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UNSONG

Solid but not conventionally impressive

By Pavel Sadovnikov, member

Feb 21, 2017: Huh? How come that Unsong is currently third on topwebfiction but has only two reviews?

Really creative concept. Interesting and verbose alternative history; if you like this stuff, definitely must read. Insight-ish, but if you want insights, you’d better check up Scott’s Meditations on Moloch. Lots and lots of Bible puns, but, again, if you want puns check up his Study of Anglophysics first. Main protagonists are somewhat pale, but there’re a few funny secondary characters. Some cool plot twists and moments of awesomeness here and there, but main action is kinda slow (up to 50th chapter, maybe further). If you prefer some conventional action, confidently give Unsong a pass.

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WORM

Pros vs cons analytics (no spoilers)

By Pavel Sadovnikov, member

Feb 21, 2017: TL;DR: Excellent but somewhat amateurish book. Really worth reading, especially if you like long TV superheroic series and you wish there were more fighting and characters’ backstories. There’re high hights and low lows in quality. You may want to wait for revised edition.

I’m not going to sing paeans to Worm or recap plot – some rational analysis incoming. Even though I agree with most positive 5-star reviews here, I think it’s kind of unfair to suggest Worm to everybody without mentioning its disadvantages. I feel compelled to list some drawbacks, so let me be angel’s prosecutor. Straight to the point, problems:

Waaaay too long

Worm is 1.75 million words long. That’s full five books of A Song of Ice and Fire series, 2x Harry Potters series, 3.5x War and Peace/Lord of the Rings series to put a number in a context. And, maybe counterintuitively, that is not a good thing. I can’t honestly say that Wildbow disposed the words effectively. There’re paragraphs, chapters and even story arcs (7.07-7.10, for example) that can be omitted with no harm to plot or charapter developement.

It IS really a problem. Sadly, I notice it’s somewhat a common disease among good webfiction and now it wrecks Worm on so many levels. Because of that cape fights get somewhat repetitive by the half of the book. Wildbow does a great job of devising powers and tactics they could enable, but fights eventually get less interesting because of sheer number of them (hello, Fallout: Equestria).

To a lesser extent it touches character interaction. Sometimes it’s hard to make through text because of number of characters who kinda plot-relevant but kinda not (hi there, Homestuck). On the one hand, it’s good to know that enemies or bystanders are not generic NPC, but on ther other hand, it’s hard to track everybody. I agree that backstories and descriptions are important for character connection establishing even when they are not relevant, but the number of them is too damn high. Unnecessary interludes ruin the pace of Worm even more.

If you prefer more streamlined narration, think twice. And stock up on free time if you decide to read it.

Hit-and-miss plot decisions

Worm’s quality . . . varies. Some chapters are awesome, some – really mediocre. Wildbow admits that he was still learning to write and some parts were written in a rush to meet schedule. I believe that. Nevertheless plot decisions’ quality varies in big swings too. That’s a sign of plot rearranged on the fly or even not thought through at all.

Some readers complain about weak beginning. I wouldn’t stress on it, I’d say it’s too default to complain. Story gets on track by third chapter. I’d rather mention: Deus-Ex-Machina-ish end of 13.9, siege in 16.11, timelapse after 22.6 (everybody commented on it, let me throw a stone too =)), 27.y (please, don’t say it’s cool, it really isn’t, and it’s not just my opinion), somewhat cheated end (my thoughts align with bobfrank review). (Even though that’s not even quarter of my list, don’t be daunted: list of cool moments is four times as long)

Some people also complain that events beetween 8 and 16 arcs are too rushed. Worm manages to be too quick and too slow at the same time – that’s some serious pace problems. I kinda see where those complaints are coming from, but that wasn’t a problem for me.

If a few unsuccessful narrative moves can ruin a book for you, think thrice.

Not really well-defined world

In the very beginning 1.01: "[homework for the weekend:] Think about capes and how they’ve impacted the world around you". Well, if I would have to deal with that task, I would fail miserably. I didn’t really feel their impact on the world except fighting (lots and lots of fighting). Even if questions like "Why don’t tinkers just mass-produce stuff?", "Why there’re almost no peaceful powers?" and "Why can’t police just shoot 90% of villains?" are somewhat dealt with (I admit: that’s already better than three quarters of superheroic fiction), come on, there’s literally ONE example of cape who wants civic job. There’re NO historical/social/economical backstory notes whatsoever. There’s, again, ONE robost chapter with common people’s perspective. That’s strange, because apparently they were often asked for.

Admittedly, that kind of depth is strange thing to look for in superheroic fiction, but it would be really nice to find. If you have no problems with filling blanks on your own (or find those digressions tiresome) that’s OK. But if it’s important for you, you’d better read, I don’t know, Unsong (by Scott Alexander), which has somewhat opposite problem.

 . . . come to think about, with those drawbacks I generally repeated TL;DR in the end of John Deathcall’s review. Still here? Good. As I said, I actually do agree with majority of good reviews. Even though Worm is flawed, I genuinly enjoyed it. Let’s recap all the good stuff:

You can really see Taylor character developement. That’s not something I usually see in amateur webfiction. Hell, even in printed books and TV series!

Intercharacter chemistry is generally well-written.

Characters are rational. They don’t act randomly at author’s will – they have agendas and backstories.

Combats are highly creative. Pacing problems make it hard to see sometimes, but it’s still there.

Different perspectives on events. Characters draw different conclusions from information they have.

There’re different types of plot twists: some turns are expected, some turns – second or third what I expected, some – happen suddenly. I think it’s actually healthy.

Lack of plot armor. Everybody is mortal. Not every protagonists’ plan is bound to work, sometimes enemy can just say "Nope, not gonna hapen", and they have to adapt.

Insight-ish here and there.

Cherry on top: author tracks feedback and actually sees his past mistakes. That’s respectable. Three years ago he said that he is going to prepare edited e-published version. Work is not done yet (Wildbow advances Twig), so here my advice: put Worm in future list and spam the hell out of Wildbow that Worm is not forgotten. Or read it raw.

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FOR RICHES OR MORE

For Reading and More

By Walter, author of The Fifth Defiance

Feb 5, 2017: For Riches or More is a lovingly detailed take on the concept of a Heist movie franchise. A team of good hearted misfits and rogues complete serial capers in an attempt to thwart a dastardly schemer with nefarious aims. It feels a lot like a novelization of a (nonexistent) movie franchise, similar to the Oceans IP.

Sweet:

There is a lot to like in For Riches Or More.

Fundamentally, the most important thing about the series is that it GETS its characters. Within a chapter or so of any character’s appearance you can run a simulation of that person in your mind, and basically suss out how they would react to a given scenario. There is something behind their eyes, if you will.

The time spent getting to know these characters pays off whenever the pace intensifies, as the author doesn’t have to spend any time establishing how each character feels about what is going down . . . you already know it. This generally allows the pacing to ramp easily up and down as the story requires.

Pacing is the second strong point of the series, and it is the reason why the story can be as long as it is (it is very long) without losing readers. The author has mastered the time honored pattern of lulls leading into action, then back into lulls. Plan, execute, complication, adaptation, success, discover that success leads to next case, repeat.

The last noteworthy strength that I’ll highlight in this review is the setting. The author has gone with a sort of magical reality version of our world, which will be familiar to anyone who has seen a heist movie. Masterminds, henchmen, vaults and so on. The setting never cuts in on the action, never forces the pace to lag while you are introduced to something you’d need to know for the next twist.

Salty:

The failures of FRAM are generally problems of the genre, rather than execution related.

The main character is not persuasive as a criminal. Like, fundamentally, this is the Pirates of the Caribbean "He’s a pirate . . . and a good man" problem. It isn’t unique to FRAM, and basically any heist movie has to grapple with it, but you can’t really examine the ‘why’ of the heroes as criminals and get anything that makes sense.

The other bone I’ll pick is that the potential sequels hover over the project throughout. You are constantly reminded that behind the antag stands larger antags, to whom this guy who is giving our crew so much trouble is merely a pawn. The question of whether they are accomplishing anything keeps recurring, and the characters basically never have time to address it.

Summary:

Fundamentally, if you like a good action story, this one is one of the greats. It is free to read, it is long and well written. Do yourself a favor and give it a shot.

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