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PRAIRIE SONG

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By Nova Girl93, author of RU in? Saga

Dec 15, 2019: I love the wild west/post apocalyptic feel of this. The characters are well fleshed out. You quickly come to care about them as you follow them along. There is plenty of adventure and intrigue. This one had me hooked from the beginning.

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WARD

Strictly 4 My P.A.R.A.H.U.M.A.N.Z…

By nippoten, author of Entirely Presenting You

Jun 15, 2019: Wildbow is in a unique spot in the web fiction world. Three very long, very popular serials in his oeuvre, now over a million words into the sequel of the work that first put him on. All Eyez on Him.

But the fact remains, we are now over a million words into Ward. Is the length justified, or does it crumble under its own word count? The short answer is we are reading literary rubble.

The foundation is simply not there. Take the first sentence of Daybreak 1.1, how it clunks and tumbles, syllables crashing. Read it out loud, it falls apart and the gears drool out of your mouth, breaking teeth along the way.

This is what the rest of the serial builds upon. Try to find anything within that reads more smooth, you will be bereft. Prosework was never a strongpoint or consideration for Wildbow’s serials, understandably amateurish in early-Worm, effortless by Pact, and now we have looped back to the grind, longer and longer paragraphs that read in fits and starts, yet somehow written with an experienced hand. Ward is a mess, but only a mess a good writer can write.

There is something to be said about brevity. GZA put it aptly, ‘half short and twice strong.’ There’s a reason why Pact remains Wildbow’s most engaging read. Compare Pact’s first sentence, how it captures the theming and tone of the work in less words than Ward’s ever could.

Ward drags. It drags hard and when anything drags hard it burns and hurts. Events and arcs ooze into one another, flowing like molasses. We spend a better part of an arc playing capture the flag. We spend the length of several novellas of therapy sessions. Paint dries as the cast gathers and waits for story to take them away and have them do something. And that story does come, though in fits and starts, in lateral movements rather than anything directly straightforward and driven.

Hear them now. ‘Ward is a character piece, a character study.’ Perhaps this holds water, but it’s more akin to filling a bowl that is cracked and with holes. You have to keep pouring water – constant updates leading to wordbloat – in order to maintain anything of substance. What happens when the stream stops? What will you be left with?

What are the characters we have to study? Victoria is not interesting. Interesting things have happened to her in Worm and interesting things will happen to her in Ward, but this does not justify over a million words in a beige headspace. Her black and white view in a grey world can be interesting if it is ever at all challenged or recognized or commented toward any real or meaningful development but it is not. The Third Man, Ward is not. Compare Victoria now to the beginning of Daybreak. Certainly her character has been through and made some changes, but it certainly does not read as such. She also has shit taste in fashion.

The characters that surround her, Breakthrough, tend to be more interesting, this rule mostly applying Ashley and Kenzie, both having the best interludes the serial has to offer. Others outside of these padded walls that make up the team that aren’t from Worm have a tendency to blur and fade into the black that is the webpage Ward’s text exists on.

Dialogue was never a strength of Wildbow’s either, but the theme of therapy and healing, while a noble thing to write about, seems to go out of its way to pull out any fangs and smooth out any other edges for when Ward’s characters speak. The members of Breakthrough are the biggest sinners. They talk around issues, they coddle, they are actively aware that they avoid any and all conflict. This does not make for interesting dialogue or interesting dynamics, outside of the few bits of comedy that land or the very many bits of shipper fuel for the Worm-fanatic. The words have no bounce or rhythm, they do not have to sound like Elmore Leonard characters but at least Elmore Leonard was a person, these characters should sound like people. If robotic dialogue was a problem in Worm that solved itself by Pact, Ward brings that issue back, painfully yet purposefully.

This is what it means for Ward to be a mess, a mess only a good writer can write. Ward is the sum of enough bad ideas realized with a skilled hand. Of course the dialogue is stilted, of course the pacing is the way it is, any reader can see the design, the conviction in which Wildbow set these things up. But then it should come as no surprise that the result is the least engaging read Wildbow has put to webpage.

The only way, then, to catch the hook that Ward is hanging out carelessly in the wind is to jump at it deliberately, to want to be hooked. To be the Worm-fanatic, the Worm-obsessed, who reads not the craft of the text itself, but promise that’s written between the lines. The promise of more powers, the promise of flashy but nearly impossible to parse action, the promise of shopping trips. Ward is, more than anything else, an engine, an engine that fuels ships and pumps content into holes in wiki pages. Ward is Drake’s More Life, a playlist, where the quantity of content is greater than the quality of the overall project. Pick and choose your favorite parts and discard the rest.

Truly, the main supervillain is not Teacher, or the Fallen, or the machine army that literally waits at the horizons, threat in name only affecting nothing of the current or larger plot, the main villain is the very nature of serialization and writing to immediate audience reception. They reward wordbloat, more sprawl, because the more words, the more to craft theories with. This helped build Worm and Wildbow, but now it proves to be Ward’s undoing, authorship now locked in an endless feedback loop that prioritizes certain things and not others.

Take a shot every time Sveta moves to Victoria’s arm and ‘gives it a squeeze,’ every time Kenzie ‘smiles’ post-Interlude 7.x. The true Worm-fanatic will indulge in drunken excess. The remaining readers will grow quickly nauseous.

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NOT ALL HEROES

An Utterly Needless Endorsement

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

Mar 27, 2019: First, a couple of confessions: this review A) was not originally going to be written, because B) it lies outside my normal zone of interest – and honesty about this last point is the only true reason for not throwing a whole fifth star up there. Take that for what it’s worth, and treat this as a white-knuckled spit-flecked demand that anyone ever planning to do a superhero anything needs to put this on their beforehand Hajj.

Not All Heroes is, as is evident, a look at a society which is suddenly gifted with people who can fly and shoot eye lasers and so on. So far, there have been in total three criticisms which I can level against it: one place with grammatically-incorrect usage of "lied" instead of "lay" (or "lain", always have to double-check those), the aforementioned not-my-thing lukewarmness about the subject material as a rule, and the fact that the tagline deceives. More on that last momentarily.

With that all said, this is one of the best-written works encountered in a very, VERY long while, and has since been recommended to a real-life friend of mine based on its points of excellence. After managing to sit down for three chapters in succession it sucked me in like a nuclear vacuum cleaner. This is for several reasons. First, and quite obvious, is strength of character. Obviously, this applies to the cast – and how! – and it feels like this collection of brain cells called Rhodeworks has been a spunky teenage girl rebel with powered armor, a disturbed mercenary fugitive, and an ex-superhero sleuth whose hands don’t work no more. After a little while with these people, I feel like I could bring to mind a dozen common scenarios and realistically divine how each would behave – and more, divine how each would behave at various points of the described events. It’s on par with several beloved authors, Stephen King and Joe Abercrombie among them.

However, one of the things that brings this one beyond the point of being a better and more-polished instance of a well-populated neat class of story is the character of the world. To make yet another comparison, a person name of Taylor Anderson has an extremely good series called Destroyermen (which ironically also features Australia in a major role). Destroyermen is about an alternate-universe take on WWII events, where part of ABDA gets sucked into a version of Earth populated by killer fuzzy lizards and cat monkeys. To cut out several tons of unnecessaries, Anderson’s schtick is twofold: portrayal of a place that is utterly hostile and in which human beings simply do not belong, and the anthropomorphization of a concept – in this case, war – as a very well-defined person and integral member of the cast in itself. The future populated by Paradigm City is very much centered on a society whose obvious endemic fatigue and disenfranchisement make it as much of a member of the crew as any member of homo sapiens.

To be sure, the people who live there aren’t in the middle of any War of the Worlds or Hunger Games end-of-civilization scenario. Instead, they and their ancestors are stuck in the remains of a planet that got fed into a paper shredder with batarangs instead of blades, trying to make do and continue on with something approximating life. It’s in this spirit that the issue with "Not all apocalypses are cataclysmic" is revealed: there was in fact a world-leveling apocalypse prior to the ongoing decadence of Sabra, Leopard, and Fisher. Now, though, they are now stuck in a different and more linguistically correct apocalypse: a REVEALING that has dragged on and on for years, inimical to human life as it’s long been and an indicator of more violent upheaval yet to come. It’s not a blankly miserable existence, as similar stories seem to occasionally emphasize. Instead, it’s a tale with lots of little people put into a thresher, and facing innumerable challenges to be overcome: everything from actual murdering supervillians and unstable wildcard agents to a malaise that brings to mind an early Anderson quote: "What was the point? There were dinosaurs on Bali." It was, in all honesty, that world which really sold it to me, and Rhodeworks should get more laud for an exceptional job with something that could have ended so blandly.

So, after all that, if you haven’t already been sold based on the other and probably more cogent recommendations of this one, then get your head checked – and check out Not All Heroes. As in, now.

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