Another story request :-) I remember reading a science fiction story where everyone wore augmented reality glasses in order to keep them from seeing the worn down world. Your city might be falling apart with garbage stacked on the streets, but it all looks like wonder and light. The glasses also hide the diseased and disfigured folks. So, everyone is existing in a fiction that they all accept in order to keep from despair.

thoughts, kenny

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    Do you remember when you read it, whether it seemed like a newer or older book? Also, are you sure it was augmented reality glasses rather then some other means of imposing false appearances on the world? You could also look over wikipedia's list of Simulated reality in fiction to see if anything rings a bell.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 17, 2015 at 18:09
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    If it could have been a fantasy story, there is an episode in one of the Vance Dying Earth books where this exact thing happens, but the apparatus is magical instead of technological. Mar 17, 2015 at 18:20
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    Without the glasses details (being dosed continuously by chemicals), it sounds a lot like Stanislaw Lem's Futurology Congress
    – SJuan76
    Mar 18, 2015 at 0:35
  • There was also a story in Asimov's (I think) magazine 20 or so years ago that involved a colony world of telepaths where the colonists unconsciously created a sort of concensus reality where everyone saw what they wanted/expected to see, except for the one non-telepath that happened to be born. No glasses involved, but the effect was similar - none of the telepathic colonists could see the trash building up, the streets and buildings falling apart, and the physical/medical results of disease and neglect.
    – Joe L.
    Mar 18, 2015 at 2:47
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    @SJuan76 - That's the one I thought of too, but in case Kenny Moorman wants to look it up, the English title is actually The Futurological Congress.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 18, 2015 at 3:49

6 Answers 6


This could be one of many works, but does sound like it could be Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance. In the story the anti-protagonist Cugel is cast far across the dying Earth by Iucounu the Laughing Magician:

There, Cugel finds two villages, one occupied by wearers of the violet lenses, the other by peasants who work on behalf of the lens-wearers, in hopes of being promoted to their ranks. The lenses cause their wearers to see, not their squalid surroundings, but the Overworld, a vastly superior version of reality where a hut is a palace, gruel is a magnificent feast, etc. — "seeing the world through rose-colored glasses" on a grand scale. Cugel gains an Eye by trickery, and escapes from Cutz. He then undertakes an arduous trek back to Iucounu, cursing the magician the entire way; this forms the principal part of the book.

This novel was a fix-up of a series of stories. I think the villagers with the purple lenses were first published as "The Overworld" in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in December 1965.


Elizabeth Bear's "The Hand Is Quicker" might be what you're looking for. Augmented reality is something of a utility, covering a world in decay. The lead character loses his job, and loses access to the shared illusion.

To quote from the above-linked review:

This tale brilliantly explores a future in which humanity exploits multiple layers of reality, called skins, that filter out undesired elements. To stay in these virtual reality skins, one must be a taxpayer in good standing. Taxpayers also use their palm chips, credit and good standing to access public transport, public services like police and 911, and to move freely around the city. Those without good standing, baselines, are restricted to life at the fringe of society in the few unrestricted locations and filtered out by anyone skinned. [Comparisons to The Matrix are apt in the layering of realities.]

  • Welcome to the site! Can you please add some more details that explain why you think this is the book the OP is looking for?
    – Wad Cheber
    May 5, 2016 at 0:33

Sounds like "The Nostalgist" by Daniel H Wilson. The story primarily focuses around a father and his son, and describes in detail how the father uses glasses, hearing, and smell augmented reality to change the world around him. The story was first published on Tor a few years ago and you can still read it for free here.

It's a pretty short story and I don't want to say too much to avoid spoilers, but the story is about what happens when the father's AR "eyes" begin to break down and have to be replaced.

There is also a short film that was backed on Kickstarter that was made out of it, which was excellent.


Tha main charater in K. W. Jeter's Noir had his eyes/brain altered to allow him to see everything as his preferred black-and-white 40's-detective-noir-movie world instead of the crapsack world it really is.

He dipped his hand in the water in the sink, then ran his fingertips across the surface of the just-warming coffeepot. The wetness made a slightly shinier mirror out of the curved metal. Shiny things worked better for this than real mirrors; anything big and intentionally reflective got absorbed too quickly into this world’s firmness. But in little bits of chrome and silver, sometimes the back of a spoon or a polished doorknob, he saw a scrap from the other side, a bit of optical leak-through, colors bleeding into the monochrome.
This time, he saw the girl sitting on the couch. McNihil turned the metal pot slightly, angling the wet reflective patch’s shot through the kitchen doorway and toward the apartment’s living room. Seeing her this way, the girl didn’t look like a young Ida Lupino anymore. The curls against her pale cheeks had vanished, along with the general air of brave vulnerability and period early-forties outfit from Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra that’d been laid over her in McNihil’s world. The worn-and-mended woolen skirt, the thin unbuttoned sweater with a zigzag decorative pattern around the bottom and at the cuffs showing her tiny wrists, the plain high-collared blouse … all that McNihil had already seen her in had been replaced, at least in the percolator’s distorted mirror. Replaced by what was sadly real.
More skin; that was what was mainly noticeable. Still in a skirt, of some kind of black plasticky stuff with the slick sheen of fetish enthusiasms. But hiked nearly pudenda-high, with correspondingly bare arms and cleavage. The neoprene highlights shimmered with the slow fever gleam of neon on a rain-wet nocturnal street. Over on the other side, where the colors were, a girl could freeze to death in an outfit like that, not so much from air temperature as the coldly assessing gazes of men.


I recently stumbled across a reference to a book called Reality Crash (2008) which is partially available as a preview on the Google page. From Goodreads:

Even though he's a programmer for Virtual Vision Network, Adam Porter never wonders how it all works. He knows that virtual vision offers subscribers a variety of premium channels with which to view the world. There's Cartoon Vision for family fun, Chapel Vision for meditation, Ultramodern and Shangrila for variety. And his personal favorite, Frontier Vision, where he and his virtual dog, Bo, defend the homestead from bands of desperados. But going off-line always brings a return to normal, everyday life until a head injury puts his receiver on the fritz, revealing a post-apocalyptic world that Adam has never seen before. Adam is forced to question what is real and what is an illusion. With Network cops dogging his every move, Adam goes on the run and stumbles upon the Actual Reality Underground where he joins a band of Eco-guerrillas in a plan to blow up the virtual vision transmitters and force the population back to the actual reality they don't even know exists.

And quoting the story just after he hits his head:

Adam suddenly grabbed his head with both hands, gripped with pain. He doubled over. When he straightened back up, he looked around, confused.

"You sure you're alright?" Brad asked.

Adam nodded, still rubbing his head.

His vision flickered. Adam caught vague shimmering glimpses of his office in shambles. Everything remained in the same locations, but the furniture and objects alternately flashed into worn, faded versions of themselves. Even Brad looked faded and grey. Beneath the computer renderings the walls buckled with stains and mold. The clean air alternately thickened with dust. Rust and corrosion enshrouded bare, leaking pipes.

Cover of Reality Crash


There's a passage early on in The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson describing starship crew using masks that filter out the ship's consensual virtual reality so they can see their real world. It's the opposite of what you described, but memories do get confused over time:

A dozen strips of transparent plastic were tied to a nearby bulkhead peg and Pipit handed me one without a word. I clipped it around my head, staring openmouthed as the familiar surroundings disappeared. The sick bay was actually a small, almost empty compartment that held half a dozen beds. I was the only patient. The bulkheads were dull and oily looking; I could never have seen my reflection in any of them. The deck was a beaten sheet of metal worn by the passage of generations of magnetic sandals. A few of the glow tubes flickered where the bulkheads and the overhead met; two of them had burned out. The anatomy charts were discolored and chipped; one light panel was broken, the other was dark. There was no glassteel partition through which I could see banks of shining machinery in a spotless operating theater. In fact, there was no operating theater. Nor were there any ports through which I could stare at the stars or watch a planet revolving majestically a thousand kilometers below. I had been looking at the ship as it once had been, not as it was now. Beneath the images formed by the intersecting planes of light, the Astron was old, old past anything I could imagine.

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