In a cyberpunk fiction by William Gibson, this kind of thing wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. But in the context of Powers‘ modulated realism, it stands out as a contrived gimmick that undermines the tenor of the preceding 400-odd pages. Even worse, it gives the lie to the terror of Taimur’s collapse, which is meaningful, ultimately, only in terms of his mental isolation. For Powers to suddenly suggest that the mind has a built-in modem capable of linking it to realities outside its experience -- a theological notion, essentially -- seems like a cheaply dramatic attempt at resolution.
It leaves you wondering whether this immensely intelligent author somehow succumbed, at the last minute, to the heady, transcendent rhetoric of virtual reality‘s promoters. In any case, rather than a provocative meditation on the uses and misuses of imagination and our irrepressible impulse to remake reality, Plowing the Dark ends up as little more than an intellectual arcade game of flashy surfaces and meager substance. It feels less like a novel, ironically, than a mere simulation of one.