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Reviewed by Ray Hosler for Readers' Favorite
In Beta by Prescott Harvey sinks its science-fiction teeth into cyberspace where reality and computer simulations collide. Harvey’s main character, Jay Banksman, struggles to overcome his evil self, Hal (a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey). Hal creates a world that suits his destructive cravings for revenge against high school jocks known as “Johns.” Spurned by the high school cheerleader Liz, the main squeeze of Jeremy the lead jock, Hal creates a computer program called The Build that recreates his Pacific Northwest hometown and characters down the last pixel, for use in a virtual reality headset. He intends to punish Jeremy and win over Liz. Jay has to find a way to escape the simulation, and that means luring Hal into his virtual reality and finding a way to defeat the programming. Will Jay prevail and overcome his primal urges? Will his friends, Colin and Stevie, be able to help him figure out the dilemma? Will Liz regain her real self?
Kudos to Prescott Harvey for writing In Beta and reliving every high school student’s worst nightmare – the senior prom. From the get-go, I was lured into the plot with a mystery involving Todd and “the girl in the falls.” Even before virtual reality comes into play, we’re treated to the strange world of Bickleton, “a town frozen in time.” The author’s writing has an earthy charm about it: “Skinny trailer park babies aged into hunch-backed millworkers.” The characters are likable and believable. We can understand why dysfunctional Hal is imagined by the author, a suitable counterbalance to the good, geeky, innocent Jay who always dreamed of going out with Liz. What high school student hasn’t had that dream?
The virtual reality and programming lingo are also handled deftly, not too technical, but with enough details to sound believable. Harvey raises the question posed by The Matrix: are we living in a simulation? But his story is more about high school memories and coming to terms with the good and bad of those formative years in our lives. The author captures old and new themes — the socially awkward days of our youth and virtual reality — to a T. In Beta will be enjoyed by lovers of science fiction and real-world fiction alike.