Review: A Stanford graduate student thinks there may be a connection between his activities in a popular online role-playing game and his actions in real life in Fortuna, Michael R. Stevens' debut stand-alone thriller.
Jason Lind is finding graduate school at Stanford a bore. Lacking the enthusiasm to study or the will to continually grade papers as a teaching assistant for his advisor, he turns to Fortuna, "an alternate reality based on Renaissance Florence, where players seek power, wealth, fame and love", an online game that also comes with a warning: "The exchange of phone numbers, e-mail addresses, IM screen names, or physical locations in the real world is strictly forbidden, as is any reference to the fact that there is a real world or that Fortuna is a simulation." Jason becomes immersed into this environment, one that he quickly discovers also has a cost: expenses incurred in Fortuna must be paid for in real world cash … cash he doesn't have. While attempting to balance his ingame and real world lives, he discovers that, despite the rules of anonymity, there may be link between the two … one with deadly consequences.
Fortuna is one of those thrillers that doesn't stand up well to critical analysis of its plot or the actions or motivations of its characters. To use just one example that doesn't spoil any plot surprises, why does the convention of Florentine timekeeping used in Fortuna match, identically, the local time in California rather than that of Florence, where the ingame action takes place? Wouldn't someone as smart as Jason realize that 3 PM in Stanford is not the 19th hour in Florence? The 19th hour isn't even 3 PM in Italy (in January when the sun sets around 5 PM, it's actually closer to noon, or 3 AM in Stanford), and just illustrates one of many convenient shortcuts taken by the author to move the plot along without being bogged down by getting the details right. Which is somewhat ironic, since Jason comments repeatedly on how accurately detailed the game is. Furthermore, the structure of the narrative doesn't lend itself well to the story being told. Having Jason jump in and out of game is fine, but interspersed throughout are passages from the rules of Fortuna, newspaper articles, e-mail messages, and the like. On the one hand it helps the reader understand a bit more about what's going on, but on the other, it's very disruptive. Then there's the nonlinear chronology that makes little sense contextually (the story jumps from January 23rd to February 4th, then back to January 28th, then on to February 6th, and so on), and the lengthy — and largely unnecessary — backstory that consumes much of the second half of the book.
The premise of Fortuna will certainly appeal to fans of high tech-type thrillers, of which this is arguably one, but others may find the path taken here too circuitous and the outcome too predictable.
Acknowledgment: Oceanview Publishing provided a copy of Fortuna for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Fortuna: Stanford, California
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Fortuna by Michael R. Stevens
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Publication Date: May 2010
List Price: $25.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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