Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Answering Review Request: "Within Ruin"

Darrel Drake asked me to read his dark fantasy "Within Ruin". It starts off as this king searching for a cure to a plague with his amnesiac queen and a couple servants, and then it becomes much different. I will examine plot, characters and polish before assigning a grade.

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! WARNING!

There is a major Reveal around the halfway point that radically changes the plot and colors everything that came before hand. It would be difficult to write this review without spoiling the story's true nature. Also, numerous factors came together to make the final grade complicated and so I will go into detail in order to make my feelings understood. Thus, everything below PLOT could be a spoiler. If you don't want anything spoiled, skip to the POLISH section.

PLOT

My opinion on the plot is mixed and complicated.

Battles are good. Here the elaborate style of writing adds to the sense of epic scale. It's not some vulgar bar brawl, but a poetic dungeon duel. There's one battle in the second half of the book that I particularly like. It is Virgil and Descarta vs Bromymr the earthfolk king.
 
This battle is a crystallization of one of the essences of fantasy. You have a sword and sorcery battle couple fighting this giant rock golem. There's this sense of teamwork, trust, confidence, and the writing builds up well to the climatic clash. I could see it animated in my mind as it happened.
 
While many emotion/romantic etc. scenes are over-wrought and melodramatic, there are also scenes that are genuinely touching.
-Descarta returns to Virgil's Mad Scientist lair after five years of traveling. Both of them seek forgiveness from the other for their own reasons, but at the start, Virgil thinks he's talking to a hallucination. It's a lovingly broken image. The reconciliation afterward ultimately becomes sweet after these two work out their self-worth and guilt issues.
-Hafstagg going Over Protective Dad for Descarta because he spent five years raising her after she left Virgil. It's a sweet scene because it hints at what happens in the skipped over five years and also because they had a relationship that didn't have any kind of obsession or deception, i.e. healthier than any other relationship in this story.
 
There's also a lot of funny stuff. Basically, any scene with the elf twins is likely to be funny because they are funny characters. My favorite is their ditty about brioche (a french pastry). As I write this review, it's stuck in my head.
 
As for the plot itself, I have to go into more detail. First of, I like plots that can grow beyond their premise. If nothing more happened than what the blurb contained, then the story would be dull and predictable. Those are not adjectives I'd use to describe this story.
 
The plot comes in two parts; technically two and a minor.

1. Journey for the cure
1.5 Reconciliation between Descarta and Virgil
2. Rescue the Elf Twins
 
When the plot opens, King Virgil of Elusia is going on a journey to a cure for a plague that's ravaging his kingdom. He takes with him his amnesiac queen, Descarta, because if two monarchs ask for help then then the request will be given more weight. His human steward and his twin elfin wards go as well. They travel across the countryside, fight assassins, and encounter supernatural creatures.
 
This is the start of a fantasy novel. I don't want to say "typical" or "bog standard" because those have negative associations in literary circles. The opening plot for this book is not original but neither is the coming shift. At most, it's a perspective flip. You see, Virgil is not looking for a cure to the plague in his kingdom. This is because he created both it and the plague itself.
 
An evil overlord causes great suffering for his people and stirs wars with his neighbors in order to gather misc supernatural components so he can resurrect his dearly departed loved one. I'm sure some of you reading this have heard of a similar plot before. In other cases, it is to make the villain sympathetic and give him a reason for the evil he has done. The heroes stop him regardless but acknowledge that he was a good man driven to insanity by his love. In this case, the evil overlord is the protagonist and there are no heroes to stop him. Thus, he succeeds.
 
Before I go further, I must provide context
 Virgil is five centuries old and used to go by the name of Kalthused. His queen, Ankaa, died during a war and he spent those five centuries working on a plan to bring her back. To do this he needed to create an artificial body and then plug her soul into it. This second one requires a great deal of souls so he spread a magic soul catching web over the Continent and caused up all manner of trouble to increase the death rate and drive souls into the web. Three years before he had enough souls, one of his artificial bodies came to life. This happened without his action and against his wishes.
 
This is where my plot problems start. I'll begin with the magic system.

1. It's called "weaving" because it involves manipulating The Fabric, which is something between a Background Magic Field and an Afterlife. The natural elements (fire, water, earth, wind etc.) are also "weaved" but more than that, there's magical sedation. It's interesting and all, but I don't understand how it works. Because of this, I have a dim view of Virgil's soul catching plan.

Once he has enough souls, he can either bind Ankaa's soul (called a "ribbon" in this verse) into a living vessel or he can tie Descarta's inexplicable ribbon to his own to keep her from dying. I don't understand why he needs five centuries of turmoil to gather enough components to do either of these things. Do the souls form a rope or anchor? If this is the case, won't he need to continue doing maintenance on this rope? I can't imagine the souls appreciate being weaved into such a form. I get the feeling that this method was created by the author for Rule of Drama and Love Hurts. This leads to my second problem.

2. Ankaa, the original motivation, is sacrificed for Descarta. This makes no sense to me. Surely he can find some other soul for this purpose. Even if he no longer loved her, sacrificing is too big a leap. It breaks my willing suspension of disbelief.

3. The relationship between Virgil and Descarta and how it doesn't fit within the timeline of events

According to Virgil and his notes, he raised Descarta for a year and at that point he decided to use his harvest to preserve her life instead of reviving Ankaa. Then he erased her memory and told her she was his wife. This persisted for two years in which he was cold and aloof to her, and forbid her from leaving the castle without explaining why. There are a lot of things wrong with this picture.

First of all-Wife Husbandry. Why say they were married? Since he technically sired her in a test tube, their relationship is closer to father-daughter. She's constantly referred to as "the girl" in narration, not "the woman" so I assume she's significantly younger than him. The narration also states how small she is. "Amensiac daughter" would have been easier to swallow for both reader and Descarta, and it would have the added bonus of placating the jealous elf twins.

Second, there's the fact that Descarta exists in the first place. Virgil wasn't trying to create sapient life, but a vessel for Ankaa to live in. None of the other homoculus (of which there were many) lived longer than a day, much less develop sapience on their own. It feels like some deity (or author) threw a Spanner in the Works to make his life more complicated and tragic than it already was.

Third, what's with the cold shoulder? Surely being nice to her would be more pleasant for all involved. More importantly, it would aid his plan by making Descarta more trusting of him and more willing to do what he said. The only explanation I can think of is he wanted Descarta to hate him as some kind of masochistic thing or guilt over what he's doing for her.
 
The second half of the story is more traditional: a straight forward rescue arc. Descarta has grown stronger both physically and mentally, and Virgil can no longer hide things from her so her relationship with Virgil is less like that of a man and his pet. It still has those vibes, but it's a consensual thing now (sort of, it's complicated).

On the other hand, it is so far removed from the original premise that it feels like a sequel. It's a "Baddies strike back" sort of thing because it's about antagonistic characters enacting vengeance.

Also, it's sparse on details in a way unlike the first part.
The first part had this description of the earthenfolk capital; lots of detail and lots of world building. The second part didn't have anything like that. For instance, the elfin city Vanaheim doesn't get the same treatment. What is there is a short criticism of how mercantile they have become.
I get the sense that Virgil is teleporting them from place to place because of the way the scene transitions are handled. They're in one place, wavy line scene breaker, and then they're in some other place.
The meat of this second story are the roller coaster emotions of the main couple. Lots of stuff about how Virgil and Decarta feel about each other. It gets boring and stagnant, however, I like the progress from the first story; more of a happy, if dysfunctional, couple. Also, petnames like "dear despot" are too cute to hate.
 
 
I like the ending. It has this element of closure that I think is essential for any novel (especially ones in a series). It also has this low grade happiness mixed with sorrow. It's odd; a water and oil sort of thing. If you look at it one way, it's a traditional happy ending complete with a child for the main couple. If you look at it another way, it's a funky living situation for a bunch of strangers.

As for "challenging morality", nothing so presumptuous is done here. The idea of unconditional and infinite forgiveness is an old one (at least two thousand years old). Endless devotion is similar. Go to Tvtropes and you'll find a spectrum of anti-villain behavior. Virgil would fall into the "Always Save the Girl" camp.


CHARACTERS
There are no heroes here, just by-standers and varying degrees of villains. Virgil has his Evil Plan and everyone else is either helping or ignorant of it.

Virgil is an Evil Overlord because Love Makes You Evil. Tvtropes would call him a Villain Protagonist. His nature as such is only hinted at until the big reveal around mid-book. He's a heavily self-deprecating character but his guilt never stops him from fulfilling his obsessions. In the second story arc, where takes up an unarguably heroic goal, he still thinks of himself as a villain who could never do anything remotely good.   

Amil and Merril are elf Twins driven insane by a horrifically bad life. It involves their parents declaring them taboo and a presumably long time as sex slaves. Then Virgil uses them as research material. Somehow they make a transition from that to his queens and then to his wards. Thus, another strange lover/child relationship. They're basically his tykebombs.

Descarta is a homunculus created to be a vessel. She's the Load for the first half and then a Lady of War after a five year time skip. I would have liked to see those five years in the second half of the book instead of the elf kidnapping thing Afterward, she's similar to the twins in that she's Virgil obsessed. When the three of them share a body in the end, the only difference is her embarrassment at the things they do with her body, and even then Virgil says they can't do anything that she would be dead set against.

Josiah is a charming bard who seems like a nice guy. He's truly more like a creepy stalker with date rape drugs. Violah convinces him to help her assassinate Virgil by promising him the elf twins. He keeps them locked up and sedated in the dungeon.

Violah herself is deceptive. She's sympathetic early on because Virgil scares both the shit and the modesty out of her. Later on, she considers killing her subordinates because Virgil told them an embarrasing story about her. The only reason she's there at all is pett revenge and a misguided attempt to please her new king.
After six years she decides he's a security risk? This guy was the supreme weaver! He killed two mages of her standing without effort or remorse. She had a great plan and it worked well but it was a tremendous risk for little reward.

Hazael is the mildest here. He's the rightful king of Elusia and after he does his part in the Evil Plan, Virgil will give it to him. He is a trustworthy and efficient partner in the meantime, and when their deal is closed, he does not consider Virgil a threat to his position. By all indications he's does a splendid job as king.


The one exception is Hafstagg, at least after he mellowed raising Descarta. He has no part in any of this nastiness and becomes father-like to Descarta.

POLISH

This story is heavy with the Purple Prose. It's hard to find one sentence without hearing about "glowing blue cauldrons" i.e. eyes,  "rouge flesh" i.e. blush or "free hanging hazelnut curtains" i.e. hair.
It makes the story confusing. I'm an author myself, and an English major besides, and I regularly had to look up words. For instance, "Riposte" is used whenever someone makes an "answer", a "comeback" or a "wisecrack". That happens a lot.
It sounds pretentious. You do not prove your "mastery" of a language by using flowery sentences or obscure words. Instead you prove that you're more interested in showing off your vocabulary than being understood.
It makes the book longer. The second edition has less purple prose and is about twenty pages shorter than the first edition. There may have been other changes but I was only told about the reduction of Purple Prose.

It's tolerable if only the characters use it, because it can add to characterization or fit into a setting. However, when Virgil goes on a paragraph long gush about Descarta's beauty, it gets annoying. When the narration uses it, you get the above problems.


At least there aren't any spelling or grammar problems.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Within Ruin" a C ± (I both like and dislike this story. It's complicated.)

Click here for the next review request: "Angeions"

Click here for the previous review request "Phoenix Rising"

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to use a Multi-Perspective Narrative Effectively

In my years as a volunteer book reviewer, I've come across a number of novels that attempt a Multi-Prespective Narration. This is when they have several protagonists and thus several viewpoints. If an author can make this work then it will enrich the narrative. If they fail, then it will be a mark against the story, bogging it down and/or crippling development. This article will illustrate the pros and cons of the approach with the books I've read serving as examples.



Benefits

1. World building

When a story focuses on one character, that narrows the story's scope. Only what this character sees and experiences is captured by the author. This forces the story to focus on this character and their trouble. This can help the plot but what if the author is more interested in world building? By using a Multi-Perspective Narrative, an author can show more people in more areas with different lives, and thereby, develop more of their fictional world.

War of the Whispers book 1: Tears of Min Brok did a fantastic job on this point. It has three (later four) heroic groups traveling in three different areas with three different objectives. They can be seen as three "fronts" in this whispering war and thus a broader picture of the war is painted then what any one group could do alone. They will reference each other and occasionally interact, reinforcing this point.

There's also a group for the villains so the reader can see what they're up to when they're not fighting the heroes. This establishes them on their own terms instead of in contrast to the heroes. It fleshes out the war further. I gave this book a B.


2. Grey and Grey Morality or Right Hand vs Left Hand
 
When you have two viewpoint characters, then it's possible to have two "heroes" of the story instead of just one. If both of them believe they are noble and their actions righteous, then they can be foils of each other. In stories with a single viewpoint, this is harder to achieve because one of them has the sympathetic viewpoint and the other does not. It's easy for the former to come off as the truly righteous one for this reason. A dual viewpoint levels the playing field.

When I read Kindling Ashes,  the Multi-Perspective Narrative that contributed to its A+ grade. You have an orphan girl firesoul who believes in the cause of the Firesoul organization, and a noble boy firesoul who wants to destroy the Firesoul organization and both of them have a sympathetic POV. The compare and contrast prevents one from declaring "Hero/Villainous" or "Heroine/Villain". (Except for the boy's older brother, who is an asshole).

Pitfalls

 1. Breaking Momentum

You have Character A off doing their thing and it builds up to something immersive and exciting. There's a chapter cliffhanger and the reader eagerly turns the page......to find Character B doing something; disappointment. Also, you as the author now have to build up action with this second character, and by the time you go back to the first, it feels flat even if the scene starts with excitement. When you have two characters, you have to juggle two series of events. This makes pacing the novel twice as complex.

When I read Dark Space 2, it had four plot threads taking place in three different places and two different time periods. It was like reading two books that shared a universe. One was simply superfluous, contributing nothing to the plot. It was confusing, boring, and made me impatient for him to make such division relevant. It was one reason for the book's low grade.
 
Conversely, Dark Space 1 used this technique with greater skill. There, the focus is 80-90% on the protagonist, and the rest is devoted to a couple of short scenes to deliver plot points crucial to the main plot. Without this technique, the author would have to cram these plot points into the main narrative somehow. It wouldn't be as neat or as effective.

2. Disjointed: Separate Stories Spliced

If you have two or more characters and they're not in the same group and/or location, then you basically have two stories in one book. You have to make them relevant to each other or the reader will think you spliced two separate stories together to increase the book's length.

When I read Tainted Dawn, I couldn't figure out why the three protagonists were sharing a book. They met once at the start and have little influence on each other from then on. One of them never meets one of the other two again and has little plot significance to the other. It was boring, tedious, and undermined the book's premise. This is the primary reason for the book's low score. Separated into their stories, they would have made fine stand-alones. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the author wanted to paint a picture of the era and the protagonists were mere character actors for this purpose.


3. Law of Conservation of Development vs Doorstopper

If you have two protagonists and two stories, then one of two things will happen. Either your book will be the length of one story and each of your protagonists will get the half the development, or your story will be as long as two in order to fully develop each protagonist. There are ways around this, but the fact of the matter is that you have to write two perspectives of the same series of events and that will make the book longer. Again, there's the possibility of becoming boring and tedious.


Conclusion
The Multi-Perspective Narrative is a literary tool. Like all tools it can be used and misused. The bottom line is that it has to be relevant.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Answering Review Request: Phoenix Rising

Martin Allen asked me to read his book "Phoenix Rising". It's about a guy from a theocracy investigating a freelance preacher in the space age. I will examine plot, characters, and polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

I like to call this story "The Gosepl According to Javert" because it is a blow by blow copy of the New Testament but from the perspective of a zealous law enforcer, like Inspector Javert from Les Miserables.

It's an interesting idea. Because Decimus has seen charlatan preachers in the past, he assumes that to be the case here. From that perspective, the healings are staged, calming the sea is made up, some stories are conflated to be more than one event, etc. This makes the early parts funny by way of Dramatic Irony. Because Decimus doesn't accept the miracles at face value, he reaches for earthly explanations that are more complicated and less likely, right up to inventing a "Shadow" figure that is manipulating and providing for The Phoenix. Thereby, he makes his own atheistic "God of the Gaps".

Because this story is framed as the Investigator's private log after he's been converted to The Phoenix's flock, the Investigator also takes on dimensions of Apostle Paul. He's an antagonist that eagerly prunes what thinks is/could be heresy, then ultimately sees the light and spreads the word himself. It's like Mr. Allen arranged for Apostle Paul to meet Jesus in the flesh instead of in a vision on the Road to Damascus.

I also like how the setting is space age. I disliked the Out Grown Such Silly Superstitions trope, which states that space age capable societies are atheistic by default. I find it illogical to think that religions would passively fade away because humans live on Mars instead of Earth or what not. It's not a problem here. (The Corrupt Church thing is another matter.)

There are many things I don't like about this book.

This story takes place in the future of Earth. Rome is the main setting, Naples is visited, etc. My problem is there's no connection between 21st century and this setting. I don't understand how this solar system spanning theocratic empire was created. More importantly, I have no idea where this "Sol Invictus" religion came from. Without that, I lack the fundamentals for not only the society but the main characters's motivation and the conspiracy driving the plot.

There are two narratives here. One is the setting update for the Christian New Testament. The other is wholly original yet also wholly dependent on the first. The problem is that these two plots don't mesh.
1. The Passion in the original text was about saving people from sin. Here it sounds more like trying to prevent earthly slaughter, but the thing is, there was no threat of such before The Phoenix started preaching and even if his followers didn't fall for provocation, it wouldn't solve the root problem. I'm left wondering why he started in the first place.
2. The text doesn't confirm if The Phoenix is just one more preacher or something special. I feel Mr. Allen wants to keep it ambiguous but this creates problems. If he's not special, which is what the text leans toward, then this creates a number of plotholes.
2.1 The Transfiguration scene has two instances of clearly supernatural happening. The first is when Decimus tries to eavesdrop on the private scene, and he is repeatedly teleported away from it. The explanation given is that he spaced out and climbed down. This doesn't make sense because it doesn't fit the mentality of a investigator.
2.2. When he finally gets close to the area, he sees a bright white light. There is no explanation here. Decimus merely states that there was no way to create earthly light.
3. The Phoenix clearly knows the Passion is going to happen and he knows the full extent of the plot before Decimus is sure that there is a plot. How does he know this if he is just one more free lance preacher in no man's land?

There is no ending. There is no conclusion. There is no resolution. I feel like it's a Shocking Swerve downer ending. After following the story beat by beat, everyone with even a passing knowledge of the New Testament would expect a Resurrection Scene. Thus, averting this at the last moment is a Twist Ending. It's cheap and more than that, it doesn't make sense.

This whole time the followers are portrayed as cowardly, self-interested, assholes. The Peter figure even does the "deny three times" thing. Yet at the end they're storming the Imperial Compound. If there hadn't been a plot involved, they would have been quickly and effortlessly slaughtered. This can't be called anything besides "suicidal devotion". Why did they wait until now?

I don't understand why a nuke would be used. This is a handful of bums trying to free their small-town leader. A nuke is hardly justified force. Also, Rome is considered to be the lowliest place in the empire. Everyone believes it to be a cursed place and full of the worst of the worst.  Who cares if it gets blown up again?

Why is Decimus horrified at this turn of events? His fellow Investigator clearly believes it will benefit the Empire and the only cost is the dregs of society. Decimus cares nothing for these people. He still thinks of them as diseased and sinful wretches. At no point is he trying to save them. What's the problem? I'm left wondering why they're fighting. Histar has no idea what's going, and without Decimus telling her, she wouldn't know what happened. Thus, there's no reason to silence her and no reason for the fight.

Decimus knows that the Empire is corrupt from the start. He talks about how higher ups live in luxury while others scrap to get by, or how he knows certain big whigs to be pederasts, or others in the Empire that wouldn't survive one of his investigations. Yet he is shocked that an innocent man would be condemned to death in a kangaroo court. It gets worse. He acknowledges at numerous points that Phoenix's sermons could easily be interpreted as heresy or criticism of the Empire. One of them was as transparent as "replace 'Evil' with 'Empire'".

Normally, I refrain from suggesting improvements in reviews. Despite any dislike I may have, I try to respect the author's vision. However, this book personally offended me and since a large chunk of it is ripped straight out of the New Testament, I feel it qualifies as an exception.

I think there should be an epilogue. Something that goes back to the start of the narrative, where he's introducing this story. It should involve his plans to duplicate this narrative and spread it around like the other works in The Movement, because he considers himself part of it now. He would frame it in terms of atonement, both for turning in The Phoenix and all the other murders he's committed for the Empire. This would bring forth the full potential of the Apostle Paul expy in his character.

 Also, he would declare himself to be investigating the Empire. This would bring forth and crystallize his doubts about the Empire (especially the upper echelons) that have been sprinkled through-out the narrative beginning with the start of his investigation of The Phoenix. I believe something like this would bring closure to the narrative, while at the same time, serve as a fantastic sequel hook.

I don't ask for a Resurrection scene. While I'd like to see one, and I feel some sort of explanation for the supernatural happenings is needed, I'm going to respect Mr.Martin's desire to keep it ambiguous-leaning-nonsupernatural. In fact, giving Decimus bad dreams or "hallucinations" of The Phoenix would further this ambiguity and contribute to the Road to Damascus theme of this entire book.

CHARACTERS
There are basically three characters here. They are Decimus the Investigator,  "The Phoenix" the preacher, and Histar the follower.

Histar is like an Audience Surrogate and Morality Pet. Her only role here is to humanize Decimus and act as an opposing influence. She does not otherwise contribute to the plot

"The Phoenix" is a carbon copy of Jesus the Christ. Even the speeches are similar but with local terminology. It is a well done copy, but a copy it remains. On TvTropes, we'd call this an "expy".

Decimus is, as written in the previous section, interesting. He's like this mix of Inspector Javert and Apostle Paul, with a sympathetic Judas mixed in. Now give this composite character the conditioning and weaponry of Halo's Master Chief.

Despite this mix, he is a passive character. More accurately, he is an active character that is made passive by the narrative. The bulk of what he does is read about The Phoenix and then observe him in person. He does a lot of thinking and explaining, which means a good chunk of the report is his own speculation about things. The only action he takes other than his Judas thing is to get Histar out of Rome before The Very Bad Thing happens.

The relationship between Histar and Decimus makes no sense. It goes beyond Love At First Sight and becomes instant irrational obsession. Out of a large crowd, Decimus  spots Histar. As the narrator, he points out that it made no sense to rescue her from rapists (outside the investigation) and even less sense not to kill her afterward (she realized he was an investigator from his fighting ability). For someone as heavily indoctrinated as Decimus is supposed to be, her safety quickly becomes his only objective.

POLISH

There are several spelling and grammar errors. It's not excessive but the book would definitely benefit from a proofreader. Also, there are few paragraph breaks. Most pages are a single paragraph. This makes it hard to read.
Interestingly, there is a In-universe justification for this. The book is a first person narrative and Decimus says that he's using "lowtech" to better avoid detection. As interesting as it is, the errors could also be due to other reasons.

The first person narration is poor. The in-universe justification is to be account of the life of the Phoenix, but it's more about Decimus' life. At the beginning, he states that there are written works besides his own being circulated by The Movement, yet the ending implies that only person left in the Movement is headed toward suicide.  At the end, one would think he would reach the point in the story where he would begin to write down what happened, i.e. the beginning of the narrative where he explains his purpose. Instead, it cuts off at the end of The Passion. Without that connection, the narrative doesn't make sense. There's not even an afterword stating "thus concludes my account/investigation" etc.

I like the idea for the story but the execution is weak and I feel the desire for a tragic twist ending over-rode the desire for a complete narrative.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Phoenix Rising" an F

This is a free review request. I received nothing in exchange for it except a free copy of the book.

Click here for the next review request: "Within Ruin"

Click here for the previous review request: "The Experiment"

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Answering Review Request "The Experiment"

Christian Solari asked me to read their novel "The Experiment". It's about these aliens who want to see how intelligent life develops and then get scared when their creations develop hyperspace techonology. I will examine plot, characters and polish, and then assign a grade.

PLOT

There are two plot threads in this story. They intertwine like DNA. In the first thread, there's the Universe Confederation investigating the Experiment. This investigation is complicated, but in a nutshell, the UC wants to determine if subjects of the Experiment (humans, by the way, sort of, it's complicated) will play nice with the rest of the universe. It's basically a "Humanity on Trial" plotline, except no human is aware that trial is taking place. In the second thread, there's the Frontier Space Program pushing to prove that Hyperspace travel is possible. It is this second thread that triggers the first and so they mutually develop alongside each other and influence each other. They are, in fact, so intertwined, that either one of them could be "The Experiment" from the title.


It's fascinating to watch this story start up and develop. MR. Solari's constructed world is well thought out.
On Tvtropes, we have this page called "Blue and Orange Morality" which states that is a system of morality separate from the "Good/Evil" axis on which basic human morality operates. The page also states that some writers fail to make a true example and instead create "evil by a different name." I feel that's not the case here. Mr. Solari genuinely tried to create a culture that works on a different wavelength-sufficiently alien for something that claims to be "truly intelligent/ high intelligence" that a human (i.e. the reader) would still be able to recognize as valid.


 This may or may not be the case, but their values are not internally consistent. They claim that "fear" is a primordial emotion that they left behind but the entire purpose for "terminating the Experiment" (i.e. solar system wide genocide) is because they're afraid that humans will harm them/their way of life. They claim to be "fully cooperative" yet they have many arguments among themselves and don't involve humans in their decision making. They claim that "destruction is never an option" yet they can't think of any solution to their Preintelloids-With-Hyperspace tech problem other than Kill Them All. They sound like hypocrites.


I say "may or may not" because I don't feel like Mr. Solari meant to portray the Universe Confederation as truly superior. It feels like more an inversion of What Measure Is A Non-Human. There are parallels between the Universe Confederation (the aliens) and the Union (the humans). Both of them deal with an experiment that will change their world and engage in morally ambiguous behavior in the process.  I think Mr.Solari's point is that neither of them were as great as they believed themselves to be.

It has a peculiar turn of events in the third act. Suffice to say it's a mixture of Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions and Messanic Archetype in the same person.

I like the ending. Given the premise, making the ending neat and tidy would be unrealistic. This is a resolution of conflict that's not a "The End".

CHARACTERS


It's a diverse cast here. There are about a dozen or so main characters and all of them are distinct and well developed.

I found it interesting that the most prominent Universe Confederation members are named after Egyptian Deities. Amun was the sun god and here he's the guy in charge of The Experiment. Amaat was the concept of unity and here he is a mediator. Anubis was the god of embalmers, thus associated with death, and his role is to argue for the "termination" of the Experiment. As a side note, this is Everyone Hates Hades because Anubis wasn't considered evil or a maker of death. That's someone else.

Geb is a fascinating character. A scientist that's also a Messianic Archetype. It's a transformation and fusion. If being "fully cooperative" is the mark of "high intelligence:" then I'd say he's the only truly intelligent character in this story.


Huan is a fun character. She's a Genki Girl and brings life to many scenes. Her interactions with the stoic Gup make her even more fun. She's also a walking proof that the "pre-intelliod-Intelliod" line is blurrier than the Universe Confederation makes it out to be. Despite her aggressive-selfish genes, she has the empathy to understand the intelliods she encounters.


POLISH

No spelling or grammar problems. This is a dense but easy read.

The only flaw I see is in the UC's decision making. They do not consider any options other than "All or nothing". There's a sense that the author meant to show them as flawed but the lack of a clear What the Hello Hero make this mere speculation. If something like this was present, I'd give this story a perfect grade.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Experiment" a B+

Click here for the next review request: "Phoenix Rising"

Click here for the previous review request: ""Cluck the Undercover Chicken"

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Answering Review Request: "Cluck the Undercover Chicken"

G. Eric Francis asked me to read his novel "Cluck the Undercover Chicken". It's about a humanoid chicken cop infiltrating a cult that wants to take over the world, while arguing with the person writing the story. I will examine plot, characters and polish before assigning a grade.

PLOT

This book is trying to be funny not thrilling. Thus, the plot isn't as important as the comedy. The plot is generic, silly, and braced by a shallow straw feminist thing. It reads like a simple minded James Bond parody. If you read this for an engaging plot, you'll be disappointed. You should read this for the comic banter between Cluck and ST (StoryTeller A.K.A. G Eric Francis). That is what kept me turning pages. It's like a two person comedian act with something happening in the background.


You see, Cluck is the only character in this story aware of the fact that he's a character in a story. Not only that, he can communicate with the person writing the story. From the perspective of other characters, he's talking with ceiling tiles. They think he's nuts.

This book deserves recognition for the most shameless use of Deus Ex Machina I've ever read, that is also funny and fits in with the book's overall feel. Only the Freakazoid series tops it in this regard.
Cluck: Did you just write in some new ammo?
ST: Actually, come to think of it, I just did! (...........)That is the fun part about being a writer, you can change things on the fly, get it?

 
Good ending. There's conflict resolution but still more adventures to come.
 

CHARACTERS

There are two main characters, Cluck (the protagonist) and ST (the Narrator), and like I said earlier, they are basically a two man comedy routine. Cluck brags about how awesome he is and gets into trouble, and ST reacts to this.

Cluck reminds me of Marvel's Deadpool because of his tendency to talk a lot, his Medium Awareness, and his violent profession. He's like a lite version of Deadpool; doesn't talk as much, not as crazy, not as violent.

ST is a foil. He's quieter and less inclined to toot his own horn. Since he's also the one writing this story, he's effectively a reality warper that can both introduce and resolve random difficulties in Cluck's path. His goal is to make a good story. Considering how he exists on a different level of existence, there's a lot of room for Alternate Character Interpretation and Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory faux symbolism.


POLISH

No spelling or grammar problems. It's easy to follow the character conversations vs those that Cluck has with ST. However, the main plot feels too much like an excuse plot to give this book a perfect grade.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Cluck the Undercover Chicken" a B+

Click here for the next review request: "The Experiment"

Click here for the previous review request: "Hy Brazil"