The Wandering Inn, by Pirateaba

I just marathoned the audiobook editions of The Wandering Inn by Pirateaba, one of the largest web serials ever. I am agog.

10.1 million words, so far.
2.5 million of it is in audio, so far. That’s like 200+ hours of listening material.

The TWI series is actually bigger than my Torth series, which is a measly 1.1 million words in its entirety. TWI has more main characters, a larger world, and a bigger word count. It’s bigger than Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time combined. The author is still putting out 2 chapters every week. They (no idea what gender the author is) have an active fan community, 4,000+ patrons on Patreon, and they (or their publisher?) hired the most talented female audiobook narrator I’ve ever heard.

And the series is awesome. I really got into it. Fair warning: The first book suffers from some amateur storytelling, including a main character that is hard to like or connect with until later on. I nearly quit a few times. But I’ve learned that my favorite series have problematic beginnings, so I pushed through, and I’m really glad I did. I’m ranking this one right up there with my all-time favorites. The author gets better and better, and the series is pure fun. It has the magical ingredient: Really outstanding interpersonal character dynamics.

It’s interesting that it remains addictive even without any majorly oppressive grimdark plot thread. Like Beware of Chicken and He Who Fights With Monsters and other SFF web serials that took off, TWI is light rather than dark. It’s fun rather than grim.

By comparison, I’m worried about how my series will fare on RoyalRoad. Mine just isn’t that light. It has a majorly oppressive galactic empire that needs to be defeated. One of my main characters goes super dark in Book 1, and spends the rest of the series on a redemption arc. Readers love that character–but only if they get past the beginning “gauntlet” of evil oppressive crap that he gets involved in.

I do have length on my side. 450+ chapters ready to go. But mine is finite. It has an ending.

I want a career like Pirateaba’s! They are incredible. They are the Brandon Sanderson of the web serial world.

You know what else? I think this whole web serial phenomenon speaks to the state of the publishing industry. The Wandering Inn is just as good and just as much fun as The Wheel of Time. If this was the 1990s, it might be the new Wheel of Time. Yet here in the 2020s, it’s an underground fandom instead of a trad pub juggernaut.

I think that’s due to the way algorithms are causing readers and literary agents to overvalue trends and books that are already popular, while also tamping down emergent stuff with unrealized potential. Pirateaba’s series has great word-of-mouth, which is allowing them to break out of the underground niche a bit and realize some of their vast potential. I’m sure 4,000+ patrons has enabled them to write full-time and hire an assistant and all that. But they only got there by writing an addictive series with millions of words and consistently adding new chapters. And even with their success, their fandom is still quite underground.

We live in unfortunate times for the arts, I think.

I’m really glad to have discovered Pirateaba, even if it was through underground channels where adventurous readers hang out. I think they have a great career ahead of them.

Beware of Chicken, by CasualFarmer

Beware of Chicken: A Xianxia Cultivation NovelBeware of Chicken: A Xianxia Cultivation Novel by CasualFarmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a writer, one can learn a lot from this breath of fresh air in the Fantasy genre.

One can write secondary world fantasy without war. Without prison scenes or gladiator scenes or slogging through a hellscape scenes. That doesn’t mean this book lacks suspense or escalating stakes or power progression. They’re there. There’s a magic system and fun characters, including a very proud rooster who was unexpectedly uplifted to sapience.

As SFF writers, we learn that our heroes are only as powerful/smart as our villains. In other words, we’re supposed to create strong villains to challenge our heroes. In this book, the strong villains are implied off-screen. They’re … somewhere, causing wars and stuff on some other continent. Sometimes local villains or bullies show up, thinking they’re badass and that they can easily defeat the simple farmer. Jin defeats these with ease, sometimes without even realizing it, because he’s so powerful. Then he goes back to farming or planning weddings or building snowmen and playing with friends. He is the Hidden Master. So cool.

Watching a supposedly simple farmer defeat bad guys with ludicrous ease is unexpectedly satisfying. It’s like that scene with Mat and his quarterstaff in Book 3 of the Wheel of Time.

I never thought I’d enjoy a book that’s all about mundane stuff, albeit in a fantasy world with magic. But this was just cute. And engaging. It’s like I got a book version of Stardew Valley instead of World of Warcraft or something. I would actually like to read the next one, when it comes out.

Consider me a disciple of CasualFarmer.

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Book Review of “The Circle” by Dave Eggers

Mob rule with constant surveillance

The glamour of a Silicon Valley tech utopia rings true, and so does the emerging mob rule, and the shifting values of society, and the wedding of big corporation with surveillance government. These are all things that I think about a lot, since I explore mob rule and constant surveillance in my own writing. I am thrilled to see a successful author who dares to dig deep into those themes. I want to hug Dave Eggers just for that.

The Circle brings up great discussion points related to privacy, the spread of information, the peer pressure of social media, and public sharing of everything. The dialogue is very well-written and plausible, and the prose is smooth sailing, pulling me right along as a reader.

But there are some deeper flaws. The point-of-view character is Mae, and the author made her unreliable, lacking in personality, and sort of stupid. He clearly made her that way on purpose, and I’m guessing he did it to emphasize how an “ordinary person” can drink the Kool-Aid of a seeming utopia that exists at the expense of privacy. I like that character choice. It should have worked well … except Mae is barely plausible as an ordinary person. She accepts every suggestion and opinion of her bosses, and she’s oblivious to other people’s pain. She values privacy at first, but then capitulates without any thought or rationale. She has casual sex with strangers, without any of the worries that real women have. She’s just shallow. She comes across as a generic hot chick as written by a guy who probably views women with condescension.

This is a cautionary tale. In my opinion, it could come across as a stronger wake-up call to society if 1) the main character had stronger “nice-but-naive” traits, and 2) if the pro-privacy people in the book used stronger arguments. Not a single one of them mentions the major problems inherent in mob rule. Everyone in this book assumes that sharing everything ensures that crimes can be avoided, yet no one brings up the obvious argument that society decides what a crime is. In some countries, it’s a crime for women to laugh in public, or to get urgent medical care without a male chaperone. They never talk about that in their visions of a global utopia. The whole society is just apparently derp-de-derp oblivious.

It’s still a really good book, and a really relevant tale for our times. Please read it if you’re on the fence. I’d be happy to discuss it.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Book Review: Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen

Groom of the Tyrannosaur QueenGroom of the Tyrannosaur Queen by Daniel Bensen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book explores domination/subordination in a light-hearted way, there is some truly brilliant dialogue, and it also teaches you about dinosaurs. It’s not your typical rah-rah-brah testosterone fueled sci-fi, despite the pulpy cover. There is enough action to oversaturate a Michael Bay film, and there are cavemen and sexy princesses and high tech powersuits and, yes, a tyrannosaurus rex on a rampage during a stormy battle scene. And time travel. But come on, those things are all necessary to the story. They really are!

You know an author’s got amazing talent when they can tie all of those elements together into a coherent story that’s satisfying and fun to read.

© 2022 Abby Goldsmith