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SAINT’S SUPPORTER

DBZ meets WoW

By J.Y.H. Zhu, author of Bard’s Log

Aug 20, 2019: As a fan of both the martial arts and the video games, this MMORPGesque journey about the lowly spat-upon cleric has potential, especially of the comedic variety. Cause, let’s face it. Supports don’t always get the love they deserve. I’m excited to read about high heals and tough buffs in Saint’s Supporter.

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THEY ARE SMOL

They Are Smol Makes Me Lol

By J.Y.H. Zhu, author of Bard’s Log

Aug 20, 2019: Get ready for some witty dialogue with hilarious exchanges like, oh, scoffing at a system’s lack of suns. The writing is razor-sharp, and humbling. As if these were the thousands of words spoken by the infamous image of the pale blue dot that is our planet. They are Smol is a clever Lovecraftian comedy that’s tons of fun while staying true to the sci-fi genre, and that’s no smol feat.

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GRAVEN

A Tale of Astounding Archetypes and Commendable Concision

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

Aug 18, 2019: There is no such thing as a perfect story in this world, for a cavalcade of reasons. Unfortunately, some tales have to compete in a market suffering genre saturation, and Graven – being an outwardly superhero-centered tale – has a lot of at least nominal competition. However, it rises into notability as a very focused work which wants to tell a story about self-evolution, and which seems to lie on the very edge of “precisely enough to tell a tale and no more.” There have been perhaps better stories told in history, but this one ought to be read by virtually anybody hoping to take up writing themselves. It’s a curious yarn: dashes of mystery, a tone and subject between a heist film and a war story, a fantasy tilt, a tremendous amount of violence, some fairly interpretive gender-political discussion, and a take on the apocalypse that doesn’t boil down to zombies or EMPs or EMP zombies, and it’s well worth examining.

As far as flaws go, Graven’s literary status is imperfect but very clearly refined and intentional. Typographic errors, yes, but these are times when the scalpel slips, not when the hand behind it is misguided – occasional omissions of punctuation and other minor issues primarily, but an infrequent homophone substitution or two as well (a la “their” or “there” and so forth). In addition, there are both moments which feel like the author is brushing over one or two things for expedience and which feel slightly disappointing for not going into greater depth . . . but we’ll come back to that momentarily. Just note that this is a story you’ll more probably dislike for what it does than how it does it, because its flaws are not much more than sometimes distracting marks of its creator’s humanity.

Now, Graven is ABOUT characters, and specifically the common theme of man-versus-self. It asks the fairly standard-in-superhero-works question, “How are you going to change the world?” It asks this question in a whole slew of ways. For example, the conceit of Graven’s story is the appearance of numerous ethereal architectural features all over the world, and when you walk into one, either you return after some apparently arbitrary amount of time – armed with variably utilizable superpowers – or you never emerge. Will you take the risk of becoming a statistic? Will you be able to be content if you come back with the ability to, say take a few extra punches and drink unlimited quantities of liquid? On the other hand, supposing that you look back on the many sins of times past, would your inclination be to see betterment of everyone else, or just yourself? Would you even want to see that opportunity extended? And supposing that you have a new and improved lease on life: what weights would you give the valuation of others’ lives versus the improvement of quality-of-life? Graven runs the spectrum of these more-frequently encountered, and many less-frequently encountered, versions of such questions. Agency and opportunity are the twin cores of this work and it rocks them to all sorts of angles for a better view. It’s all about implementing changes for its cast, to the extent that of the superhuman members of that cast, only a tiny portion are even addressed by their birth names; the past itself becomes less of a tether and more a measuring stick.

Now, this is also a work whose presentation eschews nearly anything remotely considered extra. This in fact was, for me, both a wonderful example of supreme focus and a bit of a downer at times. It is quite rare to find a single word whose omission wouldn’t lessen the strength of its respective sentence, or a chapter that would remain just as functionally serviceable with any of its sentences removed. No; if you want to see a machine working with what it needs and no more, Graven is a textbook-worthy paragon. A great deal is concerned with the immediately occurring events of each respective cast member, and there’s little enough time to worry about unnecessary verbiage when the characters are regularly fighting for their lives. This has the added effect of tossing a great deal into the realm of material that the reader must mentally supply, by dint (for example) of not telling them much of anything about the dietary habits of extremely hardy superhumans, or leaving most of the new age’s utilitarian infrastructure an unstated and unexplored wilderness. The eloquent minimalism works to keep things hyper-focused, and reflects a dedication to cutting out the chaff which will invariably improve the successor to this work. However, this is a world which I on multiple occasions thought would be improved by more expansive exposition. It would have been nice to see things like debates among various governments about whether and how to draw up new articles of human rights for the superpowered. Instead, we get a very tightly concentrated journey that focuses on a band of misfits, and very little extraneous time spent idling.

In short, Graven is a cape-wearing motor vehicle stripped down to the bare essentials of what its storytelling actually requires. This is good in most ways, a little overly frugal in others. At its heart is the principle of characters changing their lives toward the ideals each possesses of “betterment.” Two of the maypoles of good storytelling united in one unassuming package. If there is ever to be a class on writing web fiction and the stalwart icons embodying how to do it right, then despite a few blemishes I’d say this one needs to be considered, and considered long and hard. Is it formulaic? Perhaps a bit, but in the same sense that making silver nitrate is supposed to be formulaic – if you try something differently from this example, it might still work, but it might also produce compounds you want nowhere near your face.

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