September 28, 2023

Dark Park Addresses the Wonder and Chaos of Spatial Platforms--And The Music Industry

The sequel to Dark Factory is now available. How does it stack up?

Dark Park Addresses the Wonder and Chaos of Spatial Platforms--And The Music Industry

If you've never read Kathe Koja's Dark Factory, you should. A metaversal novel which covers nightclubs that operate with the help of augmented reality, Dark Factory feels like a more visceral version of Ready Player One. Now, there's a sequel: Dark Park, which is currently available on Amazon. Dark Park is a novelette that serves as an epilogue for the first book, yet adds a few more touches to round out its fictional world.

The Metaculture was provided with a copy of Dark Park by Meerkat Press for review. Some spoilers below:

In Dark Factory, readers are treated to the power struggles of evolving tech and age-old DJ drama that unfolds in the club which shares the book's namesake. Ari Regon, who is often the focus of the story, weaves through the world while fielding discussions of the validity of spatial platforms, their use in creating art and entertainment, and where creatives fit in with it all. Dark Park sees Ari and his lover Felix in the "happily ever after" stage. Except for one thing: "happily ever after" isn't exactly real and there's more challenges waiting.

At the same time, other characters are along for the ride. Dark Park visits immersive artist Max Caspar's journey into virtual reality, the absurdity of avatar design, and the chaos of having too many items on a to-do list when taking on the task of building a virtual world. At times, the narrative practically submerges the reader in Koja's fluid style of writing, which feels purposeful in getting the reader overwhelmed with names, dates, and facts it seems should be memorized but are forgotten by the next page. There's too much to do, and you feel this while reading. I wanted to introduce any of the characters on the pages to Trello as I was rushed along.

The same chaos also weaves through Ari and Felix's journey with surviving the music industry. Koja knows this subject pretty well, because the reference to fickle talent, gossip from jealous musicians, and "friends" who hover within a scene but are never really known for anything else other than being there, feels utterly familiar.

Outside of all of this is one lonely observer who is working to make their own dreams come true: Sergey Kendricks, a budding filmmaker trying to make a name for himself. His journal entries feel a lot like the kind of posts you find on DJ social media accounts--earnest, hopeful, and inadvertently utilizing the space for self-talk.

One downside of Max's story was some of the clues for how it would turn out being lost in the chaos that actually defines his struggles. There's a plot twist that would probably be clearer with a few more breadcrumbs, but Max's path in the story mirroring Ari's still feels like the right thing to do. As far as Ari and Felix's own narrative is concerned, I think I would have been happier with more chapters. It's probably a good thing to say that ninety-four pages is simply not enough for the second part of this story. I don't know what it would require for Max to mirror Ari's own pace in reaching a narrative conclusion, but a few more rounds of Ari and Felix moving houses and encountering more different faces would be interesting.

There's also the familiar heartbreak of revisiting clubs that have long shuttered. When a music movement is active, it's hard to think it'll ever end. The characters of Dark Park stop by their old haunts along the way, which makes me want to pick up Dark Factory and read it all over again. It makes me think of the venues irl and in VR which have come and gone over time, and how it must hurt for everyone who's ever felt like a club was their second home. Losing that venue can feel like losing a part of yourself.

Dark Park is a great epilogue to Dark Factory. Just know you'll want more, because the story is potentially endless in the way it could be written. But just like in reality, the music never lasts forever.