QSFer RR Angell has a new queer sci fi book out: Best Game Ever.
It is springtime at Bolin College and death is in the air.The Virtual Campus Challenge demo is one week away. To make matters worse, Robby hasn’t had a boyfriend since freshman year and his gender-fluid friend is making that all too clear.
When Robby and his team uncover a link between suicides and virtual reality games, Virtuella, SaikoVR’s AI game engine, fights back. Can Robby and his friends defeat Virtuella, save the world, and find love in the BEST GAME EVER?
“The Best Game Ever is the science fiction Hogwarts, full of adventure and wonder, that you’ve always wanted—complete with cyber-tech instead of magic, virtual reality gaming instead of quidditch, and a diverse, queer cast of exciting characters.” –Don Sakers, author of Dance for the Ivory Madonna
“Angell has captured college life in all its horrifying, glorious complexity, set against a future that’s frighteningly possible.” –Cat Rambo, author of Beasts of Tabat
Miles and I have never truly been friends. We’re more like mating cats without the mating part. We were fine working together in sharespace through our augies, or in a virtual reality game (our avatars and game characters are friends) but lately we didn’t get along well in real life.
Miles is gender-fluid, which means that sometimes they are male, sometimes they are female, and most of the time they are somewhere in between. I’ve always been fascinated by them, but it’s fair to say they are mostly frustrating. With Miles, you never knew who you were going to get.
Except in VR gaming campaigns because they are always a Black Mage. You can count on it. Maybe that’s why I was impatient for the new SaikoVR system upgrade? We could go on a mission in Realm of Questswith our usual companions and call a truce. Maybe talk things through while fighting a monster or something? After what I said last week about their homophobic, bullying, ego-centric gorilla of a boyfriend with the IQ of a baseball bat who was beating the life and happiness out of them (yes, I said that), Miles told me the only way I could make them happy was if I jumped off a roof, got eaten by a dragon, or stepped into a different dimension and disappeared entirely. We hadn’t been on a campaign together since then, and I wasn’t sure they’d cast a spell to save me anymore, even if that meant the whole team lost.
I’d spent Monday’s data signal processingclass in the back, ignoring Professor Lieber’s notes scrolling across my augies and staring down at Miles in the front row. I did feel bad about what I’d said to them. I could have been more diplomatic, but I’d never been any good at that kind of stuff. Besides, someone had to say something.
It certainly hadn’t killed their fashion sense.
Miles had a metallic silver headscarf covering their brown hair and hiding the frames of their augies. A lime green top under a hot pink overshirt with rolled-up sleeves highlighted their pale forearms. They wore black skinny jeans again, third day in a row. Their legs were crossed, showing mismatched socks, one green and one pink. Cordovan penny loafers. They put dimes in the slots instead of pennies, so I can’t even make that stupid joke about getting my two cents in. But that was Miles, always in for more.
CB, the personal AI assistant I’d made in high school and the project that won me a partial scholarship to Bolin, chose that exact moment to interrupt.
You have an urgent message from your roommate. JV says to tell you that the new operating system finished its install, and Virtuella is killer. Flying Squirrelsis loaded and ready to play. He doesn’t know how long he can wait for your sorry ass to get back before he takes to the air.
Annoyed, I blurted aloud, “Not now, CB.”
“Mr. Papenaugh?” Professor Lieber called up from the stage. “Do you have something to say about this particular transformation?”
“Need I remind you that all devices should be set to class mode?”
“I forgot. Sorry.” I wanted to disappear.
The professor waved his eChalk at me and went back to lecturing. My ears were on fire. Everyone was staring at me, including Miles, and I could hear them all thinking, “Loser!”
If people could see inside my head, they would know I am not really a loser. Professor Wagner says the best virtual reality engine on the planet is your brain. Wagner is my advisor, my advanced robotics professor, and also the director of the Cognitive Robotics and Telepresence Engineering Program here at Bolin College. So, he should know, right?
Two years ago, in freshman Philosophy and Logic, I learned about arithmetic law analogues like Reflexivity, Commutativity, Associativity, Distribution, and my favorite, Transitivity which is basically “If A equals B and B equals C then A equals C.”
What does it all mean?
Well, if I am not a loser in my head, and the best VR engine is my brain, doesn’t that mean that I am creating my own reality? And doesn’t that imply that I’m lying to myself?
Then there are the Conditionals, if-then: IfI am lying to myself thenI really am a loser. IfI ask someone out on a date thenI set myself up for rejection. Or the ever popular, ifI ask someone out thenthey will say something like, “What? Why would I go out with such a loser?”
Then there are Biconditionals. Somehow, I keep landing there. All this leads to the same thing.
Pif and only if Q: Miles Slaughter could like me if and only if they were queer.
Pis necessary and sufficient for Q:Being gender-fluid is necessary and sufficient for Miles to be queer. But Miles used to say they were a “bioneer” back when they liked both boys and girls.
Pis equivalent to Q. I am not bi. I am not transsexual. I am absolutely gay. Therefore, I don’t have a chance in hell.
Liking someone who hates you anyway is equivalent to living a fantasy. Necessary and sufficient. If and only if.
If and only if….
The class surprised me by ending in the middle of my logic spiral. I bolted out to the quad and hurried toward my dorm, dimming my augies to cut the early March sun. The groundskeepers had mowed during class for the first time this year and the air smelled like fresh cut grass, bright and green. Spring was coming but it smelled like it was already here.
There are three messages for you as follows,CB said through my augies. Sidd says he is up for the cafeteria tonight if you are. JV ordered you to be back in the room by 5:00 or else. Xiang called your burrito stunt juvenile and promised you will pay for it for the rest of your virtual life.
Out on the quad, a few kids tossed a Frisbee around in the bright sunlight. A guy lay with his head on a girl’s lap under one of the oaks along the sidewalk. A forgotten tablet leaned against his leg as his girlfriend ran her fingers through his hair. I’d probably never experience anything remotely like that.
Walking alone in the stream of kids heading toward the dorms after class, I watched the sidewalk under my feet and ignored everyone else. A nice breeze rustled the oak leaves far above my head. The sun felt good on my head and shoulders. I deserved a little airing out after sitting in classrooms all day. Maybe I’d put on some shorts when I got home?
JV’s and my room is on the fourteenth floor of Tower 2 on the north side. The door to the hallway is framed by our closets, making a nice entry alcove.
“Hey,” I said to JV as I entered and tossed my backpack on my bed.
“Ready for some squirrel action, Robby? I installed a new patch for the beta version.” JV, shirtless and in jeans, swiveled around in his chair, guided by whatever he saw in his augies. I stood in the room, but not in whatever virtual space he occupied.
Yeah, I’d had an initial crush on him, but that was almost three years ago. Yeah, I still looked sometimes. If you have nice scenery, you look, especially if that scenery happens to be on the swim team and is sitting there naked from the waist up and wearing augies that made him look like a tech rock star.
I peeled off my jeans and pawed through my drawer for shorts. “What’s the beta version do?”
“It’s optimized to use the new Virtuella AI game engine. Virtuella is supposed to maximize your experience.”
“Where have I heard that onebefore?”
“Cynic!” JV shook his finger in my general direction, then returned to manipulating invisible things.
Robby? Sidd wants to know about dinner.
I turned to JV. “What are you doing in there?”
“Finishing the design on the replacement control module. It’s stronger, so the gears won’t slip out in heavy wind. It should also spin more easily, allowing The Beast to get more power from lighter wind.”
JV took off his augies and put on his SaikoVR game visor and powered it on. “And how is CB today?”
“Fine. I can clone one for you if you want.”
At that, he flipped up his visor and laughed. “You say that all the time like it’s a good thing, and I always say no. I’m good with the standard array of personal assistants. I don’t want to get too friendly with all of them, either. They might come after me someday, or I might like them better than my fellow humans. Kind of like your problem.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? I like some people,” I said. “CB is the perfect assistant. He processes and responds to all my media, tells me when I need to pay attention, keeps my calendar and me up to date, looks things up, and he keeps me company. He also schedules dinner with friends. Even with you, if you would ever join us.”
“That’s what I mean. You two spend an awful lot of time together. Do me a favor? If you ever give him a body, make him ugly.”
“So you won’t fall in love with him and ignore the rest of us.” JV laughed and pointed at my SaikoVR visor sitting all by its lonely self on my desk. “Enough real stuff, GameBoy,” he said. “The new Virtuella engine is running the show. Wanna fly?”
R R Angell is an American writer (pronouns he/him) and a graduate of the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. His work has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone, Compelling Science Fiction, Gargoyle, Chelsea Station, and The Baltimore Review, among others, and many anthologies including “Compelling Science Fiction: The First Collection,” “Sex & Chocolate,” “Best Date Ever: True Stories That Celebrate Gay Relationships,” and “Stress City.” His work has been translated into French and Chinese. His queer science fiction novel is just out from Sisu Publications. Check out rrangell.com