Quick Reviews: Ruins and Cataclysm

Saturday , 3, October 2020 Leave a comment

The new releases chosen for this week’s review both underperformed enough that an honest review would be uncomfortably close to a roast. Since I am still halfway through the classic Revolutionary War novel Rabble in Arms, which I intend to review next week, here are a couple reviews of older SFF books from the Castalia House Blog vault.

In Ruins of the Galaxy, by J. N. Chaney and Christopher Hopper, an intergalactic peace summit between the Republic, the Jedi-like Luma, and the canine Jujari end with a bang when three explosions rip through the summit. Now Republic Marine Lt. Magnus and Luma peacekeeper Awen must escape the enraged homeworld of the Jujari, while trying to discover who in the Republic sabotaged the peace talks.

Another #StarWarsNotStarWars series, Ruins aims at a Clone Wars adventure feel, providing enough Jedi action for those who might think Galaxy’s Edge needed more of the Force. It combines military action with epic fantasy pacing. Like most recent military SF series, Ruins draws from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan for inspiration, however, the focus is on Lt. Magnus and Awen rather than his regiment or life in the service. A lot of time is spent on where the bullets are flying, but the action doesn’t move the plot forward with the same breakneck pace. As such, Ruins needs to be read back to back with its sequel, Galactic Breach, to get a complete story. When done so, the full scope of the failed peace talks comes into focus, giving meaning to the extended tactical action scenes.

As an impending asteroid collision threatens to wipe out humanity, “Grim” Jack Mitchell has won the lottery. Not the one for a place in the few shelters set aside for survivors, but for a chance to irreversibly upload his mind into Viridian Gate Online, an MMO designed to survive the cataclysm. Soon after he arrives in game, Grim Jack learns that the offer of eternal paradise in a game hid a dire prison. For the rich, corrupt, and ruthless in the real world have made deals with the programmers to allow them to rule over the millions of unsuspecting players. Worse still, Grim Jack has stolen the key to do so from a violent drug kingpin who is ready to turn Grim Jack’s ticket for survival into eternal torture.

In Viridian Gate Online: Cataclysm, James Hunter uses the threat of extinction and transhumanism as a backdrop to the battle inside the game’s servers. To save millions, design choices, favors, and compromises were made that directly influence the evolution of the in-game story. But it’s still a game, and subject to the familiar, almost cozy tropes of litRPGs and progression fantasies. Thrust into becoming VGO’s equivalent of World of Warcraft’s Thrall, Grim Jack, a former medic, must prevail over hostile players and the increasingly perilous quests the game throws at him if he is going to defeat the drug kingpin out to ruin him. Cataclysm may be a power fantasy, but Grim Jack and his companions are grounded compared to many of his peers, lacking the indulgences common to the genre. For instance, the flamboyances of 2018 harem fantasies are nowhere to be found. As for the rattle of virtual dice and the crunch of rules, Hunter minimizes the intrusion of video games elements without shying away from the reality of playing a game in an immersive environment. But for those what want the coziness of a Let’s Play video, the encounters are pretty crunchy and consistent with the rules laid out by the story. Those readers looking for an introduction to litRPGs will find none better.

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