Virtual worlds are here, now--as exemplified by the recent explosion of Second Life, the best known virtual world. Indeed, online three-dimensional environments are becoming a real world phenomenon, as companies, educational institutions and individuals are marketing, providing products, undertaking research and featuring performances and artistic works in virtual worlds.

How did this come about? A play by play account emerges in the recently published book, "The Second Life Herald - The Virtual Tabloid That Witnessed The Dawn Of The Metaverse," by Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace and published by The MIT Press.

The Second Life Herald focuses on Urizenus Sklar. While Sklar set up the virtual newspaper the Second Life Herald, he is not a real person. Rather, he is an avatar - a representation of a person created by pixels and who can be seen on a computer screen, not in real life. The real person behind Sklar, is author Peter Ludlow.

Another avatar covered in the book is Walker Spaight, an editor of the Second Life Herald, who has been developed by author Mark Wallace.

The book is not necessarily technical in nature. It does not head-on address software code or legal precedent relating to virtual worlds.

Rather, through its characters, such as Sklar and Spaight, the book seeks to tell the stories of people who are heading into this latest Wild, Wild West - many of whom now are spending a great deal of their actual lifetimes in virtual worlds. In so doing, The Second Life Herald brings to life for real world readers virtual societies that are just starting to emerge in Cyberspace.

Is this an important read? Well, like it or not, the virtual train is out of the station and is picking up speed (sorry for yet another metaphor). The Second Life Herald helps to understand how virtual worlds started and where they are heading. Along the way, it deals with practical matters, such as the chapter on "dollars and Cyberspace."

You can board the virtual train and travel into the "Metaverse," or not, but the list of those who have is impressive.

As noted in the book, in the virtual world Second Life, Toyota released a virtual Scion xB, MTV established a virtual Laguna Beach to complement its television show, a virtual Home Run Derby was set up by Major League Baseball, Kurt Vonnegut presented a reading, Universal Music provided a virtual showcase stage where performers have given live concerts, and the beat goes on and on.

With these and other attractions, according to the book, as many as forty million people worldwide already have entered into the Metaverse.

While the authors portray virtual worlds as providing opportunities for socializing, education, business and marketing, The Second Life Herald shows that virtual worlds have not evolved in a easy, linear fashion. Rather, various chaotic circumstances and events have taken us to where we are today in the Metaverse. The book is about a virtual newspaper that has borne witness to the unfolding of the virtual worlds in this alternate universe.

It is a lively read. While the book touches on practical issues such as business matters and the power of the virtual press, it also delves into other matters that have moved from actual people on terra firma to avatars in virtual worlds, like cybersex.

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