Review: In Beta by Prescott Harvey

Updated: Aug 24

Video game nostalgia in fiction is becoming a big part of the zeitgeist. There is, of course, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline which received such a big budget recent movie adaptation, and several recent prize-winning novels that slowly reveal themselves to be simulations (which I won't name for the sake of spoilers). In Beta references Ready Player One as a comparison in its blurb, but its story is somewhat more sinister.

Jay Banksman lives in Cascadia in the '90s, a small town where nothing ever seems to change. That is, until Jay receives a mysterious floppy disc containing a game called 'The Build', which holds a perfect replica of Cascadia. Jay discovers that when he makes changes in the game, they are echoed in the 'real' world.

Jay already has a long and loving relationship with The Sims, a game which I never managed to get into. I personally never saw the joy that Jay gets from building replicas of the world around him. But this idea of building the world around you, and the way that build reveals your own perceptions about that world, is a theme running through In Beta. It proves that we don't all see the world the same way, and the differences between simulation and 'reality' say far more about the builders than the world.

Although I enjoyed In Beta, and the slightly darker take it had on the borderline between nostalgia and an unhealthy preoccupation with one's past, I was slightly disappointed that the story nevertheless followed paths with which we are all familiar. An imbittered, bullied straight white boy grows up to be an imbittered, ignored straight white man. It feels like male fragility has been very thoroughly covered, especially in the teen movie genre -- and with its cinematic descriptions and set pieces, In Beta does feel at times like a movie. An adaptation, I think, would be very popular.

In Beta is a fun, cinematic and, at times, has a sinister look at the nostalgia simulation story we're pretty familiar with. It's well written and has a pleasantly black humour running throughout. I'd recommend to fans of William Gibson and early Stephen King.

Thanks to the publishers and for providing an e-advanced review copy.

In Beta is released on 13th July and is available here.

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