Australian author Clifford Wycliffe’s new novel, Dark Siren, has an undeniably provocative cover. Coupled with quotes from Lord Byron and David Vaile, the Executive Director of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at UNSW Sydney, Australia, I approached this virtual world novel with some trepidation.
The action commences with the attempted apprehension, in Sydney, of a Ukranian fugitive and criminal Kyrylo. Things get a whole lot more complicated than that, as the chase and plot extends across the cities and wilds of Australia, and through the virtual world of Avataria, involving the Australian Federal Police, the AHTCC, the NSA and the FBI.
If you’re a Second Life user, you’ll recognize Avataria right away. Wycliffe’s representation of Avataria is almost perfectly identical to Second Life. Indeed, I got the feeling that the name was changed from Second Life to Avataria fairly late in the writing. In Chapter three, we have this brief exchange:
“You’ve obviously never played Avataria.”
Deborah smiled.“My first life’s complicated enough, thank you.”
A time-worn half-gag that doesn’t make as much sense with Avataria in place of Second Life.
With only a couple of relatively minor exceptions, very little happens in Avataria that cannot happen in Second Life, yet Wycliffe has spun quite a solid yarn around and through those elements. Enough that I started reflexively considering other Second Life users as the model for some of the novel’s characters as I went along.
Character portrayals are fairly solid, though one or two moments of interaction between our protagonists and other Avataria users might give you cause to wince, either with awkwardness or familiarity (or both). I once worked on a sting-operation with an AFP division that would later be spun out into the AHTCC, and the material on that side holds enough verisimilitude to carry the show.
It’s an adult book for sure. There’s strong sexual references, homosexuality and the BDSM scene – though none of it for gimmicks or shocks. It’s all well-integrated into the characters and the story.
I must confess, I very much liked it. By the third or fourth chapter, my skepticism had evaporated. By about three in the morning, I’d finished the novel, feeling a sense of closure and entertainment. A lot of it would make for good television, though users typing earnestly via Avataria might not make for a great screen spectacle.
It’s a pretty solid Australian crime-detective novel, involving a very realistic portrayal of Second Life, with a solid blend of high-tech crime, political skullduggery and human weakness. On the whole, I’d heartily recommend it to fans of the genre.
Note: we’ll be serialising a significant proportion of Dark Siren here at the Metaverse Journal over coming weeks – stay tuned.