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Simulacron-3 (1964)

by Daniel F. Galouye

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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257778,724 (3.79)8
A virtual-reality novel from a time before virtual reality, Simulacron-3 is a prophetic tale of a future where nothing is as it appears to be. *** Douglas Hall is part of a team that builds an artificial environment to simulate reality. This enables them to get public opinion polls without waiting for the opinions of people around them. But then something goes terribly wrong and his partners on the program start disappearing. ***But is it a simulated disappearance, or is someone out to get them all? And what is the true nature of reality? ***Stories based on Simulacron-3 have been adapted for both television and movies, and the book is considered a favorite of many of the masters of science fiction.… (more)
  1. 00
    The Matrix Comics, Vol. 1 by Lilly Wachowski (VictoriaPL)
    VictoriaPL: Simulacron 3 and The Matrix have the same idea: the world we know is not the real one, there is another world beyond the simulation. Simulacron 3 is not a ripoff of The Matrix though, it was actually published back in 1964. If you enjoy The Matrix you might like this old-school forerunner.… (more)
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» See also 8 mentions

English (5)  German (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (7)
Showing 5 of 5
L'intrigue me paraît aujourd'hui classique : la simulation d'une communauté de population et ses répercussions métaphysiques. Mais le savoir écrit en 1965 est assez hallucinant. Celà dit, le livre est très agréable à lire et se déroule parfaitement tout en explorant les problèmes philosophiques multiples de l'expérimentation. ( )
  miloshth | Sep 7, 2019 |
An ancestor of "the Matrix", with a city created in a computer for market research purposes. The work forecasts both virtual reality, and the creation of artificial intelligence and self awareness. The prose is not first rate. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jun 1, 2019 |
I bought and read this 1964 paperback in the year of its publication. This reread turned out to be both fun and timely.

Galouye looked ahead to the distant year 2034. There are aircars and slidewalks ("pedistrips"). The 33rd Amendment to the Constitution has outlawed smoking tobacco, so there are "smoke-easies" where one goes to smoke clandestinely.

And a giant corporation has built a computer that simulates a city. Not just the buildings, but the inhabitants, each of whom has the same degree of consciousness and interior life as you or I, living those lives unaware that they are just "...the surge of biasing impulses in simulectronic circuits." Simulacron-3's operators can look at the lower world through its denizen's eyes, or manifest directly to walk among them.

Protagonist Douglas Hall is putting the finishing touches on the project, after the suspicious death of the computer's creator. Odd things are happening: people and documents disappear, a crashing aircar almost kills Hall, and he is having momentary blackouts. The corporation's sinister CEO wants to repurpose Simulacron-3 from its intended use, market research, to seek sure wins of political elections, leading to a one-party state. Other people want the computer shut down permanently.

The twist in the story is that Hall's world, in which Simulacron-3 exists, is itself a simulation in a computer, one existing in an "upper" world. Hall's world is only a "middle" world. Man, that's Heavyyy...

The blackouts are the sign of the upper world's villainous project head logging into Hall's perceptions and reading his thoughts. The young woman who becomes Hall's love interest is connecting in directly from the upper world, looking to keep the middle world from being switched off.


As far as I can tell, this is the very first SF story to envision a world, and real, living people, existing as simulations in a computer. Philip K. Dick had been distrusting reality in numerous stories by 1964, but there was some degree of physicality to his simulacra; you might turn out to be a robot, but you still were made of physical parts in a single, real world. There are a couple of stories, by PKD and Stanislaw Lem, that may have got there first; I have to track them down. Of course, for years now people have taken this as a possibility for our own world, arguing about Roko's Basilisk and whatnot.

But for a 1964 reader, the twist was actually not all that twisty, because it was given away in the back-cover blurb. Evidently Bantam Book's editor didn't really understand what they had - they thought the book was about advertising. The blurb ends "THIS IS A SHATTERING PICTURE OF OUR WORLD IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE, WHEN MADISON AVENUE AND THE PUBLIC-OPINION POLLSTERS TAKE OVER!" Madison Ave was a big deal in the 1950s and 60s, including in SF - see The Space Merchants from 1953. A classic case of missing the new by seeing it through the lens of the old.

Or so I thought when I picked the book up. And here's where the book's timeliness comes in. Advertising, the molding of public opinion, is still with us, and not just for selling cars. A plutocrat using computers to win elections and lock in one-party dominance - where have we heard about that recently? The connection is especially rich when said plutocrat is described as having "tiny hands." Not the same kind of computer use - Galouye didn't forsee social media - but that editor understood something we mustn't forget.

A film, The Thirteenth Floor, was based on Galouye's novel; it's pretty decent, but had the misfortune to come out two months after the less smart, but much more stylish The Matrix. In this connection it's amusing to note that Douglas Hall manifests in Simulacron-3 by showing up in - a phone booth! - although he doesn't say "we're in." There's also a German TV series from 1973, Welt Am Draht, based on this book. The series is by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and I must really track it down someday.

This book also features an early use of lasers as a science-fictional weapon. They're nothing like the actual lasers of 1964 or today.

Books this old almost always have problematic presentations of gender and race. After meeting the love interest noted above, Hall remembers her as the 15-year-old daughter of his mentor. Heinlein wasn't the only period author to write about romance with someone previously known when a child. Majorly creepy. Also, if there's a person of color in the story, or anyone who's LGBTQ, I missed them.

This book is interesting as an early example of a now-common genre trope. The story is fast-paced and enjoyable, if one can overlook its faults. ( )
1 vote dukedom_enough | Feb 14, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Galouye, Daniel F.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Herholz, UlfCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Westermayr, TonyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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From the outset, it was apparent that the evening's activities weren't going to detract a whit from Horace P. Siskin's reputation as an extraordinary host.
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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Aber ich dachte vor allem an den Obersten Simulektroniker - jenes transzendentale, allmächtige Wesen, dass arrogant und ungefährdet in der immensen Datenverarbeitungsabteilung seines Super-Simulators saß, Stimuli verteilend und integrierend, seine Analogwesen dirigierend.
Deus Ex Machina.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A virtual-reality novel from a time before virtual reality, Simulacron-3 is a prophetic tale of a future where nothing is as it appears to be. *** Douglas Hall is part of a team that builds an artificial environment to simulate reality. This enables them to get public opinion polls without waiting for the opinions of people around them. But then something goes terribly wrong and his partners on the program start disappearing. ***But is it a simulated disappearance, or is someone out to get them all? And what is the true nature of reality? ***Stories based on Simulacron-3 have been adapted for both television and movies, and the book is considered a favorite of many of the masters of science fiction.

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World on a wire
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