When two friends realize they’re NPCs in a video game, they hack reality to make their lives awesome and wind up targeted for deletion.
Prescott Harvey’s IN BETA is one of my favorite books currently funding on Inkshares. Harvey’s the author of The World of Warcraft’s Guide to Winning at Life, and creator of the viral video/open letter telling JJ Abrams how to make Star Wars great again, which Abrams incorporated into The Force Awakens. All in all Harvey sounds like a pretty cool dude, and I’m digging what I’ve read of IN BETA.
Elon Musk thinks we’re living inside a video game, and this novel is primed to run with that notion and then some. This is an awesome high concept paired with a brilliant proven quantity in Prescott Harvey — dude, sign me up as an IN BETA-tester! – Daniel H. Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of ROBOPOCALYPSE
Who is Prescott Harvey and what’s IN BETA all about?
I tend to think about my life like this: My 20’s were about expanding my universe, and my 30’s are about shrinking it back down.
My 20s were for adventure. Traveling abroad, trips to Burning Man, living a feral existence out in the woods, sailing the Pacific Coast. Etc.
Now, in my 30s, it’s about living in a neighborhood, biking to work, getting to know a community, giving back, establishing roots. It’s about depth over breadth.
So that’s a narrow overview of me. IN BETA is a book about two lazy high schoolers who realize they live inside a simulated reality. Instead of trying to escape, they hack reality to make their lives awesome. And then they get targeted for deletion by a systems admin.
Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?
It’s been years in the making. I don’t say that to imply that it’s some sort of masterpiece; more that it’s been a very difficult story to develop.
I’m a fan of bad movies, and a friend recommended I watch “The Miami Connection.” I did, and was blown away. The movie is not nearly as good / bad as the trailer makes it seem, but it’s still amazing how quintessentially 80’s the movie manages to be. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a group of friends who are in a rock and roll band, and they’re also all blackbelts in karate, and of course an evil ninja clan threatens one of their girlfriends. It has kung fu, (surprisingly good) music, machine guns, motorcycles… basically, everything you’d want in an 80’s movie. And I started thinking “God, wouldn’t it be amazing to push this even further?”
So I started by researching all my favorite 80’s cliches. From lightsabers, to time machines, to hoverboards, to Nazi’s, to rock and roll, to video games. Even cliche 80’s phrases like “lock and load”, “let’s roll”, “let’s ride” etc. I don’t even remember what was on the list, but it was long. The working title was “Awesome Movie.” (and yes, it was originally going to be a movie).
But I needed some sort of device to tie it all together and make it work. How can you effectively have every awesome thing in a story, without it all falling apart? The device I came up with was a magical VHS tape that got struck by lightning to release a Jumanji-style 80’s experience. But even that was still a little too loosey goosey, and I was having a hard time staying invested in the story. Which, when you’re whole premise is one schlocky joke, that’s of course going to be an issue.
Around this point, the trailer for Kung Fury came out. Not only did it beat me to the punch, but it did an awesome job of it. And then Lego Movie came out, and I started realizing I wasn’t the only one pondering a ‘more-is-more’ approach, where everything and the kitchen sink could be refreshing and fun.
Long story short, I got to rethinking my premise. I finally struck upon a device I enjoyed (The Matrix as a comedy) that allowed me to do the things I wanted, but could still ground the characters and give them depth. I personally am already starting to tire of the “more is more” approach. And if I am, I’m willing to bet others are, too.
So I started thinking that if I wrote it as a book, I’d get to spend more time with the characters, not focus as much on gags, and could explore interesting existential tangents without sticking so purely to genre conventions like a movie would require me to do. A book sounded more and more appealing, and here we are.
I’d been aware of Inkshares for a bit. I even had a different novel that I was planning to crowd fund, maybe next year. Then they announced their videogame competition with Nerdist, and suddenly it was (to quote another 80’s cliche) “go time.”
What books have captured your attention lately?
I’m going to be honest, at the risk of alienating people. I don’t read a lot of new books. I mean “new” in the sense of recently published, and also just books that I am unfamiliar with.
When I tell colleagues and coworkers this, they always look at me like I’m some elitist snob. Which, you know, I hope I’m not, but I’ve heard the accusation enough (mostly from my wife) that I’m willing to consider the possibility.
Here’s my rationale:
Reading books takes time. Just like watching a movie or a TV show (which I’m also careful about). When I do venture out and read a new book, I am nine times out of ten disappointed. It’s probably because I’m older now, and have less free time, but I have no stomach for mediocrity in storytelling. I have my selection of favorite books. When I re-read them, they move me. I laugh. I cry. I put them down and regard life. There is so much in each of them, so much to be gained on every re-read, it saddens me to think I will probably only read them a dozen times before I die.
Here are some of the books on this list: Lord of the Rings, Sometimes A Great Notion, Watership Down, Confederacy of Dunces, Wind in the Willows.
I just finished The Once and Future King for the second time, and it’s going on the list. I’m about to start The Fountainhead for the 3rd time.
Now there is a tremendous and obvious downside to only rereading your favorite books, and that is you don’t get exposed to new things. I’m very aware of this, and try to rectify it as best I can. I do take recommendations from trusted sources. Two years ago I read House of Leaves on a friend’s recommendation, and absolutely loved it.
But yeah, I’m actively working to not be such a snob.
Who are your greatest influences?
The Simpsons, Michael Crichton, Ken Kesey, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. A random list I know. For better or worse The Simpsons have shaped my sense of humor. I started watching in 2nd grade. Now I can trace the rhythm and meter of my every joke back to a classic Simpsons line.
Michael Crichton because, as a kid, I read him more than anyone else. I still study his books to find how he keeps his readers hooked. Other authors (Stephen King) are arguably better writers, and I enjoy King, but I love that Crichton re-inventing and re-popularized the victorian adventure novel. Genius.
Ken Kesey nailed (perhaps formed?) my worldview. Especially in Sometimes A Great Notion, his melancholy world tinged with awe and beauty, and the mixture of defiance and despair his character’s grapple with… he more than anyone is responsible for showing me the themes I want to explore.
And lastly: Beauty and the Beast. A good friend once tried to tell me that Jame Cameron’s AVATAR was the pinnacle of human artistic achievement. What, he argued, was more aesthetically amazing than that movie? The Mona Lisa? The Sistine Chapel? I thought for a moment and then responded BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. With the exception of one gratuitous and superfluous song (“Be Our Guest”), this movie is the pinnacle of storytelling. Every story beat has a purpose, serves multiple functions, and flows together beautifully. And while the orchestral score is not as iconic as other movies, I would challenge anyone to find a score that better serves its purpose.
What’s next for you as a writer?
I’m lucky enough to write for a living, working as an advertising copywriter. Writing in different brand voices, writing headlines with only have 3 – 5 words… this has helped me immensely. My goal, for the rest of my life, is to continually get better. I want to be a great writer. There. I said it. Gauntlet thrown.
But that’s not a very tangible goal, so: There’s a book after IN BETA. It’s not as lighthearted or “fun” as IN BETA. It’s a Crichton-esque book that (hopefully) has a little more depth. It’s a Western that takes place in the last remaining slice of American wilderness, and it’s inspired by “Heart of Darkness.” And that’s all I’ll say.