REVIEW Windfall Reads -- a subjective review thread

Discussion in 'All Things LitRPG' started by Windfall, Feb 25, 2019.

  1. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    About this thread:
    - I just finished something big, and suddenly don't know what to do with myself
    - I've been debating with myself for a long time whether to write reviews seriously. On one hand, it's a fun way to collect my own thoughts and force myself to actually think about the stories I read from a 'craft' perspective. On the other hand, I know how it feels to know that someone does not enjoy your book, and I feel bad knowing that I will eventually be responsible for those feelings at some point. That said, speaking from personal experience, I know how much authors crave feedback, and while I feel uncomfortable about Amazon and Goodreads review systems, I think ultimately if there's something positive or negative that someone has to say about my work, I'd prefer it to be out there somewhere on the internet. I'd rather know than not know, because ultimately silence is worse than words. Over the past few years, a small number of readers have done that for me, out of their own volition, simply by talking about their impression about the book, in passing, in jokes, in anything, and those snippets are extremely rewarding and meaningful, so I've finally decided to be brave and try my best to do it for someone else, as a way to pay it forward.
    - I feel like most reviews don't actually tell me anything. There's a reason why I prefer subjective reviews, where the reviewer isn't trying to be a professional voice, but just a person raving/ranting about their impressions. I feel like those reviews give me insight into what the book feels like. I get a feel of who the reviewer is, and if they're someone I would like to be friends with in real life, I trust their judgment.
    - Most LitRPG blurbs/advertisements lack... a 'unique selling point'. And most of the time the authors are blind to what their own unique selling points are. This is totally not their fault. We all need a mirror. Someone sold me on The City and the Dungeon simply by saying that it "did religion discussions right". Has nothing to do with the story, but that point got me. So, if I have something to say about a story that is unique about that story, I figured I should say it.

    Disclosure:
    - I've written LitRPG myself. It's published, but I will never tell anyone here on anywhere in public what that story is, so I can never be accused of having a hidden agenda of bashing other authors or belonging to a clique. I wish to speak as a reader here.
    - My personal taste leans towards: non-power-fantasy, mature, good prose, well-written emotions, character tension, good action scenes, lots of nuances, and a solid theme. Basically, entertainment with something extra to chew on.
    - I'll give star ratings, because despite how much I think it's flawed, I personally like reading reviews that actually give stars. It's courageous to give stars. But I'll tell you right now mine, like all star ratings, are probably going to be unreliable and ultimately unfair, and I apologize. I'm still working on a system, and I hope to be able to come up with a good, valid system one day, but right now I'm just working with the best I've got.

    Other points:
    - My current personal project is to read a lot of Book Ones from different authors, to get a real feel for the genre.
    - I'll most likely post on reddit, too, because maybe reviews are a bit more visible there, and I hope it will help readers who share my taste find what they like.
    - If you're an author, please, please, please don't ask me to read your book and post a review. I have problems saying no, and it makes me feel guilty, after which I will probably hide away and disappear offline. Please accord me absolute freedom to choose what I read.
    - However, if you know for sure I've read your book and I haven't posted a review here or on reddit, please feel free to ask for one. I'm always happy to talk about books I have read.
    - I welcome discussions and disagreements. I also especially like hearing from people who enjoy books I don't like.
    - If, for some reason, you happen to be able to figure out what book I've written, please don't post publicly about it. I'm happy to discuss in private. And I would also want to know how the heck you figured it out.


    About my reviews:
    - I'm bad at synopsis, so I'm not going to do that. I'm also bad at details. I don't remember what exactly happens. I only remember my own impression of the book.
    - There will always be possible mild spoilers. Reviews that have absolutely no spoilers tend to be vague and not very informative. For example, something like "I thought the MC's issue with his family members are not very realistically portrayed" doesn't really tell me anything, but "I know the author's trying to show how MC craves approval from his distant father, but..." -- now that tells me something. There's interpretation and meaning to the sentence, and it gives me more of a baseline. So that's what I'm going to do in my reviews.
    - I'm going to pick just one main thing to talk about for each book -- the most salient bit that comes to mind when I think about the particular story.
    - My opinion and star ratings are going to be extremely subjective, but I'll try my best to be as fair as possible.
    - My star rating system goes like this (I've already used it in some of my other reviews not posted here):

    Vision - unique ideas, well-thought-out systems. In short: what the author is trying to do.
    Execution - writing quality, pacing, coherence. In short: how well the author pulls it off.
    Personal preference - all things combined, how much I like it and what rough number I think captures my overall feelings toward the book.

    And some baseline numbers and criteria:
    For vision:
    + originality (something I've never seen before)
    + interesting concept (something cool and fun)
    + solid (something with real thought behind it)
    + difficulty score (something that shouldn't work but does work, tricky issues that are hard to write about)
    + that flair of wild courage (difficult to explain, but a gutsy move the author makes, a leap of faith, a pouring of oneself into one's work)

    For execution:
    + good writing (smooth, consistent prose -- elegant is a huge plus)
    + appropriate use of medium (stories should read like literature, not screenplay, but especially for LitRPG I also love how the authors format and present their status screens -- if any)
    + good pacing and the resulting impact (build-up and pay-off)
    + craft (from neat slight-of-hand tricks the author uses that make me go 'that's clever!' to how the story is packaged and delivered)

    For personal preference:
    + a clear moral compass (I'm quite tolerant of different moral systems, as long as they are 'systems' and not something that only favors the MC and co.)
    + a glimpse into humanity: emotions, ponderings, beliefs, moral decisions that are really felt
    + likeable, relatable characters (and authors who treat them with respect and understanding, as people, not tools to tell a story or shock readers -- so, yes, I loathe Game of Thrones)
    + game (as in game-i-ness of all kinds -- a story set in a game world doesn't automatically give a game feel. That's a fantasy in a video game setting. Only when the characters strategize and really play the game, does it feel like a game)

    So, somewhere around 3 is satisfactory. A 3-3-3 rating is "It was okay for me". Somewhere 4-ish is positive. But unless it's mind-blowing in some way or gets me teary-eyed, it's probably not going to get a 5.

    My scores for popular titles so you can get a taste for my personal preferences:
    The Lord of the Rings: that's a full 5-5-5. Tolkien had a vision. It was a great vision, and he did it with confidence and much love. And I love sad, flowery language.

    The Lies of Locke Lamorra: also a 5-5-5. Very different, but knows exactly what it's doing and delivers scenes with impact, while being at the core...well, soft.

    Ready Player One: 4.2-3.5-4. Rather a wild, crazy, unabashedly-nerdy idea. The writing is a bit dodgy at times, but ultimately there's a heart and real meaning to the conclusion.

    Game of Thrones (Book 1 of ASoIaF): 4.7-4.2-1. Hated it. With a passion. Nice concepts, okay-writing, absolute heartless cheap tricks.

    Awaken Online (Books 1-2): 5-3.8-3.5. Awesome concept, great ideas... not sure if it's going anywhere meaningful and satisfying, and has a hint of being a teenage power fantasy. Scores might change if it actually goes somewhere.

    Way of the Shaman (Book 1). 4-4.7-5. Solid, detailed world building, messy rambly prose (which I actually don't mind), but build-up to moral decisions feels real important, and very cleverly presented. The double-interpretation thing at the end is brilliant and also very cleverly presented. Love the slow pacing and the overall moodiness (and the ambivalent-oppressed-safe-stuck communist feel, really).

    The Land (Book 1): 3.5-4-2. Just wasn't for me. It isn't nearly as bad as haters make it out to be, and I'm sure great ideas develop later on. But as for Book 1 the ideas aren't that new or interesting. The prose and presentation are actually okay and consistent, despite the jarring pop culture references. But, I didn't manage to find anything to bond with.
     
  2. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    The City and the Dungeon: And Those Who Dwell and Delve Within
    by Matthew P. Schmidt

    (Thank you to scarface6 on the LitRPG Forum Discord, where I sometimes lurk, for the original comment on religious discussions)

    Since this was the book that started my whole idea about unique selling points, I think it's fitting that I start with it. Instead of a synopsis, I'm going to do a 'main features' kinda thing, since it's easier to write in bullet points.


    Notable features:

    - Post-post-apocalypse setting, set in the distant future where Earth has been transformed by the sudden appearance of "The Dungeon". The story is set in "The City" that grows around the dungeon and is governed by game rules. That said, the story ultimately has a bit of a Victorian fantasy feel (which roughly means technology and social structures that are a bit more modern than medieval fantasy).

    - Straight-to-the-point dungeon delving, and it's not shy about it. Not a lot of time is wasted on common knowledge like party roles and the concept of loot share.

    - The system is presented as a whole, in very broad strokes, so you know how the system works, but not the details. For example, you know how characters and build toward archetypes, but you never know how many points they need to attribute to what what class, or how much more mana leveling gives them, what exact spells are available and what they can hope to obtain. In a way, the story gives a very nice overview of what it feels like to be in the system and doesn't get bogged down by details, but people who want to see actual numbers might feel cheated. This is also true about the viewpoint. The MC is telling the story in first-person, and he occasionally picks highlights to tell you about, and in a few places even stops the narration to explain game points. (More on that later)

    - For the above reason, combat is usually brief and presents an overview. Action scenes can be quite vivid at times, but lack nitty-gritty details. Again, people looking for a certain kind of combat might not like this.

    - There are some forays into politics, the legal system and the economy of the City, but only when it's relevant, and the main focus is still on the dungeon.


    Main discussion: the power of simplifying unnecessary details

    In programming you write functions so you can give your codes shortcuts. In this book, the author does a lot of that, using the target readers' existing knowledge. This also goes hand-in-hand with the 'broad strokes' approach, and when I was reading it I kept appreciating the little decisions that contributed to this. For example:

    - Simply-named spells. Everyone knows what Return does when you're in a dungeon. Even if you don't, you can still guess. Everyone knows what Mass Resist Silence does, even when you've never heard it mentioned before. Keeping things simple allow readers to spend their brain resources on understanding other things that are unique to the system instead, and don't bog them down with trying to remember different tiers/spells/alternate names for things they already know from their own gaming experience.

    - Color-coding. Delvers have power tiers. They're color-coded. Everyone knows red is the lowest in the spectrum. So when you see, say, indigo gear, readers can have this instant 'oh, wow' reaction without you having to explain in great details.

    - Group introduction is also simple, and the author literally has them walk through the door one by one. I liked it because it's a no-BS approach. Instead of cooking up some convoluted side-stories where the MC meets his group members, this approach is just simple, sincere and doesn't pull any wool over your eyes. I appreciated it.

    - Ultimately, the drama and tension revolves only a few unique concepts and game mechanics: like 'heartstones' And even that is still kept a refreshingly simple and intuitive concept. This allows you also to have a gut reaction to why monsters that can 'shatter' are bad news.

    I found all this very interesting. By simplifying the rest of the standard details, it makes for a fast, easy read, and manages to present quite a large system without the bloat. I mean, it's never, ever taxing. You're never left feeling like you need to try to understand something. It also gives time to touch briefly on the culture, religions and political systems that spring up around the dungeon.



    Other nice touches

    - The slangs around the dungeon life feels sensible and natural. By the end of the book, you'll be speaking their lingo.

    - The characters, although not completely developed, have unique voices and attitudes, and you can almost always tell who is speaking. This is not what a lot of people do well, and I really give props for this. They also have easy-to-remember individual quirks that makes for fun party dynamics, but nothing too complicated that distracts from the delving.

    - MC and co. are not OP in any way. The MC also comes off as sensible and level-headed, although we don't actually know that much about him.


    Potential concerns:

    - The focus is solely on the dungeon, or, rather the whole broad idea around the dungeon, and this can be at the expense of other things, including character development, or pacing (as sections that don't have anything directly to do with the dungeon can seem a bit underdeveloped and lack details). I'm not saying that a book should try to do everything at once, and this book delivers what it promises, but if you're looking for detailed world-building, or an in-the-moment scenes, you probably won't find those here.

    - The theme. I think there's a theme in there, with the MC not knowing what he wants. He picks a class that the group needs in the beginning. This is rare, and I really like it, and it in a way is the main thread of the story. But, then again, since the focus is on the dungeon, this thread isn't always followed-up on.

    - Sometimes it's unclear whether the MC is talking to the reader in general, or recounting his adventures to a specific character in the book, made a bit more confusing by the fact that he's actually writing letters to said character. The end seems a little surprising. Not that it's bad. It just didn't seem like the book was leading there.


    Conclusion:
    Vision: 4.5 - very nice, solid ideas that don't really break the mold, but bring creative touches to it
    Execution: 4.7 - smart, smart moves by the authors on several occasions, even when it's uneven at times in terms of POV and pacing
    Personal preference: 4.5 - perfectly happy with this book. It's fast, entertaining, and likeable, and even errs on the cute side. It's more of a 'idea' piece than anything, but I like those ideas, and they are presented very well.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2019
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  3. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Life in the North (The System Apocalypse Book 1)
    by Tao Wong

    First, let me prefix by saying that I'm usually not a fan of mixing technology and magic. I'm also not a fan of magical realism (as in real-world but with magic). And I'm definitely not a fan of the present tense. And then I'll follow up immediately by saying that I really enjoyed the book, and by chapter 3 the present tense was invisible.


    Notable features:
    - System Apocalypse as in system apocalypse. The world just went to shoot and now runs on game rules. Monsters run amok and everything in the woods will try to kill you.
    - It's detailed, dense, sober, and gray, borderline joyless at times, which makes perfect sense, as the world just went to shoot and everyone is stressed out and barely surviving. More live action than anime, if you'd excuse that analogy. In fact, the whole time I was reading it I kept thinking how I would really want to see a tv adaptation of the story. I think it will be awesome.
    - The MC, because of where he happens to be when disaster strikes, is given a bunch of super-OP perks (but more on that later), but is a bit of an anti-social with some anger issues and so does not become the town's favorite hero.


    Main discussion: realism
    This is the most realistic LitRPG I've read so far. The premise does kinda lend itself to that, since it's set in our world, but it's also shot through very realistic lenses rather than fantasy lenses. Two elements stand out:
    - The messy and the mundane. Real life isn't scripted. Witty, tightly-written dialogues don't happen all the time. You don't instantly make fast friends. You don't click with people immediately. In Life in the North, dialogues flow like in real life, meaning that conversations don't always work, aren't always meaningful, aren't always important. Some conversation threads die. Some aren't even that interesting. And trust me that I don't mean this in a bad way at all. It feels real and organic. The same goes for interactions with people. Interactions aren't always dramatic. Characters are (at least initially) ambivalent about each other, like when you meet strangers. The fantastic isn't so shiny, and, no, sometimes you really can't get a hot shower, and you've got to do the dishes. There's a lot of grunty, un-heroic everyday-life issues that the MC (and friends) have to deal with, and people come with real-life people problems: there's no big bad guy trying to take over the world, but people are a little selfish, a little foolish, a little close-minded and ungrateful. What's right, what's wrong, what's practical are all a bit blurry at times. I find all these realistic, and nicely nuanced. Emotions simmer in the background. Things are never cleanly resolved. And people are never, truly happy. I love that, and, yes, happiness is overrated.
    - Realistic action. Now... I can go on and on about this point, because this was surprisingly brilliant. Real combat is ugly and messy, and here the action is always brutal, dirty, and close. I can't say this about the majority of action scenes in any genre I've read, but I can say that here it's actually choreographed, shot and edited like an action movie. That takes skills to pull off, and quite a bit of subtle creativity and firm control, especially when it involves groups. First, it needs to be un-confusing. Second, it needs to flow fast. Third, it needs to cut from the MC's actions to his awareness of how the rest of the group is doing, and then back, with everyone reacting to changes in real time (and at this point the challenge goes back to the first point). Fourth, it needs to be unpredictable, and here, I really like how something almost always goes wrong. Not because of unexpected game mechanics, but because of the messiness of real combat. The delivery is a detailed play-by-play where you really feel every blow. Monster swings, you duck. Second monster tackles you from the side, you tumble, and feel the ferns and grass on the ground as you try to blindly stab it. Now where is that first monster again? Someone else has luckily caught its attention. Second monster goes for your throat. You stab it through the chest. It's ugly, it's visceral, it's exciting. This happens to be the exact kind of action I like. There's no heroic theme song in the background, just real life-and-death struggles. I normally don't enjoy planned action scenes that much, like when people plan to storm a castle and then go do it. In Life and the North, I look forward to the action scenes, because I know they deliver.



    Nice touches:
    - Low-key awesome. If you want an arguably-OP MC to not feel OP, what do you do? First, you give him issues. Second, you don't make him everyone's darling. And third, you hurt him a real lot. Like I said, combats are usually very close, and the MC gets slammed around quite a bit. (And, yes, give him a minor self-heal so he can take a lot of punishment and survive but still really pays for each XP point) Despite the obviously OP benefits, you feel like the MC is really struggling, and it never gets even close to being a power fantasy. By the time he unlocks something awesome, you're actually happy for him, because you feel like he totally deserves it.
    - That very brief scene with Mikito: unspoken words, respect for emotions and loss, all very understated. That's a real 'moment'. Well done.
    - Cute animals -- they don't belong to the MC, but awwww (more on that later)


    Potential issues:
    - Ali, the companion spirit, feels like a real cheat. It feels kinda jarring because it's right at the beginning, before readers can even get truly acquainted with the world and its rules. I also couldn't really wrap my mind around why Ali would have that personality, and why he would be making pop culture references. This is also related to the second point:
    - Conflicting tones. Since everything else is so realistic and grim, whimsical light-hearted moments sometimes don't fit. The same goes for the odd 'anime-y' moments and visuals (Ali included). It could be intentional, since it only happens with things 'alien', but since the overall tone is rather gloomy, the relative 'bright colors' feel a bit out of place. [And the bit about cute animals like giant huskies and turtle is that it's super awww-inspiring, but the book can't really go there, so the tone is stuck in a half-smirk that's half-serious and half-awww, if that makes sense -- and then there's the chocolates. I mean, there's a lot of hidden cute in there, but it somehow can't really be acknowledged, resulting in elements that don't really go together. But then again, maybe it's not a bad thing, just an odd flavor, like a cranberry rocket salad.]


    Conclusion:
    Vision: 4.5 - nice, solid, well-thought-out
    Execution: 4.8 - excellently done, any unevenness and info-dumps made up for by nuances and details, and major extra points for those action scenes
    Personal preference: 4.8 - a great read with a real mood and tone to the piece, emotions are given focus at the end, and are foreshadowed just enough not to be jarring. Even the conflict that triggers the final floodgate doesn't feel forced, and that's usually a tricky one to pull off. Ultimately, it feels substantial.
     
  4. Brian Foster

    Brian Foster Level 9 (Burgler) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Thanks for the very detailed review.

    After I read it, I was interested enough to take a look at the book on Amazon. Unfortunately, the author apparently double spaces his work. Given the fact that I hate that formatting and that it is associated with black (or, at least, gray) hat techniques, I just couldn't make the purchase. Bummer, because otherwise it sounded like something I might enjoy.
     
  5. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Yeah, formatting can be a huge issue. My enjoyment of certain books have been lessened because of the formatting.
     
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  6. Brian Foster

    Brian Foster Level 9 (Burgler) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    It really bugs me that Kindles don't let me change the formatting. If I could delete italics and excess line spaces, I definitely would have an easier time finding books to buy!
     
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  7. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Headshot: One in the Gut
    by Matthew Siege

    I swear this was (is?) a real game. I can't find it now as my google-fu is apparently not as advanced as I thought, but there was a real text-based game like this, where players were divided into survivors and zombies, and the game reset every week or two weeks. The winning side was determined by whether the survivors managed to find the in-game 'cure' or not. The game, if I'm not mistaken, was, in turn, based on or inspired by the text-based MMORPG zombie game Urban Dead, which you can still play for free
    here. What's brilliant about these games is that they've got relatively simple but very solid mechanics, and the gameplay is solely driven by the player base. There are no rules. There are no goals. People play how they want to based on a few very simple rules. And somehow it works. There's game. There are strategies. There's culture. And, somehow, it really feels like a zombie apocalypse. In the games' glory days, people strategized off-line and organized drawn-out attacks. Survivors clustered in different locations and barricaded themselves in. Buildings fell to zombie hordes, and survivors fled in every direction, chased by the hungry undead, while NecroTech employees worked around the clock to revive/cure 'turned' players and fend off human player-killers. All this drama moved at 1 Action Point per half an hour for everyone. It's low-budgeted creativity at its finest.

    So... naturally, I was giggling in delight as I got this book. I'm happy to say it didn't disappoint.


    Notable features:

    - In the game featured in this book, 'Headshot', zombies play for free, so the MC, a poor nobody, plays as one. 'Survivors' pay $20,000 a year to play as humans, and are much more powerful. It's already unbalanced from the beginning, and this is part of what drives the inter-faction conflict.

    - The whole book happens over a single gaming week and you're with the MC every single minute of that whole week in one pretty much uncut chunk.

    - Like the game it's inspired by, the game presented in the book has relatively simple mechanics, and is entirely player-driven. That in itself is fascinating.

    - There is a lot of self-awareness, questioning, strategizing, and meta-thinking about the whole thing by the MC, which I really, really enjoyed. There are also some social commentaries as well, plus the expected blood and guts. But everyone knows at all times that they are playing a game.


    Main discussion: 'Close-Zoom 1st-Person POV' -- The Art of Being There Every Second

    I'll talk about the particular kind of POV here for this book, as this is probably my favorite kind of first-person POV. The 'camera' hovers at the closest zoom you can get without going stream-of-consciousness. You're always 'with' the MC and you see things through his eyes, you feel every single moment. You always maintain a very close distance to what he's thinking and how he's feeling, down to the extremely unpleasant real-life details (in this case, hunger, nausea, bodily functions and the fact that he hasn't showered for quite a long time). It makes for a kind of style and flavor that, in this case, is perfect for the kind of story it's trying to tell.

    To illustrate, compare:
    a) "Checking there were no survivors around, I dashed toward the shadows across the street."
    to something like
    b) "I stopped at the edge of the shadows. What if there was a survivor hiding right around the bend, waiting to shoot my brain out and end my gaming week? I listened for movement. All was still. Gunshots were still going off in the distance, probably several blocks away. Multiple guns meant a group of survivors. Three, perhaps. I was safe for now, but once they were done with taking out my poor low-level brethren they would move down the street, and this narrow crack would not be able to conceal my presence. My zombie body could only shamble. How long would it take for me to cross the road and get to the safety of the shadows by the garbage bins on the other side? Better find out now than when the survivors were closer. I took a step forward, just as something rustled in the darkness to my right. I froze."
    (*these are not real quotes, just examples)

    The book was consistently b) throughout.

    Some notes on this style:

    - Full transparency. You are with the MC. He doesn't talk to you. He isn't even really aware of you, so he's not self-conscious in front of the reader. A lot of first-person perspectives try to 'look good' in front of the readers, and that breaks that candid honesty.

    - Real-time keeping. Every minute in the week is accounted for in some way or another. This is not easy. The author has to make sure the MC eats enough to stay alive, sleeps enough to function, and also fill his other hours with other stuff. Since the game runs in real time, this is a lot trickier than it looks, because you can't pull a fast one and keep the passing of time vague. This means you get to read something like MC looking at the clock (see clock time), then MC looks up info on the forums, then looks at the clock again (see clock time), thinks about stuff, checks more stuff, etc., looks at the clock (clock time again), then makes a decision. Why would you want to read about stuff like that? Well, when you're consistently there with him, it feels perfectly natural.

    - Meaningful unimportant details. This is the main thing. When you zoom that close, you'll realize that the MC needs to have a relationship with every little thing around him. He has an opinion, an impression, memories of every little detail that surround his life. He knows how he feels about pizza, and frozen spaghetti, and his boss, and his ex, and the train, and the office secretary. Readers need full disclosure on these, too, and this is only possible if the author also knows these details. Is this an old shirt or a new shirt? When did I last sleep? The MC's apartment feels real, and you're in there with him. He feels like a real person you know very well. Of course, the author chooses what to present, and the craft is how to make all these details say something -- a micro-level of world-building and character development.

    - This is a stylistic choice. It happens to be one that I like. Some people might find it annoying. It doesn't work for all kinds of stories. You probably can't tell an epic fantasy from this viewpoint. It doesn't allow for sweeping elegance. It also doesn't allow the occasional sentence that speculates on the nature of things. All thoughts need to be 'tinted' by the MC's viewpoint. I commend this book for pulling off the style brilliantly and consistently.


    Other nice touches

    - For something that is so detailed, it manages to keep up the pace. Zombie skills feel creative and intuitive. Level-ups feel wonderful. This is a good example of getting a lot of depth out of relatively simple design.


    Potential issues

    - It's a minor one, but the 'main decision' the MC has to make in the game is rather predictable, simply from a meta-perspective that readers have, because if he doesn't decide that way, there is no story. Although... once he makes that decision, things do get a little unexpected, but the whole weighing-this-thing-in-my-mind dilemma that leads up to it is in a way rather unnecessary. That said, I personally don't know how to solve this issue based on how it's set up, unless you do some smoke-and-mirrors to lead the readers off your trail.



    Conclusion:

    Vision: 5 - bold, original, entirely unique (obviously helped by the game premise it's inspired by, of course, but very well done)

    Execution: 5 - it does perfectly what it's trying to do, with near-perfect flow of prose, too

    Personal preference: 4.5 - I'm really tempted to give it a 5, but while I was thoroughly entertained and fascinated by it, I, well... didn't love it with the squishy part of my soul -- for the lack of a better word. Maybe it's because there's no real emotional pay-off yet as of book 1, or maybe it's because there's some unconscious aversion on my part, since zombies are not my favorite genre. (As much as I praise those text-based games, I generally dislike zombie-themed entertainment) And there's also this whole eerie feeling that's developing, fully intentional and very well-executed, about the MC's psychological stage, that makes me feel very uneasy. That said, I will always recommend it without reservations, craft-wise.
     
  8. Paul Bellow

    Paul Bellow Forum Game Master Staff Member Shop Owner LitRPG Author Citizen Aspiring Writer

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  9. Herko Kerghans

    Herko Kerghans Biased Survivor LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Thanks a ton for this review. I had thus far avoided the "Life..." (even knowing that it's arguably one of LitRPG's most well-known titles, and even though I'm a fan of first person, present tense POV) since I much prefer VR-focused stories, but your review made me go for it.

    And truly glad I did because, damn... what a superb read!! =)
     
  10. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Glad to hear! :D

    If you find any good VR stories, let me know! I’m always looking for those.

    Also, join us on the LitRPG Forum discord! We... waste a lot of time there...
     
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  11. Herko Kerghans

    Herko Kerghans Biased Survivor LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Sure will! =)


    Although I have to say that, "Life in the North..." (and the inscrutable designs of the Amazon recommendation algorithm) nudged me to explore further the “This is not a game, this is actually real” side of the LitRPG, so I'm currently on “Bone Dungeon”; hooked, thus far, so we’ll see how that goes! =)
     
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  12. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    The author of that book is also active on the aforementioned discord :D
     
  13. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    I believe this is the link:

    Join the LitRPG Forum Discord Server!

    Forever Fantasy Online is video-game turned real. It’s got a rather interesting and thoughtful take on the concept, so it’s a bit of both ‘worlds’.
     
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  14. Herko Kerghans

    Herko Kerghans Biased Survivor LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Hum!

    Now... **rummages through inventory** where did I put that Fanboy hat of mine?

    =)
     
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