Over the past couple years, the marriage of tabletop and video game RPG rule with fantasy adventure novels, known as the litRPG, has been the major development shaping fantasy genres, perfectly complimenting the logical fantasy and hard magic championed by Brandon Sanderson. But where most logical fantasy stories are content to remain in the safe narrative harbors of conventional storytelling, litRPG writers have pushed the boundaries of the story. Some prefer a more conventional narrative, such as a trapped in an MMO simulation where the mathematical engine of the game remains in the background, unseen by the heroes as they explore the world. Others prefer a mix of game journals and transcripts echoing the collection of letters in early Gothic novels. And some will roll the dice and unfurl the character sheets on the written page, tallying up dice rolls and skill checks in the margins for the reader to see.
Isaac Hooke has been one of the most ambitious of those litRPG writers inclined to genre-blend, pushing the boundaries of presentation and story in ways only a self-published author can. His STAR WARRIOR, a mix of science fantasy, epic fantasy, and litRPG rules crunch, has been a best-seller for all of its five months since release. With it, he has capitalized on several trends, from readers searching for a new Star Wars to the spillover of the litRPG explosion from fantasy into space opera. And in presentation, Hooke has embraced the gaming roots of the litRPG genre, tailoring the Amazon page for Star Warrior to mimic the mixture of images, stories, and featurettes found on a Steam page instead of relying on a summary and reviewer quotes. Finally, he has embraced the patch, or a periodic updates of features and bug-fixes that makes Star Warrior a living, changeable story.
Now many authors and publishers use an iterative approach to proofreading, Castalia House among them. But Isaac Hooke has used the process to edit the description and narration of Star Warrior to accommodate feedback from his readers. And he’s posted his changes for all to see in what can be considered patch notes.
But before we can talk about what has changed, let’s look at what was. From my earlier review of Star Warrior:
Fans looking for a mystical sword and planet adventure in the mold of A New Hope should try Isaac Hooke’s STAR WARRIOR. Like many indie/frontier science fiction stories, Star Warrior is a genre-blender, combining a roaring sword and planet adventure with elements of the litRPG genre and even a dash of cyberpunk. Tane, a hydroponics farmer from a backwater planet, goes into town for nanotech augmentation. While there, he attracts the attention of an ancient extra-dimensional foe as well as the Volur, an order gifted with the ability to wield the Essence. Per the cover:
“Soon Tane finds himself on a frenzied flight across the galaxy with a woman who can warp the very fabric of spacetime, her bodyguard–who’d just as soon kill Tane than protect him–and a starship that calls him snarky pet names. He’s on the run not simply from the aliens but the whole damn human space navy.
“He only wished he knew why.”
LitRPGs mean character sheets, and Star Warrior‘s nanotech system has them in spades. Like many an RPG, the more Tane uses a skill, the more it levels up. Buying nanotech allows him to increase these skills, although Tane suspects the leveling system is a scam by the companies to make people buy more nanotech. After all, the first hit is free…The crawl of characters sheets during these segments is admittedly not to my taste, but the explosion of the litRPG genre over the past couple years shows that there is a market willing to embrace them. Fortunately, Isaac Hooke makes the crunch make sense in terms of the setting and the story, preventing the occasional digression into the stat sheets from grinding the plot to a halt.
Star Warrior also seamlessly melds Luke Skywalker’s Jedi journey with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Tane steps into the journey of Rand al’Thor, complete with analogues to Aes Sedai, Warders, saidar/saidin, the Forsaken, and the Prophecies of the Dragon. Seamless is not an exaggeration, as the cosmology behind the two parts of the One Power conveniently map to the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. Furthermore, Tane’s journey takes him from a farm attacked by near-mythical aliens to an Essence reservoir of immense power that will reveal his destiny. It’s Eye of the World dressed in the pulp/movie-serials space adventure of Star Wars, stripped of the bramble of viewpoint characters and the battle of the sexes that hampered the Wheel of Time. It helps that Thane’s personality is closer to the pulp mold than Rand al’Thor. And there are enough starfighters, droids, and aliens to please readers thirsty for more Star Wars.
Over the first month since Star Warrior‘s release, changes were made on an almost daily basis. Some adjusted the character sheets to better match the intent of the story. Others explained away confusing rules in both the leveling and magic systems. And the dreaded nerf bat even made an appearance, hammering Tane’s lightsaber equivalent into something less overpowered–and a little more clumsy and random–than the Skywalkers’ signature weapon.
My personal complaint with Star Warrior was that it adhered too closely to the paths that its inspirations, Star Was and the Wheel of Time, had carved out. Not only was the plot following similar beats as those two series, such as Tane going into town for the equivalent of power converters and the appearance of analogues of an Aes Sedai and a Warder to rescue Tane from alien Trolloc stand-ins, but much of the lore and setting appeared to be renamed versions of elements found in its inspirations. Frankly, it isn’t that Star Warrior was a retelling of Eye of the World that was galling. As mentioned, Hooke stripped away the kudzu complexity and the sprawling characters to create a leaner, more action-packed homage. However, in its earliest form, the serial numbers weren’t quite filed away. Over the month of editing, these similarities vanished. No longer were there Warders in space or a group of ancient aliens sealed away by Tane’s previous life like the Forsaken. Instead, the lore of Star Warrior incorporated new concepts that allow its universe to stand on its own without relying on the crutches of previous space operas, as it previously did.
Finally, the climax of Star Warrior was reworked, adding a new antagonist character to resolve an apparent deus ex machina at the end. As Hooke himself says, “At a minimum, if you’ve never heard of S’Wraathar, I would recommend skimming the final two chapters of the updated Book 1 while keeping an eye out for his name.” (Hooke, Isaac. Bender of Worlds (Star Warrior Book 2) (Kindle Locations 88-89). Kindle Edition.) It comes as no surprise that this character will play a greater war in the sequel, Bender of Worlds, which was just released last week.
If you might have read Star Warrior prior to the first of this year, you might want to update to the most recent version of the text as key exposition and plot points have changed. And be prepared to do the same as Bender of Worlds gets refined in real time. If more authors take advantage of the ease of updating ebooks to make significant changes, readers may have to get used to periodically updating their libraries.