This book has been a labor of love by Sean Percival (SL avatar: Sean Voss) for some time. We've conversed several times in world, and (far too briefly) at the 2007 Second Life Community Convention, and he has mentioned it. It is clear that he is a lover and believer of virtual worlds, and wants to be a curator of the transient beauty that often exists in them.
Many of the books I have read about virtual worlds, or Second Life in particular, tend to focus on success stories: how to make money, how to do things within virtual worlds, or extremely general overviews. This book has a very different dedicated focus: must-see locations within the Second Life virtual world that are some of the most impressive uses of the blank virtual canvas we call "the grid." It is laid out much like one would lay out a tour guide to any major metropolitan area, creating a format which can be recognized by most people.
The book is 6 inches wide, 9 inches high - it literally looks like any other travel guide for a foreign country I've seen. This isn't a coffee table book - while printed in friendly, brilliant color, it isn't quite as big as "The Official Guide to Second Life." It clocks in at 190 pages, and many feature color photos, which are clearly the highlight of the book. This book has the clearest, most color-true screenshots of Second Life I have seen from the over ten Second Life books I own. The publisher, Que, deserves a lot of credit for giving the same treatment to Second Life that they would to any other travel guide. The quality given to the screen shots is the same a real life travel guide would give to the world's greatest cities. The book contains eight chapters, and some very valuable extras.
One of the strengths of the book is the breadth of subjects covered. While nothing is presented in much detail, a good overview of Second Life as a whole is presented. The different chapters cover shopping, entertainment, education, real life inspired locations, places for "mature" audiences (or should that be immature?), as well as a guide on where to live depending on your interests.
Everything I've mentioned above is fantastic, so I don't have too much to add, but I'll go into a few specifics.
One of the best parts of the book is the first chapter, which I didn't mention above: Virtual Boot Camp. In about six small pages, with plenty of handy photographs, Percival presents you with everything you need to know to be the next grid explorer. He covers the basic topics: moving, using the map, using the camera, and a few other very basic topics. I couldn't help by remember the travel guides I had during high school and college which covered foreign culture in a few pages: how do you get a beer, how do you find a toilet, how do you find a place to crash?
Second Life and virtual worlds have a very different local culture, and this crash course can get the n00biest new resident ready to explore in a very short time. He is also extremely friendly; before the book's introduction, is a "I Want to Hear From You!" page.
What's Not So Good?
It is the nature of the beast: Second Life changes so rapidly, that by press time, Second Life has already changed significantly. All tech books suffer from this: I'm pretty sure the IBM DOS 3.0 manual I have is only worth the laughs I get. The "Black Swan" sim, which I consider the most incredible piece of art I've seen in Second Life, was in development at the same time as the book, and thus is an notable omission. Maybe in the second edition? Percival should author a follow up, dedicated to hidden gems that older residents may not have seen, perhaps presenting us with the top 100 locations that not many people in Second Life know about.
Who Should Buy It?
Wide eyed new users: absolutely. This will show you some awesome locations.
Jaded old users who don't hang out much: yes. This will show you places that might bring back your spirit.
Users over two years old who still are frequenting SL: probably not. You've seen these locations.
Old users who want to show new users what SL is all about: yes. This is the book we've been waiting for that answer the annoying questions we all get from our friends and family.
Never logged in, or curious: maybe. This book cuts through the hype and shows what virtual worlds, and Second Life in particular, are actually about, regardless of interest type.
Non-English speakers: no. Sorry, but these things take time, as with SL itself!
This book will be a worthy addition to my increasing shelf of virtual worlds books, which I started back in 1994, with the book, "The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality." Over the past year, it has becoming quite a collection, but this is the first book I can show my mother that she would actually understand. I've already shown it to friends of mine who aren't of the geek persuasion, yet are curious about these virtual worlds I'm constantly babbling on about. The quality of the photographs and the descriptions included with them pique curiosity and make this a winner. If you are a new user, a curious onlooker, or a hard core user who finds yourself trying to explain what the hell we're all so interested in is, this is a book for you.
Over and out!-FlipperPA Peregrine