Survival Quest: Sentenced to Video Games

I wanted to avoid Russian LitRPG, because a major goal of what I’m doing is to try and ground myself in a genre I’m hoping to write in, which is American LitRPG, just on the grounds that I’m American and will probably have an easier time writing for an American audience. After three separate reviews that ended up either immediately or quickly descending into angry rants, though, I feel the need to prove to the world that I do actually like LitRPG. Since the only guy giving me recommendations (whose taste I can at least mostly trust) is Russian, that means my options are to read something Russian or roll the dice on the American scene again, and after three snake eyes you gotta wonder if maybe the dice are loaded (in fairness, Andrew Seiple is being held back by a few major problems that overshadow the many, many things he’s doing right, so I may yet revisit Threadbare in the hopes that he’s improved).

So we’re reading Survival Quest, the first Way of the Shaman book, in the hopes that it will actually be good and when people ask if I even like LitRPG, I’ll have something to point to as proof other than a hypothetical Threadbare with its pacing issues fixed and Zuula purged with extreme prejudice. Happy Eagle Day everyone, we’re going to Russia.

Chapter 1

Much like Succubus, Survival Quest helpfully sums up its opening situation for me right at the beginning:

to find the defendant Daniel Mahan guilty of hacking the control program of the city sewage network, resulting in total system shut-down, and sentence him to confinement in a correctional capsule and resource-gathering labor for the term of eight years, under Article 637, section 13 of the Penal Code. The place of confinement will be automatically appointed for the defendant by the system. Should the prisoner meet the conditions stipulated in Article 78 Section 24 of the Penal Code, he will be given the opportunity to transfer to the main gameworld.

Hopefully that is where the similarities end.

They say that God is Truth.

Guess I’ll take Danny’s word that they say that in Russia.

Let me introduce myself – I am Daniel Mahan, as it has already been mentioned.

This is the point – three paragraphs in – when I started subvocalizing in a Russian accent. Now, I do not do this for (as an example) Longes, the guy who recommended this book to me. If someone’s English is fluent, I’ll sub-vocalize them as speaking with an American accent on autopilot, even if I know they’re from another country.

This paragraph is also the point where our protagonist’s distinctly Irish name suggests this book probably isn’t meant to take place in Russia (alternatively, author Vasily Mahanenko shortened his last name without realizing that the result was Irish). It’s impossible for me not to imagine this taking place in Russia when I can’t read it without hearing the accent.

Prior to the sentencing in the opening, Danny’s meeting someone at a professional retraining program:

It would seem that she had been irritated with this kind of comment once too often. So irritated, in fact, that she left my table and put an end to our developing acquaintance. What a pity. I had already started to make certain plans. Well, never mind. I immersed myself fully into yet another report on how the new law was increasing the punishment for the hacking and destruction of programs.

It’s probably just me coming off of Succubus, but dear God it is a breath of fresh air how immediately cognizant Danny is that no woman can possibly be special in the face of modern population counts.

This programmer chick is able to successfully bait Danny into taking a bet where he tries to hack into the city’s sewer system that she’s in charge of securing against attack, in a bit of manipulation that is more believable than anything the succubus ever got up to:

“Tell me, do you have a wife or a girlfriend?” I involuntarily shuddered at this question and automatically shook my head. It seems Marina was going on the offensive, pulling the carpet from under my feet instead. My thoughts were confirmed when her next question virtually floored me:

“Would you like to go out with me? Do you like me?” Damn, what is it with women these days? Now they are the ones throwing themselves at men; although I admit that such ‘attacks’ made me more than happy. Marina really was an attractive girl, pretty, with a slightly upturned nose, so I thoughtlessly nodded to her. 

“Listen up, everyone!” Marina suddenly shouted. “If in a week’s time Daniel manages to break through the security system I installed on the city sewage system Imitator, I solemnly promise to be his girl for at least a month!

“Better than Succubus” is kind of damning with faint praise, but after having just finished reading Succubus cover-to-cover it’s a huge relief even if it isn’t much of an accomplishment.

They are right when they say that the rarest friendship in the world is a person’s friendship with his own common sense.

For all I know, these sayings are the Russian version of that one Tumblr post where someone just made up new Southernisms from nothing.

Of course it would be a bit much to call intellect imitation programs ‘I.I.’: everyone will immediately starts thinking that this is real artificial intelligence and beating themselves in the chest and screaming that in our world this cannot be done and, even if it can, humanity can do without such a ‘boon’, because then the machines will replace humans and we will all die out.

Either the initials for AI translate to II in Russian and I’ve got an extremely literal translation on my hands, or this is worldbuilding the concept of II by having the character give an exasperated internal monologue about an in-universe controversy he’s sick of hearing about. If the latter, that’s good worldbuilding. If the former, Vasily Mahanenko needs to hire a new translator.

They say that with the creation of intellect imitators humanity was only one step away from creating artificial intelligence,

Aha, so this is just good worldbuilding.

After he finishes his rant about AI-luddites, Danny gets to work on what initially appears to be an easy hack.

A wise person once said that the devil is in the detail.

I Understood That Reference

Who made the mistake – I, when I entered it, or Marina when she wrote me the letter, still remains unclear. What in fact happened was that I wasn’t working with the test system, but none other than the real and functioning system, which controlled the sewage system of the whole city.

Smart money says that the girl who was clever enough to bait you into taking a dumb bet was also clever enough to trick you into committing a major crime as revenge for mocking her job. I mean, come on, you’re really gonna try and convince me that you just so happened to make exactly the wrong typo to switch from the test server to the real server? Get it together, Danny.

I broke into the server, in the process completely crashing the I.I. of the city sewage works. And it turned out that after the imitator went down, the large lake in the centre of the city, just opposite the City Hall, was turned into a very foul-smelling entity. The unforeseen had taken place – the I.I. administrative perimeter was turned off, leading to a jump in pressure and the collector pipe under the city bursting in several places. And if the underground breaches remained unnoticed by the majority, the breach at the centre of the lake resulted in the crowds of demonstrators, which usually gathered in front of the City Hall demanding the ban of the imitators, suddenly remembering that they had urgent business elsewhere.

Sounds like you just did them a favor. And they’re still prosecuting you? Ungrateful pricks.

as soon as I became aware of the consequences and of the fact that the police were looking for the culprit, I confessed and gave myself up. I did not believe that my punishment would be very severe – I might get reprimanded or fined. No more than that.

How wrong I was!

“Instead of a fine, I was sentenced to eight years of video games! The horror!”

I’m being unfair, because he’s not being sentenced to just be in a video game, but to some kind of full dive gold farming gulag. It still makes me laugh.

Someone became ill from the smell and filed a suit against the city. Someone didn’t like the appearance of the lake that I ‘updated’, and decided to sue the city. Some others simply sued the city not to seem out of touch with the general sentiment.

“Mayor Kuznetsov, Disney’s on the line. They say they’re filing a lawsuit against the city.”

“Disney? On what grounds?”

“They said they didn’t want to be left out, Mr. Mayor.”

On the whole, the losses that the city suffered amounted to no less than 100 million, which was laid at my feet in its entirety.

Before I can even start trying to figure out if inflation applies, I’m gonna have to figure out the commiebuck:burgerbuck conversion rate for 207X.

It so happened that the upkeep of prisons became extremely expensive for the Government. Yes, that’s just the one Government I’m talking about, since at a certain point the territorial fragmentation on our world had come to an end.

Contrary to earlier, this is pretty rubbish worldbuilding. Earlier an exposition dump was disguised as an in-character rant. Now Danny’s just monologuing to 2015 (the book’s year of release) about stuff he should be taking for granted. Just talk about a capital-G Government and trust your audience to be smart enough to realize what you’re talking about sooner or later. I doubt it’s gonna make a huge difference to the story one way or another.

All the necessary laws were passed for securing the status of a state-run game for Barliona and the Government itself acted as a guarantor of the game currency, facilitating its free exchange for real money. This was followed by an advertising campaign and funds started to flow into the game. Virtually anyone who was dissatisfied with his life ran to Barliona in order to cheat the government and earn money on quests, resource gathering and killing mobs, and so live without a care. Such naive little children.

That might actually work out great for people who get in on the ground floor. Most MMO economies have mobs offering an endless supply of money which drives inflation higher and higher, while the supply of player made items remains much more stable. Early in the game, you can buy for a handful of gold stuff that will cost hundreds or thousands later on. However, the price of certain commodities sold by vendors is usually fixed. This means that X gold is always worth Y healing potions no matter how much prices get inflated, so riding the inflation to dectuple your gold just by buying valuable, non-vendor items early and reselling them later on directly increases your ability to buy actually useful in-game items.

The capsules initially came with special filters that regulated the level of sensations, but these were completely removed for those who attacked Johnson’s daughter. I don’t know what the observed results of this were, but in about a year’s time the law was extended and now all prisoners served their sentences with their sensory filters disabled.

This is probably the best excuse for having pain in-game I’ve seen. Granted, it’s attached to some really weird worldbuilding about virtual gulags being run by a corporation that is perfectly capable of generating as many in-game resources as it wants, but prohibited by law from doing so, except actually not really, because it probably still runs the servers that spawn mobs that serve as an effectively unlimited amount of money. Basically, if this book just stuck to the parts that were actually important instead of trying to explain every little thing, it’d be great.

The rate of crime fell sharply and there were hardly any repeat offenders. The prospect of having to gather resources with disabled sensory filters was a very effective crime deterrent.

See, this is what I’m talking about! This is both contrary to how deterrents work in the real world and totally unnecessary to the actual plot. More exposition dumping means more chances to fuck up. Only share the parts of your world that are actually important to the story, or at the very least immediately interesting by themselves. It makes for a more compact, focused story anyway.

And the worst thing of all was that Marina never appeared. She didn’t turn up at the trial or at my home, while I waited for the conclusion of the investigation. It was as if she vanished. Was the eight years of my sentence worth such a frivolous girl?  I think not.

She played you, dumbass. She was either avenging your perceived slight against her with extreme prejudice or she’s some kind of cybercriminal who needed the sewage system messed with and used you as a catspaw.


3 thoughts on “Survival Quest: Sentenced to Video Games”

  1. > Either the initials for AI translate to II in Russian

    They actually do translate to II in Russian, so Artificial Intelligence and Intelligence Imitators are both ИИ.


  2. > For all I know, these sayings are the Russian version of that one Tumblr post where someone just made up new Southernisms from nothing.

    That guess would be correct.


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