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ATL: STORIES FROM THE RETROFUTURE

Hilarious and Wonderful

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

Jun 8, 2019: The thing which shall be called ATL from here on in (and sadly the meaning of that acronym presently cannot be brought to mind) is a wonderful alternate history story set in Atlanta. It bounces all over the place, from the ambiguously-sexed protagonist Morgan’s residence during a shakedown straight from a Coen brothers movie to an old church which is the lair of a robot hiding out like a celebrity in rehab. It’s apt in its adoption of the descriptive setting of the “retrofuture” – some advances which are surprising, some regressions (or perhaps “failures to innovate” is more accurate”) that depict a strange world. For one, that world’s modern de-facto cultural Zion is Atlanta. However, these stories are very much worth your investigation, and have a lighthanded touch that’s also suggestive of the Coen brothers. It’s a tad difficult to adequately pigeonhole the genre of the franchise, but an enterprising mind might place it as action-intrigue – something that’s not entirely without flaws, and which has many elements that the reader may recognize from other works, but that buoys the audience along with its direction and care of crafting. It’s funny, it’s grounded, it knows exactly what it wants, and it’s got the knife skills to handle a fugu fish of a plot without poisoning its customer. The subject matter could have been a terrible slog, and the presentation of its actors and what it is makes it a joy instead.

Thus far, following the adventures of the Social Media Killer, ATL’s is a kind of bleak society, where the planet’s axial spin seems to have slowed down to a slumped everyday continuity and change is remarkable for its rarity. It’s the sort of place where, if not for the characters, it’d probably be a real downer to try and get through any of the described tales. However, Morgan and Morgan’s friend Karina are absolutely wonderful tugboats leading the beholder from meal to deed to ideology to crime scene. Morgan is wonderful, being a person who really tries to keep a hoodie or a suitable substitute between head and rest of the world and who genuinely just wants to be done with it . . . the it in this case being just about anything to do with Atlanta or secretarial work for a less-than-formidable financial entity. Like all good adventures, the chiefest puppets get dragged in by their strings with a minimum of consent or desire. Morgan say “no” and universe say “OH YES.” Karina, a girl whose agenda for a single day is more populated than that of a normal person’s week, forms a perfect counterpoint to Morgan’s not-quite-apathetic disdain for navigating the behemoth of ATL’s deliciously gray scenery. The rest of the cast is just as colorful, weird, perhaps a few teacups short of a full china set, and the sort of people who’ll probably get plushies sold of their likenesses if this is ever adapted to cinema. A few too many people of high school age, perhaps, but high school is of course the source of more drama per capita than virtually anything else in the world.

When you embark on the journey of ATL, you’re jumping into something of quality with a faint whiff of self-parody about it. At the risk of being repetitive and even more pretentious than usual, the cast and artistry of the story’s telling truly make the experience something a cut above the expected, and there’s something about even the grimness of a corporate-run universe in this case that brings a smile to the face which not even profusions of teenage angst can ruin. You don’t need to enjoy sci-fi to get a kick out of this.

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ATL: STORIES FROM THE RETROFUTURE

A Retrofuture Worth Visiting

By Hejin57, author of Music Masters

Dec 6, 2018: It’s not often that I find a story that is both intellectual and thoroughly amusing at the same time. Smart humor is often rare, because it’s so difficult to juggle good jokes with intelligent banter.

Enter case and point: ATL: Stories from the Retrofuture. For now, we’ll refer to it in its current arc, The Social Media Killer.

Think of this story as a sort of sci-fi political pulp story. It fits well into the realm of stories like Transmetropolitian, though far, far less abrasive.

The story in question revolves around 22-year old slacker and layabout Morgan Harding, who works a job they despise and dreams of leaving the town of Atlanta and their old life behind. Morgan’s friends include the bubbly and always energetic Karina, and snarky robot ally R8PR. The setting is pretty interesting; it’s a strange futuristic take on Atlanta that both mocks and embraces the internet-dependent culture that we human beings have grown so accustomed to.

It’s silly, yet smart. Ridiculous yet composed. A real cocktail of ideas that works so well just as it draws you into its zaniness.

The current arc, The Social Media Killer, revolves around a murder mystery that doesn’t actually involve murder. Famous people and other celebrities find themselves being "murdered", i.e their social lives and and careers being maimed as their crimes and past misdeeds are shown for all the world to see on the internet. After Morgan’s apartment gets ransacked by men assuming he has ties to the killer, he goes on his own search for answers and invariably draws Karina and R8PR with him. All the while, we’re reminded of how much he wants to leave Atlanta, and its amusing to think that the only reason he hasn’t left is because of this.

What follows is a sort of grounded piece of detective fiction that neverthless knows how to throw in a good bit of political sci-fi fun. Some pretty amazing reveals follow, and I think one of the author’s greatest strengths is in how easily they’re able to get us invested in the characters. Morgan and Karina are a great duo, and many other characters like Morgan’s sister Marge and especially R8PR become memorable only after their first appearance.

One little thing I noticied, is the ambiguity of Morgan’s gender. I assumed he was a he, but even as a I go back and read the story, it’s not so apparent. I would normally put this as a deteriment, since it’s a part of a character that I can’t quantify, and thus is makes me slightly less invested, but I’ll honestly go back and say it’s a strength to the story. Morgan’s character isn’t necessairly held down by something simple like gender, and I think it makes them stronger because of it.

That could just be a reader’s opinion, of course. Judge for yourself in the end.

To conclude, this is a great story. Phenomenal, possibly. Unique, fun, well-written and bereft with intrigue and well-realized characters. It’s well worth a read and I can only imagine where the writer will take it from here.

Final score: 4.5/5

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SERAPH'S GAMBIT

Some Solid Sci-Fi Shenanigans

By Megajoule, author of The Warlock Ruthless

Dec 3, 2018: A small disclaimer: I have a work hosted by the same site as this serial, but I always try to be honest.

Overall: Seraph’s Gambit is a fun and interesting read, enjoyable if you’re a fan of Firefly’s mashup of rusty western and Star Trek sci-fi. I’ve given Seraph 4/5 stars, which according to Web Fiction Guide is a "solid" serial, and that’s what I find Seraph’s Gambit to be. It’s a solid sci-fi story with some enjoyable characters.

Synopsis: Seraph’s Gambit follows Captain Ariana and her crew as they do a job delivering an alien passenger. She just wants to cash the check, but there may be more than she bargained for as she tries to navigate a harsh and sometimes violent galaxy with a ragtag crew ranging from veterans to inexperienced adventurers.

If I have gripes, they are minor. Sometimes the dialogue tags are a little sparse so it’s occasionally hard to tell which character may be speaking, especially if conversations get a little longer or feature more than one character (and with an ensemble cast that happens often) but this is not an egregious issue, just a nitpick.

The characters themselves are interesting even if a few of them can seem somewhat like stock characters or tropes. Even with that in mind each one still has a lot of screen time and thought put into them, and the author doesn’t simply rely on the tropes that inform the characters but allows them to grow and stretch. Particularly I liked Noah, Olivia, and Squee.

As I said, overall, it’s a solid, enjoyable read, especially for fans of stuff like Firefly. I recommend it if you want an ensemble sci-fi read about a ragtag group of adventurers trying to survive in a harsh ‘verse.

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