Bettina's Bet

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Duchamp, L. Timmel. "Bettina's Bet." Asimov's Science Fiction January 1996. Reprinted Cybersex anthology, which see.[1]

From the headnote to this story in Cybersex: "'As more and more people spend greater amounts of time in cyberspace and come to identify increasingly with their various cyber constructs and non-physical relationships, won't the boundaries between "real" and "imaginary" have less practical significance?' The story below entertainingly addresses this question posed by Gareth Branwyn in Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture (1994) [...]" (p. [333], italics removed).

See for a future inmate who can complain of her (as it turns out) "desperation every time the jail's system shoves me into its cyberspace with the announcement by the Ugly Grating Voice of Authority of 'visiting period,'" whether she has a visitor or not. So, unlike the possibilities of free-flying freedom in, e.g., the cyberspace of the classic cyberpunk Neuromancer, here a cyberspace could be just one more — in a 20th-c. term — range in a prison: just another alternative to one's "real-space cell" (Cybersex p. 339). The inmate's mother compares the prison and her daughter's legal situation to "limbo" (p. 340), and there is a reference to a potentially sick person's being checked into a nursing home somewhat obliquely referred to as "a womb" (p. 338).

More strongly relevant is the contrast in the story between Bettina, who respects flesh and the material world, and her ex-boyfriend (let's say: he is no friend, much less a lover) and "his disgust with the flesh"; all the dude wanted was to be in cyberspace all the time" (p. 243). His line is "[...] don't you understand it's your psyche that I'm into. Your body doesn't matter. My body doesn't matter. We can have any kinds of bodies we want in cyberspace" (p. 344); but what he wants is destructive and it turns out a significant piece of flesh will mean a good deal to him after (spoiler here) Bettina cuts it off and cuts it up, arguably winning the bet. (Bettina's "side of the bet was that" she "could get him to admit there was plenty worth doing in real space" [p. 348], including sex, which, in a non-playful variation on S/M is most of what they did, in cyberspace for the "dude's" pleasure.)

What in folklore (and religion and philosophy) would be the motif of the separable soul, and that spirit engaged with and/or opposed to the "meat" of the body has been a theme in much cyberpunk from Neuromancer through The Ware Tetralogy on — where the world(s) of cyberspace and "IRL" (in real life) aren't just accepted as part of a real life that includes cyberspace. (Note that the initial compiler learned the initialism "IRL" in real life and not from literature or film.)

RDE, finishing, 8/11Feb23