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FISHBOWL

Fishbowl First Look

By Thedude3445, author of Rainbow Destructor

Nov 4, 2019: Fans of weird sci-fi and fast-paced cliffhanger-heavy serials should be very interested in the new story Fishbowl. It’s a giant mystery whose very premise has yet to be fully uncovered, but with a lot of quirk and humor behind it that shows a whole lot of promise. There may be way too many characters to keep track of, but it’s still very entertaining.

(I have a longer review but Web Fiction Guide breaks when I try to post it)

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KATALEPSIS

Katalesbians

By tkjarrah, author of blacklight

Nov 2, 2019: SHORT VERSION:

spooky eldritch shit but without a lot of the bullshit you usually get attached to that, and also good as shit and non-creepy lesbians. go read it.

LONG VERSION:

Katalepsis falls somewhere in-between the genres of urban fantasy and eldritch horror – more of the vibe of the former but the content of the latter, if I had to try and pin it down like that. My first thought for comparison was The Laundry Files by Charles Stross, except, you know. Good.

Heather Morell sees things. Monsters, abominations, fake versions of reality. Diagnosed with severe schizo-affective disorder, she’s struggling through an empty university life, with medication that doesn’t work and horrors she can’t ignore. Right up until she runs into a girl on the street, and starts to figure out that maybe the reason the medications weren’t working is that the things that she’s seeing are actually there.

Right off the bat, it’s important to note that Heather’s misdiagnosis is explicitly that, a misdiagnosis. Sometimes with stories like these, you get a situation where the disability is actually just super special secret magic powers (cough cough Percy Jackson cough cough) which . . . kinda sucks. Thankfully, Katalepsis doesn’t go that route – it’s not trying to say that every schizophrenic person is actually seeing Lovecraftian abominations in the street, but also doesn’t treat Heather like she’s suddenly been ‘cured’ or deserving of more respect or worth as a person because she’s not actually schizophrenic. The issue of disability, both mental and physical, is handled with care and respect, which sadly shouldn’t be as unusual as it is, but is nice regardless.

I don’t usually go for horror, because I’m a big baby, but I didn’t really have much trouble reading Katalepsis. What horror there is is more of the existential sort, not much in terms of gore or body horror, so depending on where you’re at it could be less scary than average or significantly scarier. For me, though, the tone was not the kind of overwhelmingly terrifying nihilism that you usually get with the more eldritch stories – there’s a nice throughline of warmth and humanity throughout the entire story, and a rejection of that kind of attitude at one point that had me punching the air in satisfaction. Heather in particular is someone who has every right to be beaten down and bitter but still manages to be incredibly warm and caring while still having a spine, which I found very endearing.

As mentioned above, all of the primary cast of Katalepsis so far are some form of gay, and that too is handled well. It’s not exclusively a romance, but romance plays a big part in the story, and it’s very cute and authentically-written. Heather is . . . incredibly horny, but it’s not fetishised or treated weirdly. Her relationship with Raine, one of the other protagonists, is also nice in that it’s allowed to veer close to being unhealthy without passing some massive judgement or making it A Thing. When people say ‘let women and queers be messy’, this is what it should mean (as opposed to what it normally means, which is ‘don’t persecute me for being a pedophile’, but that’s a whole other thing). The cast is very small, but delightful charming in almost every aspect, varied in personality and vibes. I’m having trouble picking a favourite, which is unusual for me, but if you put a gun to my head I’d have to go with Evelyn, the shitty, bitchy, haughty mage of the group, but Twil, the chavvy teenage swearwolf, would probably come in a close second.

On the subject of characters, though, the one thing I would say about Katalepsis is that it is a very white story. I’m not entirely sure there’s been a single non-white character in the entire story, and if there has, they were minor enough that I completely missed their appearance. Considering that Katalepsis is very good about other kinds of rep, it’s a bit disappointing. It’s not justification to rain fire down on it from above or anything, but as someone who was otherwise quite catered to by the story, it sucks. Unfortunately, though, getting used to that particular bugbear is something you have to do a lot in the modern media environment, so it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story too much (even though I kind of wish I was spoiled for choice enough that it did).

Regardless, Katalepsis is still an excellent story, with lengthy and consistent updates, and definitely worth your time, unless you’re gonna be weird about lesbians in which case go away.

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I HATE BEING WED IN A FANTASY WORLD!

I…Don’t Hate It?!

By Waltzoid, author of Through the Motions

Oct 30, 2019: It seems that nowadays you can’t throw a rock without hitting an online novel that features characters being reincarnated or otherwise drawn into worlds that operate on RPG logic, with characters referring to "levels", "stats", and "skills" as if they were everyday concepts. I Hate Being Wed in a Fantasy World is (as of this review, which will only cover Volume 1) a six-volume tale of a group of Japanese high school students dragged into a fantasy world against their will to fight an unknown force of evil.

Sounds pretty generic so far, right?

The hook to this story is that an antisocial video game nerd, Kenta Katsuragi, possesses a cursed magical ring that reveals its true power when he reunites with his class president, Kyou Momokawa. Through a series of misunderstandings, the two are accidentally "married" and are forced to work together to find a way back to safety despite neither of them liking each other before (or even after) their reunion.

I Hate Being Wed . . . , like many stories of its kind, seems to be geared toward readers who are already familiar with RPG and MMORPG tropes and trends, so the casual reader will scratch their head at the many bracketed skill names and phrases being thrown around, but it’s otherwise consistent and easy to understand. The actual writing style isn’t as good in this regard, as there are frequent comma breaks that disrupt the flow of reading where one wouldn’t expect commas to be, sometimes as many as two or three per sentence. These become somewhat less distracting as you read on and get used to seeing them.

Much of the story is told from Kenta’s perspective, with occasional breaks into Kyou’s perspective. After getting in these characters’ heads for a few chapters, I often found myself wanting to get out as quickly as possible. When the main couple narrates, everything suddenly dries up. There’s lots of exposition, but not enough emotion.

The main character is the story’s weakest link by a good margin. Kenta, for all his professed gamer savviness, routinely does and says stupid things that get him into trouble that could have easily been avoided if he’d just stop and think ahead for once. One could chalk this up to being an impulsive teenager desperate to survive in an unfamiliar world, but there are times when the self-inflicted bad luck he often complains about ("I hate it!" is something of a catchphrase for our dear Ken-san) just isn’t harsh enough. He’s also a moderate asshole (he even says so himself) who views others, including his bonded partner Kyou, with contempt. He sees her, and the rest of his classmates, as phonies who only care about making themselves look good. Ironically, this opens him up to be tricked by Kyou and others into furthering their own goals.

Compared to the self-centered and abrasive Kenta, Kyou feels like the relative voice of reason. Despite being much lower-leveled than Kenta, she’s bailed him out more times than he likes to admit. This makes their partnership a marriage of (plot) convenience, where they know they have to take advantage of the system – and each other, hence the title – in order to survive. Seeing Kenta and Kyou perform forced gestures of affection to score points toward their first shared power-up can be eye-rolling at times, but it’s these occasions where they stop bickering and sniping at one another and put their heads together to solve a problem, producing some of the first volume’s more exciting moments.

Despite my issues with the dull narration, superficial romantic elements, and having to deal with a pair of annoying blockheads as the main couple, I can safely say that Volume 1 of I Hate Being Wed in a Fantasy World is . . . an acquired taste. The idea of having a dysfunctional couple of teens as the focus of an RPG adventure is surprisingly unique. Kenta and Kyou won’t factor into any "cutest couple" contests any time soon, but I still found myself equally frustrated and fascinated by what was going to happen next. I had to raise my annoyance tolerance bar high enough above my head to make a basketball hoop to do so, but I made it.

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