Of the multitude of ideas contained within William Gibson’s Sprawl series, one is the idea of transferring existence from the real world into a virtual world. Only one of many shining facets to the books, Neal Stephenson grabbed the idea and took a tiny step forward with it, Snow Crash depicting a plausible second life scenario. But it took Greg Egan to get both hands around the idea and wrestle it humanist shape; nearly the entirety of Permutation City focuses on virtual life and virtual copies of humans in a virtual world. But even upon turning the last page of his novel, the reader is still left with the feeling there’s a lot of room left for exploration. Save the conclusion, Egan’s world of multiplying copies of an individual remains too under control, too civilized. One would expect a higher degree of intra- and interpersonal chaos. Probing the private, emotional side of virtual existence, David Marusek’s 1999 novella The Wedding Album takes the concept further along these lines.
The Wedding Album is the story of Ann and Benjamin, ostensibly a newly married couple. The time frame late 23rd century, each have been creating virtual copies of themselves at various points in their lives, and now that they are married, make these replications available to one another, the copies they created on their wedding day forming the intersecting point. The variety of virtual selves covering a span of evolved technology, some pass sentience tests while others do not, each only half-certain of the difference between the virtual world they live in and the actual happenings in the original’s life since the last time they were copied or reset. A splintered overview of life the result, Ann and Benjamin’s personal lives collide in virtual reality to the point their lives in reality are affected, and chaos results.
My summary of the main storyline lacking proper definition, describing the surface of The Wedding Album is not a straight-forward task. The narrative as fragmented as the virtual copies from the couple’s past, Marusek uses the scenario to present how truly complex—truly fucked up—maintaining perspective and memory becomes when previous versions of yourself are allowed to coexist in an environment coinciding with reality. The line between corporeal and virtual self losing significance the deeper into the story the reader goes, a turmoil of emotions, stress, memories, and beliefs take center stage.
In the end, The Wedding Album is like a shattered mirror in which each tilt and angle of the leftover shards presents a different perspective of one reality, the eye unable to balance the whole save by focusing on one at a time. Relationships difficult enough to main—and sustain, such an equivocal environment places an exponential degree of spin on the proceedings. Yourself now not the same as the ‘you’ you remember years ago, coexistence of the two perspectives inevitably results in clashes that are better left to a single entity moving forward in time, not to mention each evolving in its own way dependent on the mood, feeling, and belief of the original at the time a copy was made. His view as humanistic as Gibson or Egan’s, it’s fair to say Marusek has carried the idea of virtual personality copies forward.