“Artificial Links”: novel of the metaverse

Mark Zuckerberg has announced the forthcoming launch of a virtual universe – a metaverse – because obviously Facebook is no longer enough, and is no longer frequented by younger generations. The network has also changed its name, and is now called Meta. Nathan Devers, in Artificial Links, concretizes the project and will confront two lives, that of the great architect and that of a small user. Adrien Sterner is the wise boss of the Heaven company, creator of the Antimonde metaverse. Julien Libérat is a piano teacher and failed artist, inconsolable since his breakup with May, addicted to scrolling, evolving in the metaverse under the name of Vangel.

This is a very contemporary novel. The metaverse is not a new idea, some attempts have already seen the light of day, all of which had to cease their activity for lack of fighters. The time had not come. Nathan Devers takes root in immediate reality: his character Adrien Sterner thinks it is now time, after the experience of confinement and virtual aperitifs, to launch the Antimonde. He is not mistaken. As soon as the announcement of the opening of the site, free, Internet users register, create their avatar, and live a life of substitution in anonymity. The Heaven company’s Antimonde has the particularity of reproducing the world exactly as it is. The partnership with Google is essential: each street in each city, each path in each countryside, is faithfully reproduced in this virtual world according to data from Google Earth.

The novel is built on three parallel lives. That of Adrien Sterner, who we see evolving in the reality of the walls of his company-bunker. He manhandles – mistreats – his employees, behaves like a boss-tyrant, is inhabited by a mystical conception of the Antiworld based on the Apocalypse of Saint John and the celestial Jerusalem. That of Julien Libérat, voluntary confined in a shabby apartment in Rungis, spending his days and nights developing his avatar in the Antimonde. And that of Vangel, the avatar created by Julien Libérat, a guy with an ungrateful physique, a poet polemicist whom Adrien Sterner will transform into a star in this virtual universe.

The novel reads like an adventure book, there is suspense, humor more than irony, twists and turns, murders, we even meet Serge Gainsbourg there. But Nathan Devers is an associate professor of philosophy, and he hasn’t forgotten that. Under the evidence of the novel with contemporary significance, barely futuristic, essential and referential questions emerge. What is this need to create a world which does not exist but which resembles the world? The only greed, the only capitalist reference, are not answers. Adrien Sterner takes himself for God, and Julien Libérat, in the skin of a virtual Vangel, in whose name we hear “angel”, accepts the missions assigned to him, assassinating the President of the United States, for example. The social and financial success he enjoys in the metaverse does not console him for the failure of his real life. Anyway, his notoriety as a poet, Vangel owes it to the goodwill of the demiurge Sterner, not to the quality of his verses. If millions of people attend, in the novel, the retransmission by BFMTV of the funeral of an avatar named Vangel, let us remember that in real life, in 1885, in a Paris much less populated than today, two million people, real people, attended Victor Hugo’s funeral. That’s the reality.

The metaverse of Artificial links is not the virtual reality of video games. The little Sims who stir in the Antiworld, because they are projected into a faithfully reproduced life-size world, are more than avatars, they are outrageous, disproportionate incarnations, pale little humans riveted to their screens or strapped in their sensory combination. This is where Nathan Devers’s novel takes on its full meaning: by going to the end of the logic, by revealing to the reader, from the introduction, that Julien Libérat commits suicide live on the networks while defending himself, he reverses the idea of ​​the fall: Julien is victorious, because he decides his fate, therefore regains power over his own life, and undoubtedly brings about the end of Sterner, who collapses in the heart of a snowy Jerusalem, real but reflecting the celestial city.

The leitmotif of the novel is the expression “together and apart”, a sort of symbolic oxymoron of postmodernity. The vocabulary used in the metaverse is based on the negation of reality, by the use of the prefixes “anti” and “against”: Antimonde, anti-me, counter-journalism… But are the links woven in this novel really artificial? ? Of course, the adventures that take place in the metaverse are virtual, but are they artificial? And the relationship woven between Adrien Sterner and Julien Libérat via the avatar Vangel, is it artificial or essential? Nathan Devers relies on the technological possibilities of today and the reality of tomorrow to question the meaning of life, if it has any meaning.

Nathan Devers, Artificial Links, ed. Albin Michel, August 17, 2022, 336 p.

“Artificial Links”: novel of the metaverse