairies to see my family, I often feel like I'm going back in time. This impression doesn't just stem from seeing the places and people I grew up with; they've evolved. It has to do with switching on the radio in the car and hearing the same songs that were playing when I left twenty years ago. It has to do with the way everything is still oriented around the agri-business as it's existed for decades--a world of pickup trucks, dusty roads and television. Of course they have the internet, but few or no hotspots, for instance. Everybody's white, and the politics are still largely appropriate to the last century.
This is what I see--but it's a superficial impression: the farmers in the area have smoothly moved into using GPS-based devices to do everything from grain testing to guiding combines. Winnipeg has a thriving New Music Festival where extraordinarily daring pieces are performed; and windmill farms are popping up everywhere. Yet for me, the impression remains of entering a slightly different world--of stepping through the looking glass.
Manitoba is in a different manifold.
The mix of technologies is different out there. And that mix both arises from and heavily influences the culture. Pickup trucks, golden-oldies radio and GPS; windmills; socials at the local community centre; grocery stores that carry no oriental or Indian foods and small-town restaurants that serve emu burgers. The volume is turned up on some aspects of life compared to Toronto, turned down in others. The resulting complex wave-form makes for a difference that I call a manifold. The key determining factor in the generation of a manifold is not geography, but the particular mix of technologies that are important to a given people.
A second way to look at manifolds: I live in Toronto, which the U.N. calls the most culturally diverse city in the world. I used to live next door to a Hindu temple in a Polish catholic neighbourhood, for instance.
Big cities are kaleidoscopes. There's no single experience possible of a big city. There are people who live in North York (up past the 401 freeway) who never come downtown, and some of them may not even know they live in a major port. Their mental map of the city is different from mine; and mine changes every time I move to a new neighbourhood. Your mental map contains grocery stores, dry cleaners, subway stops and restaurants, and moving across the city forces you to discard your old set and compile a new one.
Add language and cultural differences to this and it becomes clear that many of my fellow Torontonians have maps of the city that are completely alien to mine. They watch TV channels I'm unaware of; shop in giant megamalls I've never even seen (I keep hearing about somewhere called the Pacific mall where you can get pirate DVDs and such-like; it sounds like a Blade Runner type of place, but I have no idea where in the city it is) and live in neighbourhoods I've never driven through. Theirs are different manifolds.
In Lady of Mazes I have imagined that the technologies we are developing today (such as augmented reality and position-based internet servies) serve to amplify the manifolds we already have. It becomes harder and harder to reach some places--the places of the mind, the mental maps of the city that others use. It's as if a rift into the multiverse opened up in the town square of the global village: at the very moment when the planet is poised to develop a single overarching culture, that culture explodes into a billion mutually inaccessible realities.
Livia Kodaly is born into the manifolds, and she can walk among them with ease. She is the Ariadne of the new age--or rather, an anti-Ariadne, because her intent is not to find a way out of this new maze, but always, always further in.
Livia sang; and as she sang she began to fade; and as she faded into the bright air, the song faded with her...
Farewell, One world.