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ENDLESS STARS

Excellence

By Thedude3445, author of Rainbow Destructor

Jul 18, 2019: Endless Stars is why web fiction needs to exist, needs to be fostered and supported. In a traditional publication situation, this thing is a really tough sell—a fantasy story starring non-anthropomorphic dragons, with chapters that go on for 30, 40 paperback pages, with a story that mixes grand world-spanning struggles with small-scale adventures and slice-of-life character moments, focusing on such small details that the story’s barely begun after over 500 pages . . . Web fiction is where this kind of story works best, and we should be very glad to have it.

As of the end of Book 2, I will go ahead and say this is the best web novel I’ve read by a huge margin. I’ve still got a ton of the Greats left to go, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that Endless Stars is a cut above most everything else.

In this web serial, we follow Kinri, a young, mysterious dragon who follows Hinte, a young mysterious dragon, who is following her alchemical pursuits into dangerous lava-infested territory. As the adventure unfolds, as these two journey through discovery and peril, they grow emotionally close to one another, and we slowly watch themselves unfold before us. Both of these characters are great! The duo starts off at first glance as that kind of "jaded loner meets eager newbie" dynamic you’ve seen plenty of times. But as their characters are unveiled, as they grow closer together, this dynamic shifts considerably, and adds so much depth. Kinri and Hinte are both really good characters.

This adventure our heroes go on quickly turns into something much bigger than they had expected going in, but the story always keeps our two heroes front and center, making sure their journey, and their growing friendship, is never lost in favor of action, romance, or intrigue.

And as for those things . . . well, there isn’t any romance, but there is a lot of action and intrigue. Especially the intrigue. Kinri and Hinte have stumbled into some machinations of the highest order, and are essentially pieces in some greater game trying to figure out what’s even going on. I’m not a fan of excessive intrigue, and I usually avoid "dark fantasy" stories because they overindulge in throne room backstabbing nonsense, but Endless Stars does so well that I actually stay engaged in the story. As far back as I can think, this is the first web fiction that takes itself largely seriously throughout and I haven’t hated. How crazy is that?

Of course, and you may already know this if you’re reading this review, the REAL selling point for Endless Stars is the prose. This is Good Prose. This isn’t Good-for-web-fiction prose. It’s just plain good. Every sentence is packed with intention, every image vivid, every bout of introspection by our heroine Kinri solid. Outside of maybe a few one-off short stories or novellas here and there, you aren’t going to find a story as well-written as Endless Stars.

The "drawback," if you’ll call it that, is that this is not a fast-paced story. This is not for the binge-reader type to consume in one sitting and forget about a week later; it’s meant to be read, not skimmed, and it’s going to take some time to get through. That may turn off some people, but it shouldn’t.

If you want to get absorbed in some real good stuff, if you want characters worth following, if you’re tired of the endless repetitive grimdark fighting stories or shallow anime regurgitations, you’ve got to look at Endless Stars.

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INEXORABLE CHAOS

A Real Slog

By Thedude3445, author of Rainbow Destructor

Jul 17, 2019: After a first chapter like Inexorable Chaos’s, you might be expecting something real interesting. The story begins with the Trickster Gods of a half-dozen Earth mythologies coming together into a mysterious realm at the behest of Loki, and then getting trapped as Loki begins the first phase of a mysterious plan. The story hits the ground running with a really interesting setup, and you have no idea what direction it’s going—

—And then chapter 2 is about an isekai hero, apparently an author insert because he has the same name, being summoned to a fantasy world and beginning his quest to become the strongest person ever thanks to his overpowered stats.

Yes, the story is a LitRPG isekai harem. No, it isn’t advertised as such. And from my other reviews of LitRPGs, you already know that I don’t generally care for the medium because I think that the stories focus far too much on the "mechanics" of their world than telling an interesting story or going anywhere with the characters. Well, now I feel like I judged "I Hate Being Wed in a Fantasy World!" way too harshly, because Inexorable Chaos is a big step down.

The protagonist, despite having nearly nothing to do with Loki as far as I read (Chapter 22 out of 43 currently), has a decent origin that could make for a fun story— he’s a Hero for Hire, someone summoned from Earth into various fantasy worlds to deal with the stuff that pops up. He’s jaded and grizzled, and this adventure is his very first LitRPG. Doesn’t that sound like a good metafictional setup for a lot of fun comedy?

It’s not.

The story, by Chapter 4, devolves into just . . . fighting and fantasy worlds and RPG stats and talking endlessly about leveling up abilities and . . . My word it’s hard to get through. There’s like two dozen characters, including a side-protagonist Jessica who is native to the fantasy world, then a DIFFERENT summoned hero Frankie, whose personality I was never able to pin down. Though, the protagonist Quasi Eludo ALSO had a personality I couldn’t pin down at all; besides insulting the characters around him and literally having the superpower to attract all females around him, he didn’t have one trait I could name.

It’d be okay if the writing were decent, or the fights were fun to follow. But the prose is so, so flat. Nobody ever has any emotions or personality. There’s never any imagery in any of the descriptions, or anything FUN. It’s like someone writing a transcription of a bunch of video game cutscenes.

I was determined to read to the end, I really was. But the final chapter I read began with a slave rape scene, one that was portrayed so graphically it bordered on fetishistic, and that’s when I had to bow out. There was no going further from there.

Unless you are an absolute LitRPG die hard and have no other stories to read, stay away.

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PAY ME, BUG!

IT’S JUST A MILK RUN

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

Jul 10, 2019: The space opera is a very flexible kind of work. In the simplest sense, it’s technically a label that applies to any drama where the setting could POTENTIALLY be someplace besides Earth. However, a recurring archetypical cast isn’t uncommon across the wide span of the genre. In particular, smugglers form a good steady mainstay, on account of the built-in conflict with the law, the fact that highly traveled people serve as good world-introducing foils, the way they attract a significant supporting billing, and their general good looks. Having spent a fair amount of time in the man’s indirect company over the course of Pay Me, Bug!, I’d say Grif Vindh and the rest of the Fool’s Errand both fit very nicely into the canon of neat flashy readable sci-fi and also make for a decently lovable crew.

One of the shining stars adorning the tale’s lapels is the fact that it manages to be simple in its broad strokes yet highly elaborate when it gets to the actual details of its storytelling. The plotline can be encapsulated in a single sentence: “After a successful accomplishment of illegality, an interested party strongarms our heroes into repeating the feat.” This becomes a lot less simple when the feat is revealed as, on the face of it, flatly impossible. Likewise, the hero and villain appear to be ciphers, but betray more characterization as they come to grace the reader with their foibles and fortes. The antagonist is a man stereotypical in villainous motivation: parcel of a faith-of-the-state, afflicted with the frothing fanaticism which descends on those who forgo humility in favor of hubris. Yet he reveals more than the deep-seated need to kick puppies and spit upon the undeserving: he has a life of his own, takes joy in little pleasures. Vindh likewise is not just a daring irresistable rapscallion. In fact, he would make a very respectable mustache-twirling scion of evil himself, under a different constellation.

Let us not forget the strength of one’s worldbuilding, of course. When dealing with aliens, and alien societies, one has both tremendous leeway and tremendous potential to lose the audience with their grand design. Ubersoft manages to walk this thin line admirably. On the one hand: a good number of species strewn across the unfamiliar territory of a quasi-theocratic commune parked across a no-man’s land of merchant princes’ domains from an aggressively inclined democracy . . . IN SPACE. On the other hand: bars, bar fights, hospitals, docks, intrigue, family tension, backstabbing, and rampant gambling addictions. It pulls off the same strengths as Star Wars by taking the unknown and putting it next to enough of the known that we can get dragged along for the ride with not more than one or two pit stops needed.

Plot, here, is the least of Pay Me, Bug!’s strengths. Not that it is bad; it serves its purpose and even manages to throw in a couple of effective curveballs. It has one of the more interesting premises of a heist-esque scenario you’ll probably find. There are a lot of guns and people firing them and a big bug starts beating people up on a few occasions. It’s just that (as insinuated above) while the plot’s steps are all quite striking in themselves, the overarching structure of events comes as less than truly shocking. That’s fine, we don’t need innovation on every level, but for all its other positives it feels like this story ought to have had an outline so explosive that asbestos containment would have been required for the script.

Now, if you happen to know nothing at all about space opera literature, then start by reading Peter F. Hamilton’s Void series and Kevin J. Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns. Next, come check out Pay Me, Bug! It’s got a fantastic rating over time, and that’s not just because its author’s good at marketing. Just don’t ask everyone’s favorite rogue for a Plan B if you can’t finish it in time.

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