Fictional Revenge in a Virtual World: Does it Appeal to Everyone?

Echo's Revenge: The Ultimate GameSean Austin, real name Hart Getzen, took some time to chat about his book series. With one book out - Echo's Revenge: The Ultimate Game is available on Amazon - he laid out why you ought to buy his book. Yes, even if you aren't a diehard Lord of the Rings fanatic who knows his pseudonym is one letter shy of LOTR actor Sean Astin.

Anyone might enjoy it, he says: "It can be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys YA [young adult] fiction because it also has similarities to classic and contemporary literary genres such as horror (Frankenstein, The Most Dangerous Game, The Hunger Games), stories about coming of age (Twilight), suspense, and redemption. The youngest YA reader can take life lessons from the book with even the simplest understanding that there are codes out there, available to anyone, to becoming a better person and accomplishing anything imaginable. Echo's Revenge is a tech-thriller about the gaming world, and how a video game goes horribly wrong when it is recreated in the real world, depicted from multiple perspectives as in a video game. Everything that happens in the story is based on real technology."

Current events tie into the theme: "Having lived in Afghanistan has made me aware that, as an American, our awareness about what is going on in the world can sometimes be slightly limited. I've noticed that it is sometimes difficult for Americans to envision and/or acknowledge threats from abroad, such as what caused 9/11, the current Iranian attacks targeting our banks and financial relationships here and abroad, and rampant viral Chinese industrial espionage going on every day. So in a certain way I'm writing about hidden threats, but not only those from abroad."

"The series is also about new threats we create with our own technology, how we produce new technology at such a furious pace that often we do not understand what the implications (social, national security, financial security, our own mental health) of these new human-technology interfaces (video games, electronic commerce, web entertainment, email, social networking, etc.) are. At the same time, everything we do online is potentially exposed to hackers all over the world. Any government or individual hacker can watch what we do very easily, and are able to use this information very easily. As a result of living abroad, I am most interested in these issues within the context of global game theory."

Women dig it too: When the book came out in May, I was very surprised to find that female gamers, older gamers and ex-gamers were also really excited about the story. (See http://www.echohunt.com/sales/ for gamer reviews). I think this is partially due to the fact that no one is writing about the social and psychological aspects of online game communities. Online gaming has spawned a rich assortment of many types of social, political and artistic communities: Derivative game programming groups, cheat code sites, hacker app sites, game-video production sites and many others which are not entirely game related, such as robotics. Since a big part of the gaming world is about game theory and code, I extended the idea of codes into personal development themes, including codes of ethics (personal integrity, religious, etc.), codes of silence, codes of conduct (personal and military) and so on."

"Book 2, 'The Other Side,' also includes a very strong female adult character who works in the male dominated world of game design. Both the young adult and adult female characters in the series turn out to be hero's heroes in both planes of the story. There are also some mysterious feminine qualities which have been written into the operating code by the female programmer in Book 2. So there is a very feminist theme evolving on both planes of the story."

The locale makes the story: "Location sets the tone of every scene, from life as a kid in Washington State, in a colder, grim, wet environment compared to the many locations leading south to San Diego, where the weather and people become warmer. Like Frankenstein, locations throughout the trip down the west coast are featured just as Mary Shelly used locations throughout Europe as a backdrop. Only enough information is included along the way about these locations so the plot doesn't stall, and all of the locations on the 'road trip' provide a stark lively contrast to the cold, hard granite interior of the mountain in Death Valley where the gamers are imprisoned."

A character rundown, in the author's words:
• Reggie and Jeremy are kids of divorced parents, kids who have to deal with their mother's violent, alcoholic boyfriend on a daily basis, kids with a mother struggling with limited financial means. The book was written for sons and daughters who are not being parented, who will hopefully learn that they will have to parent themselves by figuring out on their own how to live a positive and productive life.

• Luca Espinoza, and Italian-American, is the game creator. He is the Steve Jobs of the game design world. He starts out King of the Hill: Invincible. He is the brilliant Dr. Frankenstein who is tormented and destroyed by his creation, ECHO-7.

• Jimmy Kwon (aka Chainsaw) is a Korean-American from Ventura, CA who is obsessed with weaponry and technology.

• Claire (The Claw, formerly known as Scratch) is an athletic girl who is also a gamer. She is smart and helps the boys move ahead in the game when they don't know what to do. In the focus group she is like a big sister who is first mocked by the gamers, but soon gains all of the boys' awe and respect in the Cauldron of Hell. Ultimately Claire becomes the hero's hero because she is Reggie's go-to person when he's stumped; but there are dark aspects of Claire's psyche. How would a capable, intelligent girl behave if she were dropped in the middle of a bunch of rowdy, aggressive, competitive guys in a life and death game of survival?

• Rhino is Hispanic. His father is in the U.S. Army somewhere on the other side of the world, a missing POW who has been abducted by an enemy force abroad. For Rhino, loyalty is everything. He would do anything to find his father, but he hasn't the means to do so. In the beginning of the story, Reggie knows nothing about loyalty. He learns about the concept from a driver he hitches a ride with, an ex-Marine who educates him and Jeremy about Semper Fi, a Marine code of ethics.

• Abdullah Khan (aka Flame) is a very bright Muslim gamer from New York. Sparks fly between him and Rhino because Rhino believes a Muslim group is responsible for his father's abduction. Rhino always projects his anger and grief of losing his father onto Abdullah.

• George Johnson (aka Snake) functions between worlds and social communities. He's Teflon-coated and nothing sticks to him.

• Isaac Podansky (aka iPod) is an African American from Redondo Beach. He compulsively catalogues movie themes and popular music and plays cues which reflect either what is going on at any given moment in his life, or what he is feeling at any moment in his life. He is connected to music, and musical themes, in a compulsive OCD-like manner.