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Vinge, Vernor
TRUE NAMES and Other Dangers
book-date: 1987
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Gary Ruddell

Bookworm, Run!
The Peddler's Apprentice {w/ Joan D. Vinge}
The Ungoverned
Long Shot

The novella "True Names" first appeared as half of a "Binary Star" Dell-double in 1981, and was a Hugo nominee (I remember voting for it as my favorite.) The rest first appeared from 1966 to 1985 - in Analog (3), and Far Frontiers 3. This is the first time any of these have appeared in a Vernor Vinge collection. The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge (2001) was a major retrospective of his work, but "True Names" - his best story - was left out of it. That story was also in an anthology from the same publisher (True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier, 2001) - as 1 of 2 pieces of fiction included.

Here's a plot summary/set-up for the title novella:
In the early Eighties, William Gibson made Cyberspace cool with his vision of console cowboys and black ICE. But he wasn't the only one to tackle Cyberspace - Vernor Vinge had this take, with different imagery, based on Adventure games and magic. The Other Plane was accessed through computer Portal links, with the subconscious interpreting the cues supplied by the Portal's electrodes. The best operatives were members of an informal Coven, and they crafted images and mannerisms to go with their assumed names - like Slimey Limey, Robin Hood, Mr. Slippery, and The Mailman. They specialised in acts of civil disobedience and vandalism, applied to corporate and banking venues. All took great care to prevent their True Names - or identity - from being known, for that would give others power to control them, or reveal them to the government.

The warlock "Mr. Slippery" is Roger Pollack in the "real" world, where he is known as author of interactive novels. His first clue that something is wrong is when the Feds show up at his house, and tell him he will be their spy in the Coven - or else. The Feds have evidence that a major player has riffled through their domain, and want it stopped. When Roger adds the rumor that one of the Coven has taken over a South American country, they get really worried. As Mr. Slippery, he combines forces with another member of the Coven - The Red Witch, Erythrina - and uncovers evidence, with interstellar invasion as the most alarming possible scenario!

Vernor Vinge has just the right touch, knowing what details to show - to support his future and make it believeable. He is also quick to follow up on possibilities of manipulating computer networks by mental interaction. This is not only my favorite by Vinge, but one of my all-time favorite SF novellas by anybody (top 10 for sure.)