Toby Downton is the author of a book recently reviewed here on TVGB – Solarversia. I greatly enjoyed his book. For those of you who haven’t checked out the review yet, I not only explain why you should read Solarversia but also where you can download the Kindle edition for FREE; don’t delay though, because I am not sure how long the special Kindle promotion will last. In addition to sharing his book, Downton provided many insights into his creative process, the world of Solarversia and his vision for the future of The Game in an interview with TVGB.
Solarversia Author Toby Downton
Solarversia is about the long-awaited future of gaming: virtual reality! As a gamer yourself, what are some of your favorite genres and game titles?
I’m more of a casual gamer these days given work and family commitments. About 18 months ago I fell in love with Monument Valley, which is not only a fantastic game, but also a work of art. I’ve also spent far too much time playing a game called Twenty, where you add numbered blocks. Deceptively simple, yet insanely addictive! All that said, I cannot wait until VR comes out and have a feeling that I’ll be spending far too long immersed in all kinds of games / worlds.
As this is your first book, what made you finally decide to take plunge and start writing?
I started writing it a few days after the Facebook acquisition of Oculus Rift (for $2bn). When someone like Mark Zuckerberg announces that virtual reality is the future of technology, it’s worth paying attention. The idea for the year-long game came to me back in 2010. But it was the Oculus purchase that jolted me into action – I realized that there was simply no better time in history to write such a book.
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write? I felt I saw a few references to Ernest Cline’s virtual reality novel, Ready Player One, thrown in there. One of my favorite’s being “Son of a gunter!”
It’s makes me happy that you spotted the gunter reference! (not every RPO fan does). So yes, Ready Player One was clearly an influence, not just the book, but also the way in which Ernie brought the story to life with his real life promotion of the book where readers needed to find three online gates (just like in the book). One lucky reader ended up winning a DeLorean, the car driven by James Halliday in the book, and also owned by Ernie in real life! Hugh Howey, the bestselling author of the Wool trilogy is also an influence, as is Iain M. Banks, may he rest in peace.
(btw, quick plug for my blog post The Ultimate Collection of Ready Player One Resources, which includes loads of info on his real life promo game)
We all love a hero! Tell us more about Nova. Was there a real-life inspiration behind her?
I get asked about Nova a lot given that’s she’s an eighteen year-old female and I’m a middle-aged guy! It’s funny – Nova was there from the beginning, she came with the idea for “a year-long game played in virtual reality”, almost like a pre-packaged part of the book. Even her name, Nova, existed before the title of the book Solarversia, which means that she knew the virtual world would be modeled on the Solar System before I did!
Nova’s Profile Square
Give us some more insight into Nova. Why did you create a protagonist like her? What makes her so unique?
Like every good protagonist she’s a flawed character. At the start of the book she’s a bit of a spoiled brat and it takes some fairly drastic events to reshape her as a human being and instill some more positive character traits. She’s unique because of her life-long desire to be a game designer, meaning that she wants to win Solarversia more than anyone (the winner gets to help design the next game in 2024). That, and the things she goes through when her life becomes inextricably entwined with that of secretive terrorist organisation.
Creating an unforgettable antagonist isn’t always easy. How did you get in touch with your inner villain to write Solarversia? Was there a real-life inspiration for The Holy Order and the man behind it?
Good question. Cults have always fascinated me, especially Scientology and the man behind it, L. Ron Hubbard. If it’s so well known as a cult, why do people still join? Is it 100% bad, or does it achieve good too? If it achieves some good in the world are we allowed to acknowledge it? What drives someone to join a cult, what’s like when you’re in one, and what does it take to change your mind and leave it, when the organisation has become your life and you have nothing left to go to? To me, these are interesting questions that I’ve always wanted to know the answers to.
As you know, I explored The Holy Order from the perspective of a new recruit, a guy called Casey Brown who embarks upon a pretty crazy journey. The single most interesting thing that came out of publishing the book was discovering that a real world Casey Brown – a guy who is interested in conspiracy theories and hidden meanings – had found out about the book and thought that I’d written it about him. It’s interesting because the main theme of the book is something called “mimesis”, which is the way reality reflects art and vice-versa (it’s the main theme because of my desire to make Solarversia for real so that people can actually play it), so this was an example of mimesis in action – totally crazy.
The “real life Casey Brown” has got more than 20k subscribers on YouTube and he did a two-hour webcast about the book where he supposedly proved that it was all about him. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or scared. You have to watch the videos to get an idea of it for yourself!
His original video
His 2 hour webcast
There are many things in Solarversia such as Soul Surfer and the Magi, which seemed a bit imaginative in terms of today’s technology. But there are equally as many things in Solarversia that felt could almost be real or made a reality one day. What real-life sciences and technology (or pseudo-sciences) did you research for your book?
I’m very interested in technology and futurology, which are topics that go hand-in-hand, and I try hard to stay abreast with what’s going on in those fields. Most of my research came from news articles that had been posted about the topic in question (self-directing bullets for instance) within the last couple of years, from where I’d bookmarked the article for future reference. I’d say most people think the technology in the book is further away than it actually is. Take self-driving cars for instance. I mentioned them to my mum the other day and she thought that the idea was so far out that we wouldn’t have them for at least 50 years. Yet Google have been testing them for about three years now and it’s looking likely that they’ll be on our roads for real before 2020. Augmented reality is another good example. In one scene, where Nova’s at the breakfast table, her cereal packet comes alive as the corn flakes start floating out of it, to be collected by a bunch of arkwinis (characters from the book). Her glasses augment her reality, bringing the elements in it to life. Sounds like science fiction from years in the future – except Microsoft demoed their Hololens headset at this year’s E3 expo, showing that this kind of technology is already in development.
Hololens video (magic starts happening at the 2:30 mark)
What was one of the most surprising things you learned when you were writing Solarversia?
That I loved writing! I hadn’t done any creative writing since school, at a time when my stories ended up with me waking up from a dream. To discover that I loved writing – and wasn’t too bad at it – was a lovely surprise.
Solarversia cover art
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Working with Helena, my editor. There’s a character in the book that goes by the name of Gorigaroo, a hybrid animal who’s a fusion between a gorilla and a kangaroo. When it comes to his backstory we discover that he represents symbiosis and working together as a team. And that’s precisely what happened with Helena – we came together to create something that was bigger than both of us and I think we both found the process quite magical and very rewarding.
What was the hardest part of writing Solarversia?
There were a number of moments when my editor realized that something was wrong with the book and would need reworking. There was one point halfway through draft one where she suddenly pointed out something huge – the way in which the three different narratives weren’t interweaved tightly enough. It was obvious to both of us once she’d spotted it, and it required a lot of additional work on both our parts to rewrite various scenes. It’s tough to know that you’ve got loads of additional work on top of finishing the book, but we got there in the end.
What were your goals and intentions when originally writing Solarversia, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
There really only was one goal with the book – to make the reader fall in love with the idea of Solarversia and want to play it for real (as I’ll discuss further in a minute). I’m happy that I’ve achieved the goal, given the great reception that the book’s had on Amazon and Goodreads, and the huge number of people on Twitter and Facebook who are begging me to create the game the real.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
That the technology contained within it is on the way here and will change the world in ways we can’t yet imagine. I’d like to get people thinking about that, and what it means for their lives and for society and culture in general.
It’s huge news that you want to create Solarversia for real. Can you shed some light on how that endeavor is going? When did you know you actually wanted to make Solarversia? Or was that part of your plan from the beginning?
It was the plan from the beginning! That’s always been the big dream. I left my job in finance to learn about technology and startups so that I’d be able to create the kind of company capable of creating Solarversia for real. I’ve incorporated Spiralwerks (the company behind the game in the book) for real and plan to put money from book sales, merchandise and movie rights (if I manage to sell them!) into it, making it fundable from a VC perspective.
In terms of how it’s going, it’s still too early to say. Like I explain to people who ask, I need the book to become phenomenally successful in order that any of this will happen. Here’s what I know: that I’ve written a book that the target market really enjoys. That target market is people who like sci-fi / gaming / virtual reality, and more specifically people who enjoyed Ready Player One. The book has only been out two weeks and already sales are going in the right direction – upwards! There’s a lot of competition out there but I know that I’m offering something a bit different – the promise of making the game in the book for real, so that people can actually play it. It would be a world-first if I managed to pull it off, and fans of the book are already very excited about the possibility.
For those interested in exploring the subject or theme of Solarversia, where should they start?
Naturally they’ll want to read some unbiased reviews, so they should head over to Amazon and Goodreads to see what people have to say. The vast majority of these people are Ready Player One fans that I reached out to on Twitter over the last year, people who enjoy the “litRPG” genre as it’s known in some quarters. If they’re still unsure they could try the About page of my website where I offer a quarter of the book for free.
The Golden Grid
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Yes! They should be aware of something called the Golden Grid. Every one of the 100 million players of the game in the book has a unique number from 1 to 100 million. These numbers appear in something called the Players Grid, which acts like a huge scoreboard in the game. Each square contains a player’s number, name, nationality, catchphrase and vehicle choices. The grid is a very important concept in the book (it even comes to life in one of the final rounds). Spiralwerks, the company behind the game, selected a 10×10 area of the Players Grid and called it the Golden Grid, which they used for promotional purposes leading up to the start of the game in 2020. Because of my plan to bring the game to life, I’ve created Golden Grid for real, and will be assigning the numbers within it via a series of innovative competitions. The first of those is the Amazon Reviewers game, and is open to anyone who leaves an honest review on Amazon by the 30th Entrants will play the “Lowest Unique Number” game, which Nova plays in one of the scenes in the book. The competition after that will be a Solarversia quiz, mirroring the ‘Knowledge’ element of the Science of Solarversia from the book. Winners will receive a signed copy of the book, a golden ticket, and their place in the Golden Grid. My concept artist will do the artwork for the square, bringing their avatar to life. That doesn’t mean much yet – but if the book takes off and Solarversia gets made for real, those people are going to become famous, having grabbed themselves a piece of sci-fi / virtual reality history. I would encourage people to read the book to find out what the fuss is about.
The Golden Grid
The Amazon Reviewers Game
Nova’s Profile Square
As a budding fiction-writer myself, do you have advice you can pass on to me or our readers?
There are two books that I’ve found very useful. Both encourage you to plot your novel before you start writing anything, and provide some extremely useful pointers on how to do just that, ensuring that you’ve included plot points in the right places, and know how to execute scenes properly. Read these books, several times if need be, and take on what it is they have to say. You might end up saving yourself many, many hours of wasted writing time.
Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story
Can I have a Golden Grid number and a signed copy? (I had to try!)
LOL. You’re welcome to enter the Golden Grid competitions like anyone else. Good luck! Let’s talk further about that signed copy =)
I hope you enjoyed this interviewed as much I did! Mr. Toby Downton was incredibly open with his answers and very excited to share whatever he could about Solarversia. And who could blame him!? The book is phenomenal and for Solarversia to become a reality would be every gamer’s dream come true. Virtual Reality ftw!
Before we finish, I want to also mention that Downton had a great 5 minute spot on London Live, a 24-hour entertainment channel in the UK. Watch that interview below!
For all other news regarding Mr. Downton, Solarversia or updates on its real-life counterpart, please visit any of the links below! And remember…there can only be one!
Amazon Author Page
Images from solarversia.com