In the near future, virtual reality has revolutionized how people work, study, and play. However, college student Andrew Hunter finds that technological advances have left him with the same problems young adults have always faced: his parents seem like alien life forms, he can't live up to his sister's hero worship, and he has no idea what to do with his life. But when a mysterious hacker takes over his favorite online game, Andrew is roped into a plot involving shadowy corporations, the FBI, and the threat of international terrorism. As he maneuvers through a game which has become all-too intense, he'll need to figure out who the players really are. Over the course of that discovery, he'll also need to decide what's really important to him, and maybe even become the hero his sister has always believed he could be.
Winner of the EPIC Award for Best Novel (Science Fiction) 2011. Finalist for the Compton Crook Award for Best New Author.
P. Aaron Potter is a professor of literature as well as an awesome geek. His debut novel is a gripping story of gaming, greed, and the intersection of digital and real-world interests. –Anthea Sharp
In every game, there are winners and there are losers. In most cases, it is easy to recognize the likely winner well before the game's conclusion: most systems reward aggressive play, long-term strategy coupled with short-term, tactical flexibility. The player with the most devotion to understanding and manipulating this system, the one who maximizes his gains and minimizes his risks, the most ruthlessly savvy, is the one most likely to win.
This is the first law of gaming, and most people learn it as children, whether by playing tag in a back yard in Ohio, or Cheng Li-Min after school in Beijing, or scratching a tic-tac-toe grid in the dirt of a street in Bangladesh. Learn the rules, and play to win.
The second law is this: randomness happens. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, and even the most painstakingly exact strategy is subject to the roll of the dice. Sometimes long-shots come in. Sometimes double-sixes spell the unexpected end of a flawless round. Sometimes a crow eats your golf ball. And sometimes the fool who goes all-in on an inside straight pulls out that sweet, sweet missing card and wins the jackpot.
The second law trumps the first law every single time.
Druin the Reaver – thief, sell-sword, shadow-walker, and scourge of the night – was contemplating the second law as he cowered in the darkness, waiting to die. No more than ten feet away, a troll-kin slaver, a seven-foot nightmare of gaunt muscle and leathery blue skin, sniffed the air hungrily. When it finally caught his scent underneath the mustiness of the cave and the stench of the slaves, it would be on him.
Part of him wondered why he wasn't dead already.
He didn't know it yet, wouldn't know it for some weeks, but someone else, someone watching him, was wondering the same thing.
The deeper, primal portion of Druin's mind was fiercely devoted to the problem of how he might escape being beaten to death. Death was no fun. It had been weeks since he'd last died, and he wasn't looking forward to the grueling post-mortem recovery process. But he knew from painful experience that his subconscious mind was better suited to figuring out matters of survival without his interference. Druin therefore devoted the greater part of his thoughts to the sequence of events which had brought him here.
At what precise moment had their careful plan gone so violently wrong? What decision had twisted a fairly simple bit of robbery and murder towards this likely fatal crisis?
Where, in short, had they blown it?