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It has been eighteen years since the Goron Empire invaded earth, enslaving all of humanity—or whatever is left of it. Ethan wants to change the fate of humans from inside the system. Della wants to change the fate of humans from outside the system. Two inseparable siblings, and two separate paths.
Three days after Ethan’s and Della’s father is forcibly banished, they separate to go on their own journeys. Will they meet again, despite following completely different paths? And if they do, will they be friends or foes?
1) It's a dual MC novel -- there are always 2 PoVs in every chapter (Ethan and Della). 1k~2k words for each PoV.
2) It's soft sci-fi. I will explain world-building in the best way that I can, but it's not necessarily explainable by physics.
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Black Carbon is a story told from two opposing respones to colonialism: working with the colonizers for change, and outright opposing them. The author sets up a rich science fiction world with many details to be expounded upon later, but the reader might find some of the sentences clunky, unless a re-edit pass is done after this review.
For story, this book opens with humanity having already fallen decades ago to an invading alien force, who have already colonized the majority of the galaxy. We're put into the headspace of a defeated Earth, where writing and speaking human languages has been forbidden, and everyone speaks the invader's galactic tongue. After an inciting argument, two siblings go their separate ways, the sister deciding to oppose the invaders with force and violence, while the brother decides to go into service for the invaders, hoping to change humanity's existence from within. The invading species has set up colonial governors to manage Earth, and we don't even see a ship from the overlords until the end of the fourth chapter, werein the sight of which completely saps the brother's feeling that his sister can succeed at all. In this way, the overlords remain a mystery to the reader, while still instilling us with fear of an overwhelming and unbeatable force.
As for style, I think the author could make a more liberal use of contractions in their sentences. Some of the parts of the story, even reading in my head, sound clunky without their constituent words shorted into common contractions. This affects the dialogue to some extent as well, giving the characters a somewhat unnatural and stilted sound, although I do get a sense of their various different voices throughout the book. Additionally, a few times I noticed the characters giving exposition through dialogue, but I got the feeling that they were basically saying things to each other that both people would already know, making it seem like it was purely for the audience's benefit. I think moving a little of this to non-dialogue exposition might help with this feeling, at least in this reader's opinion.
Grammar-wise there were a couple of instances in the four chapters I read where parts of sentences were repeated, which could do with a typo pass. Other than that I didn't notice any grammar inconsistencies.
Ethan seems like a very goody-two-shoes person, which fits with his want to work with the colonizers to change the system, but I'm a little confused as to how he and Della turned out so differently. Maybe this is gone into later in the story, but I don't currently see a lot of reason why they should be so opposed to each other. He's reticent to a fault, especially compared to his companion Umida, which seems to make him look like a somewhat reclusive love interest. I'm getting a bit of a feeling like he's being set up to be the put-upon love interest, like the main character of a harem anime, but time will tell. Perhaps giving him more of a drive for something, besides his studies, might make him seem less like a limp noodle.
Della is clearly the opposite of Ethan in nearly every way. Where he's limp, she's full of rage and anger, always upset about what was taken away from humanity. I felt like this reaction was much more understandable, but it does make me question again how they ended up so different. After she escapes from the district, she pragmatically ends up killing a couple of the alien dogs with pit traps, which seems a little strange since no one has ever done such a thing to her knowledge before. What seems a little more strange is how easily she does this, especially in relation to how real police dogs attack, which is savagely and relentlessly. I don't think it would be as easy to kill an earthbound canine as it was these alien dogs with lasers on their backs. Overall, at the end of that scene, it felt like she was a little too pragmatic, severing their heads just in case there were optical scanners at the doors, without doing any reconnaisance to find out of that was the case.
As for the side characters, their mother seems like she's barely there, in fact we never really get any memories about how she was before her husband was separated from her, just this sort of drunken husk that's left over. It might be nice to characterize her more, so we'd have a better sense of the feelings involved when the children leave home, since that's always an emotional time, as we see with Umida. Speaking of Umida, it does seem like she's, at this moment, a little too tropy with her bubbly attitude and clear interest in Ethan. I think that, with a little more explanation as to why she wants to undertake this gruelling exame, she would seem like a much more relatable character.
As for the main antagonists, the Goron empire, you've set them up as an enemy very well. Their threat is one of beaurocracy, the emotionless crushing of planets as their empire marches onward, barely deserving a glance backwards to make sure the right governor is taking care of the mess. I feel like such an enemy is well set up for both characters' progression through this world, as they'll have to interact with the sub-bosses in the universe, in the form of governors, before they reach the true cause of their planet's decimation.
Overall, I think this work has an interesting premise and an incrredible viewpoint from both sides of the aisle, as it were. I'm looking forward to both Ethan and Della's trials, and their discoveries of the world as they each sink deeper and deeper into their destinies.
Black Carbon is a first attempt at science fiction by a new writer. THis review is writen from that knowledge, and after several feedback exchanges which makes me genuinely excited to see this young writer develop their storycraft.
Style: This story is told from two POV in a challenging present tense. I say challenging only because currently, given the newness of the writer, they haven't gotten the grasp of passive vs action based story telling.
In later chapters, there seems to be a deep concern for story pacing. Pacing can be a matter of preference, but I feel that given how lightning fast the story moves there's simply not enough time given to develop or setup situations to give them a meaningful emotional impact.
Story: As of chapter 2, there are two very differient stories being told. I have half of mind to think that the writer might do well to focus on one over the other as they get the hange of their writing. However, this is not my story to tell, and the are definate advantages in writing two distinct stories which will in turn present challenges that one version over the other may not have. After interacting with the writer, I have nothing but confidence that their openess to feedback will serve to help their rapid development as they wrestle with the nuanced themes of the story they are trying to tell.
The story itself is ambitious, but I can tell from outset that a lot of thought went into the science fiction elements, and to a lesser degree the dystopian elements. The story itself is intriguing and I look forward in seeing how the writer executes the ideas.
Grammar: As I've mentioned in my feedback, the repition of words is grating. But I trust with time and experience, the writer will get the hang in reducing the writen echoes, while not relying too heavily on a thesaurus as their default solution. Developping the setting as a character may help with this problem, giving the readers and the author a richer vocabulary repository to draw from.
Characters: Both POV characters have a strong presence with equally strong voices, and distinct but seperate motives which are easy enough to relate to.
Due to the pacing of the story, it's all of the side characters that are treated like fillers, after thoughts, or in the mother's case a cliche - which makes it hard to anchor ourselves in this potentially rich and diverse world. That said, I can see the improvement in how the writer has treated their side characters in later chapters, so I anticipate that this is just an early writing problem.
First things first; this story is written in present tense. It can take some getting used if you prefer stories with a more traditional passive voice. But looking past the difference in tense, the prose and style is very well-written.
The humans certainly feel oppressed in Black Carbon; the way they are rounded up and given just enough to get by (maybe even a bit less) really establishes a sense despair. The shifting of POV between the two main characters also helps to create a contrasting view of how to approach the world; one of going up against the regime in a more subversive manner while the other takes a more systematic approach. An interesting read for sure if you enjoy dystopian stories or plots where the aliens have already taken over.
The story is the strongpoint of this tale. The threat of two clashing forces told from the perspective of two unique individuals.
The plot is intriguing to pull you in from the first chapter, yet mature and trusting enough as to not spoil a reader and instantly offer gratification.
I wanted to review this in chapter 4-5, but continued to read more and more.
The writer chose a bold strategy by going for two perspectives. I have seen this go horribly wrong, yet in this case it is done with enough skill and subtlety.
The present tense and two perspectives take some time to get used to, yet this problem lies with the reader. The author has stated that this is an obvious design choice.
Still, there are some parts of the style that break the flow of the story somewhat. (Dialog padding in some places, harder to pinpoint which character was saying what)
The author addresses this in his later chapters, yet in the beginning, it is more present.
The grammar does not impede the story. When I first read it, there was little in the way of grammar that stopped the flow of reading or really stood out beyond what I listed above and the occasional typo between past and present.
Underneath the hood you can find other issued, yet only if you actively search for it.
(Lacking comma, heavy use of passive verbs, need for stronger adjectives.)
Both Ethan and Della stand out as unique entities. They both have traits about them I enjoy and simply hate. The latter in a good way!
It is easy to differentiate them from one another and each time the perspective switches, the reader is treated to a new take on a different or similar situation.
It intrigued me how both characters developed over time and wondered if they might continue to do so in yet to be published chapters.
I’d give the story a solid 4,5/5
Definitely something I’d want to continue reading.
Although the style and grammar are behind the story and the characters in terms of rating, I think that is a good sign. A writer can more easily improve the quality of the writing than he/she can improve the creative aspects of the story and the fascination for a character.
The author has already shown signs of improving his writing over the course of several chapters, so I would be interested in reading more of Black Carbon.
Short version: A story full of unique and interesting ideas. if it sounds interesting to you at all it's absolutely worth giving a try.
Long Version: The concept of this story is incredibly engaging. An alien-occupied Earth, two siblings on opposite sides of a war, a large galactic empire with a species-based caste system? It's certainly an attention grabber. Unfortunately, the writing often struggles to convey these ideas in a way that fully realizes their potential. While there are problems with grammar and word choice, those aren't as big of a concern, as that's something that can just be fixed with some thorough proofreading. The main issue in my opinion is a lack of "color", for lack of a better term. For example, we're told about and even meet a few aliens in the first handful of chapters, but we're given little actual detail about them. We're told that the Kix are aliens who cannot handle Earth's gravity and must use a walking stick to stay upright, which is an interesting detail, but that's all the "color" we get for them. We're not even given a visual description of the alien. So much more information and detail could have been packed into that brief interaction with the Kix warden. What does he look like, are his limbs long and spindly, like one might expect from a low-gravity organism? What does his voice sound like compared to a human's, how does he look at people when he addresses them, would he be considered old or young by the standards of his species? And I could go on.
Details like this aren't immediately relevant to the plot, but they're an important part of painting the picture of the world the author has envisioned. The reason I have rambled on about this is because I believe that the ideas and concepts in this story are very interesting and posess a lot of potential, and I would like to see this story succeed. I think the actual narrative is interesting enough to hook readers, but the prose will need to be refined to keep them hooked. This is definitely a story to watch, it just needs some more time in the oven.