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.

 

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.