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7:24pm on Wednesday, 13th August, 2008:

The Last Testament


Last year, as part of the publicity to Virtual World Forum Europe, I was interviewed by Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian. He mentioned to me that he wrote thrillers under the pen name Sam Bourne, and that his latest book, The Last Testament, gave Second Life a pivotal position in the plot. As a result of hearing this, and because I took a liking to Jonathan, I bought the book.

I finally got around to reading it while on holiday. I finished it off yesterday on the flight back from Edinburgh.

OK, so it has a number of implausible coincidences, the protagonist makes stupid mistakes and the ending is obvious a mile away, but that's par for thrillers (not that I often read them, but judging by the movie of The Da Vinci Code...). It was actually quite rollicking stuff — just the thing to while away hot afternoons on a cruise ship.

One thing which was quite impressive was the research. The book is set in Jerusalem (which I guess the author knows reasonably well, as he writes a monthly piece for the Jewish Chronicle), but it's quite heavy with archaeology. As luck would have it, I knew quite a bit about the particular subject matter anyway because, well, I'm a virtual world designer so that sort of thing just happens to me, but it's pretty obscure stuff. I discovered from the acknowledgments at the end that the author had spoken at length to people at the British Museum to get the details, so that explains why the scholarship is so good.

However, there was one point where the research fell down: when the heroine accessed Second Life. Can you go into a rarely-used business lounge at a hotel and immediately fire up Second Life? Can you go into a bar and run it from its public-access computer? Well, maybe you can if it's already installed on the PC and is patched up to date, but otherwise you're looking at a long wait... What happened within Second Life in the book was credible (even the [SPOILER ALERT!] bunny-headed people melting the heroine's avatar), but being able to sit at random computers and dive straight in? That's stretching artistic licence too far!

Still, if we go somewhere hot again for our holidays next year, maybe I'll try to remember to get one of the other two Sam Bourne books to read. If I can't use the Internet because of the outrageous charges levied by hotels or wherever, at least I can read novels that are Internet-friendly.

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).