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In the year 2057, the world has become a corporate-run utopia for the super-rich, and a hellhole for all the rest.
Catherine 'Cat' Leblanc is an orphan that is about as far from super-rich as one can be. When the Incursion alarms start blaring and the sky starts raining hungry xenos, it's just another blemish on an already piss-poor afternoon.
A cyberpunk magical-girl alien-invasion LitRPG.
It’s exactly as wild as it sounds.
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A bird that likes comfy and happy things, and also knives. Once ate a god’s eye and awakened the ability to see all that is good in the world. Known to steal shiny ideas and baubles. Currently forbidden from writing his own bios.
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and the author knows it understood, strutter. Sung to the tune of Strutter, by Kiss.
Really can't emphasize enough how much I enjoyed the premise itself. Shades of the Scourged Earth, but unique enough to still stand out as fairly original. It's the kind of stuff I wish that I could come up with.
Grammar was good enough I ddn't notice any errors.
As of chapter 27 you've got maybe 2 and half characters with depth, and several cardboard characters to bounce them off of. Still hands down better than most genre fiction, paid or not.
My biggest complaint is pacing. Without spoilering, by analogy, in most stories going to the grocery store to get stuff to make tacos would be a chapter. Here I have a super short chapter about deciding I want tacos. A chaptlet about travel to the store. A chaptlet about picking the stuff from the shelves, a chaptlet about buyng the stuff. IF you wait till the author drops 4 or 5 chapters and read them together as 1 chunk it's not bad, but if you take the chapters one at a time there is a lack of flow and context to the story that really breaks immersion.
I'm torn about this story.
On one hand, the worldbuilding and premise is great. The characters are funny, with humor reminiscent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Every arc has an interesting premise and the world keeps evolving.
On the other hand, the pacing is really bad. The entirety of the first four volumes takes place within a week, so a lot of the character development seems too rushed. There will be a ton of chapters devoted to some minor parts of the story, so people reading weekly will have a hard time.
Also, the author made the AI way too powerful. The main character, Cat, basically gets handed perfect solutions in almost any situation. And because the points system is unbalanced (she gets insane return on investment on almost anything she buys), she never has to make any hard choices either. Every problem is basically one easy purchase away from resolving. As an example, the first mini-boss she fights, the model 11, she beats after just buying a rocket launcher and ammo. The AI can also hack into anything and has almost perfect information. That leaves very little for the MC to do other than crack jokes.
Cyberpunk LitRPG sounded like the perfect genre mix I was looking for. And the first few chapters were great! I was pretty hooked.
But then the more I read, the less I cared about our main character Cat. That's... not normal. So what's the problem?
For one, I think she's simpler than some of the side characters. She basically has one joke: "That's what she said!" Also, since her AI buddy is extremely powerful and can give her the perfect solution to whatever she asks for, the author balances things out by just... making her too dumb to ask for stuff?
I get that she's new to the whole situation, but she's also grown up in a society where other Samurai are commonplace. She knows what they're capable of, it's in every video and magazine. We're not talking complex stuff here. It's like, "Wow, armor can protect me?" Many chapters later, I suppose she finally discovers that more expensive guns are better at killing things. Actually, I'm still not sure if she figured that out, or her AI just dropped a more powerful gun on her lap out of out pity.
I don't mind dumb characters for comedy, sometimes they're hilarious! But Cat isn't. Her only joke is [insert sexual innuendo]. She bumbles around but it's played for drama instead of laughs. And that drama only happens because her long term planning maxes out at 10 minutes ahead.
The side characters like Gomorrah are much more interesting. I kinda wish the story followed her instead. Or Deus, or any other Samurai. The whole setting could be interesting! It's just that Cat is NOT interesting, but Cat is all we see.
Cool story but chapters are way to short, by the time you start getting used to it the chapter ends. The frequency helps mitigate that a bit but it's still stops you from immersing yourself. Highly recommend if you're going to read this to Wait till multiple chapters are out before reading. Not good for chapter to chapter reading
Preface: I want to start out by saying that despite the rest of this review, I do actually enjoy this novel, I'm just equally frustrated with it. It has a lot of positives going for it, it's novel (in the sense of a combination of ideas I've not seen before) and very compelling because of that. It's extremely well written, the digital pages positively come to life during pivotal moments. Characters are distinct, though not without issues which I'll talk about in the character section. Despite the issues I had I really enjoyed reading thus far and I'm probably going to keep going.
Positives out of the way, I need to talk about the issues.
Style: First of all, as mentioned in many of the other reviews, the pacing is a trainwreck. I'm sure I've read worse, but not recently so I can't come up with any examples. Cramming this much story into less than a week is just a poor decision and the constant start-stop of the action parts vs the calm moments is quite frankly jarring.
Story: There isn't really much actual plot to speak of, and that's fine really, these types of novels often don't need a lot to work. The most plot-heavy section invovles no aliens and a lot of sewer crawling and politics and it's so overwhelmingly the worst part of this novel there's no contest at all. So the lack of a plot is more a strength than a weakness for the majority of the story.
The issue I have is with the worldbuilding. The author had this really cool idea about a mashup Tyranid/Zerg style invasion, a cyberpunk future and a high-sci-fi epic. And the problem with ambituous ideas like that is that they almost never work, and this one didn't either. The more we learn about this world, the less I believe it and the author is constantly having to plug the gaping holes in his worldbuilding.
Q: Why don't a bunch of people with access to actual matter replicators and near infinite free robot labour just build armies to fight aliens with?
A: UUuuuh...they...uh..can't..because...erm...the aliens don't give you points if you're too separated from the action. Yeah, that's it. It's not point efficient.
Q: How come a million+ people with access to technological solutions to every societal issue imaginable, including all matertial needs, since again, actual goddam matter replicators, haven't diverted humanity away from this cyberpunk future?
A: Because...well you see, the aliens they're very selective on who they pick, right, they only get people who will do the job without shifting society too much!
I could go on, but you get the idea. The whole thing is held together by duct-tape and copius suspension of disbelief.
Grammar: It's good.
Characters: There's this issue a lot of authors who like to write smart-ass characters have, where they develop this very distinct "voice", and it tends to slowly creep into all of their characters. That's very much present here, with too many of the recurring cast sounding a bit too much like the same wise-cracking smartaleck. It's not the worst I've seen of this, by a long stretch, but it's noticable.
The other issue I have is Cat herself. Just because you're clearly told that a character is intentionally written to be stupid doesn't really alleviate the frustrations of reading about a stupid character. By the third or fourth time which Cat very nearly dies because she simply. Will. Not. Learn. the same goddam lesson to use her resources on herself in a rational manner, you just get tired of her idiocy. You can't just keep saving a character via author fiat from their own idiocy and refusal to learn the same lesson over and over and over and expect readers not to get frustrated. I'm reviewing this at chapter 38 of the latest novel and she's literally doing it AGAIN for what feels like the hundreth time, despite being told by almost everyone smarter and more experienced than her not to. It's honestly turned me against the character, and that's unfortunate because she's otherwise very fun and likeable.
Well, this isn't what I expected to stumble over, but I have to admit I'm more than a little enthused about it. The setting is a distinctly cyberpunk future, with malware packed into even official programs and large corporations slapping their name on anything and everything for advertisements. Seven chapters in, and it's already a pretty significant departure from stories like Cinnamon Bun or Love Crafted, but it hits the ground running. The protagonist being a crippled orphan who picked up responsibility for the rest of the poor forgotten kids at the orphanage, and who's best friend cheerfully navigates around on crutches, builds an instant sense of misfit status and a (true to authorial form) oddly endearing little community. There's also a very immediate sense that even in a world with incredibly advanced technology, they've been swept under the rug and forgotten. Oh, and terrifying aliens are regularly falling out of the sky. That's an important factor too.
Honestly, there isn't too much material to directly review at this point, but if you take the time to read the first few chapters I doubt that you'll be disappointed. The protagonist falls right into the 'Jaded but good-hearted' box, without the slightest bit of manufactured tone, and it meshes with the cyberpunk setting perfectly. Not to mention, there's a single chapter with action, and it charges headfirst into desperate brutality. It's a bit of a leap from the innocent monstrosity of Love Crafted, or earnest effort of Cinnamon Bun, but like I've already said, perfect for the current setting.
So, this may rather early in the story's life cycle to write much of a review, but considering the quality of writing that RavensDagger has already put up on this website, I feel pretty confident in recommending the story off of nothing more than the currently posted chapters.
SCS is... Alright. It's full of action sequences, the characters are entertaining for sure, and the plot is pretty much inexistent after 80 chapters (which surprisingly works). The writing is nice and there's a lot going on off-screen, which is excellent. But seriously, fuck the MC.
Unfortunately, my initial hype is gone, as the novel lacks variety. Book 1 (80chapters) spans an entire afternoon with only action going on. While the MC (Cat) is entertainingly dumb (she is all about guns and little subtlety - thank god the AI is there to save her ass), more PoVs could help with the pacing and bringing more variety to the story.
I'm also struggling with some character interactions. Cat is a great leader and I like how she deals with soldiers and kids, but with other samurai? damn, if she were a man she'd be sued for sexual harrassment all day every day. I think it's supposed to be funny, but it gets annoying after a while. She doesn't have much of a humor, only a strong sex drive.
As the review title suggests, this is a gripping SciFi story. The protagonist, an AI called Myalis, takes over the body of the orphan narrator Cat, and goes alienhunting. It is really hard to set the story aside once you started reading it; and the chapters are short chunks of (mostly) fast-paced action that blur into each other nicely once you started binging. I expect nothing less from that experienced author who has written other great-style stories as - This should explain the flawless "style" score.
Please note, I really like to use the whole gamut of stars. Readable, decent stories get 2 stars, and then I go over good and very good ones towards excellent stories.
So why is the story not "excellent" in my opinion, but just "very good"? Well, there are some critical things that merit point deductions in my book.
The grammar is almost flawless, except for small but noticeable typos every tenth chapter that were pointed out by readers but not corrected by the prolific author. Very minor.
Then, the story has a very innovative and elaborated scheme of crapsack corporate dystopia worldbuilding. It's just great, but the biting cynism gets a bit repetitive after a while. The politics, the media, the companies, the military, even the sewage operators: (nearly) everyone with power is unscrupulously corrupt except for the few downtrodden chosen ones who are deemed fit to be super-powered heroes.
These heroes are the characters in the story. So who deems them fit to be saviours?
Benevolent AI-Alien who are fighting a proxy war against Plant-Aliens who invade Earth. The AI-empowered heroes have essentially taken over most of the power on Earth, and yes sure, they only have the best interest of humanity in their mind, and that is why they haven't forcefully established a utopia already: The outside threat and corporate greed have prevented that so far.
So this my BUT. As far as I followed the story, it seems to be Myalis (the AI) who makes the decisions and drives the story - otherwise, Cat's story would have been either short or ended in decadency. Cat achieves one crowning moment of glory after the other, but who pulls the strings? Who? The AI. Yeah, that is my main criticism.
Cat's first act of heroism was all her own. She killed an antithesis and was going to be killed by another, when Myalis showed up and essentially coached her on how to save herself. The whole initial power-up in the museum was essentially Cat relying on the suggestions of Myalis, and then listening to Longbow/Deus Ex. All very good advice, but Cat is just the flavor/personality for "tough action girl", and I noticed that pattern very early on. It never really breaks.
Cat then took orders by Deus Ex to go out and help more people. She did good on the second mission, as she inquired how to do that, but all information she acted on, came from Myalis. Myalis essentially steers Cat into doing all the good. Cat's (at first reluctant) embracing of the cat-motif that got imposed on her by others, is just more proof of that. Third mission (lost samurai), forth mission (Black Bear) and fifth mission (Sewer Dragons) had the same pattern all over again: Cat gets prompted by others to be a responsible hero, and she launches into action while being constantly and closely advised by Myalis. And also Gomorrah and Lucy and many other outside influences, but this is all facilitated by Myalis who even befriended Lucy in order to bind her closer to Cat. Very prudent, sure, but sneaky.
This does help the story to move fast (all the micromanagement, investigating and information-digging gets done by the helpful AI), so it's not entirely bad. More initiative by Cat might result in the story becoming less straightforward?
But in essence, Cat is not doing smart stuff herself. She is no doubt good and has personality, emotions and great moral integrity. But she is NOT really the protagonist or driving force in the story. And that is costing her several stars.
So that is the reason why I'd give the narrator-nonprotagonist only two stars in the character score. It are the many decent support characters (including believable and nuanced bad guys!) which are making up for it all so that the score gets bumped up to four again.
Note however, despite my ranting criticism here on that certain detail? Yes the story is still very very very good.
Technically speaking, this story is pretty solid; good grammar, comprehensible action, non-wooden dialog, the rpg elements aren't obtrusive. Beyond that, it's shallow.
The characters lack more than basic characterization, and the cyberpunk setting is utterly superficial, only existing as passive scenery against which fights happen. Injustices, political forces, subcultures, communities and more are regularly pointed out, and then nothing further is said about them or done with them, they're just set-dressing.
Tl;dr this is a perfectly readable litrpg, but an abject failure of a cyberpunk story that aggressively says nothing about anything
A lot of LitRPGs don't feel like games. They feel like a normal fantasy or sci-fi book with a magic system that happens to look a lot like a game. Which is fine. If that's what the author wants, it can certainly work. I've enjoyed plenty of books like that.
This book actually feels like a game. I could 100% imagine this being a novelization of an actual game, and there are plenty of references to gaming culture and tropes. There are escort missions. There are fetch quests. There are low-level NPCs who nonetheless order around the PC. There are high-level NPCs who oh so conveniently can't help, leaving everything to the PC. It's great.
As for the actual plot and story: Cat is a disabled lesbian orphan looking after a bunch of other orphans in various stages of health when an alien invasion starts. In the process of fending off an alien, she earns the power of a Vanguard, gaining an alien AI in her head that lets her buy alien technology to fight the Antithesis.
Cat is rude, blunt, and focused almost exclusively on protecting her friends, but she's a compelling character, and her dialogue with the AI in her head is entertaining. Once she meets up with the nun with the flamethrower she gets another person to bounce off of, and it's even better.
Loved this from start to finish.