After The Mountains Are Flattened
In the world's most popular fantasy game, Saana Online, Henry Lee has repeatedly lucked his way into many earth-shaking roles. He’s been a premier duellist, undefeated commander, founder of a cult, owner of a kingdom, and shadow leader of history’s greatest guild.
With so many achievements under his belt, it seems that only one final hurdle stands in the way of his happiness—the game itself! He just wants to quit already!
However, thanks to a prank by his best friend slash mortal enemy, Henry finds himself farting around in the starting zone yet again. This time he is accompanied not by the gaming world's elite but by the turbonoobs that are his real-life mates, the monkey zoo of incompetent social gamers they attract, and one braindead idealist who thinks he can somehow mould this bunch of trash into a guild capable of toppling the very regime Henry is leading.
Facing no genuine opponent and armed with game-breaking equipment, totally unfair insider knowledge, millions of troops, an unbalanced class, and bottomless pockets, will Henry Lee somehow fulfil his dream of an uneventful retirement? Or will the supreme cheat-magnet be dragged screaming back once more into the never-ending, blood-pumping world of online adventure?
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Being 1290 pages, 115 chapters, or two and a bit volumes in, I figure I should finally write a review.
I love this story.
The humour is excellent, with a mix of rational coincidences that lead to slapstick scenarios and very dry, cynical, deadpan 'British' wit that reminds me of the popular 'How Not to Die on a Daily Basis' books. Nothing feels contrived, and yet AsparagusEnchilada freely jumps from digital slaughters to political intrigue to divine cooking competitions (yes, really, divine in the literal sense) and then back to the combat.
The characters are engaging and add a lot to the story without distracting from the overarching plot, and they all feel like distinct personalities. No one's there to stroke Henry's (the MC's) ego, and they're all entertaining for different reasons— from vitamin-toting health-freak Cathy, to exuberant rugby first eleven 'little bro' Dan, to a grumpy, assinine sapient donkey, to trickster god Karnon, to a strident anti-nepotism reporter, and the crowd favourite, literary goddess Silverwolf.
The MC himself has an experienced (in-game) worldview, and makes up for his genetic physical mediocrity by tackling his enormous challenges with stunning knowledge, exacting plans, and political genius. This is one of the few OP MC stories where the MC has earned every scrap of his power, and he's still not without flaws (cough cough scrub-tier social IQ cough cough). He also faces tough challenges that require all his expertise to overcome, without any unrealistic (and often inevitable) enemy power creep.
The plot is driven and has a clear goal in sight. At times the end objective can be difficult to see over the fast-paced action and various circumstantial interludes, but none of the divergences feel like filler and we always gravitate back towards the main event: The Cripple's Great Reveal.
The grammar is near flawless, and any rare mistake is quickly fixed soon after each regular once-weekly posting. Sentence structure and grasp of the English language are within the top 1% of the site, and it's clear AsparagusEnchilada is fluent and comfortable when writing and narrating. I'm quite picky about sentences and paragraph structure not flowing well, but in 1290 pages I've yet to find a significant error.
I honestly can't recommend this novel more. Some might be put off by the opening chapters, but they're entertaining and the story quickly wraps into a more familiar VR-game format. Please don't miss out on one of the best, (longest running?) novels on this site.
Edit (8th November 2020):
After clearing my reading backlog I found myself in a literature slump, and ended up re-reading this story. It speaks for the strength of the prose, pacing, and characterisation that the novel kept me entertained and laughing throughout scenes I had already experienced. I also discovered further allusions, inside jokes, and deftly woven narrative hints that I missed the first read-through.
The style of this novel might not suit everyone, but I entreat readers to give it even just ten chapters worth of their time – because it is a true hidden gem for those of us it does suit.
I really like this story. I'm not going to talk about the absolutely divine world building or the incredible character development, but rather about one single fight scene that I would say is the best fight scene in the entire story, and definitely one of the best I've ever read. I'm talking about the Loki vs Henry arena fight. This fight is so good because it perfectly illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, and their decisions keep true to their personalities.
The general premise of the fight is simple: Henry tries to trap Loki in a Gate and Loki tries to kill Henry before he's trapped. As the fight progresses, we see Loki swap between masks and Henry switch between styles. This difference is very important. Loki switches between personas, with each persona being one that he developed to learn that combat style, while Henry learned each style individually, without a mask, like a thousand-armed Buddha. This difference perfectly ties into Loki's desires. He wants to know how Henry can survive without wearing a mask, and as he battled he himself switches between masks while Henry never does, reinforcing his desire.
Henry, in the other hand, is also staying true to his character. He doesn't go for the one-shot or pull some op combo out of his ass. No, he sets up his Gates and weaves rings of plans and lies around Loki. So many stories set up characters as strategists and yet when those characters make decisions it's all "har har plans go wheeeee". Not for Henry. His entire battle plan revolves around countering Loki's mask switches while leading him into traps, as well as building contingency plans in case Loki moves unexpectedly. My favorite part of the fight is a direct result of Henry's faithfulness to strategy. It's when Loki realizes that he lost. He mentally lists a series of Henry's win conditions and realizes that no matter what he does, Henry has set up the situation so that Loki will lose. That's just top tier writing right there.
Lots of battles simply end because one side is stronger than the other. Not this one. Henry beats Loki through pure intelligence. It's already been established that Henry has a slow reaction speed, and no attempt is ever made to change that. We don't get any "berserk speed buff har har" bs. No, Henry's slow, and thus everything he does in a fight works to patch up that weakness. He plans a dozen steps ahead so that when the time comes he doesn't have to spontaneously react. He can just choose, like picking from a menu. And that's how he won. Loki walked right into his plans and lost because Henry's plans worked. There was no "omg Henry had an infinity stone the whole time" or "Henry secretly has fast reactions". No. It's all strategy and lies and plans and that simply makes me so happy.
I raved a bit, but I think I got the point across. Fights aren't there for the characters to show how powerful they are or to reveal secrets that other characters kept. No, fights happen because characters are powerful, because characters have conflicts in interests, and because both are walking on their paths but only one can step forward.
Keep it up!
I’m a long-time lurker on this site, finally signing on mainly because I wanted to write a review of this wonderful tale, which has become one of my absolute favorites.
The story is a sort of epic black comedy version of a LitRPG. It’s set in a VRMMORPG called Saana Online, beloved by everyone in the world except our MC. 17-year old Henry is basically the worst munchkin in the history of the game, and probably the universe. He has done everything he could possibly do in the game, and all the impossible things too. He has won every PvP, finished every quest, killed every secret boss, found every item or piece of equipment. He has won the guild wars, ruled an empire, and grown immensely rich. He has flattened mountains… and now he’s sick and tired of the whole thing, and just wants to quit.
But, of course, that can’t be, and he’s dragged back into the game again, seething with quiet rage. He gets persuaded to help some real-life friends of his through a beginner’s tournament, and so he’s off to the games’ worst-designed beginner zone, to deal with such contemptible beings as noobs, social gamers and role-players. Words can’t express the depths of his loathing.
This sounds like it will be a wish-fulfillment-type of story about being secretly OP and face-slapping your opponents, but that’s not it, not at all. No, the key to getting this story is understanding Henry. He is a sort of wish-fulfillment character, but at the same time a hilarious send-up of that kind of character.
He’s a genius at gaming, and he’s been able to devote all his time and energy into reaching the very heights of this game, living most of his life in this amazing virtual reality and becoming master of all he surveys. He’s utterly, ridiculously OP, but it’s all earned. He’s won every level, every skill, every equipment and every in-game piece of currency. Compared to him, all other players are noobs. Who wouldn’t want to be him?
But at the same time, he’s a tragicomic figure. He’s an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist loon who has given his entire life to this game, going to absurd lengths to not only being the best in the game, but to win every single contest within it. He can’t help it, and he’s not having any fun anymore, he’s just spluttering with annoyance at everything.
He’s also a guy who is happy when he’s alone, doing his own thing, and that is perhaps the biggest lure the game has for him. In the end, he is looking for peace and quiet, and the game offers him that, if only his friends would leave him alone. And some of us might think that sounds pretty tempting. But too much of a good thing can be very bad, and when left alone to long, Henry becomes a tiny bit weird… or batshit insane, if you will. Not that he does well among people either, having the social intelligence of a gnat.
Henry’s character is also very much what drives the plot. He can’t help but being totally overprepared for, you know, the tutorial. He’s stacked up all his considerable resources, mapped out the perfect the strategy and has five continency plans for every single step of it. But power will search out power, and the MC doing things that should never be done in a beginner’s zone soon attracts the attention of every powerful monster, NPC and player within miles. Before he knows it, he’s derailed the whole thing into an epic adventure – the very thing wanted to avoid. And yet it’s all his own fault, if only he could see it.
In fact, as far as plot goes, this story could be considered a study in the derailments of plot – but it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Every time you think you think you know where it’s going, it veers off into the unexpected. It doesn’t follow the usual rules of storytelling, but it’s the right thing for this kind of MC. Turning the smallest side-quest into a byzantine mess of intrigue spanning thirty chapters is just what he does. Eventually we’ll get back to the main story – though we might have forgotten all about it by then.
I think this might be a reason why the After The Mountains Are Flattened hasn’t taken off. When I first started reading it, I grew very frustrated – for the first ten-fifteen chapters the author seemed to be rambling in all directions, with the story never getting off the ground. Those chapters might be a lot better on a second reading, when we understand what we’re reading about and have gotten into the rhythm of the tale – but as an introduction, they need some work. This is my only gripe.
So why did I keep reading for fifteen chapters, until the story finally clicked for me? Because the author so obviously could write, and because of the amazing variety of the world he was building. Saana is by far the most wildly imaginative and original VRMMORPG-world I’ve seen on this site – in monsters, gods, NPCs, landscapes, cities, civilizations and cultures, all presented in loving detail. The characters apart from Henry are excellent – the author’s strength is in over-the-top comic characters, the more far-out, the better. The styles and moods of the tale are endlessly shifting, the author isn’t stuck in one mode of writing, but can change his style to suit the contents of the individual chapter, and even drop in a pastiche or two. The tale is mostly darkly humorous, but can take on an epic grandeur, there are quiet, contemplative chapters, and when author wants, we’ll get hit in the feels too.
I don’t think this story is for everybody, it might be a bit of an acquired taste – but some might end up liking it very, very much.
Hey, updating: this story is just so fantastic! Thanks! (ch. 112)
Perfectionism is the MC’s art form. 👍
Addressing other reviews: MC is not a pushover, he’s got better things to do. Reviews by Avid and Toes make me think they only read till chapter 10 or something. When the MC wants to do something he’ll get it done, but does a person crush every ant and fly that annoys them across their entire life? No.
Update: Chapter 77 - Still awesome.
Update: Chapter 70 - Adventure! Quest! Personal, physical ass-kicking is starting! The reasons the MC had to act timid/careful are long gone.
Update: Chapter 61 - New arc/volume. The previous one now has the fit of a grand prequel/warm-up. More pls.
Update: Chapter 49 - Delicious. I feel like this chapter or the next would make an excellent end to a book. More pls.
Update: Chapter 44 - Going strong. This is one of the strongest portrayals of a smart/administrative MC (working in the background to accomplish his goals). Reminds me of Dune, but the MC is more deliberate and well prepared, leaving nothing to chance.
I love administrative and secret leader type MCs! It's fun seeing a very nuisanced type of OP MC.
- Really good worldbuilding, with a nice mix of player and NPC history I don't see often.
- Exposition as entertainment.
- Good concepts for how the game works.
- Fun scenarios so far.
- Great mini-plots everywhere.
Great story, looking forward to more!
Story: consistency is always key, this maintains an excellent consistency through all the twists, it's great at whatever it tries to be: no spoilers XD
Great characters: Every character gets fleshed out, and the MC becomes real
Grammar isn't an issue at all, I didn't notice mistakes, nuff said.
Style: Everything interactive
The short of it is that I like this story. I like the view from the top, the character of "The Tyrant". Ridiculous cheat magnet shenanigans... all that shit. But man does the author love their world-building. And I get it, I do. The world they have created for the game is vastly beautiful and intricate, with a deep history and a multiplicity of secrets and possibilities. It's no wonder then that the author likes to show it off.
sometimes it's fun and well done (I think)
The migration chapter is a fave of mine it gave a great view of the world while hinting at more and also providing a vector for character growth
other times not so much. Lots of times hat chapters just feel like a collection of wiki entries that I find myself skimming if not outright skipping. Some sections of the actual plot get dragged on far too long (3 chapters for a single easy fight is a bit much (the cannibals). I guess my main gripe is that it feels more often than not that details serve no other purpose than to exist and world-building is presented without need and without any impact on the story (That's not to say other times it's not handled magnificently).
It's frustrating because when the story is good I'm having a blast and then I get dumped with–sometimes chapters worth of–wiki entries. I'm not saying to rewrite the whole story but I think it's in dire need of the classic writing exorcise of trimming it down by 10% (maybe even 20) not because that 10% is bad, but because it detracts from the whole (hence the story score being lower than I'd otherwise give it).
just my thoughts and suggestions thought I'd share them in case they could help but also know that this is my subjective opinion and it can most certainly be ignored.
TLDR: people should read it, it's fun. It can be slow sometimes but those parts aren't too hard to skip if you want to and other people may really enjoy those bits. Room for improvement but still better than the bulk of this website.
On top of the impeccable grammar, and the vastly superior storytelling talents of the author, the MC (despite being strongarmed into doing pointless things by a ~friend~ massive prick) is absolutely, and hilariously OP. And me likey an OP MC.
Yet he's not OP simply because "muh stats muh lvl 9999". The author succeeds in giving off an accurate rendition of what someone with way, way too much time on his hands, would end up being after playing the same game for a dozen of years.
The MC isn't particularily bright --well, he kinda is, but still-- as much as he's experienced. He's "that one guy". He understands how the game works. And that makes the whole story much, much better.
Why? Because the universe becomes beliveable. There's a set of rules. Everything happens for a reason. There's no bullshit. The MC doesn't get a sudden power up for the sake of laziness. The MC doesn't fight against enemies that just happen to be stronger and stronger, but are just weak enough so that he can beat them.
Nope. Not in this story.
It's just perfect. Got absolutely no qualms about this one. 10/10 worldbuilding, and genuinely made me laugh. It's a shame this doesn't have 10x as more readers.
Two different points:
The IRL setup chapters (the first two) are a different tone than the rest and I didn't like them as much. If you start cringing during the setup consider skipping to the start of the in-game chapters. So far (Chapter 35), the rest of the chapters are in-game content.
I think the description misses some significant aspects of the MC and the story. The MC is a completely cynical, massive-resource, game lawyer, munchkin, mastermind who always generates multiple fallback plans. But his game luck is bizzarre - it appears everything and everyone in-game are trying to derail his plans. So even though he has resources out the wazoo, five fallback plans for everything, and encyclopedic game knowledge, he is continuously forced to improvise fallback plans six through ten just to get where he wants to go. For most stories, this would look like slapstick or anvil-dropping, but the writer shows in each case that the events are happening due to the various forces and personalities involved, not due to simple anvil-ex-machina. So even though the character should steamroll the game, he is still seriously challenged. This clash of munchkin versus bizarre luck makes the story feel a bit different than the usual gaming story and makes it worth reading, especially if you like cynical MCs.
(as of chapter 104)
17-year-old Henry has been playing THE fantasy VR-MMORPG for many many years (even more than his age due to time dilation in the game), reaching every peak, his alter egos among the most famous in the game in many different roles without anybody connecting them to each other and to his true identity. After all that time he's become filthy rich (both in-game and in RL) and so very bored and wants to quit but is blackmailed into one last role so that he can finally find peace. He'll only have to keep up for two more weeks, playing with his real life friends who are total Noobs to win a PvP tournament...
The story follows Henry while training in the new role, his first combat class in years. Being the genius and perfectionist he is, wanting to spice it up to escape the boredom and in order to improve his non-combat interests, he starts another half-dozen parallel pursuits in addition to creating the ultimate combat art out of dozens of existing ones (the "how" would be a spoiler). During the first two volumes (~1000 pages on RRL), the tournament "main quest" has only been a side focus: a huge part of the story is about the preparations for the combat role, evil player machinations that threaten both the game world and Henry's assets (which of course can't be ignored by him), his online enemies finally noticing some connections between his roles and, most importantly, Henry becoming more mature (the "how" would again be a spoiler). I can't decide whether the pacing of the story is slow or quick: On the one hand, after over 1100 pages we're only on real-life day three, on the other hand, so much happened and with the in-game time dilation the game-time is a multiple of the real time. I'll settle for "neither too fast nor too slow".
The MC is pretty OP from the start. I usually don't like this in stories (no struggle = boring) but here it is done excellently. The OP-ness is due to his unparalleled experience with the game and in using the skills from the other roles. While Henry is dripping arrogance left and right, it is the "good" kind of arrogance backed by being very skilled and experienced rather than the toxic arrogance of narcissists or cliché nobles. I still must confess that it sometimes felt a bit tiring. Henry's personality is presented excellently, he's an almost matchless genius (shown e.g. in extensive planning with many backup plans, taking into account how other people might act and react, using his knowledge of the game mechanics for stuff other players wouldn't even think about) but at the same time rather lacking in the social graces, painting a realistic picture instead of the OP MCs from other stories who are perfect in every area and thus boring. I don't remember any obvious breaks in his character. Similarly, the other players are each shown to have their own personality. Yes, some of them are as multidimensional as a sheet of paper but that is not from a lack of the author's skill. Quite the contrary, they are exaggerated versions of literary (and online-game player) archetypes that bring a large amount of joy to reading this story.
Humor is a large and very important part of this story. Be it from the dialogue/banter, the descriptions or the situations, I had to chuckle or laugh regularly.
The story is told in third-person internal style. Most of it follows the MC but there are chapters and paragraphs from the POV of his friends and foes, giving the reader valuable insights into the wider events. While the descriptions of the individual scenes are "only" reasonably detailed, the scope of the game world and its history as well as the many cultures in it is gigantic and those are presented in a very rich and detailed way. For some readers it might be even too much, e.g. when the cultural background of some obscure fighting style is explained extensively. But that is world-building turned up to eleven!
The grammar is excellent and there are barely any typos
In total, while many of the things that happen in this story would be crazy and unrealistic at first glance, everything is described and explained so excellently and so logically sound that there could be no other way. I immensely enjoyed reading 'After the Mountains are Flattened' and every RRL reader who has just the least bit of interest in GameLit and/or quality storytelling MUST give it a try!
Henry is a highly cerebral character. If you like reading about someone who thinks about a lot of things despite only being able to DO one then this fiction is for you.
Henry is quite possibly the most powerful being in the game but his entire persona is built on being a behind the scenes character. It sets up a delicious dichotomy of calculation and ability to effect real change while considering what ramifications those actions will have.
A refreshing change of pace from many high-power characters who take action without considering consequences.