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Fortuna by Michael R. Stevens
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Oceanview Publishing Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781933515779
Date: 01 May 2010 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The stress of being a grad student and a teaching assistant at Stanford University tempts Jason Lind to participate in the online simulation game of Fortuna. Jason, like millions around the globe, becomes addicted to this Medieval world of Florence, Italy where players are assigned the roles of impoverished citizens who must steal and kill in order to rise higher into the social hierarchy. Having become financially indebted to Fortuna Corporation, Jason drops out of Stanford and begs for a job at Global Packet Control (GPC) where his ingenious father, Nicholas Fibonacci, worked as the Chief Technological Officer. Soon Jason learns that there is a horrible connection between Fortuna, GBC, and the mysterious car accident that killed his father six years ago. This knowledge may cause the deaths of him and all his friends at Stanford.

Michael R. Stevens' Fortuna is a highly engaging high-tech action thriller that is a wonderful blend of science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance. Computer savvy gamers will find Fortuna as addictive as the game for which it is named. Simply put, Fortuna is an evil, enticing game designed to prey on one's greed in order to steal their time, money and perhaps their life. Fortuna is the new drug; it is the latest addiction. I kept asking myself, "Who designed Fortuna? Who or what are the owners of the mystery-enshrouded Fortuna Corporation?"

A huge fortune was spent on creating the computer graphics for Fortuna. Players feel as though they have actually traveled back in time to Renaissance Florence of 1461. The clothing, buildings and artwork are intricately designed to look absolutely authentic. Fortuna is an online amusement park, albeit a dangerous one. Upon entering, Jason is given the identity of a lowly priest, Father Allesandro da Scala of the church of Lazarus the Risen. Mara, a prostitute, Angelica, a wealthy socialite, and Baldesar, a black servant, help him obtain a promotion by plotting the death of Bishop Rodrigo Negroponte. All the while he is playing the game, Jason does not know the players behind Mara, Angelica and Baldesar. That would be against the rules; violations result in termination.

Most of Fortuna cleverly alternates between Jason's intriguing exploits as Alessandro inside the cyber game and his real life (RL) struggles to perform his duties as a student and teaching assistant at Stanford. Jason's friends in RL mirror those he has made during the game. Two gorgeous young coeds, Laura Pride and Paola Bravo, are fighting for his attention (a computer geek's dream come true) and Marco Agosto, his best friend, is always keeping a watchful eye on him. Clergymen and professors pose threats for Jason in cyber life and real life, respectively. In the last third of the novel, Jason encounters a whole new set of villains when he is hired at GBC. He is pursued by hit men and Mafia thugs. On a brighter note, he has less time to play Fortuna.

Fortuna drives home the fact that harmful addictions come in numerous forms other than alcohol and drugs. Many adults are addicted to internet porn. Internet game addiction is a growing concern among today's youth. Sometimes my parents and I have great difficulty tearing my nephews away from their internet games long enough for them to socialize with us. It is not inconceivable that a vast majority of our nation could become obsessed with a game similar to Fortuna. At one time, the complex fantasy board game of Dungeons and Dragons was the craze and players were actually killing themselves because of it.

This novel chronicles Jason's growing addiction with Fortuna. It slowly monopolizes his time until he begins scheduling RL events around those in the game. Soon his grades suffer, he neglects his work and eventually the game drives him so far in debt that he must drop out of grad school and look for a job that will bring him faster, easier money. Alcohol and drug addicts experience similar declines. Jason, however, is fortunate to have an uncle who can help him get a job at GPC. Many addicts must turn to a life of crime.

Fortuna is highly recommended for computer geeks and fans of high tech thrillers. The author, Michael R. Stevens, is a computer geek himself; he manages the technical development and marketing of two successful software products while serving as a contributing editor for several technological web sites. Fortuna reminded me very much of the science fiction film Futureworld. The theme park of Delos is designed to give patrons pleasure while diabolically plotting their destructions. Fortuna proves that happiness is to be found in reality rather than in a make believe world. Ian Beck’s Pastworld is another novel containing a theme park where the lives of patrons are endangered by those who live there.

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