argusthecat

argusthecat

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Fictions
Reviews
Dungeon Core? Nah, I Think I'll Just Get Super-Wealthy Instead

This story is delightful and heartwarming and I'm super curious to see both where it's going and what it's doing.  The long term promise of the description is interesting to me, as is the morality and ethical thought that the protagonist puts into their actions.  I really like that!  I like it when our main character actually gives a shit about whether what they're doing is okay or not!

It's a great story, and you should check it out.  You should check it out *regardless* of the title and description, which come across as a *lot* more hostile than the story itself.  As someone who's worked for about fourteen years in property management, the title of "landlord" feels instantly offputting to me, as does the sort of glib title that puts a lot of focus on personal greed.  The story doesn't really live up to either of those dark promises, though; instead, it's sweet and kind and a bit melencholy, and I highly recommend it.


A World Away

I like this so far, for a number of reasons.

The characters instantly feel comfortable, and have a kind of humanity to them that we don't see too often in litRPGs like this.  The interactions of a family that cares about each other, together for the last days of Earth, feel genuine and emotional.  And the protagonist having agency from the very start makes me feel more of a connection to his upcoming adventures.

I'm notoriously a sucker for characters that have compassion and ethics, and our dude has both going for him, which makes me instantly want to read more of the story just to hang out with a character who I feel for.  I look forward to seeing more of this in the future, and I hope it goes to some interesting places.


Cosmosis

A great example of original HFY-style sci-fi that starts with an abduction, and spirals into a story about language, culture, connection, isolation, and superpowers.  Every part of this story so far has kept me engaged and guessing, while never feeling like it was holding out on me.  The characters are compelling, and the looks into the perspectives of the alien characters give just enough of a window as to keep the situation from feeling too confusing.

The small moments spent on showing strange differences between species, or examining the functions of an unfamiliar magic system, all keep the story constantly exciting.  On the surface, the magic seems like just that - magic.  Or, to use the generic sci-fi term, 'psionics'.  But it feels like it's had enough thought and creativity put into it that watching the characters puzzle out what they *can* do is satisfying and fun.  Even if it's just 'make soap', there's clearly a lot of thought that goes into the how and why.

Overall, this is a story I look forward to reading for a long time to come.  It really feels like it could go anywhere, like there's a bigger world to be explored, and the author is doing a great job of giving that world real detail and believable texture through the eyes of the protagoinst.


Sin-Eater

Not Bad, Not Good Either

The story presented in the first ten chapters opens with a reasonably strong hook.  A person has died, and then ceased to be dead, coming back as some form of undead that feasts on the sins of the fallen, thus acquiring both food, and some of the powers of the dead.

Neat.

This is the kind of intersection of mahou shoujo and Clive Barker that I get out of bed for.  Seriously, it's such a goofy grisly plot that I cannot help but be interested to see where it goes.  Which is why I read the next several chapters.

And this is where the problem comes into focus; of the first ten chapters, I'd say a little over half of them are utterly superfluous.  They aren't badly written, the whole thing is well constructed actually.  The characters - all two of them, unless you count the spiders - are clearly finding their footing and so saying "they dont' feel like real people!" when I've only maybe a thousand words of their dialogue seems dumb.  They're okay.  The setting looks like it has some mysteries, and that's neat.

It's just that I found myself feeling like seventy percent of the text was just a repeat.  A do over.  I don't normally talk about pacing, because webfiction is uniquely positioned to ignore issues of pacing and make some truly weird decisions.  But here, it seems like a critical flaw in an otherwise interesting story.  Nothing is *happening*, good or bad, that hasn't happened before.

Chapter ten ends with what might be the start to the main plot, and I'll keep reading to see where it goes.  And we'll see if it's another chorus, or a new verse.


Dungeon Core Chat Room.

I find this story to be weirdly nostalgic, despite never having experienced being a disembodied location with magical powers.

There's an interesting feeling that I think a lot of us will recognize, especially in this post-pandemic world, of being alone in our apartments, or our bedrooms, cut off from other people.  Working on our own projects, trying to distract ourselves, or just pass the time, sometimes having to go out to get groceries and feeling like you just had a passing experience with death.  And yet, in this isolated world, we have small windows into the lives of each other, our friends and family.

This story feels a lot like that.  Our characters are, fundamentally and permanently, separated.  And yet, they can communicate.  Offer advice, companionship, and assistance.  And there's a form of authentic internet experience to it, too; in the larger group chats, the loudest people tend to be assholes.  The quiet people who need help are ignored, and left to die.  And the whole experience is chaotic and messy.

But then, in the small chats between friends, people who've met and formed bonds inexplicably in those maelstrom spaces, there's a lot of real support and empathy.  Even if it's the fumblings of kids trying to figure out how to be kind to each other.

The dungeon mechanics in this story are fine.  They're... eh.  I'm not that interested in them, honestly.  But I plan to keep reading for a long time, because I see a fantastical mirror of real life here, and I find it compelling.


Summoned! To an RPG world (LitRPG)

It is incredibly refreshing to have a fiction where the main character actually learns something valuable about ethical behavior, applies that to their actions, and is right to do so.

Putting aside that this feels like an excellent written riff on the ideas that I first saw in the old webcomic Erfworld, or that the characters are both interesting and believable, or that the numbers seem to matter and have consistent weight, I just *really* like reading a story where the protagonist has room to grow, and good influences to help him with that process.

Too often, I think, we see incredibly popular stories where the values espoused are ruthlessness, selfish greed, and thin rationalization for horrible actions.  And it's just exhausting.  So come rest your head here, where the narrative and the characters acknowledge that when you get to the ends you justified, you'll find yourself where the means took you.

It's not perfect.  Sometimes the exposition feels a little stiff.  And as with a lot of kingdom builder things, we as the audience don't get to see all the options the protagonist is presented with, so we can't easily empathize with his choices.  But these are minor complaints, compared to the fact that this is a believable protagonist who is best friends with a paladin and a necromancer, and who has a plan to save the world.


The Hallowed War

There's a lot of cool stuff going on here.  It kind of reminds me of a YA version of the novel Armor, and I mean that in a pretty positive way.  The author's description of their writing style as "explosions, then feelings" is pretty apt, but the feelings they're writing feel lived in and grounded, which I find very cool.

Also, even if they hadn't announced their inspirations for this story, I think I could have puzzled them out at least a little bit.  Giant swords and scenes that make me relive XCOM cutscenes in my head are all over the place.  And none of it feels out of place or overly silly; it all flows together really well.

I look forward to seeing where this goes.  I'm not sure yet if it'll be a long term favorite of mine, but I do know that I've had fun reading it so far. 


Beware Of Chicken

It's sweet and wholesome and more than a little blunt in the message that it just spells out on multiple occasions.  It's also probably one of the better things being written around here right now, with characters that are all instantly too big for the jokes that they're set up to fill the role of and a world that appears to be more interested in people living kind lives than powerful ones.

Because this review needs to be a certain length for me to tell you how good this is, I'm going to diverge a little bit into talking about cultivation stories a bit.  Cultivation novels suck.  Almost universially, they're about people abandoning their morality or just not having any ethics to begin with, doing whatever they want to gain power.  And usually they're "better" than the other people with power that they fight, but they're still callous murderers at best.  This story seems to set that same thing up with almost every other cultivator, but the protagonist *shares my opinion*, which is remarkably refershing.  And the fact that the entire narrative sparks off because our guy decides that he can do better than is a great hook.

Everything that comes after that turns an amusing hook into an earnest story that I look forward to reading more of.


Infinite Realm: Monsters & Legends

There's a tabletop RPG, one of those fast one-page things designed for a long train ride and not for a multi-year campaign, called Reflections.  The framing device is that each of the two players are samurai, who have met for one final time, to finish what was started years ago.  The two of them are about to fight to the death, and the gameplay is weaving the narrative of the past not to decide who deserves to live or who's strong enough to win, but simply to see what got them to this point.

I think about that RPG a lot when I read this story, because it hits all of those emotional notes, frequently.  The constant shifts between past and present show us not just what's happened to the characters, but how it's still happening; how they aren't completed individuals, but are people in flux, pulled by their circumstances and their pasts into roles they don't fully accept.

It's really good.  Like, shockingly good.  And it's a story that seems to very obviously be a tragedy, which is novel, while still leaving room open for an ending of almost any nature.

My only complaint, and it is a *personal* complaint not a structural one, is that I don't like the character sheets that much.  Also, sometimes we'll see the 'titles' of characters that are hundreds of years old, and they have maybe one or two titles we haven't seen before.  And it just feels... not accurate.  Like they should have at least a few more than the main characters, after all that time.

But that's just about the litRPG mechanics.  And honestly, those aren't as important as the emotional core of the story, which is very solid and very affecting.


Digital Marine

Okay, this one is weird.

First off, the grammar.  There's some mistakes.  Like, ketchup-on-corn-flakes mistakes.  There are some parts where words are used that just don't make *any* sense, even accounting for possible typos, and I don't know how they happened.  But whatever, they're not that bad, and context always let me know what was going on.  Needs an editing pass, but not too bad.

Now, the characters.  They're kinda cool!  Well, the one real character is kinda cool.  The exploration of homeworld-bigotry is well done, and so is some of the actual conversations with our protagonist that aren't just info dumps.  I'd like to learn more about her, you know?

Which brings us to something related to the info dumps, that I feel awkward bringing up.

This system is industrial-strength dumb.

The main character joins the marines.  Okay, fine.  They melt down her original body for materials (weird, but whatever) and load her brain into a simulation for training (alright, sweet) where she's expected to pay for her own meals with credits earned from training missions (wait, what?).

So far (chapter 11), the entire story takes place in a simulation, but the soldiers are expected to pay for their own food, lodging, equipment, and *respawns on training missions*, like it's some kind of video game and not an actual military.  Putting aside how absolutely stupid the economics of this are, it's even worse that they won't teach recruits anything until they earn enough skill points, effectively cutting their own supply of skilled soldiers.  The main character shows the willingness, aptitude, and drive to be a pilot, and they tell her she hasn't *leveled up enough yet*.

This is not military sci-fi.  Any actual military that ran this way would belong to a civilization so hedonistically stupid that it either would have imploded a century ago, or it's already so impossibly powerful that the concept of a "military" is almost pointlessly meaningless.  This is a VRMMO story, where the characters just refuse to admit they're in a game, and roleplay like there's no tomorrow.

I wanted to like this, because it's pretty well written, but the level of idiocy that the marine organization displays is so blatant and contrived that it drags me out of the experience every time it comes up.

Two and a half stars; really disappointed it isn't better, because the better version of this is probably really good.