I recently read a short story by Vernor Vinge called True Names. Apparently this book was the first to introduce the concept of virtual reality! There are some better-known books inspired by this one, like Neuromancer and Snow Crash, but I have to say that I liked True Names much more.
I found the book to be very engaging and inspiring. My favorite part I think would be the description of what the book calls the "Other Plane" which is better known as the Metaverse or the Matrix, basically a big virtual world that people connect to. I love how it compares the sensation to that of reading a book - it made me reflect back on my own experience as I read it:
"A typical Portal link was around fifty thousand baud, far narrower than even a flat video channel. Mr. Slippery could feel the damp seeping through his leather boots, could feel the sweat starting on his skin even in the cold air, but this was the response of Mr. Slippery's imagination and subconscious to the cues that were actually being presented through the Portal's electrodes. The interpretation could not be arbitrary or he would be dumped back to reality and could never find the Coven; to the traveler on the Other Plane, the detail was there as long as the cues were there. And there is nothing new about this situation. Even a poor writer - if he has a sympathetic reader and an engaging plot - can evoke complete internal imagery with a few dozen words of description. The difference now is that the imagery has interactive significance, just as sensations in the real world do. Ultimately, the magic jargon was perhaps the closest fit in the vocabulary of millenium Man."
There were a few other little enjoyable descriptions:
"Pollack...could make it simply by staring out into the trees and listening to the wind-surf that swept through their upper branches. And just as a day dreamer forgets his actual surroundings and sees other realities, so Pollack drifted, detached..."
Isn't that a nice visualization?
I also liked how it was similar to my own idea of using music to represent an extrasensory perception of magical fields in a game. Now from reading True Names I can imagine it would be so cool to be able to stimulate such daydream-like experiences with only sound. Then my eyes wouldn't get tired by staring at a screen! And I just love this line, "The difference now is that the imagery has interactive significance, just as sensations in the real world do." Wow, trying to daydream as from a book, yet also interact with the world you are constructing? That would be an amazing experience.
And of course it was nice that this story used fantasy and magic as the environment for its "Other Plane" instead of the cyberpunk of Neuromancer and Snow Crash. I guess I just find it a little more inspiring. I'm not really into gritty, dark settings.
The story also felt so much more epic than the other books; I thought it was more like The Matrix in its feel. Maybe that's because of the god-like powers the protagonists experience in both, while at the same time you are aware of the frailty of their bodies in the physical world. Plus the "bad guys" were a little more direct and personified, once you find out who they are. :p (plus I'd bet that the Oracle scene in The Matrix was based on the end of True Names)
Another reason why it felt epic was how the ending kind of put the story onto a timescale of thousands of years, as a special moment in humanity's history. It reminded me of the ending of Ender's Game in its vague pointing towards the future.
So, basically, go and read it!