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EXISTENTIAL TERROR AND BREAKFAST

Extra Dark Roast

By Shaeor, author of Chosen Shackles

Jun 18, 2018: This review was done as part of a swap.

The first thing I would say is that Existential Terror and Breakfast is a strong departure from the YA tropes that generally pervade web fiction.

Malcolm Steadman is absolutely front and center of a small cast, here. Punctuations are counted down over the course of the story to add ambient pressure and a sense of direction. But this story may lack the urgency of typical heroic plots, you may guess. I think things pick up around chapter nine when Malcolm first tastes false hope and motivation, and they really find their footing in the last sequence. Editing needs are dismissable, I can imagine no better way to structure or pace, and the end is very fitting. If you can get into them, the repeating structure of the chapters can be engrossing.

SPOILER! It’s a tragedy. I almost wish this had been stated outright.

Malcolm Steadman’s tragedy brings good to the world, however. Throughout the story, he is inadvertently benefitting people by his struggle and is perhaps transcended by this. But it’d be easy to say he lacks redemption. I considered whether the catharsis of a proper tragedy is found here, and I believe it is.

The ending follows logically from the main theme of the story, which is a sort of illustration of what philosophy can do to a person. There is sometimes an undercurrent of real contempt in the writing, I think, which is slightly indulgent. With definite themes of capitalism’s oppressive nature, social expectation, and repression, there is a good bit to chew on in Existential Terror and Breakfast.

That will be my last point. This story requires reflection to be truly great, in my opinion. I enjoyed the read, but it was not always easy to. I would not have written this book, personally, and I would disagree with the Author on some of its implications. But it is a genuine and artistically sound work. I give it the Mystical five on that basis alone. Respect.

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THE ZONE

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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TOMORROW GIRL IN BISMARCK

Surreal Is No Excuse (If It Even Is)

By Rhodeworks, author of Not All Heroes

Jun 11, 2018: [Complete review as of 12/6/18]

IN SHORT: A somewhat unique twist on a fairly standard idea that is thoroughly letdown by issues with grammar, spelling, a surplus of lazy adverbs, a lack of any attempt to describe anything or create a sense of drama, and some significant structural issues.

IN DEPTH:

It was the other reviews of this work that convinced me to take a look at it and, in many ways I feel they set my expectations too high (telling Wildbow to stand up and take notice is certainly going to create a certain impression).

While not a terribly unique premise in the age of LitRPGs and VRMMOs—what if someone from one world ended up in another—Tomorrow Girl in Bismarck seemed like it had an interesting take on it (the someone is a superhero from a very comic booky world, and the other world is seemingly our own). There could be a lot of potential there, if the author truly embraced the disconnect between the two settings.

Unfortunately, any hook the concept provides is dulled by how lazy the prose feels. I’m not sure where the praise for ‘high concept’ or ‘Lynchian influence’ is coming from. Because this story is not high concept, and I have severe doubts as to whether the supposedly surreal writing is truly intentional as opposed to clumsy and incoherent. If any author is aiming for a high concept, surreal story, they need to demonstrate their ability to do so. It’s the old adage about following rules before you break them.

Tomorrow Girl does not do that. What’s worse, is that it doesn’t seem concerned at all with its initial hook and description.

From a technical perspective, the story is messy.

For example, there are over one hundred lines of dialogue in the first chapter. Approximately ninety of them use the word ‘said’ to describe how a character is speaking. The rest do not use tags. Effectively, every single line is ‘said’. It’s a bit strange given that the first chapter covers a range of characters across a range of situations, some of them quite apocalyptic or incredible. Having read all ten chapters available, I still don’t recall seeing anything but ‘said’, not even an ‘asked’, throughout the entire story.

(There were two lines with ‘thought’ in Chapter 1, but it’s unclear if the character is thinking (it’s rendered in quotation marks like dialogue) or if he’s thinking aloud)

The author abuses adverbs to an extent that it is somewhat astounding, and typically as a way around describing anything. This gives the feeling of not reading a story as much as reading a story summary. There’s very little storytelling, very little attempt to bring the author into the text, to illustrate the world and/or illuminate the thoughts and feelings of the cast. There’s a distinct lack of detail, unless it is dolled out with an adverb (perhaps the least-detailed way of describing anything).

Additionally, a heap of the adverbs are redundant to a pretty severe degree (a character glares angrily—well, how else do people glare? Another character ‘speaks in language’—well, of course he does). This ‘Well, of course’ thought was my ever-present companion throughout the text.

Character relationships in the first chapter are unclear, and it seems like it was written with two different ideas as to the relationship between Tomorrow Girl and Tomorrow Man. Later chapters, where exposition is thrown at the reader about the time they spent together, only muddles the water further. The story doesn’t spend nearly enough time illustrating the relationship between Girl and Man, and certainly doesn’t utilize the time it does spend in an efficient fashion.

There are misspellings, grammatical issues (ellipses, especially), and awkward phrases to the extent that seem to indicate there was little, if any, proof-reading or editing. In fact, there is a spelling error in the tagline above this review!

Dialogue tags are missing or incomplete (and, in a few cases, every line from one character is given ‘said [character]) and there are some truly odd misspellings (achene for acne comes to mind). The first and second chapters are rough, but the quality only seems to get worse.

There is, however, an authorial voice that is more distinct than most web fictions, even if it feels like it’s fairly blindly aping a third-person omniscient ‘British narrator’ sort of wryness. There are points—albeit rare and fleeting as they are—where I get a firm idea of what the author is hoping for (for example, when a character is working desperately on a painting in Chapter 6) but this is ultimately a story where the attempts at being wry or clever just hamstring the prose.

On the other hand, Chapter 6 is where this line appears: "North hair on that was only on the sides of head grey already Dakota gentleman."

That’s not surreal. It’s about two steps removed from a Markov chain. Surreal fiction evokes a specific dream-like quality. It is not an excuse for that level of prose.

The plot has severe problems. I found myself frequently scrolling up and even going back a chapter to see if I had missed something to make the story make sense. There were many, many points where I was actually shaking my head, trying to make sense of what’s in front of me. Sometimes even basic tense twists awkwardly mid-sentence. For example: "She should hug her! This is great. So, she didn’t hug her, but she really wanted to."

This is one of the few stories where three stars feels unfair, particularly to other stories I’d award with that rating. Is Tomorrow Girl worth a look? I don’t know. I’m leaning towards no, unless you’re prepared to overlook a vast array of basic, amateur problems and an inconsistent update schedule. This story is riddled with issues from the surface level to the underlying structure. 2/5, and part of me thinks that is generous.

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