Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Ruins, Warrior Reborn, and Is it Wrong?

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.

In M. H. Johnson’s Silver Fox & The Western Hero: Warrior Reborn, Alex, a billionaire’s son, attempts a desperate gamble to beat cancer. He volunteers to be cryogenically frozen until such time as a cure could be found, with his mind stimulated by an immersive MMO-like program while he sleeps. When he wakes up, Alex finds himself a barbarian in a Chinese fantasy thousands of years future that looks an awful lot like the past. To survive, he must master chi cultivation, even if it means drawing the attention of a trickster deity.
Warrior Reborn paints a light gloss of litRPG gaming elements over the currently popular chi cultivation and portal fantasy genres (xianxia and isekai) into a doorstopper novel. However, the litRPG elements are completely superfluous to the story, as Warrior Reborn quickly turns into a  Ringoesque logistics opener focused on how Alex cleared his meridians to use the non-games mechanics skills of chi cultivation. This pursuit fills 75% of the doorstopper, which means that the conflict for the series is not revealed until the denouement. Warrior Reborn needs an aggressive editor wielding a cutting knife. There is, however, a lot of potential and charm here. The chinoiserie elements are immersive, not intrusive. The characterization is strong enough to carry the story over long stretches of exposition. And there are tantalizing hints to Alez’s lost adventures as a Watson to a trickster god’s Holmes. Hopefully the sequel will better balance exposition and adventure.

Fujino Omori’s Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (Danmachi for short) returns for its fourteenth volume, on the heels of a sinkhole that sent Bell Cranell and Lyu Leon into the depths of the Dungeon, past where even Lyu’s impressive skills can prevail. As the denizens of the Dungeon swarm them, the injured Lyu plans to sacrifice herself so that Bell can make it to the surface. Unfortunately, the stubborn and idealistic Bell won’t let her. Meanwhile, the members of Bell’s guild mount an expedition to rescue him, but they too find themselves pressed to their limits. Will skill and determination be enough to rescue Bell and Lyu?
Danmachi‘s English name is somewhat misleading. Even with all the challenges and growing up he’s done over the course of the series, Bell is still too innocent for hand holding, much less the more rakish acts the series’ name might suggest. Instead, his efforts are focused on becoming a stronger hero, unaware of the second glances in his direction. Bell’s determination and idealism allow him to accomplish stunning feats of heroism that older, more jaded adventurers find unthinkable. In many ways, Bell is closer to shounen manga protagonists like Naruto, Deku, and Goku than the more jaded otaku protagonists of isekai light novels, such as Konosuba’s Kazuma. And, as this volume was originally intended as the series finale, Bell will need every bit if he is going to carry the injured Lyu to the surface as Danmachi throw the heroes into increasingly desperate and outnumbered situations.
However, this is also the first time since the contrived opening to the series that Danmachi’s plot comes close to its name. Lyu in Danmachi’s version of Batman, a masked avenger for justice that causes evil to tremble at her name. So it’s endearing to see the normally stoic elf’s facade crack into blushes, while Bell is oblivious as he is focused on their survival. Danmachi presents a rare inversion of the typical light novel romance plot where the boy helps the girl through a physical problem, and the girl helps the boy through an emotional one. Lyu helps Bell survive, and Bell unknowingly helps Lyu through survivor’s guilt. The romance plot is sweet, with far more puppy love than lust, but marred by the fact that there are at least three more girls Bell is going to rescue in future books—even if two of them have to contrive circumstances to get their turns.

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