I am trying to find a sci-fi short story I read in early 2010s. The story took place in a futuristic setting on Earth, where highly realistic virtual reality was developed. People could connect into one of several virtual reality worlds, where they appeared as customizable avatars. The most popular virtual worlds were post-apocalyptic versions of real-world cities like New York, Tokyo etc. Since injuries in VR had no consequences in real world, I think some parts of the VR were quite violent.

The main character (who was I think a detective) had to investigate murder of a young woman. The victim was a frequent user of virtual reality and I think her body was found in a business that provided its clients with interfaces for connecting to virtual reality. I also think that the victim might have been addicted, either to the virtual reality itself or to some dangerous drug (or possibly both).

During the investigation, the main character had to go into virtual reality and visit one of the virtual worlds, which I think was the post-apocalyptic New York City, the victim frequented. There he talked to someone with a rather strange avatar that looked like a humanoid, but among other things had a skin made out of silver (or some other precious metal). I also think that when he was inside the virtual reality, the main character got involved in a violent clash with other users and was helped by someone, possibly the user with the weird avatar. I don't remember the exact ending, but I have a feeling the killer was eventually discovered.

I read it around 2010-2015. I read the story in Czech language, but I am pretty sure it was a translation of a foreign author (likely an American). It was probably in a sci-fi short story collection with other stories about virtual reality, artificial intelligence, etc. Although I might have also read it in the XB-1 (formerly Ikarie) magazine I used to read around that time, which also features translated stories (mostly from English). However, I browsed through several editions from that time and so far I did not find anything like the story I remember. Unfortunately, I am unsure about the original publication date of the story. It is definitely not newer than say 2015, but it might have been much older.

  • Not the answer, but the title of the question made me think of Terminal Games by Cole Perriman, from this question that I asked a while back. Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 15:28
  • 2
    And the Elijah Bailey books from the Robots series of Asimov
    – bob1
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 21:04
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    @bob1 I have read those too, Caves of Steel were probably my favourite. But I am pretty sure this story was not written by Asimov, in fact it was likely written after his death in 1992.
    – vogrick
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 8:34

1 Answer 1


A lot of aspects match both Pat Cadigan's novel Tea From an Empty Cup and one of her two earlier novellas she based it on, Death in the Promised Land:

  • it's set in a future where highly realistic virtual reality is commonplace
  • a virtualised Japan and New York are two of the main locations
  • it's about a detective investigating a murder
  • the victim is found in a business that rents out suits for accessing VR
  • it's been a while since I read it, but I think the detective may have been helped at one point by someone with an unusual avatar.

The novel was published in 1998 so the timeframe matches. Wikipedia notes that the novel was based on two earlier novellas first published in Omni in 1995 (Death in the Promised Land and Tea From an Empty Cup).

So if it was definitely a shorter story it may have been one of those that you read, either in a magazine or anthology. The first one seems to have been in this anthology at least. The same site lists an older edition of Ikarie, but it's a different story.

  • 1
    Thank you. Tea From an Empty Cup is not the answer, but the novella Death in the Promised Land that you mention is the story that I was searching for. I misremembered some parts (e.g. it seems the victim was male and the main detective was woman), but it is definitely it. I looked it up and it seems I have read it in the Czech translation of the 2006 short story collection The Mammoth Book of Extreme Science Fiction edited by Mike Ashley.
    – vogrick
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:28
  • It was translated under the name Extrémní science fiction. This cover was immediately familiar and by reading the summaries I remembered other stories from the collection.
    – vogrick
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:29
  • Also I looked it up and found the passage with the silver avatar I remembered: "Her gaze locked onto a silvery figure standing in an open doorway. At first, she thought it was someone wearing a skintight bio-suit but then the figure moved forward and she saw that its skin was the same color as the clothes it wore. The figure moved closer and she amended her perception: it was the same material as the clothes it wore."
    – vogrick
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:32
  • Thank you very much for finding it. I will wait a bit in case you want to edit your answer and I will accept then.
    – vogrick
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:34
  • Hey, you're welcome, glad it helped. I'd just re-read some of her books last year - Fools is superb if you can find it. Tidied up the answer a bit to make it clearer the novella is also a match.
    – Mohirl
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:48

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