The Big Idea: Eric Griffith

Not every writer comes up with an idea and immediately moves on it. Some let the idea sit and develop — or let life get them to a point where they’re ready to take it on. Take Eric Griffith and his novel Beta Test. The idea was there, but were the conditions ripe for the writing? Griffith explains when he knew when it was time to take Beta Test to gold master.


Some ideas just eat at you over time until they’re ready to burst forth like Athena, fully formed from the head of Zeus, where she’d gestated for months until his headaches became too much to bear and he asked Hephaestus to crack open his skull.

My book is not like that, at all. It required very little blunt-force skull trauma. Almost none.

The idea for a story called Beta Test popped into my brain years ago. I expect it did so because I was over-thinking the term “beta test” itself, which has to do with testing software before it ships. I was also undergoing a “crisis of atheism” which didn’t last long. Mash those things together and the idea came to me: “What if there really is a God and we’re all just part of a program he’s beta testing?”

The title seemed great, but it was hardly a new idea. A few years later, I recognized elements of it in The Matrix. Entire papers have been written about how our own universe is someone else’s virtual reality. (I know, because I downloaded a couple of truly boring dissertations on the topic and tried to read them.) Really, I thought, it’s ultimately kind of boring. Virtual reality: yawn.

So I forgot about it. For 14 years. Mostly. But Beta Test was always there, a tickle of an idea in my noggin.

Then what I’d imagined started to come true. Sort of. I watched as my then wife become absorbed in an online virtual reality world called Second Life and it truly was her second life. She was on it constantly. I tried it and didn’t really see the point. I couldn’t shoot bad guys! There were no puzzles! It was just boring… like the first life.

But it was impossible to overlook how interesting it was to some people, and not hard at all to extrapolate what it would be like if our own world was, indeed, a game. Not for us–we, the people (and animals and plants and aliens and whatever developed in our universe) are not players, we’re the non-player characters–but that doesn’t make us appreciate our lives any less.

That became the big idea. The game (and thus, all life) is going to end soon. First the players leave, but the “servers” keep running. Someone is going to turn it all off, eventually. And that means all the non-players who live on go buh-bye. Right?
My protagonist, of course, had to stop that, so I had a plot. It didn’t hurt that I based the main characters on friends of mine; they gave me a love story.

If it’s not obvious, the book isn’t about how humanity survives a horrifying mass-disappearance. In Beta Test that’s just one little bit of the big bag of crazy that takes place. Ultimately, it became a quest. Hopefully a fun quest, that includes chase scenes, off-beat romance, dinosaurs (the alpha test!), and, naturally, a higher power or two.

Beta Test: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Hadley Rille Books
Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

10 Comments on “The Big Idea: Eric Griffith”

  1. Interesting to read about other authors’ processes. I’ve gone both routes–the “simmer” approach and the “geyser” approach, and each has worked and failed. I’ve also written a virtual reality story, but that’s not the point!

    For my current project, I took the simmer approach and I think it’s worked out beautifully, and I think in general I lean towards that. It lets me strip out one-dimensional ideas–or flesh them out further. Same with characters. It gives me time to live in the world before I write about it, really understand where the people are coming from. When I begin writing, it’s as if the place has existed before I wrote about it, and that’s true! It existed in my head.

    But the alchemy involved when something explodes, neatly ready for writing, that’s one of those magical moment of writing that can’t be forced or co-opted. Wonderful to read about it happening to others, and I can’t wait for it to happen to me again!

  2. Vicki, I’ll let the publisher at Hadley Rille Books know there is already a request. I am sure an ebook edition will be forthcoming soon! It doesn’t hurt that I know where Eric T. Reynolds lives… :)

    Beta Test is really a geek-rific indie book treasure. Although I’m not a fan of the cover. Yes, I know it’s a “beta test” cover. Although what author wouldn’t love to be on the cover of their own book?…

  3. Do you remember a Theodore Sturgeon story called “It Wasn’t Syzygy” (1948)? In that story, most of the people in the world are simply props in the lives of the few real people. He didn’t explain it in terms of a game or simulation, though – I don’t think such things had been thought of then. Come to think of it, he hardly explained it at all – but that’s Sturgeon.

  4. Seoulpunk — thanks for the kind words about BETA TEST! Sorry you don’t like the cover tho, but that’s not me on it. I made a friend of mine — who was the basis for the main character’s look — do all the modeling. He’s still waiting to get paid.