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BLACKLIGHT

Chromatic Conspiracies Chasing Children (also people getting mulched)

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

Jun 14, 2019: Blacklight is an odd duck. Total honesty: at first, it seemed like it was a superhero work doing everything in its power to disguise that fact – nothing against superhero fiction, but it carries certain expectations. Instead . . . it’s not exactly clear into what bucket Blacklight should get shoved. First, the setting’s an Earth-like locale with countries that have certain obvious parallels to present day but nothing so transparent as simply renaming France to Nonexistentia or some such. It’s not something that falls under “alternate history,” though I suppose you might run into something like the world described therein if the Romans had gotten their phalanxes handed to them by one of their many historically subjugated foes. There’s a bit of mystery, in that there’s an urban fantasy vibe which the majority of people just don’t understand or acknowledge (dead siblings coming back as ghosts and such). A pinch of political bug-ranching here and there. In the final calculus, though, imagine Pokemon where the Pokemon are different exotic matter substances, there are far fewer Pokemon in existence, the act of winning a Pokemon battle is achieved when the other person stops breathing, and you’re a homeless person who never asked to be inducted into an illegal sort-of-sorcerous back-alley cage match fighting lifestyle and who just wants some confidence in getting your next meal. It’s like pogs but with murder, and murder’s about the only way to believably escalate the pogs model in any case.

So far, Blacklight’s marshaling forces to become the best supernatural THING it can be. The cast is a bit odd; main character’s a vagrant youth exclusively haunted by her dead sister, trying to go along and get along in a country where she has difficulty speaking the language, let alone being evenly treated in light of her ethnicity. The one has massive personal issues from her sister and the fact that she’s being dragged feet first into stuff she doesn’t understand, and the other one has massive personal issues on account of being dead. They’re a dynamic duo, sure enough, and it’s interesting how much common ground you can have with someone talking to a floating person that relentlessly teases her and who regularly has to go days without food fit for human consumption. It’s a surprisingly thematically sturdy work; there’s elements of coping with racial ostracism, but it also dives into matters of where one’s planting their roots constitutes “home.” It asks questions touching on the nature of abandonment. When you look into Blacklight, you’re looking into something quixotic in the best way possible; on the one hand, the more traditional sense of lone-understanding where the principal cast has an understanding of a secret world. On the other hand, it asks where one falls when strong conviction rams up against everything our peers say can possibly be true.

So far, Blacklight has thrown a hundred questions into the air and provided very very few answers. As things go forward, hopefully resolution will pick up momentum, but that fifty two pickup of information dump may put some readers off its progression. I find it endearing, but being a weird person on every level that may not hold for everybody. Other than that, though, the tiny snippets of story dispersal might strike a bit of a sour note. There’s obviously the intent to keep people updated on the goings-on of the incredible necromancer sister and her sibling’s antics. However, the decision to make more frequent publishings of smaller quantity gives it a bit much of a start-stop air. Perhaps twice the length of an episode put out half as often will improve other peoples’ enjoyment as well by letting them stay in the action longer. It’s something worth following, but as a binge-inclined individual I prefer my medicine to come in slightly larger doses.

Urban fantasy with kind-of-historical fiction and character driven storytelling is a jam that many will appreciate. Solid grasp of cerebral philosophy. There’s something worthwhile to be had here for a lot of consumers, if they’re willing to supply the patient attention. Weird? Several kinds of weird. And weird will always have a place setting at THIS table.

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TALES FROM THE GAS STATION

Or, “Why Small Towns Have All the Fun”

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

May 25, 2019: The gas station at which certain tales take place is a vista with a very promising future for its journalistically-inclined chronicler. The enigmatic Jack Townshend has a commendable level of quality in giving life to thought, an obvious passion both for a quasi-epistolary ripped-from-the-diary style of storytelling and the campfire story, and an unusually good balance between those odd siblings horror and humor. Very few criticisms apply to his compendium of accounts; a scant handful of slips of the printed tongue here and there in the form of misplaced punctuation, one observed instance of “your” rather than “you’re” (hiss) – highly infrequent problems of this nature. The biggest circumstantial frustration for many – and the necessity for this isn’t totally unreasonable – will probably come in the form of the writer’s inclination to take the concept of “closure” and frequently kick it off the side of a cliff. Well, that and the fact that the layout of the gas station’s tales isn’t quite as intuitive as one might like, but trouble in navigating something is by definition liminal.

Now, what kind of zoo is this collection of tales? To put a single kids-these-days-appropriate name to the entity: creepypasta. However, it’s less of what that typically entails, and more of a Stephen King thing with Groucho Marx glasses. There’s a gas station by the edge of the woods in an undisclosed place in the continental U.S., and tale-worthy oddities permeate it like the town to which it technically geographically belongs is permeated by bumpkins of all sorts. The gas station’s primary personality, none other than Jack, is an insomniac who’s seen it ALL, and has all the self-defense capacity of a patch of rhubarb in the crosshairs of a herd of deer. He’s the sort whose main goals in life are three. One: forgetting about the forget-worthy stuff that happens around him, and which ALWAYS happens to slip from the memory and notice of everyone else in his vicinity. Two: taking care of the station for which he is clerk, steward, shepherd, and occasional exorcist type. Three: documenting the nonsense that happens around him, from drugs that cause spiders to plants that grow human hands, from big mutated raccoons to people who uniformly refuse to stay dead, from pagan deities seeking influence to uninvited bathroom guests. He’s not a hero, and he’s okay with that, and you want him to keep going just so he can help the next clueless Johnny walking in the door deal with their haunted mustache or something.

Presentation-wise, the experience is messy, in that you’re running along the inside track of the mind of a flawed narrator – and that’s great! A few other personalities pick up the thread at times, but your general feeling from the whole is a suffusion of raised eyebrow garnished with lots of chronic weirdness, a surprisingly frequent and genuine inclination toward laughter, a bunch of times where the raised eyebrow becomes a rolled eye toward “trying too hard” with the paranormal, and a handful of occasions that legitimately and lastingly raise the hairs along the spine. Even so, there’s an artful and occasionally savage elegance to the turns of phrase that breathe life into these altercations. Maybe not written by someone who loves English like a paramour, but at least a person with whom English went out on a dozen dinner dates and that still occasionally receives flowers. So far, after several major arcs, the storytelling manages to remain enjoyable even when unpleasant or slightly off-putting. The real humdinger of Jack’s polished work, on the other hand, is the frequency with which answers are deliberately withheld. Of course, there are as many people who like that sort of coy or oblique style in writing, and to its credit there’s not an instant that this seems to be born of malice or suckering in of the audience (with one glaring possible, exception involving an investigator in the back of a van very specifically NOT being told anything of substance). It’s more that the author obviously grasps the idea that people find things more unsettling when they’re caught from the corner of the eye rather than walking up wearing a spinning bow tie and a neon top hat. Furthermore, for such a small town and a small gas station, it’s obvious that standing around and just giving the audience all pertinent information would take quite a while, and what answers one does eventually receive are thematic puzzle pieces carved to fit a much greater cohesive whole.

In short: if you like feeling something spoopy from a midnight recounting of a well-told yarn, laughter at the most outlandish of times at a slightly twisted sense of humor, and can tolerate the deferral of some mysteries’ resolutions indefinitely, it’s more than worth your while to visit a certain establishment. Just don’t forget change if you need to use the phone, don’t forget to say hello to the hardworking people behind the counter, and don’t go into the woods.

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AKA

Also Known As…Quite Promising

By Hejin57, author of Music Masters

Mar 16, 2019: It seems the age of web fiction is a sea of superhero stories these days. It becomes more and more difficult to separate various stories in settings that seem to melt in one another.

On today’s agenda we have the aptly named aka, a pretty clever title if I may say so.

The story of this ongoing tale revolves around one Nathaniel Thomas Peterson, who lives in a world where metahumans, or metas, are a known and accepted fact of life.

This particular setting though, goes all in when it comes to government involvement with supers, sort of echoing what might have happened if Iron Man had won Civil War. Laws on metahuman activity are strictly monitored and punishments for using ones powers unsanctioned are quite severe.

Nathan, however, has no desire to use his powers, opting instead to live a simple life as a janitor at the well-known Daedalus Technologies.

Like many stories, the story is told in the first-person point of view. It does a good job of portraying Nathan himself, but I lament not getting to know more about other characters such as the Eagle, Anarchist, and his liaison James.

Speaking of Nathan, he’s perhaps not the most unique character, but he gives off at least a likable vibe comparable to Peter Petrelli of Heroes fame or Will Hunting. Nathan’s power, when finally shown, is at least interesting enough that the story keeps you wondering how it may develop and grow as the story goes along.

While the supporting cast isn’t anything mind-blowing, there are some highlights in some later villains and in the interesting relationship between Nathaniel and his liaison James.

Beyond the idea of metahuman parole officers being pretty interesting, I think something that sets this story apart is that it focuses on Nathan’s unwillingness to confront the idea of being a hero, as he’d much rather live a simple, mundane life than face the stresses that heroes have to handle in this day and age.

As mentioned before, the first villains shown so far, the aptly named Gold Diggers, show a lot of potential in particular from what we see of them in the most recent chapter.

My only really complaint with the story might be its shaky beginning, which can come off as little bland and has some minor spelling and grammar mistakes. The narrative and voice definitely gets a lot stronger as the chapters go on though, and based on recent developments, seems to be going in a very promising direction. I feel the setting itself isn’t necessarily bad per say, just needing maybe an extra bit of flair to separate it from so many other superhero settings. Not so much the author’s fault though, it is hard to stand out with so many superhero stories these days.

All in all, I think the best way to describe this story is vanilla: it’s not bad really, but it’s a flavor we’ve tasted time and time again. A pleasant one, but lacking some uniqueness.

That being said, I think the mundane angle works really well when it’s used, and the story can only grow from here.

Final score: 3.5/5

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