Books for Second Life

October 7, 2006

Today´s Guardian carries a prominent article from non-specialist correspondent Stuart Jeffries on the subject of Second Life. (You only live twice), continuing the virtual environment´s increasing visibility as the next online phenomena to move into the popular conciousness, hot on the heels of myspace, YouTube, et al.

This follows the announcement last week from Penguin´s ´Digital Publisher´ Jeremy Ettinghausen of their move into SL, initially offering a ´virtual sampler´of Neal Stephenson´s cyberpunk classic Snow Crash, the book credited with inspiring the creation of SL (and incidentally a personal favourite, although you must read his non-cyber debut, the eco-thriller Zodiac, too). Ettinghausen also mentions the upcoming introduction of the Penguin Virtual Bookshelf, “which will allow residents of Second Life to decorate their virtual homes with working samples of real books.”

There appear to be a lot of half-measures in that sentence – the use of books for decorative purposes strikes a chill note in any true bibliophile´s heart (“Will the bindings match my drapes?” as the old bookseller´s horror story goes), as does the phrase “working samples”. It will be interesting to see what form these books take – will they be fully-fledged ebooks, available for complete download, or merely promotional fluff to drive SLers to the nearest bricks-and-mortar bookseller? Nevertheless, it´s refreshing stuff.

As the offline buzz around SL increases, we can expect to see more of this, driven, it can be certain, more by newcomers to the islands than by the early adopters, who by and large are a highly creative community unlikely to be push-overs for the first marketing schemes targeted at them, in what they rightfully consider to be their space. But if Penguin lauch a serious attempt to reach SL residents, they are likely to find many booklovers among the SL demographic.

I’ve yet to visit the virtual Shakespeare & Co., an SL Bookstore on Mill Pond, but would love to hear from those who have, or know of similar ventures within SL. This Shakespere & Co. (as opposed to the legendary offline version) is run by “Grace McDunnough”, aka Rhonda Lowry, Vice President and Executive in Residence at Turner Broadcasting New Products Group, responsible for “new media and entertainment – particularly the influence of advanced computing and virtual worlds as new media and entertainment platforms.” This appears symptomatic of businesses being driven into SL and other online ventures by the personal obsessions of their own employees.

Publishers aside, it will also be interesting to see the literature that arises from such communities as Second Life. Many books have already been written about online communities from the early days to the present – Village Voice writer Julian Dibbell´s My Tiny Life springs to mind – but the possibilities include texts created entirely within and for such worlds. Divorced from such dull constraints as physicality, what would a book look like in a truly expansive Second Life? And what stories would it tell?

1 Comment

  1. The ‘virtual’ Shakespeare and Company on Mill Pond in Second Life is a fantastic little spot that was actually created by me. (Micala Lumiere in Second Life). Grace has been holding weekly poetry readings there on Sundays and I’d really like to get some other things going with the shop. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions for the shop, I’d love to hear them! – Micala Lumiere (in Second Life)

    Comment by Micala — October 17, 2006 @ 4:39 pm

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