Virtual Fire

Virtual Fire cover image

May 1970. Vietnam. Cambodia. Kent State. Jackson State. Violent protests erupt on college campuses across America. Paul Simmons and Toby Jessup, college seniors more interested in computers than politics, are drawn into the antiwar movement by Nixon’s escalation of the war and their friendship with Student Mobilization Committee leader, Meg Wells. As the war and opposition to the war reach their climaxes, Toby, Paul, and Meg become ever more radicalized, only to have their plans overshadowed by an incident that alters the course of their personal histories forever.

Decades later, Paul, a successful programmer in an era transformed by the rise of the computer, makes a revolutionary technological discovery. Realizing he now has the means to change a tragic, yet seemingly minor historical event, Paul acts, and unwittingly sets history on a deadly new course.

Living in the world his actions created, a world where computers are the province of a select few, seeing life as it was only in his dreams, can Paul, with the help of the brilliant young hacker Melora Kennedy, return history to its proper path and restore the dreams of his youth?

From New England’s ivy-covered college halls, to New Jersey’s crumbling cities, to the beaches of Florida’s Gulf coast and the ruins of post-war Vietnam, Virtual Fire’s four narrators relate their experiences of war, resistance to war, the power of friendship and the power of dreams.

Author’s Note: Virtual Fire includes scenes concerning warfare, post-traumatic stress disorder related to the Vietnam War, and violent acts committed by and against antiwar protesters.


I’m too young to dream about the '60s. But I know my history. Toby made sure of that. He’s the one who told me about all those Vietnam War protests. Marching, burning draft cards, singing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance!” But singing didn’t stop that war.

Protests aren’t the only things Toby told me about from the '60s. He talked a lot about how back then girls wore their hair long and free. He showed me pictures from Life magazines he’d checked out of the library, pictures of shaggy-haired, denim-jacketed boys marching arm-in-arm with shy girls dressed in jeans and Navy pea coats. “Look, Melora,” he said, “it’s like a casting call for ‘Hair’!” I didn’t know what “Hair” was, but I flipped through the old magazines, looking at photos of white girls with rivers of brown, gold or red flowing over their shoulders and down to their waists, and black girls rocking naturals backlit like angels' haloes.

He keeps two framed pictures from those times on his desk. One is blurry, but I can still tell it’s Toby, towering over his best friends Tesla and Meg in front of what looks like some ancient Greek temple, all three of them dressed about the same, all three flashing peace signs. The other is crisp and clear—Toby and his pals standing next to a huge black horse. Only Meg's flashing peace signs in this one. Flashing peace signs and a big, sunny smile. From Toby's bed I can see her clearly. And her hair is long, lush, and beautiful.

Not like mine.

But those '60s girls didn’t wear Net interfaces riveted to one ear with surgical stainless and looped across to the other by epoxied fiber optic threads. I mostly cut my hair to get it out of the way.

Sometimes I think Toby wants me to be more like them, all soft curves, smiling eyes and brushed-shiny hair. I think he loved those women—even though they couldn’t do shit to stop their war.

Maybe the drugs kept them from finishing the job. For all I know it was the music, or the dancing, or those stupid beads they used to wear. Or maybe it was because back then they did whatever the fuck their men wanted.

None of that will stop me...

After the warp-speed, intergalactic adventure of The Speed of Darkness, author M. Sobol has returned to earth in this new novel, and he’s on a mission. Virtual Fire is more than just a book; it’s a complex system that will test your imagination to fully decipher and decode. With a top-secret, time-bending paradigm hidden in the mainframe of the story, and a plot that confronts the legacy of warfare in our society, Sobol's latest expands the outer limits of classic sci fi.

Lisa Brownell, author of The Extraordinary Life of Sarah Bramble