When disaster strikes a cargo flight over the arctic, pilot Andre decides it's time to upload. He pays to have his brain sliced and scanned so his mind can live in the computerized, virtual world of Talespace... maybe forever.
Since Talespace runs on the logic of a game, Andre takes full advantage. He becomes a high-flying pegasus called Diver, learning the magic of the sky and battling monsters for the Night Queen. He's just in time for a fun little war and the chance to build a new kingdom from scratch.
Though his everyday life is full of spells and quests, the real world is still out there. To protect his new home, Diver will need to change more than his body, and seek adventure that blurs the line between the virtual and real worlds.
A novel in the emerging LitRPG genre, combining hard science with games and fantasy. "Learning To Fly" is part of the "Thousand Tales" series, but no knowledge of it is needed. Dive in here!
They rounded a corner past some apartments, and reached a dome made of thunderclouds. It looked to be the size of a football field, anchored by metal cables to the ground, and lightning crackled along its stabilized dark vapor surface. A large rubber-lined door was set into the cloudbank under a neon sign that said, "Nimbus Inn and Battle Dome."
Diver's wings stretched slightly to either side. "Wow."
Golden Scale smiled as she reached up to adjust Pike the unicorn, who was drooling and snoring along her back. "Good. We'll put him up here. They should have a cheap room available."
Diver had just pushed open the door with one hoof when he realized: "I haven't got any money yet."
A dusk-colored mare with bat wings and cute little fangs perked her long ears from the far side of the concrete floor. "Fresh meat for the tournament!"
Diver stammered. "What?" The lobby filled one end of the dome, empty but for a checkpoint crystal and a ramp leading down to a basement.
"I was going to offer to loan you some money," said Scale, "but Sonia here has other ideas." She brushed past the pegasus and dumped Pike onto the bare concrete floor, where he sprawled with his tongue hanging out. "Hey, Sonia! This pointy newcomer almost got punished for vagrancy. Can you stash him somewhere out of the way?"
"All for logging out where he was in plain sight?" Diver murmured to himself.
The bat-pony nodded enthusiastically and flapped over the front desk to land in front of her guests. She circled Diver, brushing him teasingly with her wings and making him sidestep like a nervous horse. "I'll give you a room for the day if you fight to the death in my arena. Sound fair?"
"I'm starting to question this world's economics," said Diver.
Scale said, "Seems like a fair trade to me."
Sonia draped one wing over his back and gestured toward an inner set of doors with the other. "Another newbie, eh? This here's a good way to get used to being one of us. Learn how to use your new body, and figure out that you're an awesome superbeing now. How about it? The stars are right for us to have a good audience later tonight."
Diver's head spun at the prospect of having to fight so soon, and for a crowd of real-world gamers getting home from their jobs, but what the heck. He slipped free from Sonia, trotted over to the hovering crystal, and pinged it with one hoof.
Marvelous continuation to the Thousand Tales adventure
When I read the original Thousand Tales, the closest thing I had to an objection was that the uploaded human minds were essentially verbatim copies of their mortal selves. Naturally, they grew and changed over the course of their adventures, but in basically human ways. That struck me as limiting and a bit unrealistic. People dream of the idealized versions of themselves, both mental and physical -- especially some of the sorts of people who would be interested in uploading themselves into a digital world in the first place. And new environments change people in new ways.
That was what led me to the commission requests that were the kernel of Digital Coyote, the previous Thousand Tales book. It centered around a character who was both insistent on and in need of more radical forms of change. (That character has a bit part in this book as Peat the unicorn, aka Sunset.)
Learning to Fly takes change in yet another direction, and it's a fascinating one indeed. Without getting too spoilers, while Digital Coyote still centered around the change and growth of an individual (with a lot of help, of course), Learning to Fly goes beyond that -- it takes a really fascinating look at the change and growth of communities and relationships, both within Talespace and our Outer Realm. What happens when people literally making their lives within Talespace interact with those for whom it is still just a casual game? What happens when humans and AIs start borrowing from and merging with each other's social structures, and even each other's ways of thought? How does the nature of 'community' and 'nation' and 'religion' adapt?
Also, there are ponies.
(For once I don't have to make a disclaimer. I had no involvement in this one other than as a fan of the world and the author.)