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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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Potential OR Unapologetic Rule of Cool

By Rhodeworks, author of Not All Heroes

Jun 12, 2018: When I review a lot of serials, I do a bit of preliminary investigation into the author. Sometimes it helps to know if, for example, English isn’t their first language. The Zone is a story where I’m going to softball my usual close reading review style given that the author is, apparently, young and this is their first attempt at a story for others to read. On one hand, I want to adjust for age and inflate the score. On the other, as per usual, I don’t think anyone learns if they don’t get the truth (or, at least, some of it). So, here goes.

The Zone is a sci-fi story rendered in a first-person perspective. It doesn’t commit to it as thoroughly as it should. The prose is pretty low on detail and high on telling us about the setting as opposed to letting us experience it. This first-person perspective also creates moments where it feels like the story comes to a stop so Daniel can look into the camera and tell us about bits and pieces of the world. What a Builder is, or a Fighter, or a tag, etc. Sometimes it’s even to explain what Daniel says. The setting is certainly imaginative, even if there’s very little thought given to the implications of some elements*.

Daniel himself is a fairly rough character. He’s not very pleasant or relatable. Part of this because he’s a cyborg packed full of implants that make him superhuman and doesn’t appear to have any weaknesses or concerns. He’s kind of a smirking badass who is edgy enough that you might get cut if you stare at the prose for too long. His ‘small floating house’ has enough firepower to ‘blow an entire Omega* to hell’, for example. His thought process is also strange, to say the least, given that at the threat of being captured by pirates his thought is that it would make him late for school and it would take an ‘unknown amount of time to escape’ (and not the threat of execution he mentions a few lines earlier). It’s like . . . slow down, let this guy have some flaws—some real flaws.

Really, at this point, I think you know where I’ll be going, so, let’s swerve.

Let’s be clear. I’d say every single author on WFG has written something like The Zone. I know I did. Typist Kid, however, has the bravery to put this work up and show it to the world. I also think you can see a clear thread of progression of improvement from the first chapters to the most recent updates, which is something I found very surprising. It’s still a pretty rough story with all the baggage of being a youthful first attempt at writing a longform story, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve seen. The spelling and grammar put some other serials to shame.

Adjusting for age—well, guess I’m doing it—I think The Zone is somewhat impressive if colored by age and, therefore, simplicity. But if Typist Kid keeps writing and reading and learning and honing, well, he might have some pretty interesting stuff to show off in a couple of years.

This story isn’t for everyone, as it is seemingly motivated by Typist Kid’s belief in what’s cool (which I can get behind), and I’d wager most people are going to bounce off it. However, I think it’s an impressive proof of work and hope that Typist Kid can see this through to the end and hone those skills. If I had to pick a word for The Zone, it’d be: potential. If you think you can handle the enthusiastic roughness of The Zone, then you should at least give it a cursory check.

*Note: Omegas are planet-sized battleships. Scale is an issue. This is absolutely not a thinking man’s sci-fi.

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Highs and Lows of Life in the 32nd Century

By SovereignofAshes, author of The Vorrgistadt Saga

Apr 1, 2018: Disclaimer: This review was done as part of a review swap.

First Impressions: From the first chapter you’ll find yourself reading what seems to be a young adult ‘slice-of-life’ kind of story, but within moments everything changes. You’re plunged into the main character’s stream-of-consciousness right away, seeing what he sees, experiencing what he experiences, and hearing him describe what his tinkered implants tell him about the world. It feels at once like you’re inside his head, but also like he’s telling you a story in the very moment that everything is happening.

At first blush, the story reminded me a lot of the Dead Space series of video games, only instead of the protagonist fighting space-zombies, it was a more light-hearted, young-adult story filled with adventure and character. The idea of a young man trained at building and tinkering, with a specialization in cybernetics and power-suits reminded me a lot of Isaac Clarke from Dead Space if he were younger, less grizzled, and thrust into a much brighter setting. This young man is searching for his identity and purpose, by tinkering with himself seeking a semblance of perfection, and tinkering with his tools while occasionally screwing up in the process. Another character I thought of would be Amanda Ripley from Alien: Isolation. Instead of seeking out her mother and corporate evils, this character is still finding their purpose and has far less bad luck with xenological entities. Yes, most of my sci-fi intake is survival horror at this time, mea culpa.

Content: The narrative doesn’t hit you with everything all at once and exposition, with regards to the setting, occurs conversationally as the protagonist only gives you exactly what you need to know in any situation. This is an enjoyable, direct, and light read. If you binge on chapters, you’ll find yourself quickly flipping through the story and becoming embroiled in the adventure without any fuss. The conversational style is refreshing and allows your imagination to flare up without constraint. Every new detail revealed from the protagonist slowly builds up until a fleshed-out and realized setting can be seen working in the background.

The story has a lot of twists and turns to it as it goes along. The style of writing seems to address details as soon as the reader wants to ask a question, but then as you go along the story starts to turn on its head. Each surprise helps to further the story and increase reader engagement. You’ll find yourself getting ready to head to school, then things fall apart, you get arrested by androids, then some swash-lasering with space-pirates . . . There’s a lot of action and a lot of potential rearing under the hood of the narrative.

Particulars: The grammar is fairly solid and the author continually revises and updates their work as they go along. I’ve only noticed a few hiccups or errant sentences that could do with a trim or revision. If you’re a more casual reader, you won’t even notice them as you continue through the story. Some movements of commas, some repositioning of sentences, a bit more description, and a pass with editing will fix the story right up to be fully polished.

The story works well as an engaging and relaxing young-adult science-fiction story. The style of writing is to the point and can introduce new readers and more casual readers to its content very easily. Those who enjoy ‘slice-of-life’ stories will find themselves expanding their horizons if they take this story on.

The story could do with a dash more description, and a bit of tightening when it comes to exposition. A lot of the wonder of the setting and the more visceral experiences of the character are lost in the current version of the story. In the first few chapters there are a lot of experiences the protagonist lives through that beg for more description but are sadly glossed over. In some interesting ways this can enhance the story, as the character seems very analytical and focused on data over sensory exploration. If you’re a more left-brained reader, you’ll be right at home.

The characters are well-defined and engaging. From the first chapter the personality of the protagonist is clearly known. A young man with ambition that just slightly aims higher than his abilities and common sense. He is a fallible character that seeks to grow (and does) as the story unfolds. As the chapters continue the protagonist seems to let his ambition run wild and hopefully in the later story he can do some growing up. The supporting cast are interesting, engaging, and developed to further the narrative.

There is a lot to the setting that is interesting and unique. As a reader, I hope to see more of it and it acts as a drive to push me further into the story as it goes along. The differences between Alphas and Omegas, the differences between Builders and Warriors, how the society functions, why there are space-pirates in key areas. More description on these would serve to enhance the story, as it is right now, it is a bit frustrating but serves to pull the reader in to find out more.

Conclusion: The Zone has a lot of potential and what is present right now is a solid story with well-crafted characters. The author has taken a lot of time and effort to build an engaging setting and sets of events for their characters. All that is needed is a bit more ‘meat on the bones’ to flesh this story out. A bit more description, a few more passes at revision, and this will be a truly amazing science-fiction story. As it is, it serves very well as a young-adult story with a very analytical character.

If you’re a die-hard science-fiction fan wanting a refreshing new take on the genre, you can’t go wrong with this story. If you’re not that big into science-fiction, this story is a great, relaxing, entry that can introduce you to a world of cybernetics, space battles, and spatial anomalies without having to get too far down the Asimovian rabbit-hole. If you’re more of a literary reader, this would be a great jumping-in point to try some speculative fiction. If you like active-voice, first-person narratives you’ll love this story. If you enjoy being surprised and letting your imagination run loose, this will give you plenty to think about for days after reading.

The story won me over and I’ll continue to follow it with each new release. I’m a big fan of realized settings with lots of potential, this story has them in spades. I’m interested in seeing where the author takes this journey and what choices with the story they’ll make to grow it.

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