Existence Saga: Charlie Foxtrot Zero
by BTI Penner
Would you sacrifice your teammates to win the game?
Born into the leadership caste, impulsive John Easterbrook pissed away his birthright, and it caught up with him. He is exiled into the game and forced to become a soldier in a war against a mechanical horde. Imprisoned in the boot camp tutorial, John dedicates himself to becoming the leader he should have been all along.
The only problem? Reynold Bauer is gunning for team leader, too. John has to find a way to outclass the stronger, vicious psycho before he graduates boot camp. If he doesn't, he'll live out the rest of his life under Bauer's thumb.
If you love Starship Troopers and The Forever War, Charlie Foxtrot Zero will carve out a place in your heart.
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You can't spell "soldier" without "sold". In this case, I'm sold.
This story uses 3rd person perspective following John, the protagonist. Using a cyberpunk setting set in the near future, the author has created a world which is very easy to imagine. On top of that, the language used is simple yet surgical. I personally enjoy how short and accurate the majority of the sentences are. Unlike fantasy novels which have sentences the length of paragraphs to describe everything, the English used is extremely digest. The short yet vivid sentences reflect the nature of the world that is being written—hectic, fast-paced and direct. It's a very unique style, one that I highly recommend.
9 chapters in and the story has only just touched the tip of its inciting incident. Yet, judging how BTI Penner takes the time to establish the status quo before said incident, I'm confident that it'll get even better. The first few chapters really fleshed out the world and the character of John. We see how it's like being in a world with a lot of tension between castes. Once the inciting incident starts, we're really plunged into an entirely new perspective of that world, where suddenly, the stakes are ramped up immensely. This really has the making of a grand story. Mind you—this is just Book 1.
For now, we are more or less only attached to John, other significant characters have yet to make their major appearance, so I'm only basing this score on John. He's a very believable character thanks to the author's impeccable choice of scenes to put him in. We see hints of his troubled past in otherwise typical everyday interactions. He's a truly flawed character, he makes mistakes, but I don't pity him—I respect him. Note that this is all before the inciting incident—I can't wait to see how he'll grow/interact with others in his current predicament.
This is just the beginning, but there's so much to love about this story. From the very palpable tension between castes and augmented reality "game", to old-fashioned punching and even sports reminiscent of American Football, this is one cyberpunk bundle of goodness. We've barely even touched the boot camp, but it has already touched my heart. Give it a shot...
...before you get shot.
In just 10k words of Charlie Foxtrot Zero, I've been caught by (pleasant) surprise more times than I can count. The author's writing is so clear, concise, and creative that I already feel at home in Hadfield Station. BTI's style is just as punchy as the MC (John's) fists, and the worldbuilding? Absolutely fascinating.
Story-wise, this isn't your typical LitRPG. It's more like a sci-fi dystopian novel (a la the Red Rising Trilogy) with LitRPG elements. That said, as of the time of this review, we've just made it past the introductory phase, and a lot of information and game elements have yet to be revealed. From what's been showcased so far? I can tell this is going to be a thrilling (for us, but terrifying for John) ride.
Grammar is flawless, as far as my amateur eyes could tell. Characters? So far, the ones we've been introduced to have as much gravity as the setting itself. If you're reading this review and haven't checked out the story already, what are you waiting for? I bet all my credits and a bit of leaf that you'll be hooked in no time.
The style is clear, readable, flows well and conveys all the information you need to know about the more fantastical aspects of the setting without every stopping to lecture the reader. I find it the strongest aspect of the writing so far.
I spotted a few tiny grammatical and typographical errors but I didn’t slow down to make a note and afterward couldn’t recall them, which should tell you how minor they are.
John is both a jerk enough you can see how he lands in hot water, but conveyed humanely enough that you can still sympathize with him to an extent, though not root for him- thus priming you for the promised redemption arc. Not many other major characters have much to do with the story this early on but for their roles they are well made.
The setting is grim and gritty, I’m not convinced the caste and marriage system could make a workable society but hey it’s sci-fi, the genre for such theoretical situations to play out. One aspect I really like is how slang effects society, the odd social system makes ‘divorcee’ an insult. Little touches like that really sell the reader on the setting.
The tone of this story, while remaining simplistic and easy to read, is incredibly engaging and puts you, the reader, into a world that feels fresh in the worst ways possible.
While I was reading this, it made me really sit down and appreciate the issues I have, because comparing it to the protagonist of this story, I have it reallll good.
The characterization is what really shines bright! John, our MC, is realistic and has his quirks. He's gritty and experiences these life-changing events with a realistic bite that is sure to leave the reader wanting more. He's strong, capable, and really makes the reader want to know more!
Overall, I am incredibly impressed. I found no mistakes for grammar, and I was able to flow from one point to the other with ease and didn't trip up over words.
Style: There is something captivating about the author's style. It may be the vivid imagery being presented through the cocktail of words.
Story: The story would keep you at your seat once you immersed yourselves into the life of the MC. You could feel the creeping anxiety, the rising tempo especially after reaching chapter 6.
Grammar: This is its sweet spot. Neat. Makes me hungry for more chapters.
Characters: It may still early to say but their's something enchanting about characters especially about John. Oh, not because of his psychotic tendencies which probably been caused by emotional scars. Simply put, unlike the common characters. The author breathes life to his characters. How do say this? They're very human.
Overall: This really good. I won't be shocked if this gets into the trending page. The only problem I could see stopping it from getting there is actually the title and the book cover - not reader-friendly especially considering the audience of RR. I encourage everyone to at least read until chapter 6 so you won't miss this gem.
Overall ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: this was a fantastic read and one I'll be following from here on. A fascinating cyber-punk story with a military twist. John is a well written character and I will continue enjoying this story!
Style⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: the world is bizarre and alien with a strange matrimonial caste system in place. The big twist is society's punishment for criminals. Simulation imprisonment. The military lingo, banter, and feel is all spot on.
Story⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: it starts with our MC, an antihero of sorts as his life falls apart due to his own self sabotaging. And then comes the boot camp. If you like military/scifi fiction, read it!
Grammar⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: it has been pretty flawless. I did not find a single error on my read through.
Character: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: John is a flawed character, attempting to escape from his life, even after gaining so much. A man who was struggling with his past, anger, rage, self pity, and self loathing. He's written in a relatable way and not too much of an asshole. He comes off as bruiser and it shows. It's a good balance.
What makes Charlie Foxtrot Zero Existance Saga different from other stories is that, the style of the author (the third person descriptive style) is very well-crafted and the world it shows is genre-redefining. You can see how the scenes were properly and professionally described and the worlbuilding is created in great detail you'll find it amazing. Also, the use of English grammar is superb, not leaving anything to complain with.
Though the main character John is flawed, you can see why his characteristics are like that because of what he experienced in the past and because of the world that revolves between castes.
My only issue is the slow pacing of the story but not really much of an issue. Other than that, the story is well-written and compelling.
Look, the author has already mentioned it somewhere in his bio that he writes about psycho characters and how they deal with it, so don't take offense there. Btw, this novel keeps you interested (if a bit frustrating) all along. You are never given enough information and because of that you really want to read more just to find out.
The world can be confusing at times. Even after chapter 5 I still don't what's all about this 'his many husbands and wives', thing. Is that a harem involving M/M. I really don't know. The 'castes' gives a feel of massive difference between the social classes but I still need to know more to be sure.
Not too many characters at this point but the mc, John, is not your average mc. He's done well in his own way (especially if you consider his psych records) but that still didn't make you feel any better when he does things out of the norms. I guess that's okay since the story is going to be about him fixing his problems.
Grammar is good. Nothing to distract you from reading.
On a side note, I'm really interested to see how the author intends to blend in the reincarnation tag and the virtual reality. Thanks for the chapters.
I do not read many futuristic works, or those about, soldiers, or ones with cool mech things involved. This story made me enjoy a new genere. The language, and imagery is absolutely amazing. At points I caught myself wondering if I was watching a movie it is written so well. I usually have trouble with being introfuced to a world while reading, most likely something lacking in my brain, but I had no such problem here. The into jumps in with a unique, and exciting game. I find myself wondering if the main character can redeem himself from the first chapter.
This story will draw you in. If you are wondering if it is worth your time, the answer is yes! This story is going to be big. I have no doubt.
Wow, this is a very interesting world. When you read isekai you think you're going from 'our' world to a new one. The mc is supposed to be the reader surrogate- new in this place, learning as we learn.
But not John. John is going into the game as a punishment. Because his world is very different than ours.
Caste systems, group marriages, a sci-fi world that seems very 80s cyberpunk.. and take that and then those experiences, and *then* you go into a game.
The story has just started, it's not very far in yet, but it definitely hooked me. Good grammar and story, I love John as a character. He's complicated.