Thursday, January 29, 2015

Read for Fun: Sword Art Online Volume 1 Aincrad

I watched Sword Art Online when it first aired on Toonami and I liked it so much I bought the light novel when it was translated into English. To all the SAO haters out there, you need to read the light novel because most if not all of your complaints are due to the way the anime was adapted from the light novels. I will include these differences in my traditional three sections. I will examine Plot, Characters and Polish and then assign a grade.


The general thrust of the book is that 10,000 players have been trapped in the VMMORPG, Sword Art Online and have to conquer the castle of Aincrad in order to escape. There are one hundred floors but the book only covers the 74th and 75th floors. This is two years after the game began. 

You see, it's In Media Res. The first chapter is Kirito fighting an Elite Mook on the 74th floor. Then he flashesback to the first day up until Kayaba announces the start of the death game. Then he spends a chapter or so expositing on how the game works and general history: like how The Army got started and the four types of players in the game. After that, the plot goes directly to Kirito finding the Ragout Rabbit which would not happen in the anime until "The Sword Dance of White and Black". The content of episodes two through eight are all from other volumes. This is why there is no connection between them and the main story; they were created after the main story was published. They seem like filler because they were intended to be extra stories to flesh out the world and characters after the main story was completed.

The main story as presented in the light novel is straightforward; posessing little fat or digressions. Even the "honeymoon" Asuna and Kirito take serves its purpose by demonstrating what life in Aincrad is like away from the front lines. Thus, providing both a traditional heroic reason to go back to the front lines as well as a temptation to stay away from them.  It provides good emotional conflict without descending into meaningless angst or drama.

For those that have a problem with the climatic battle, there's something here too. Kayaba talks about how one of the great things about an RPG is having "one's expectations betrayed" and that includes his own expectations. Afterward, he talks about how he dreamed of a world that could surpass the rules of reality, including his own rules. While he is as surprised as anyone both in-universe and out-of-universe by the seemingly impossible feat that our leading lady accomplishes, he is not angry. That's how his world is supposed to work.

For those complaining about the status of the player's real bodies, and what would happen to them during a two year comma, there's an explanation for that too. The epilogue goes into detail about such things: food, body waste, bed sores, muscle atrophy etc.

The ending is good. The book's main conflict is closed but personal conflict remains. In fact, it's a perfect sequel hook for the next adventure "Fairy Dance".


I see a lot of bashing of Kirito in the anime. It's the typical mary sue variety; overpowered, bland, somehow attracts many admires etc. That's not the case here in volume 1.
--->Sure he's a powerful solo player with the inside knowledge of a beta tester, but he's not the "only" solo player or the only beta tester. He points this out himself as part of his self-depreciation. This just happens to be his story so it focuses on him instead of them.
--->Sure he has the Unique Skill Dual Blades. In the anime it comes out of nowhere, but it's not as great as it seems. The light novel explains that h
e can't use it often or he'll be seen as even more of a "beater" than he is already thought to be, or be hounded by people demanding to know how he got the skill. Since he doesn't know, they might think he's lying and dislike him for it. Thus increasing his social isolation. There's sufficient foreshadowing in the light novel that he has it as well as an explanation of why he keeps it a secret: it's his ace in the hole.
--->Overpowered character? He has to be rescued twice in this volume, runs away in fear from a floor boss, and he only clears the game because the final boss allowed him to.
--->Bland badass? In the Light Novel, we see his thoughts because he's a first person narrator. There's rarely a time when he "isn't" scared, either for himself, Asuna, someone else, or all of the above. We also see his intense interest in and experience of VMMRPG, as well as a great deal of Heroic Self Depreciation. He's constantly praising others: Asuna, Klein, Heathcliff, but has a poor opinion of himself and his own skills.
--->Too many female admirers? Asuna is the only girl in his life and they've known each for two years before their Relationship Upgrade.

There's a different perspective on Asuna as well. The anime introduces her during the raid of the first floor boss. This establishes her first as an action girl and then later episodes show her cooking talent and her love for Kirito. This leads some to think she is Chickified. In the Light Novel she is still the Sub-Commander of the Knights of the Blood Oath from her introduction and she finds Kirito because it's part of her job to find solo players for boss runs. However, h
er first scene with Kirito is this recruitment followed by the Ragout Rabbit stew, which is then followed by exploring a dungeon with Kirito. Instead of an Action Girl that becomes girly, we have an Action Girl that is girly from the start; Girly Bruiser. There is no separation.
Unlike the anime where she floats in and out of the picture, she's a constant presence here and makes significant contributions to plot development.

Because of the book's focus, Kuradeel is a bigger presence and a bigger threat. In the anime, the scope is smaller and he's just some one-off guy. Not so in the novel; in the novel he is introduced shortly after the beginning exposition and reappears many chapters latter.

This is a first person narration and the narrator happens to be a hard core VMMORPG addict. Thus, all the talk about the history of the game, the mechanics of the system, all of it is perfectly in character. There is a great sense of things because of this perspective.

No spelling or grammar problems.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Sword Art Online Volume 1 Aincrad an A+

Click here for the next book review (which was a request): Spectras Arise 1: Contract of Defiance

Click here for the previous book review (which was a request): 7th Moon

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Answering Review Request: Seventh Moon

Michael Joy asked me to read his novel "Seventh Moon". It's a dystopian science fiction thing staring a group of super soldiers that rebel against their corrupt creators by becoming super heroic clergy. I will examine Plot, Characters and Polish before assigning a grade.


The story starts off exciting with Seventh Moon sending a group of super soldiers to a supposed base of terrorists that stole Seventh Moon's technology. There's a description of the soldiers showcasing Mr.Joy's love of tropes, followed by what we call on Tvtropes a Curb Stomp Battle. What I like about this sort of beginning is that it is set up to be a "Lawful Super Team fighting Chaotic criminals" thing and then does a pirouette into a "Defector From Decadence rebellion" thing. All the soldiers are set up as equals and then two of them break away as heroes, which colors the rest as villains.

What follows is a seamless genre shift from science fiction government black ops to fantasy martial arts philosophy. Why is it seamless? Because the Mentor Archetype for the fantasy was the combat instructor for the science fiction. He was hired by Seventh Moon but has since retired. He remarks that Seventh Moon has no taste for the spiritual component of his martial arts style and so he's basically completing their training. This becomes a key difference as the trio of heroes fight their counterparts as well as a long running plot thread. Over all, there is a impressive mix of Science Fiction and Fantasy tropes all the way to the end of the story. Esper or full contact mage? It doesn't matter. Either way, it's cool.

I like the flow of the plot. It follows a sound progression of events as the heroes try to unravel Seventh Moon's control. It's not just beating the bad guys but addressing the underlying problems caused by them. For instance, freeing a hydroelectric dam from their control in order to restore power to the country housing it.

There are two problems with the plot. Add some Alternate Character Interpretation, and there's only one. It is the three year gap between the first scene and the Evil Counterparts attacking the Shinryuu shrine. Given that Seventh Moon knows about this place and it's close by the village they destroyed and there's nothing keeping them away, I don't understand why the attack didn't come for three years. I don't know the reason for it, and because this time of peace allows the heroes to develop their esper powers, it is significant.

The ending is good. It has a climatic battle and a resolution of the book's conflict. There are a few threads dangling but there are more of a "connecting thread" to a possible sequel rather than loose ends from laziness or a Goading Cliffhanger.


There are a lot of characters on both the heroic and villainous side and all of them receive sufficient development. The main characters get the most, of course, but even the sub-bosses (so to speak) have traits that make them stand out.

Kichiku the Gentle Giant and who takes on Big Brother responsibilities for Douji.

Hidariude has the blades and minor Leroy Jenkins/Hotblooded traits.

Kiesi is remarkable for being a sex slave instead of a super soldier, and also has more a Never Be A Victim Again mentality instead of The Atoner.

On the villainous side, there's this guy named Kodama. He's a minor bad guy who only has one scene and doesn't live beyond a couple chapters.  Yet he's my personal favorite of the trio's enemies New Wave Elite's soldiers. It may be his Smug Super attitude, his favoring the No Sell tactic, his Forest Hive Mind powers,  or perhaps the caliber of the fight itself, but whatever it is,  I enjoyed his fight the most.


This is the area where the story loses the most points.
Spelling is good but grammar has flaws. It's minor because some 80 percent of them are the same thing; using a comma where a semi colon would be appropriate.
Also, some of the language is immature. What I mean by this is that it doesn't flow as well as it could. Again, this a minor thing because most of the story is not like this.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Seventh Moon" a B+

Click here for the next book review (which was not a request): Sword Art Online: Aincrad 1

Click here for the previous book review (which was not a request): How To Practice

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Personal read: How To Practice - The Way to a Meaningful Life

First, backstory. When I was a teenager, I experimented spiritually. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that both showed respect for all religions and also promoted Christian compassion. There was a class called "World Religions" that sampled major ones like Buddhism, Judaism and Islam. Because of that, I bought "How to Practice" when browsing a store. It was only a month or so ago that I finished reading it.

It's about the Dalai Lama lecturing about how to live a "meaningful life".  It's not about how to live a meaningful Buddhist life, but one that can be universal, which I found both refreshing and respectful. It's about developing compassion, understanding, and peace of mind, while toning down vices like greed and vanity.

It's broken in sections for different aspects of the "meaningful life" that the Dali Lama speaks of. These include morality, meditation, (Buddhist) wisdom and also something called "Tantra". As a practicing Christian, I found the first two to be quite helpful.

Indeed, the morality one is basically "love thy neighbor". For instance, there is one thought exercise that goes like this: imagine a reflection of yourself (specifically, your negative qualities like greed) to your right and a group of suffering people to your left. Acknowledge that both of these groups equally deserve to receive happiness and avoid pain, but the compassionate choice is to side with the group on the left.  I didn't read anything in this section that is incompatible with Christian morality.  I'll likely read it again in the future to better understand and retain it.

Most valuable is that it contains a solution to The Problem of Evil that I found appealing. The Dalai Lama said that, (paraphrasing), bad things happen to good people to give those people a chance to develop qualities like patience and compassion and essentially become better people. He, of course, was talking more along the lines of karma than God's will, but it can work for a Christian like me.

 The meditation one is pretty secular. It's written in such a way that I imagine even an atheist would benefit from it; there's no invoking Buddha or contemplating nirvana or anything supernatural like that. It's about developing a peaceful and focused state of mind that can block out distractions of life, be they big or small, and endure life's suffering and disappoint with grace, be they petty or tragic.

After this, the usefulness to non-Buddhists goes down significantly because it goes further into  Buddhist philosophy like "non-existence" and exercises like calling on the Buddha and the bodhisattvas to help one become a Buddha. That's something I can't use. He occasionally says things like "You can replace Gautama Buddha with Jesus the Christ" but at times I get the feeling that he forgets he's not writing for an exclusively Buddhist audience.

I like the style of the writing. It's friendly and humble; not at all preachy. At times, he even makes jokes.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "How To Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life" a B+

Click here for the next book review (which was not a request): 7th Moon
Click here for the previous book review (which was a request): Negative Thinking

Friday, January 9, 2015

Official Cover Reveal for Dreamthief-Fairy World MD book 1

Tamara Hanks Grantham is a fantasy author I met on Facebook. We're both members of Clean Indie Reads and she found my blog through our connection there. She's asked me to join the grand unveiling of the cover of her latest book: Dreamthief. So I'm helping to spread the word about her mousetrap. 

Visiting Faythander, a fairy world, is a nasty business. Forget the fairies and unicorns, most people come back with lost memories and mental problems. Olive Kennedy knows. She's the therapist who treats patients suffering from Faythander's side effects. She may have an emotionless mother and an apathetic boyfriend, but she takes pride in her job. She's never failed to cure a client—until now.

Traveling back to Faythander wasn't on Olive's to-do list. But she has no choice. The fate of both Earth and Fairy depends on her ability to stop an evil being called the Dreamthief. Saving the world, she can handle. Falling in love—not so much. Now, she'll have to decide between her heart and the future of an entire planet. As if battling the forces of evil wasn't complicated enough…

Dreamthief is the first book in the Fairy World MD series.
Beat a path to her door here

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Answering Review Request: Negative Thinking: How To Transform Negative Thoughts And Self Talk Into Positive Thinking

Colin Smith asked me to read his book "Negative Thinking: How To Transform Negative Thoughts And Self Talk Into Positive Thinking". I decided previously to branch out a little into non-fiction so I took him up on it. The nutshell of this book is the importance of balanced optimism and provides a couple methods of developing such an attitude. Since this is non-fiction, I can't use my normal reviewing structure but I will still assign a grade at the end.

As I was reading this book, I thought the term "Secular Zen" was appropriate. There's a lot of stuff about creating a peaceful state of mind and controlling one's perception of the world and the stuff that happens. Mr. Smith even shares a Buddhist maxim, "You become what you resist", suggesting tranquility in the face of problems. This is in the chapter called, "The Power of Accepting Reality".

About a week or so ago, I read a book similar to this one that was written by a Buddhist monk. It covered much of the same ground (peaceful mind, optimism, gratitude for simple things, daily practices for developing these traits etc.) but at times I got the feeling that the author forgot that his audience wasn't clergy or Buddhist, and so they don't have time to meditate five times a day (and then again at night). This book, in contrast, is written for busy lay people. It is short, quick and provides a couple pointers in the right direction.

It's not a high energy, super ambitious, go-getter thing. It's a low energy, peaceful and content thing. The logic goes that if you have a clear and positive mind, then you will be better able to achieve what you want to achieve, and be content with what you ultimately gain.

Overall, I'm satisfied with this book, but there are a couple snags.
At times, Mr.Smith will use weasel words like "studies show" without mentioning which studies. As an English major, this sort of thing bothers me, but on the other hand, it was for simple stuff that could be called common knowledge. Citing it would be like saying "studies show that dirt turns to mud in the rain". It would be silly.

 Also, Mr.Smith leans heavily on Zivorad Slavinski's "Return to Oneness". Other than the Buddha, this is the only person that he references and quotes. It happens so often that Mr. Smith's book sounds like it's, in part, a commentary on Slavinski's. The citations are flawless and there's plenty of original thought here so it's a minor thing.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Negative Thinking: How To Transform Negative Thoughts And Self Talk Into Positive Thinking" a B+

Click here for the next book review (which was not a request): How to Practice

Click here for the previous review request: Terran Psychosis