Book Review: The Gam3: Opening Moves

Although I was asked to include more specific examples to support my points, I want this to remain a …

Spoiler-free Review

…so, I’ll strive to give some examples without spoilers.

Product Details

Author: Cosimo Yap

Genre: LitRPG-Science Fiction

Ratings: (1 = Really needs improvement. 5 = Good stuff!)

  • Plot Development: 3
  • Character Development: 3.5
  • Dialogue: 4
  • Descriptions: 4
  • Wordsmithing: 3
  • Overall:  3.5 pushing toward a 4, but not quite getting there.

What Drew Me to THIS Book (Out of all the ones out there…)

Like last month’s Eden’s GateI picked up this one to learn about the LitRPG genre in preparation for writing one of my own. Although it’s set up to become a series, so far there’s only one book out, and I was looking for one-shot wonders. Further, when I was picking my first couple to read, I wanted one fantasy and one science fiction. Eden’s Gate was the fantasy. This one touts itself as science fiction, and in spite of a couple dungeon crawls, it really ended up being one.

Two Things I Like (There’s a bit of good in everything).

Mr. Yap does an good job of designing characters who have different mannerisms and voices. These are not the same one or two guys wearing different outfits. The characters have distinctive personalities and quirks. One character is very reserved. Another is  arrogant. A third is a bit conniving. Even the AI has something of a personality.

The good guy character is not perfect. When he makes a mistake, there are consequences for that error, and he has to face the music. In this era of good guys doing reprehensible things and then getting kudos for it, that’s a refreshing change. When he ignores his AI’s advice by talking into a radio after killing someone, he makes a powerful enemy. This affects him and his team. They’re not impressed.

One Thing I Didn’t Like (Everyone has room to improve).

Unfortunately, this story suffered from plot development troubles. I realize this is meant to be Book 1 of many, but it opened huge cans of very wiggly worms (political shenanigans, major quests, minor quests, and so on) … and in the end only resolved one tiny plot point: a personal issue. I had no feeling of resolution with so many major issues still wide open.

Had it been a cliffhanger, I might have found that more agreeable. I get serials. I’ve written serials. I understand cliffhangers. There was no overriding tension or immediate danger at the end of the tale, so this doesn’t qualify for a cliffhanger. The ending was, in fact, very unsatisfying.

It really felt like a violation of Chekov’s Gun rule. Anton Chekov said once upon a time that if you show a pistol (or rifle in some versions of the quote) in the first act, you’d better make it fire by the third act. (paraphrased) Some allowances for that are made for serials since seeds planted early in the tale bear fruit much later, but in this case, there was no ending for the book. It simply stopped and out of all of Chekov’s Guns that were shown hanging on walls and sitting on tables, only a tiny derringer was fired, as it were.

Two Specific Ways the Author Could Improve (Hey, I’m a teacher. It’s what I do).

  1. Books ought to have a self-contained story. It should have a beginning, middle, and end. You can leave loose strings that can be tied off later and end with the main character in a real pickle, but tell a complete story each time. This will provide a more satisfying ending for your readers.
  2.  Watch your character development. Your main character gains levels and skills at a unrealistically fast rate, even beyond the early levels where jumping multiple levels at once is expected. Yes, he has an AI to give him directions, but he has mad plot skills at significant points of the story. He tries things on his AI’s advice and gets it right on the first whack too often. For example, the main character takes out a skilled sniper at an early level. Later, in one of the dungeon crawls, the main character finds a group battling an extremely high-level monster. He tries something totally wild and enjoys a critical success. There is some balance with the consequences to some of his actions, but I would have liked to have seen him have to work for his victories a bit more often.

Final Recommendation

This was an engaging tale. The individual subplots that occur were interesting by themselves even if the main story needed more resolution. It’s worth picking up.

 

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Book Spotlight: Excerpt of “Wings Beneath Water”

After our interview with author Yaasha Moriah  yesterday, I’m sharing an excerpt of her novella. Take it away, Yaasha!

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Chapter One

They say if you see wings beneath the water, you get a second chance to live. If that is true, I may live yet. If it is not true, my blood will stain these waters within moments.

The marsh mists swirl around me like transparent hands, chilling the sweat on my forehead as my footsteps explode through the murky waters. I pause, catch a gnarled branch, and lean gasping over it.

The surface of the dark waters shows the face of a boy, with round cheeks and frightened purple eyes. Will the Karagi have mercy if they see me as a child?

No. They know what I am, and they will not waver. They will remain at a safe distance, and shoot to kill. They are master bowmen. I should know. They trained me.

That was before they knew what I am.

According to the wise woman, some say it only happens when you are born to the marshes on a moonless night. Others say that it begins when a child looks into the waters and, unknown to him, the Siyeen looks back at him from beneath the surface of the waters. Still others say it is a gift given to the one who seeks truth above all else.

If a gift results in your death, is it not a curse instead?

I have lingered too long. Even as I move, some instinctive twitch saves me, for a death-breeze fans my chin and a crimson ribbon opens across my collar-bone, the warning of a razor-sharp arrowhead.

I turn, and they are there, emerging like ghosts from the mist, their long dark hair loose around their lean faces, their leather vests leaving bare their muscled shoulders. Emotions stab my stomach, for Uraun leads them, the scar upon his right cheek lit in silver by the wavering moon.

“A child?” one hunter asks, glancing quickly at the foremost of the men.

“It is an illusion,” Uraun says darkly, and draws his shaft to the corner of his lips.

I cannot outrun his arrow. I have watched too many times the stumble of a woodland buck, stricken while in mid-flight by Uraun’s skill. I am also tired, too tired. This hunt has taken all my strength, all my heart.

How do you run away from someone you love?

“Uraun.” My voice carries across the waters. “Please.”

So long as he holds his breath, he will not shoot. Experienced archers release only at the exhalation.

I stand upon a small hillock of marsh weeds. The waters beyond my feet ripple like black silk, for I have come to the edge of the deeper waters, where the bottom is invisible and the feet find no purchase. Many things that have been lost to the deep marshes.

“Uraun,” I say again. The corner of my vision snags upon something, a glimmer in the water, like light reflecting upon an outstretched wing.

It is here.

Then Uraun’s jaw tightens, and, plunging, I give myself to the waters. The arrow’s shaft pierces my side and my instinctive gasp fills my mouth with liquid darkness.

Something smooth slides beneath my grasping fingers, then jaws clamp around my ankle and pull me downward, deep. I struggle, panic-stricken. Have I misunderstood? Did I see a wing, or only the glitter of a marsh eel’s serpentine body?

I spiral downward until my mind becomes as dark as the waters around me and my breath burns and explodes in my head. Then light births, broadens, shimmers, and I rush toward it. Am I swimming down? Or up? I cannot tell.

That is when I see the face staring back at me from the other side of the water.

My face.

I know it is my face because only I among the Karagi possess eyes the color of wild irises. It is the mark of my separation.

 

Author Interview: Yaasha Moriah

Ella Font (EF): Good morning wherever you are. This is Ella Font if the Interdimensional News Network. I’m here today with Yaasha Moriah, another of our 21st Century Authors. Yaasha’s work was popular throughout the first half of the century.

Yaasha, thank you for joining us today. What have you brought to share with us?

Yaasha Moriah (YM): Thanks for having me! I am sharing about my fantasy novella “Wings Beneath Water.”

cover

EF: Beneath the water? Sounds interesting. Can you tell us a bit about it?

YM: Certainly!

Brother.

Ever since Risha was found on the shores of the river and adopted into the tribe, he and his brother Uraun have been inseparable. But when a neighboring tribe ignites war, killing the boys’ father, their lives start on a path that begins to divide them.

Siyeen.

As the tribe goes to war, Risha’s gift awakens. He is the Siyeen, capable of reading a person’s true nature—and in Uraun’s nature, he reads only vengeance.

Fearing that his gift will endanger Uraun, Risha flees to the marshes. To save his brother’s soul, Risha must learn the secrets of the first Siyeen and seek the redemption that will grant his brother a second chance.

EF: Fascinating. That doesn’t sound like a typical fantasy. Does it fall into one of the other categories?

YM: “Wings Beneath Water” is a sort of “native fantasy.” Think native peoples, all mixed up with supernatural dragons and shape-shifting powers. One of my ARC readers said it had “deeply spiritual themes” and was more in-depth than my other books, which he liked better.

EF: I don’t think I’ve seen many fantasy novels told from the perspective of native people. Can you tell us more about your main character?

YM: Certainly.

Discovered as an infant in the marshes, Risha bears distinctive purple eyes. As he grows up with his adoptive brother Uraun, Risha seems like a normal boy. He trains with the tribal warriors, hunts deer with Uraun, and swims in the river.

Risha cares deeply about his brother Uraun and about the truth. Sometimes the two things conflict, so Risha struggles with the implications of his choices, especially when the power of the Siyeen awakes in him.

EF: He sounds like a complex person. Many of our viewers are curious about how much authors invest in their own characters. Are there any characteristics you share in common with you main character?

YM: Risha and I share a deep love for truth, even hard truths. If you look for comfort instead of truth, you will eventually end up with neither. If you look for truth, even truth that makes you uncomfortable initially, you will eventually find both truth and comfort.

We also share a fierce loyalty to family, even despite conflict. Risha makes hard choices in order to protect his family and, although my choices aren’t nearly so dramatic as Risha’s, I’ve done the same. Family is worth fighting for!

EF: Indeed it is. Let’s see if any of our viewers would like to ask you a question. First up?  Amanda Rekkonwif from Tombstone Colony on Europa. Amanda asks, “If your character actually had pockets, what would be in them?”

YM: Twine to fix a fishing net, arrowheads for his arrows, a knife, a sinew for his bow… Odds and ends that help him survive in the marshes.

EF: I can understand that, but those are definitely not things you’d find in most people’s pockets. Next up? A question from Jerry Mander calling in from Wiggle Road on Charon. Jerry wants to know, “Can you share a line from your work?”

YM: “They say when you see wings beneath the water, you get a second chance to live.”

EF: So you sourced the title from your book from one of the lines in the book. That’s a good way to do it. Tom Katt from Litter Pan Colony on Ganymede. Tom wants to know, “If your character existed in main life, would you be friends?”

YM: I think we’d get along splendidly. Risha would teach me about survival in the wild and I’d teach him how to read and write. An excellent trade, I think.

EF: Where can our viewers find your work?

YM: It just released on March 31st. I’m so excited to share it! You can find it on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, Smashwords, and my own website YaashaMoriah.com.

I’m always busy on my website at YaashaMoriah.com. I am also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as Yaasha Moriah. I love interacting with people about all things speculative fiction, so people are always welcome to introduce themselves, tell me about their favorite sci-fi or fantasy book, and why they like it.

EF: That’s great. I’m sure our viewers would like to connect with you online and share about their love of science fiction and fantasy in the early 21st Century. Thanks for joining us today. [Looks into the camera] That’s all we have time for today. Please stop by Yaasha’s internet hangouts and chat if you have other questions about her amazing work. Stay tuned tomorrow when we’ll have an excerpt of “Wings Beneath Water.” For now, this is Ella Font of the Interdimensional News Network. Back to Bob Frapples at the news desk. Bob? 

 

Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo — The Excerpt

Time for a bit of shameless self-promotion.

front sanserif

Grace Bridges designed the lovely abstract cover, which actually represents what Calla sees when she goes into someone’s mind.

An excerpt for you…

 

Angela reeled back as if she had been kicked in the head. Thomas tried to catch her, but his fingers brushed past the sleeve of her shirt. She hit the ground hard and stayed still.

“Angela!”

The garden’s gate burst open a second later under the weight of several Cordilians. The first hit on his mental shield came a second after the gate fell. His protection wobbled but held. Gunshots echoed off the garden’s wall. Bits of rock from a planter struck his thigh.

He yelped and dove under the table, even though the thin wood would never stop a bullet or a blaster bolt. He clapped his hand over the wound. If he were lucky, the snipers wouldn’t see him.

Shrill screams split the air. The sense of pain and terror from the delegates sickened him. He could do nothing to help them directly, but if he could reach Angela, he could teleport them both home, get her to a doctor, and send back more experienced help for the delegations.

As he inched toward her, a female presence shoved against his shields. Thomas bolstered his defense and pushed her back.

The second attempt battered at his mental shield and bored through. Before he could reset his guard, his attacker thrust into his mind like a spear. Thomas clenched his eyes and focused inward.

You want a fight? You got one.

A dark, curvaceous image bearing a pair of fiery knives appeared in his mental perception. Her hand covered her mouth. “Ooo. That didn’t hurt, did it?”

Thomas mustered every scrap of power and focus he could pull together. “Not half as much as this will.”

His own personal image formed in the shape of a huge wolf. He launched himself at the shadow woman and tackled her, tearing into her with a mouth full of sharp teeth.

 

Find Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo here.

Grab Bag: Did you ever wonder…

… why hotdogs and hotdog buns don’t come in packages with the same quantities?

… why people will pay more for a machine made widget that will likely fall apart faster than a similar handmade widget?

… why words spelled with the same letter combinations (eg: daughter/laughter) don’t sound the same?

… why a woodchuck would even want to chuck wood?

… how long to the Point of Know Return?

… why the Son had to Carry On if he was so Wayward?

… what those last two questions referred to?

… why people drive on parkways and park on driveways?

… why your feet smell but your nose runs?

… if plastic storage container lids and socks end up in the same alternate dimension when they disappear?

Do you wonder about something? Post it in the comments.

Book Review: Eden’s Gate

Spoiler-free review

Book: Eden’s Gate – Book 1: The Reborn

edens-gate-image

Author: Edward Brody

Genre: LitRPG-Fantasy

Ratings: (1 = Really needs improvement. 5 = Good stuff!)

  • Plot Development: 5
  • Character Development: 3
  • Dialogue: 2
  • Descriptions: 3
  • Wordsmithing: 1
  • Overall: 3

What Drew Me to THIS Book (Out of all the ones out there…)

A couple weeks ago, I listened to a podcast about a relatively new genre: LitRPG. LitRPG involves a person playing a virtual game of some sort that includes leveling, classes, skills, and so on, like you’d find in the old tabletop role playing games or the more modern computer versions. I was a HUGE gaming freak back when. In fact, people familiar with my writing have probably heard the tale about how Remnant in the Stars originated from a GURPS Space scenario. (No, it’s not LitRPG. No game mechanics in the book). I was also a terrific fan of Ultima, Elder Scrolls, and Might and Magic long before the advent of the online versions.

Well, one of the anthologies I was in recently (Avatars of Web Surfer) includes a couple stories (including one of mine) that take place in a game world with characters playing a game. Hey! Pretty close. In fact, add the gaming mechanics, and it’s THERE. So, I contacted the publisher (Travis Perry of Bear Publications) and asked if he’d heard of it. He listened to the podcast and we approached Avatars’ creator (Andrea Graham) to see if she’d be interested in adding the gaming mechanics. She’s giving it a think.

In the meantime, Travis and I started chatting about turning a couple of my ideas into LitRPG. I have one unpublished book (Bird’s Eye: The Novel in Need of a Better Name) and a few ideas that might work for something as quest-based as LitRPG. We decided to tackle Bird’s Eye and outlined a plan:

  • Become familiar with LitRPG conventions
  • Create the game mechanics
  • Rewrite Bird’s Eye to account for those mechanics.

Okay, so part 1, I needed to learn the conventions. First, I found a Facebook group for LitRPG and joined up and spent some time lurking before I actually dove into conversations. Then I looked at a list of the books they have and picked two. My criteria were pretty simple: one science fiction, one fantasy, stick with 1-shot wonders. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this genre, so I didn’t want to dive into a multiple-book phenomenon. If I like it, I’ll go grab one of the series.

Eden’s Gate: The Reborn says it’s Book 1, which implies a series, but so far, it just has one book, so I snagged that one for the fantasy. The other one I grabbed will appear in a future book review.

Things I Like (It has to be really stinky for there to be absolutely NOTHING to like).

There were some things Edward Brody did well. The plot itself is well-designed. The characters are faced with situations that challenge them physically and mentally. The threat is real, even though the characters in the game regenerate if they die. They make difficult choices and deal with the consequences. I’ve read a LOT of stories in which the characters are so over-powered, no threat is sufficient, and I’ve read a bunch in which the character has zero chance of success without divine intervention. Both are boring. Eden’s Gate has a good balance. Yes, the characters get in over their heads sometimes, but wit, wisdom, equipment, and guts get the job done.

Kudos to Mr. Brody for accomplishing that balance.

Things I Didn’t Like (Everyone has room to improve).

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news.

First, there were major word-smithing issues. In addition to the typical typo sorts of problems, there were places where not-quite-the-right-word was chosen. I understand that the field of LitRPG is pretty small right now and many of the works are translated out of other languages or written by writers whose first language is not English. I don’t know if that’s the case with Mr. Brody.

Second, this is a long way from clean reading. The word choices were often quite foul. This would earn an R-rating by the end of the first chapter on that alone. Similarly, some of the violence and descriptions of gore were a little over-the-top. I really don’t need to see the gore flying on the page to understand that the character just died a horrible death. Finally, there were no sexual encounters on-camera, but the author missed few if any opportunities to describe female characters in terms of their physical endowments, regardless of race or monster status.

3 Specific Ways the Author Could Improve (Hey, I’m a teacher. It’s what I do).

  1. Improve your vocabulary. There are ways to express outrage, anger, pain, aggravation, surprise, shock, horror, and dismay that don’t involve the F-bomb. Not only will you reach a wider audience, but you’ll give your characters depth. I’m not suggesting you have characters sound like Barney the Dinosaur, golly gee willackers; but if every response to a problem involves a word that rhymes with duck, the word loses its uniqueness and its force. If you just have to swear, okay, but keep it for the really severe situations when you’ll get more bang for your buck.
  2. Engage a proofreader or editor. Writers are often their own worst editors. They read what they remember writing, not what’s actually there. As an editor, I saw a number of places where a little polish would have made the work more effective. I know, I know… editors and proofreaders cost money. It looks like you’re self-pub, which is fine, but make sure your product is one of the best out there. Some editors and proofreaders will work on a trade-ya basis if you can’t afford to pay them actual money. You critique theirs. They edit yours. There are also some traditional small presses that might be interested in LitRPG. Sign with them, and you’ll get editorial and cover art for free. (If the publisher wants you to pay for ANYTHING in the publication process, run fast the other way). Your cover looks good. Make sure the content is, too.
  3. Give your characters more development, especially in dialogue. You did a good job of making them different from each other personality-wise, but when they’re talking, all your humans sound like the same guy. Give everyone a quirk or two. Use more dialogue tags that communicate personality and relevant actions. This can be tougher to do in first person, but it’s a worthy goal.

Final Recommendation

This is a tough one. I really liked the way Mr. Brody developed the plot. The challenges got progressively harder as the characters became progressively stronger. The story line itself was compelling. I could even overlook the editorial shenanigans to a point without being ejected from the story.

Unfortunately, I prefer clean reading, so I ended up enjoying it much less than I  might have if there weren’t F-bombs on practically every page and if female character descriptions didn’t include what seemed to be an obligatory comment on their physical endowments.

If that sort of thing doesn’t bug you, then do check out Eden’s Gate: The Reborn.