Aspects of VR in Bali Wave Ghost, the novel by Stephen Black

black and white book covers Beach Road is a short VR film made by Stephen Black and hiverlab. Free download here. (The image at the top of this post, of the parking lot attendant, is a still from Beach Road. Bali Wave Ghost is the latest novel by Stephen Black. Along with three other books, it is a free download until April 12. Bali Wave Ghost is a story and a reading experience. The story aspect is simple: an American reality TV, star, Odie Holmes, returns to Bali twenty years after the Bali Bombing, in which his wife died along with 200 other victims. He has a stomach problem and the prescribed medicine has side effects, including hallucinations. He drinks, but he shouldn't. Odie's mental landscape is contrasted with the different realities of Bali: the island's tropical paradise ambience, the touristic gaudiness of Kuta, the seaside village of Sanur, and Ubud, the hilly, artistic center of Bali. Odie's new-found love is a Russian/Dutch/Balinese "event organizer" and his neighbors include a well-known Japanese photographer and Will Sun, a surfer. Balinese people weave in and out of Odie's life as well. Bali Wave Ghost vibrates between the neutrality of a fly-on-the-wall style documentary, the passion of a love story and the wildness of unleashed spirituality. Lost in Translation meets Hunter S. Thompson on the Island of the Gods. So...VR... Bali Wave Ghost features a fictitious VR viewing headgear called a SeeThing. SeeThings were conceptualized before I had actually experienced VR and created anything in VR. Bali Wave Ghost is not a "cyber" book; SeeThings are described as common objects and are more "spice" than "main course". SeeThings appear throughout the book and, in terms of literary approach, are about as "unusual" as mobile phones are now. Simply, SeeThings are just another piece of technology in the year 2022. (The book is set in that year, as the twentieth year remembrance of the Bali Bombing is an important event for Odie.) Just as 360 VR allows the viewer to be in the middle of an all-surrounding "stage", I have at times, written scenes in which the reader is aware of everything in front of him or her, as well as in back and on both sides. In VR filmmaking this is a challenge because the viewer may not want to always make the effort to turn to look behind. With words, however, the reader is always comfortably in the center of the action. No need for swivel chairs when you read a book! from Bali Wave Ghost

The bottom level of the market is where I now find myself, in a dark corner lit by dim bulbs. I slow down to watch a woman move her hand in circles before she positions red flowers in a yellow wooden shrine the size of a cereal box. The front of one stall is lined with cones of brown waxed paper containing rice, chicken and cooked green leaves. Behind them, an old woman rhythmically scoops and wraps and makes more cones. Beside her is a column, topped by a shrine draped with faded yellow cloth. The shrine holds burning incense, and next to the cloth is a spectacular, perfectly circular spider web. The web and the fluttery incense smoke are precisely defined by shafts of sunlight. The spider web reminds me of Seashore’s flat, where dreamcatchers hang in every room.

In front of me, a small rickety table is covered with bowls of food and surrounded by Balinese housewives. Without knowing exactly what is being served, I join the queue. Soon I’m seated, looking over a plate of nasi campur, a dish of rice and various kinds of meat. A woman grills satay right behind me. When she fans the flames, smoke moves over the table.

The passage above was rewritten after I had experienced VR. It literally sets the stage. The next paragraphs introduce the actors. If this were the cinematography/storyboard for a VR movie, the basement market scene would be dynamic in all dimensions before settling down and allowing most of the action to take place in front of the viewer's 180 degree field of vision. I am very interested in the relationship between VR and the way our eyes perceive the light reflected from objects (reality). In Bali Wave Ghost, I have sometimes used my ideas on these topics to create "stages of text" that allow for drama and a distinctive reading experience.Hopefully the results are more emotional than theoretical. Here is a link to a good explanation about how the eye perceives what is in front of it, as well as a comparison of the field of view(FOV) of different VR headgears.  

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