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Loving Yourself in a Future War

By Thedude3445, author of Rainbow Destructor

Oct 26, 2019: We aren’t given much context for the events of Mountain Sound. Practically the entire story takes place in one secluded farm out in the mountains of some unknown country in some unknown part of the world in some unknown time in the future.

And that’s okay, at least for this ten-chapter web miniseries. The story is about two women— the robot Efa, living a lonely life as a sheep herder and realizing that she is having more wishes than her programming should allow; and Harper, a young girl who has been scarred by the horrors of war, trying to escape after already losing so much. Two women that meet and bond over trying to come to terms with themselves in this respite from the raging battles nearby.

Mountain Sound is almost entirely about these two characters trying to understand themselves while helping each other. For Efa, it’s in literally trying to understand herself and her existence as an individual, despite being a robot programmed for a very simple task. For Harper, it’s in figuring out exactly who she is in a world where nearly everyone she ever loved is gone. Both protagonists have to help each other learn to love themselves, even in the midst of this massive war.

You’d think that this would be a highly internal and emotional story, but it’s actually not. If I would liken it to anything, it’d be more to a sci-fi pulp story; it’s fast-paced, deals with some weighty concepts, but makes sure to keep you entertained more than delving deep into itself. The story takes some event-filled turns later on that have some actual action in them, which I never expected, and while I’m not sure that was my favorite decision, it played out quite well anyway. Mountain Sound here, then, would be kind of like Enemy Mine, but the movie rather than the novella; it’s got your strong duo and emotional bonding, but it makes sure to put an action climax in to keep the appeal wide.

There is a case to be made here that this miniseries has a queer coming-out narrative embedded in the subtext, that the story is something of an allegory for accepting your own identity, even if that’s contrary to everything around you. Aside from allegory, Harper herself is heavily implied to be queer herself, but there isn’t anything overt here.

Mountain Sound is a refreshing sci-fi miniseries, a character drama in a medium that still largely celebrates action-adventure over anything else. And because it’s only ten chapters long, there’s little excuse for you to set aside an hour or two and dig into this little story. I recommend it!

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Three Episodes In…

By Wayne Basta, author of Seraph's Gambit

Jan 2, 2019: "Star Captain Annie" by Will Cereal starts out with a nearly derelict ship. The sentient AI searches for any surviving crew but the only survivor turns out to be the captain’s infant daughter; who is immediately promoted to captain. The next episode jumps to find a nine-year-old Captain Annie the sole crew aboard the Nightingale on her way to a trade deal with an unsavory character called Ashur over a junk planet.

The rest of the next two episodes see Captain Annie’s deal falls apart as Ashur betrays her and then a notorious pirate attacks. The deal goes bad but clever Annie surmises, correctly, that pirate Captain Scarheart is nothing more than a ruse. Turns out, he’s nothing more than a teenager named Nate playing a part, under the guidance of another AI. Meanwhile, the artifact Annie wanted to retrieve tumbles to the planet below, right into the hands of an orphan girl named Kaori, marooned on the planet of junk. 

Of course, the artifact is immediately stolen by the Scrap King as tribute. Kaori meets the trader Ashur, come to retrieve his artifact. She takes him to the King and learns the concept of rebellion, using a French term Viva la Revolucion, spoken by a non-human. Kaori then proceeds to lead the other scrappers in a spontaneous revolt against the scrap king. 

To say "Star Captain Annie" is quirky would be putting it mild. The concept of an infant being raised by an AI to become a starship captain is quite unique. A new twist on the ‘raised by wolves’ trope. The prose in the prologue intrigues and engages you. The opening scenes with Annie are amusing but almost to an extreme. She commands the AI, whose raised her, like a confident captain, who wears spaceship jammies and has a captain hat glued to her spacesuit helmet. It’s almost as if the story is trying to hard to be quirky.

The scenes with Kaori are more engaging, at least at first. When she suddenly discovers the concept of rebellion after a single comment from Ashur, and then is inspired to lead a rebellion of other scrappers, it goes off the rails. Her story goes from interesting to ridiculous in a heartbeat. 

To further complicate things, the stories formatting is just atrocious. Some paragraphs are nicely spaced. Some have two lines between them. POV shifts multiple times, from Annie, to Ashur, to Kaori, to Nate, to a scavenger drone. But you can only tell via context because there is no other indication. It finally becomes untenable in the third episode where, instead of too many spaces between paragraphs, there aren’t enough and the whole thing becomes a giant wall of text. 

Additionally, navigation between episodes is left to the whim of WordPress. There are no links to the next episode built in. Just WordPress’ randomly chosen ‘related’ links. This requires going to the table of contents page between each episode. Just one more minor annoyance. 

Still, despite those complaints, I still give it 2.5 stars, Almost Worth a Look. The prose itself isn’t bad. The concepts are great if unevenly implemented. The formatting could be fixed quite easily. So it’s almost there. I’m curious to see how all this comes together, though not curious enough to decipher the wall of text. Maybe I’ll check back in a few months.

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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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