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ASHES OF ETERNITY

First Impressions on Ashes of Eternity

By Thedude3445, author of Rainbow Destructor

Aug 24, 2019: It’s too early in Ashes of Eternity to give a very thorough review; at just 81 pages in length, the story hasn’t even begun to begin, instead continually expanding its scope as some kind of large-scale prologue. I respect that quite a lot, though that means I can’t review it except as the prologue it appears to be.

So far, Ashes of Eternity has all the hallmarks of something that could be great, but it’s on some rocky terrain that could slip into mediocrity or worse, if the story takes a poor turn. Why is that, you ask? Well, for these first eleven or so chapters (I think the "main plot" looks to start around Chapter 15), we’ve gotten FOUR completely independent, self-contained POVs that are almost completely unrelated so far.

The story of this web novel is one of an entire galaxy, a thousand years after its Emperor disappeared. The decay is evident in the pretty crapsack world everyone lives in; aside from the Emperor’s story, every world we’ve been shown so far is far from a fun place to live, and characters are faced with great quandries, whether that be pure survival, or advancing in a harsh aristocratic society. All of these disconnected storylines add up to one truth— the galaxy sucks.

This is incredibly ambitious. Giving us all these completely separate parts of a giant universe and showing us completely unrelated characters is a setup to something that could be a space opera ensemble story on an unparalled level of sheer size. Whatever the main plot of this story is, involving all of these current POV characters is going to be a feat in megaplotting.

However, as a serial web novel, that may have been a mistake. In just eleven chapters, we’ve been given four completely separate storylines, jolted from one tale to the next, and with almost no connective tissue between them because they all take place (literally) worlds apart. That kind of thing is going to be a bit hard to follow in serialization, especially when there are only chapters about once every 2 or 3 weeks, it appears. If executed correctly, this could be a classic, but it is going to be a real tough one for author JP Koenig to pull off.

And because of the disparate nature of all these storylines, so far none of them have jumped out at me, all feeling like . . . well, prologues. The characters are all alright, but none of them have appealed to me in the way that some of my favorite web novel protagonists have, partially because they just never got to stick around long enough to make much of an impression. Once again, this is something solved with more chapters and more time, so this is just my first impression.

However, something that definitely must be improved is the prose, which puts the world and the exposition in first place, well before actually showing us the story at hand. There are often paragraphs upon paragraphs of long exposition, sometimes even in the middle of action scenes, and it’s quite clunky. Instead of showing us the world, the story is more inclined to tell us about the world.

There are also, strangely, some instances where the scenes show us a lot . . . but maybe TOO much; Chapter 5 has the POV character taking a shower, smelling the cinnamon shampoo, and . . . it doesn’t have any relevance to anything else. It may also be that the POV is a bit too distant, even omniscient, for moments like this to really give us a picture of the character’s inner thoughts when we get to these slice-of-life moments. I would recommend the author to try some prose study on authors like Dashiell Hammett who are able to convey an incredible sense of place and action with efficiency and energy, and then to direct some of that study into this story. Some improvements to the prose there could go a long way in making this story something special. Still, once you get past the prose, Ashes of Eternity has a whole lot of potential to be a sci-fi epic like the web fiction world has yet to see. Let’s wish JP Koenig a universe of luck as he embarks on the rest of this story.

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THEY ARE SMOL

They Are Smol Makes Me Lol

By J.Y.H. Zhu, author of Bard’s Log

Aug 20, 2019: Get ready for some witty dialogue with hilarious exchanges like, oh, scoffing at a system’s lack of suns. The writing is razor-sharp, and humbling. As if these were the thousands of words spoken by the infamous image of the pale blue dot that is our planet. They are Smol is a clever Lovecraftian comedy that’s tons of fun while staying true to the sci-fi genre, and that’s no smol feat.

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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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