Fortunaby Michael R. Stevens
Longing for escape from his mundane existence as a Stanford computer science major, Jason Lind signs up to play Fortuna, an online role-playing game set in Renaissance Florence.From the first, fateful mouse click, Jason tumbles into the vibrant, lush, anonymous world of Fortuna. Swept up in this highly complex, highly addictive game of fame, fortune, and power, Jason quickly transitions from casual gamer to compulsive player.Soon tangled up in a steamy virtual love triangle, Jason becomes obsessed with breaking Fortuna's code of anonymity. But Fortuna is anything but fun and games, and when a sizable debt incurred in the game spills over into reality, Jason is forced to leverage the legacy of his father, a high-tech legend killed in a car accident years before, to pay off the debt.What started as a great escape may only leave Jason trapped, as the game that transported Jason deep into the past exposes a shocking, present-day reality.In the world of Fortuna, it's not how you play the game; it's if you survive.
- Oceanview Publishing
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Read an Excerpt
By Michael R. Stevens
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2010 Michael R. Stevens
All rights reserved.
Portola Valley, California
March 21, 2009
Her avatar was a stone statue of the Virgin Mary. The image was not animated like virtually all the others in Fortuna. Not animated — and therefore hastily obtained? But why? The soft voice that now reached his ears carried a hint of echo, as though the speaker were hiding behind the statue. Someone was hiding behind that statue.
"You are in danger," she said.
Remember, this is only a game.
Jason typed, "Does your husband know about us?" The computer at the other end of this exchange would synthesize the voice of Lucco Pitti, a friend, and later rival, of Cosimo diMedici — Cosimo "the elder." Jason had chosen Pitti's voice for reliability. It was not platform-sensitive.
He stared at the computer screen, the only source of light in the room where he was ensconced. It was on the second floor of a small, relatively new villa where he served as caretaker in exchange for free rent. The owners, who had ridden the 1990's Silicon Valley boom to early wealth, were in Provence, and would not return for several months. Perhaps never. The villa was eerily quiet.
"Worse?" Jason typed, wondering what she had in mind. She was really good at this. Playing the Fortuna simulation with her was like writing a screenplay — a whole lot better than his life as a computer science grad student at Stanford.
"We must meet. Sunday, at noon, in front of the new cathedral in Pisa."
This made no sense. Pisa was out of the range of the simulation. Jason typed, "Do you mean Piazza San Marco?"
"No. In front of the new cathedral. In Pisa."
Was there a new revision he had failed to download, one that added new geography? Surely he would have gotten an e-mail. He quickly launched another browser window and typed "Cathedral of Pisa" into the search window. In three clicks, he was looking at an image of a church completed, according to the caption, in 1350. Within the simulation's time frame, but not its geography.
Jason weighed the situation for a moment, and then decided to risk jumping out of character.
"Pisa isn't in the game," he typed.
Very quickly, the voice responded. "This isn't a game."
Three Months Earlier
"Dude! This is nuts."
Jason was sitting with his friend from high school, Marco Boreas, at an outdoor table on the sunny patio of the Stanford Student Union, an extension of the university's popular food court — popular, Jason thought, because it reminded the undergrads of the malls back home.
Marco had recently bought a pair of round wire-rimmed glasses, which made him look a little like a wrestler who was trying to pose as a grad student. He had been on the wrestling team back in high school, and although he still spent several hours a week in the gym, he wasn't quite up to NCAA competition. Unlike his friend, Jason was tall, lanky, and maybe a little underweight. He hadn't been eating much lately.
"That's what I like about you, Marco. You're so articulate."
"And you're so fucking stupid. When you're not coding some nth number Fourier analysis, of course."
Jason glanced around the terrace, concerned that the subject of their conversation, or one of her friends, might walk by and see what he had just revealed to Marco. Jason's eyes were pale green, and sensitive to light. He often squinted, which gave him a perpetually puzzled look.
"Marco, this ring is me."
"Jay, when you pull out that box, she's going to know it's a ring, which will freak her out by the way, and then when she sees this — this toy —" He looked skyward and spread his hands.
The toy was an Ovaltine Decoder Ring, circa 1950. The color of dull copper, it resembled a miniature roulette wheel with an inner ring of numbers that could be twisted to match an outer ring of letters. If you knew the right setting, you could convert a string of numbers into a text message.
"It's like a joke, but, you know, not a joke," said Jason. "It's important to me. My Dad gave it to me, before he got married again and all that."
"Does she even know about your dad?"
"Well, don't you think it might make a difference if she did?"
"Of course it would make a difference."
"Let's leave my dad out of this, okay?"
"He's the one who gave you the ring."
"It's a token of friendship. I want her to understand that she's special. That I'm not just —"
"Trying to get into her pants?"
Jason tensed at this.
"Marco, will you please not talk like that about Laura?"
"I'm sorry. I apologize. But Jay, I don't know how else to say this." He leaned forward over the table. "She's using you, dude."
"It's not that simple."
"How many papers have you written for her?"
"One. No, actually, two, and two informal essays." Jason thought for a moment. "And one annotated biography."
Marco stared at him. "Let's add this up. You write her papers, she's always busy on the weekends, every date is a study date, and after two months you haven't so much as kissed her good night. I'm sorry pal, but this is not exactly a normal boy-girl relationship in the twenty-first century — New Chastity or not."
"She has some problems."
"I'll say. Her problem is — okay, Jay, I'm trying to take you seriously, but it seems like you're the one with the problem."
Jason closed the box holding the ring, put it back into his backpack and drained the last of the coffee from his cup. "Marco, I don't need this. Besides, it's time for class."
Marco didn't move.
"Marco, I know you're probably right. But I have to do something to —"
"To verify that the situation is hopeless, okay?" Jason glanced at his watch, which was beeping a reminder. He pushed on the tiny alarm button to silence it. "This is what I hate."
"We're like Pavlov's fucking dogs, Marco. "Ten o'clock, time to teach your section! Twelve o'clock, time for lunch! Two o'clock, time for class! It's like, the bell rings and we do what we're programmed to do. It sucks."
"That's exactly what I'm saying." The whole thing with Laura is just genetic programming."
"It sucks," Jason repeated. "What are we doing here? What's the point?"
"To drink as much tequila as possible while saving the world. Haven't you read the Stanford University charter?"
They both stood up and headed toward the stairs that led to the bike racks.
As they approached, Marco pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and unlocked his bike. Jason used an old-fashioned combination lock he had inherited when he bought the bike at a garage sale.
Jason had spent the afternoon preparing for his date with Laura. After his two o'clock econ seminar, he had biked over to the Stanford shopping center, gotten a quick haircut at Supercuts, bought a new, bigger decorative box for the ring at the mall's fancy stationery store and then, at Nordstrom's, a shirt he couldn't afford, but was sold on when the clerk enthused that it was "totally GQ." By the time he got back home, Marco's dark gray Honda was already parked in front of the garage. Now, showered and dressed for his date, he was behind the wheel. The car smelled fresh. Marco, the friend who always came through, had taken it to the car wash before dropping it by.
Jason was in a good mood as he followed the familiar route past the golf course and the archery range to the western edge of the campus, where the big fraternity and sorority houses were located. They were imposing structures with columned porches and huge lawns. As he parked the car and got out, he noticed a couple of jocks throwing a football back and forth in long, perfect parabolas. That was when his vision of the date started to collapse. Marco was right. This wasn't going to work. He wasn't Laura's kind of guy. Pushing these thoughts aside, Jason walked toward the Tri Delt house, flower-covered box in hand.
The girl behind the desk had curly dark hair, brown eyes and, as he learned when she smiled up at him, a dimple. In her clingy tank top, she reminded him somehow of a gymnast he had seen on television during the Olympics in Beijing.
"Hey," she said.
"Hey. I'm here to see Laura Pride."
A puzzled look crossed her face. "She's not here. She left about half an hour ago." Her eyes rested for a moment on the box in Jason's hand.
"She's signed out until midnight," she said, looking up. There was an awkward silence. Jason nodded. He felt numb.
"You're Jason, right?" said the girl.
"I'm Paola." She stood up. Still in a daze, he shook her extended hand. It was warm.
"You don't recognize me?" she said.
Jason focused on her face. She did look familiar.
"Econ 401?" she prompted.
Jason still couldn't make the connection.
"Let's go outside for a minute," she said, coming around from behind the desk. Jason followed her out onto the broad wooden porch. She leaned against the railing that separated the porch from the well groomed shrubbery that surrounded it. She was quite a bit shorter than Jason, and had to look up to meet his eyes as she talked.
"What, you may ask, is a dumb sorority girl like me doing in a graduate class on international economics? The answer is, I'm not dumb. I'm one of the chosen few who rescue the Tri Delt's composite GPA every quarter. And I'll admit, I grew up in a big family. So I like it here." She gestured vaguely toward the interior of the house.
"I live alone," said Jason. It was starting to get dark.
"So," said Paola after a pause, "I read the paper you wrote for Laura." This jarred Jason back into focus
"It's a sorority. Everybody knows everything about everybody. There are no secrets among sisters." She added this last in a mocking, theatrical voice. "I can tell you're smart, and I was wondering if you'd like to be my research partner. You kind of raced out of the room without signing up. Actually, after you left I just went ahead and signed us up. I hope that was okay."
Jason stared out at the street. The guys with the football had disappeared.
"Are you with me, Jason?"
"Sure." Again, Jason had trouble focusing. Somehow the idea of Laura showing her friends the papers he had written was worse than her standing him up. "I should go," he said after a moment.
"Do you, uh, want to share your e-mail address with me? So we can make a plan? So we don't fail this important course?"
"Sorry. It's just my name. Jason Lind. L-I-N-D."
"Okay, Jason Lind. I'll e-mail you." She touched his arm and rubbed the fabric of the new shirt between her fingers. "Nice shirt," she said.
Night had fallen by the time Jason got back to his room. On the sanded plywood door that served as his makeshift desk there was a stack of at least two dozen tests for Dr. Bhattacharia's network architecture class where he was a teaching assistant. Another stack of equal size would be waiting to be printed out when he went online. He had to get organized. He hadn't bought half his books for the new quarter. Bhattacharia was starting to nag him about a thesis topic. The villa's garden needed some work. Actually, a lot of work. And this econ class! What had he gotten himself into? He was behind already. He didn't have time to do original research. The class was supposed to be easy.
Jason sat down and flipped on his Mac, reaching for a handful of peanut butter pretzels while he waited for it to boot up.
He went straight to his e-mail and scrolled through the list of messages, looking for — what? An apology from Laura? It wouldn't be there. He had to accept that. He had to move on. But move on to what? Then, a subject line stopped him.
DOES YOUR LIFE SUCK?
It was like getting a fortune cookie that was totally relevant, even though it came to you by chance. Jason opened the message, which consisted of two large boxes, one labeled "YES," the other "NO." Jason clicked on the one labeled "YES."
An ADULT CONTENT screen appeared with its long list of legal disclaimers. It was a porno site. Jason felt a weary sense of disappointment, but clicked through anyway. The screen went black. What appeared next was not the display of flesh he had expected, but the image of an ancient fleur-de-lis, stamped onto the face of a gold coin.
The Florentine Game
Fortuna. He had heard of it, of course. Who hadn't? There were probably hundreds of players in the Stanford community. But Jason had always thought of it as a game that was mainly for movie stars and politicians, and low-rent types who hoped to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, the kind of people who thought a trip to Las Vegas was the perfect vacation. But maybe he was wrong. Something about the coin attracted him. He clicked on it, and was presented with what looked like a page from an old book.
Fortuna is an alternate reality based on Renaissance Florence, where players seek power, wealth, fame, and love in what one reviewer described as "the most gorgeous, complex and challenging environment on the Internet today."
If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, Fortuna is for you. If you are creative, Fortuna is for you. If you are looking for secret love, Fortuna is for you.
Like Florentine society in the early Renaissance, Fortuna has many layers. At the bottom, there are prostitutes and thieves; at the top, cardinals and merchant princes. The level at which you play is determined in part by your contribution to our virtual city's coffers, the Monte, and in part by chance, or, as the Florentines referred to it, Fortuna. While larger contributions initially place you at a higher level within the city's hierarchy, players rise and fall in accordance with their personal cunning — what Machiavelli called Virtù, and their fate — their Fortuna.
Many of the activities that occur in Fortuna, like many of the activities that occurred in Renaissance Florence, lie beyond the bounds of conventional behavior. For this reason, the players must, and do, enjoy complete anonymity. Not only are their true identities unknown to one another, they are unknown to the Fortuna Corporation. This is achieved through a unique double-blind encryption system.
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. These laws are enforced by intelligent agents or "bots" that monitor all transactions without exception. The penalty for attempting to contravene Fortuna's identity laws is death.
Death? They didn't mean that literally. He knew that. Yet the very use of the word gave him a chill. He ignored it and read on.
Players may own one, and only one, identity, but may assume many others, as disguises and deception play a central role in Fortuna.
No matter what your initial level within the social hierarchy, from time to time you may have the opportunity to negotiate an alliance or even a marriage to affiliate yourself with one of the prominent houses, the so-called Five Families. Of course, such an affiliation is not without its costs. All opportunities of this nature are negotiated in new florins at the average rate of exchange for the previous three months.
Jason now noticed a small yellow box at the bottom left corner of the screen. It looked like some sort of counter where the numerals 2.42 were followed by three more digits that fluctuated too rapidly to be read. He double-clicked on the box and got the explanation, rendered in stylized script on a small scroll that had the appearance of parchment.
Official exchange rate new florins to U.S. dollars Click to change display
He clicked and got the inverse, dollars to new florins. Then he moved the cursor back up and clicked on the image of the coin again. This time he was presented with a much larger scrolling display in the same italic script.
Over six hundred years ago in a small city-state on the Italian peninsula, the foundations of our modern, globalized society were created. Renaissance Florence was a city of unbounded opportunity for wealth, power and, yes, transgression.
A stagy voice read the words as they appeared. Then the text faded to reveal three figures hunched over a table set in the corner of an ornate room. Tapestries depicting Renaissance hunting scenes covered the walls, illuminated only by flickering candlelight. Jason marveled at the complex graphics. His computer was linked directly to the university's petabyte IP cloud, so he had no problem handling the feed. But where were they getting the server power to generate it? Thousands of people were online playing this game at any given time. Maybe hundreds of thousands. Even his dad would have been impressed, if he was still around. He had had an attraction to Italy Jason could never understand as a boy. Jason remembered being dragged through endless churches and museums at the age of nine, and he had been bored to death. But this was different.
Excerpted from Fortuna by Michael R. Stevens. Copyright © 2010 Michael R. Stevens. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Michael R. Stevens is a contributing editor for several high-profile Web sites in the technology arena. Fortuna is his first novel.
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Although it was pretty easy to figure out the ending somewhere around the middle, I still enjoyed reading this book. I liked Jason, although I kept wanting to yell at him about shirking his responsibilities in his real life when he was so caught up in the game. Seeing how his personality in RL contrasted with his ingame alter ego of Father Allessandro was interesting and I observed how RL Jason evolved over the course of the story, incorporating some of his Father Allessandro traits. The descriptions of the game provided great imagery, but the technical explanations about Fortuna and Jason's programming were completely over my head, although I got the gist of it. The section of the book traveling back in time, was a great addition, giving backstory on Jason's father, Nick, and providing some explanations about Jason's past, but it also clued me in on the ending. Something I caught, that I have to assume was an oversight on the author's part, was the use of Jason's real name by another character while ingame, although Fortuna is supposed to be anonymous. Since Jason was questioning if some people he knew in RL were playing the game, I assumed that the use of his name would confirm his suspicions, but it was never addressed in the book. Although much of this story was improbable, it was very enjoyable and I'd recommend reading it if you're a fantasy fan, computer geek, or gamer - or even just want a quick thriller read. This review is based on a digital copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
"Fortuna" by Michael R. Stevens, starts out as a cautionary tale about the effects getting overly involved in a virtual world can have on real life. By the end of part 2, the book shifts genres and goes from an after-school special to James Bond meets the Sopranos. Basically, what starts out as a timely and realistic story, becomes something fantastical and improbable. The story is still interesting and exciting; it just becomes disjointed and a bit contrived. In an effort to add some excitement to his ordinary life, Jason Lind signs up for the virtual world of "Fortuna". An online role-playing game based on Renaissance Italy, Fortuna promises an escape that Jason can't refuse. As he becomes more immersed in the game, Jason turns his back on the real world and soon finds himself in debt, with no job and no idea how to get himself out of this distressing situation. It is at this point that the book changes gears. We learn the back story of the death of Jason's father and see what happens when real life and the virtual world intersect on a more personal and dangerous level. Michael Stevens does an excellent job of painting the picture of Renaissance Italy and in particular, the city of Florence. His descriptions of the game and how it works are vivid and fascinating though sometimes a little technical for the novice computer user. Honestly, I didn't need to read about the underlying operation of the game but those who are into that sort of thing should really enjoy those parts of the story. Overall, I would recommend this book for its imagery and timeliness as well as the unexpected turn of events that leads to an exciting climax.
When you don't have any actual money (and even if you do), books are an excellent way to take a cheap vacation. But if you've read all the books on your shelf, and something astronomical has happened to keep you away from the bookstore, perhaps virtual lives are the most convenient solution to this fatal monotony. But imagine a virtual life so sophisticated-so complex-that it's run entirely by machines. Imagine a world where the lines between the game and real life begin to blur, until they're almost impossible to distinguish. Welcome to Fortuna. Computer science major, Jason Lind, is looking for an escape from his boring life, when he happens upon Fortuna, an incredibly sophisticated online role playing game set in renaissance-era Florence, Italy. Playing as Father Allesandro da Scala, Jason finds himself seduced by this wild world of relationships, politics, and greed that extends beyond the virtual walls of his computer. When he incurs an in-game debt that flows over into his real life, Jason is forced to seek the attentions of his estranged computer-mogul uncle, Frank Stocker. Under his uncle's employment, Jason begins to remember and realize the secrets of his family's past, and to uncover the realities of his future. The first word this book brings to mind is "detailed". Michael R. Stevens' Fortuna captures the essence of renaissance-era Italy with an artist's eye. From the social hierarchy, to the dangers of every day life, to the confessional at Father Allesandro's church, the historical aspects of this book are as engrossing as they are beautiful. I also loved all the technological references. The code-speak isn't difficult to understand, but geeks like me still feel like they're getting a crash course in the antagonist's program-of-choice (of course, my knowledge is a little outdated now.). Fortuna is truly a technological thriller, but, for the casual reader, the historical elements help to balance this out. Now, normally I'm a stickler for interesting characters, and-let's face it-Jason Lind's life is pretty boring. He and his friends are all freakishly normal, but for once, I think this enhances the book. The plot here is front and center; our eyes are ever drawn to the lush and beautiful world of Fortuna. I like it; a lot. Michael R Stevens' writing style is very straight forward, and easy to read. I didn't find myself clamoring over the letters, or getting that 'red pen' feeling. Fortuna would make an excellent airplane book, or passenger-seat-of-the-car kind of book; both fast and engaging. The biggest negative I have for Fortuna, would be its predictability. I know I can almost always predict the ending of a book within the first forty pages, so maybe it's just me. But I did find Fortuna to be highly predictable. That isn't to say I didn't like it-because I did. I just guessed the ending. Fortuna is a book that grabs you and won't let go. I'm proud to have it on my bookshelf. An afterthought: After reading Fortuna, I decided I needed to try some online gaming. Stevens' website said that the game Fortuna most closely resembles Second Life in the games available today, so off to Second Life I went. After spending about an hour creating my character (I named her Ink), I began interacting with people. and promptly got off. It was too much for me. The actual voice chatting with people I've never met; the humongous community. I think I'm internet pa
Jason Lund, a computer science graduate student at Stanford, is bored and starts playing a role-playing online computer game, Fortuna. He is impressed with the graphics of the game that takes place in Florence during the Renaissance. He has played these types of games before but this one is even more addicting and he is soon obsessed with the secretive nature of it, and its focus on power. His studies and his relationships start to suffer because he is spending so much time on this game. He also is spending money and he begins to think that the game is somehow closely tied to real life. His good friend Marco is concerned that Jason is missing too much school and his girlfriend, Paola is also in concerned. In Fortuna Jason plays a priest, Father Allesandro who listens to confessions and then skims some of the money from the confessor's contributions. He desires to become a bishop and soon sees that his ambition comes with a financial cost that spills over into his real world. Because of this he realizes he needs to get some money and goes to his Uncle Frank who had been a business partner with his father to get a job. You find out that Jason comes from a wealthy father, Nick Fibonacci who was a huge contributor to Stanford and has a building named after him. His father died in a car accident about 9 years ago. At this point in the book, the author takes us back 9 years to meet Jason's father, Nick Fibonacci. We learn about his relationship with business partner Frank Stocker. Jason got his computer savvy from his father who created a computer program that was siphoning money from the business. The story then goes back and picks up with Jason again who in working for Stocker and discovers what his father has done. Will this solve Jason's own money problems? What really happened to his father? Who is the mysterious woman in Fortuna and is she actually someone he knows? Read this thriller to find the answers. Michael R. Stevens tells an interesting story weaving together Jason's real life and his life as Father Allesandro that you will not want to put down.
I know these kinds of games. This game feels real. I'd like to play this game. I'd like to go there. Read it by the light of ur glowing iPad screen. You won't be disappointed, but you might wake up gone. I mean dead. I mean offline. Go ahead, login...
Bored computer science major at Stanford University Jason Lind loves playing the online game Fortuna, based on Renaissance Florence economics. However, his role playing character Father Allesandro da Scala begins to take over more of Jason's time than his real life. He soon falls into heavy debt due to his character, but remains addicted to playing the game even as he is aware of what he is doing as the Renaissance Father Broke he leaves Stanford to work for his Uncle Frank at Global Packet Control (GPC); the same firm his dad worked at before he died in a car accident almost a decade ago. At GPC, Jason uncovers questionable probably illegal deals and underhanded practices that leave him wondering what to do, but he thinks Father da Scala would know how to proceed. Though the premise feels over the top of Mount Whitney, this is an intriguing blending of on-line role playing and global economics, as Michael R. Stevens argues that both consist of players starring in roles other than themselves. Except for a romantic subplot that feels forced and required, readers will find the saga of Jason-Father Allesandro fascinating. Harriet Klausner