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MULBERRIES ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER

Off to an Interesting Start

By BGHilton, author of Clocks and Boxes

Sep 9, 2017: I was thinking of giving up on this after a couple of chapters, thinking that it was a bit pretentious. Having gone all the way through the eight chapters currently available, I’m glad I didn’t. It is a little pretentious, but it’s in a good cause, an interesting experimental story that’s part biography part time-travel story. At the moment it’s still a little disjointed, but the disparate parts are beginning to come together and I’m intrigued enough to want to keep going.

The narrative mostly focuses on the main character as a high school student in 1977. An experiment he performs creates a mysterious and unsettling ‘Thing’, that has something to do with connections to incidents in his past and future.

I’m a few years younger than the protagonist of the story, but close enough in age to enjoy some of the nostalgia. I find the experiences that the character relates entertaining, but I don’t yet have a very strong sense of who the character is as a person. I suspect that this is partly deliberate—the character’s first name is the same as the author’s, leading to the question of how much of this is autobiographical. That’s one of the questions that’s tempting me to stay with the story.

The writing is clean and fairly minimalist, which I quite like. I do have an issue with the large number of short paragraphs and even one word paragraphs. Writing like this works fine in a printed book, but on a phone it becomes a bit of a chore to scroll through it all.

As I say, Mulberries is only eight parts in, and at this point I’m not 100% sure if I like it or not. The star rating I gave it is extremely tentative. What I do know is that I’m going to stick around and find out. There’s something haunting about it, and I’d really like to see where it’s going. And if you’re looking for something a little different and a little cerebral, I recommend giving it a go.

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SAVAGE DIVINITY

A medium grim and anime-influenced western take on xianxia, with a transmigrated protagonist

By Naeddyr, member

Jul 20, 2017: Despite the title, I actually am making a recommendation for Savage Divinity, a light western take on xianxia with a medium dark tone, tons of anime influence, a transmigrated (and mostly benign) protagonist, and a ridiculous output. It hasn’t been a year yet, and there’s 180 or so chapters, and those chapters are not short.

Xianxia is a genre of Chinese fantasy about ten steps of ridiculousness above the level of something like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; in these stories immortal super-people cultivate magic powers and have magical fights while surfing on magical flying swords. Usually it’s the Worst Genre alongside all the other Worst Genres, filled with amoral protagonists murdering and looting other bigger dinguses, while leveling up in power one magical medicine or secret technique at a time.

In this case, your usual random amnesiac Earthling transmigrates into the body of a 12-year old slave in a world obviously inspired by xianxia, with a lot of hot animal-eared people running around.

The prologue is basically: Raine / Rain has amnesia in both lives, suffers horribly, gets thrown into a plague pit, crawls out and is finally saved by what is basically a loving commune of super-ninjas where polygamy is not uncommon and everyone is hot (literally).

And it’s actually good! Readable, gripping, infuriating, I love it enough that I put something towards it on Patreon for a while.

It’s one of those first-we-kick-in-your-teeth wishfulfilment fantasies. Our protagonist gets a bunch of adventures, accolades, rewards, and so forth, but is also crapped on regularly by fate, and things don’t feel too undeserved. Also contains a legit harem, YMMV, though happily I think polygamy in this world can go both ways, at least among the People, and tangentially there ARE a lot of strong (or "strong") women characters (who tend to be hot . . . )

There’s lots of gore, and the setting is set at low-medium grimdark, meaning that 90% of all nobles are terrible people, slavery is common and magically enforced and there’s a grubby gray Imperi^W Empire fighting slobbering hordes of cannibalistic, torture-loving and genocidal cultis^W Defiled. Most of the conflicts are provided by the normal society of the setting and the stupid, stupid blood-feuds the protagonist (that idiot) collects like he’s been appointed Grand Sommelier of Terrible Vendettas.

The writing is perfectly fine. The biggest fault with the craft is that in later chapters during big, sprawling conflicts, the author gets bogged down with boring, annoying, or irrelevant side-character chapters, dragging things out immensely. There should be a much more pin-pointed focus on the real main cast, and the infodumps / situation dumps in those side-character chapters should be integrated and cut into main character chapters and point of view.

Savage Divinity, besides the ridiculous title, has a high Your Mileage May Vary quotient on several issues, but it’s not the worst power-leveling fantasy by a long shot. Raine and the other characters close to him are more cuddly than not, and the edges of xianxia and these kinds of power-leveling fantasies are subdued and softened a lot. Give it a shot.

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NEWSHOUND

Gripping Good Story!

By Walter, author of The Fifth Defiance

Jul 3, 2017: The Good:

The author has a fine sense of character. You’ve seen hard charging journalists, supportive but skeptical editors and free spirit friends before, but they are well drawn and possess a specificity that augurs well for this series.

The overall arc appears to be the slow discovery of a dark design, but this is complicated by the fact that, as a muckraking journalist, that is exactly what the main character needs there to be. Further, she is concerned about her own paranoia, and everyone who knows her tells her that she worries too much. It raises an intriguing hint of unreliable narrator.

The side characters smoothly play to type, but avoid falling into the stereotypical traps that you might worry about. You will find yourself nodding along as a prickly editor winds our heroine up, only to find that this is not the ideological descendant of J. Jonah Jamison that you were expecting at all.

This is also a story that knows how to take its time. We are several installments in before our protagonists lycanthropy takes the stage, and the time spent in familiar surroundings grounds the character in a way that will pay dividends as the events of the story unfold. The author has established a baseline, and now we can feel the impact of events which might push the characters away from that baseline.

The Bad:

There is an odd tension between the story’s setting and the protagonist;s job which can jerk you out of your immersion. The protag researches information on reddit, only to turn around and write it to a newspaper column that could never possibly reach as many people as you could on the site. Editors haggle over inches, though surely the newspaper’s website is where most people who read these stories will see them.

This same slight time jump dogs other aspects of the story. People call one another rather than texting. People wait nervously for someone’s arrival, rather than knowing their progress their various apps. Press conferences are the definitive spin on issues rather than exclamation points on the social media arena where you’d expect these issues to be threshed out etc.

Verdict:

Fundamentally, Newshound is a fun read. The schedule states that we should expect 2 thousand new words every 2 weeks, and if your impressions are anything like mine, you’ll think that’s not nearly enough.

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