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an alternative detective story

By A. M. Harte, editor, author of Theatre of Horrors

Sep 6, 2009: Black Hat Magick currently stands at 13 chapters, and is promising to be a very exciting serial.

The story follows Elaine, a university student who, in her free time, works as a private detective. She is a skilled hacker, intelligent, and dismissive of authority. But she is equally knowledgeable about the ‘arcane’: the supernatural, and how magic and technology can mix.

When Elaine is hired by a member of the Student Council to investigate the possible corruption of the upcoming student elections, she isn’t aware of what she’s getting herself into. Each piece of the puzzle only raises further questions, and it doesn’t help that Elaine has problems of her own to deal with!

Black Hat Magick is an alternative detective story. It has the classic detective style of writing, full of detailed observations, and told from the point of view of a loner, an outsider to mainstream society. The characters are well-developed and entertaining, and the pacing is superbly planned, keeping you hungering for more.

It is set in an alternate universe much like our own, except, technologically-speaking, more advanced. The story offers a fresh take on stock fantasy critters: gremlins, for example, seem to be a destructive type of AI formed from static electricity.

The story is set at a university, but Black Hat Magick is not just another college story. The university setting is of only background importance, as the focus is on Elaine’s sleuthing activities.

The story is well-written and descriptive, although there are a smattering of typos. Be warned that there is a lot of technical jargon. While occasionally annoying, the use of tech speak did add to the credibility of the protagonist, and it hasn’t yet hindered my enjoyment.

My one complaint? The story often references popular culture (facebook, 4chan, Star Wars, etc), which, frankly, I find annoying.

The website itself is simple to navigate and relatively uncluttered. It does use the light-text-on-dark-background style, which I don’t mind, but some readers may find annoying.

Overall, an entertaining read with a constantly twisting plot line. I look forward to reading more.

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A crazy ride

By Sarah Suleski, author of Sidonie

Sep 8, 2008: Note: Unfortunately this hasn’t been updated since 2009. Original review below.

Thomas Bleakly, PI is a crazed, full stop no brakes noir-with-robots adventures that is somewhat reminiscent of Blade Runner, only a lot funnier, a lot more manic, and not a movie. And after reading 14 parts (2 chapters) I’m hooked on it.

To start out, it seems like a complete farce, a parody of cyberpunk and noir, perhaps. The jokes fly and it opens with the classic scenario of the dame walking into the detective’s office with a case. The twist being that the dame is a robot and the detective is more crazed than cynical. It took me a little bit to really believe in the hype over the character. I felt like I was being told "Look how crazy he is!" a little too loudly and forcefully. But the jokes and the ease with which I could read the narration kept me entertained enough to read on. And Bleakly grew on me, as a character, as the story went on. He has this insouciant quality in any situation that makes me smile.

The whole thing also picks up, right about the time Bleakly experiences an unfortunate turn of events in Chapter 2 Part 2, which renders him even crazier than before. That’s when it really starts to get fun.

The PoV shifts are done rather abruptly and I found it confusing every time. All three PoVs are told in first person and there is no indication whose first person you’re in until you’ve read a bit. It adds to the manic feel of the story, but I can’t help get a little irritated every time I have to go back and read stuff over because I spent the last few parts in one character’s PoV and was then dumped into another’s with no warning. It’s like "Haha! Made ya look!" every time.

Besides that, though, I find the story easy to read through quickly. There are some run-on sentences but nothing too sloppy, so far. There’s a lot of funny or elaborate descriptions, fitting in with the whole tone of an extreme over the top punked out noir.

If you’re in the mood for something crazy, comic, noirish, and futuristic, Thomas Bleakly is a good bet.

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An absurdist postmodern sci-fi noir? I’m THERE.

By aricollins, member

Sep 8, 2008: Bleakly is a fun romp through a sci-fi noir detective gone wrong. But how can it be wrong when it feels so right?

Getting the bad out of the way, it does take a little to hit its stride, but really not too long at all. It starts as an over-the-top sci-fi detective story, but soon the author starts masterfully weaving in conflicting narratives that disagree not only on exactly what happens but even the setting at times. All three (so far) viewpoints are believable and compelling (and in Bleakly’s case hilarious), with the writing perfectly suiting each character in turn.

Read this if you like experimental fiction that doesn’t undercut the main point, which is to deliver an entertaining and engrossing read. Read this if you like science fiction, detectives, bizarre humor, and/or all three. And definitely read this for the absurd Time Travel Dating monologue Bleakly delivers at one point. Worth the price of admission by itself, especially when that price is only your time. Above all: read this.

(Disclaimer: I am a friend of the author. But I still tell him when he sucks. And he doesn’t here. So, again: read the fricking thing.)

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