My 2018 Reads – The year of LitRPG

2018 was by far my biggest reading year. Based off my Audible and Goodreads account, I believe I read around 90 books. That’s an average of nearly two books a week. So if the average audiobook is 10-14 hours, that means I spent about 3 hours a day listening to an audiobook, or nearly 20 percent of my waking hours.

I might have an addiction.

Here’s the breakdown of the genres:

pie chart reads

47.8% LitRPG
22.8% General Science Fiction
19.5% Military Science Fiction
4.3% Science Fiction- Comedy
3.2% General Fiction
1.1% Post-Apocalyptic
1.1% Fantasy

 

The LitRPG Genre.

Before 2018, I hadn’t read more than a handful of LitRPG books, but this year, I read over 40. Something about this genre really hooked me. If you are unfamiliar with the genre, that’s not a surprise. It’s relatively new to the publishing scene.

These books are usually a strange combination of fantasy and science fiction wherein the protagonist enters a virtual world by some means and needs to level up their character, learn skills, and improve their stats, before they ultimately face the antagonist. I’ve never been a huge gamer, which proves you don’t have to be in order to pick up this genre.

These books take character development to a whole new level. Their skills are defined and upgradable as are their physical and mental stats. Each can be improved predictably by practicing, completing quests, or by killing a few beasts (mobs). The same goes for items. Characters can know exactly how much damage a sword will do, what it’s made of, and if it has any special modifications or attributes just by picking it up and examining it. The typical loot system, wherein items or coins drop with every monster killed, also provides a sense of immediate gratification following conflict.

Of course, like any other genre, some of the books I’ve stumbled across were pretty bad or amateurish. To save you the trouble of having to sort the good from the bad, I’ve listed my top ten favorite LitRPG series, ranked from my favorite (#1) to my least favorite but still recommended (#10):

#1- The Land Series by Aleron Kong

A man is sucked into a fantasy world of pixies, sprites, dwarves, and other races. He learns that game mechanics are an actual law of the land, and so he plays it like he would any other game, often getting in over his head as he levels, gains skills, riches, and tries to build a settlement in the middle of the forest. These books are well written and fun, but the main character moves from one quest to another so quickly and often fails to complete them, it can be a bit annoying. Additionally, the main character can sometimes come across as sexist and overly macho.

#2- The Ritualist and Regicide by Dakota Krout

This series is very typical of the genre. It has a rough start, but gets better when the main character finally enters the virtual world. He picks up a very uncommon magical ability that sets him apart from the other mages, which they don’t take well. Uncovering conspiracies and overthrowing powerful people are just a prelude to a bigger quest, to save the entire human race.

#3- The Divine Dungeon Series by Dakota Krout

This is a very unique spin on the genre, told from the perspective of a living dungeon. It must evolve, create creatures, and drop loot, all in an effort to draw more adventurers in. Because if they die in him, he gets their power. You soon learn, however, that he is a unique dungeon, and forges cautious alliances with humans in order to combat greater threats.

#4- Threadbare Series by Andrew Seiple

When an animator creates a new type of golem, he is disappointed in the results. Thinking he’s just created another stupid, living toy, he gives it to a girl as a gift, who soon discovers this stuffed teddy bear, is anything but stupid. It is now sentient, and can level and grow in skill just like a human can. She helps him grown until she is taken from him. Now it’s up to a teddy bear to save her, and while he’s at it, he might as well save the rest of the realm too.

#5- Eden’s Gate Series by Edward Brody

Logging in to a game for the first time, the main character finds that he has been trapped there, along with everyone else. Death would prove fatal, so he has to increase his strength and make allies to stay alive.

#6- Life Reset by Shemer Kuznits

When the main character is transformed into a level 1 goblin by a magic scroll, he vows to raise a goblin army and take revenge. Except keeping his goblin character could prove fatal to him in real life. With the help of one of the games AIs he has to speed level as quickly as possible to avoid that fate.

#7- The Dark Herbalist Series by Michael Atamanov

Beta testing a new game for a little bit of pay, the main character is forced to become a goblin herbalist. Except he’s inherited a few attributes no other players have, and he uses them to make himself one of the top players in the game, securing wealth so that he and his sister can have a better life in the real world.

#8- Awaken Online Series by Travis Bagwell

The main character doesn’t have a great life, all things considered, and soon he finds himself kicked out of school and with loads of free time to play a new game. He soon discovers that real life has a way of catching up to him in game, especial since he’s gone and made a name for himself. Not as a hero, but as a villain.

#9- Ascend Online by Luke Chmilenko

Able to enter the virtual world for days at a time, a group of friends decides to login together and start a guild. Except the main character didn’t appear where he was supposed to. When his friends come to find him, they see he’s found the ideal place to set up their guild, so long as they can defend it from everyone else.

#10- Viridian Gate Series by James A Hunter

An asteroid is headed to Earth, and the only escape, for those who can afford it, is to download their consciousness into a virtual world. Except this virtual reality is run by those who paid to play, and their wealth gives them a huge advantage over everyone else. The main character doesn’t want to live under their rule, so he decided to revolt, but he’s got very little resources to work with.

 

The other great books I read last year.

All-in-all, the LitRPG genre was a fun diversion from my usual reads, but the genre might not be for everyone. That said, here is a list (in no particular order) of some of the other books (non-LitRPG) I read last year that I really enjoyed:

Terms of Enlistment: Frontlines, Book 1 by Marko Kloos

Lines of Departure: Frontlines, Book 2 by Marko Kloos

Angles of Attack: Frontlines, Book 3 by Marko Kloos

Chains of Command: Frontlines, Book 4 by Marko Kloos

Fields of Fire: Frontlines, Book 5 by Marko Kloos

Points of Impact: Frontlines, Book 6 by Marko Kloos

A Gift of Time by Jerry Merritt

Semiosis: A Novel by Sue Burke

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw

The Singularity Trap by Dennis E. Taylor

Saturn Run by John Sandford Ctein

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Sea of Rust: A Novel by C. Robert Cargill

The Reluctant Adventures of Fletcher Connolly on the Interstellar Railroad by Felix R. Savage

Not Alone by Craig A. Falconer

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Level Five by William Ledbetter

Influx by Daniel Suarez

The Naturalist: The Naturalist, Book 1 by Andrew Mayne

Planetside by Michael Mammay

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson

Quarter Share: A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 1 by Nathan Lowell

Half Share: A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 2 by Nathan Lowell

Full Share: A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 3 by Nathan Lowell

Double Share: A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 4 by Nathan Lowell

Captain’s Share: A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 5 by Nathan Lowell

Owner’s Share: Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 6 by Nathan Lowell

In Ashes Born: A Seeker’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 1 by Nathan Lowell

To Fire Called: A Seeker’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 2 by Nathan Lowell

The Last Tribe by Brad Manuel

Rookie Privateer: Privateer Tales, Book 1 by Jamie McFarlane

You’re Going to Mars! by Rob Dircks

Where the Hell is Tesla?: A Novel by Rob Dircks

 

Please feel free to leave your own recommendations. I’ll need all I can get if I hope to read just as many books in 2019.

 

green beakerblue beakerred beaker  Happy New Year! green beakerblue beakerred beaker

The science of magic

magic and scienceI have a secret to confess: 90% of the books I read are fantasy. I can hear it now: “But you always stress the importance of scientific accuracy. Magic isn’t real.”
I know, I know, but I still hold fantasy to the same standards as sci-fi. While magic will never be scientifically plausible, it must still operate logically, with rules and limitations. The only difference between these genres is that the author defines the laws, not a scientist. But once defined, those laws should not be broken. Magic without limitations is just as bothersome to me as inaccurately portrayed science. A wizard who can make an obstacle disappear with a wave of his wand is no different than a star-ship captain who uses a fancy DHTMB (doohickey-thingamabob) to vaporize an obstacle.

I enjoy fantasy for the same reason as everyone else, to be taken out of our world and go on a narrated tour of the fantastical. But magic should still have logical consistency, otherwise it’s impossible for me to get fully immersed in the story. Don’t get me wrong, I can still enjoy fantasy books without a strict magical system, but my enjoyment is of other things like the characters, the setting, and the writing style. In those books, I am indifferent to the magic; it doesn’t add anything for me. If all you need is a magic word and a wand to solve all your problems, I might be envious, but I won’t relate to the story. Writers that create a magical system complete with strengths and weaknesses, and explain what is possible and what is not, immerse me in the story much more effectively. In order to pretend magic is real, I must first understand it.

 

I am a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson, largely because of his originality, but also because of his firm grasp on what makes magic enjoyable and captivating. He has created a set of laws that can help writers create a believable magical system:

Magic is defined as soft or hard magic in Sanderson’s first law. This is much like soft or hard sci-fi. Soft magic does not follow any set of laws and can’t easily be predicted. It is mysterious and capable of almost anything. Hard magic is well-defined, and has logical limitations. I tend to think of soft magic as a background feature in a character driven story, something the author uses to nudge them in a certain direction or patch up any holes in the plot (my words, not Sanderson’s). Hard magic is integral to plot and setting, something the main character must understand and use wisely in order to overcome obstacles. Neither have to follow the laws of science, but one is more defined than the other.

The second law is a law of limitations, where magic has weaknesses and strengths, i.e. there should be a cost to using such power. By Sanderson’s estimation, the best magical systems have more limitations than power. This is another way to make a magical system logical, for there is no such thing as action without consequence, and no such thing as infinite power.

Another way to infuse logic into a magical system is to follow Sanderson’s third law. Sanderson tells us to think through the consequences of the magic we have created, to try to think of how it will affect the world. If everyone has the ability to fly, I’m pretty sure they won’t be driving cars to work in the morning, or waiting around in airports. If everyone lives forever, there will probably be strict rules on procreation to prevent overpopulation. There is nothing more jarring to a reader than a contradiction. Making the laws simple will also help limit confusion, and keep it from becoming a tangled mess.

Logical magical systems are something I have been striving to create in my own writing. The magic in Agony’s Fire is very simple, but it can be used in countless ways. It is based on a single premise, that in a place devoid of time, space, and matter, there is nothing to stop anything from coming into being. In this place, a simple possibility can make it a reality. However, nothing made in this Void can enter our reality unless it follows all of its laws. Therefore, the user must have a perfect understanding of what he/she is trying to create in order to bring it into existence. Because the human brain is so limited, my characters have only managed to create the simplest form of energy: heat. So far. But heat can’t be created from nothing. The energy used to create fire is pulled from the mind of the user, where the possibility and understanding of fire originated. Likewise, you can pull energy from the world into the Void, and to balance that loss, the energy is placed back into the individual’s mind. It is a magic that can be used in many creative ways, but one that is also limiting. They can heighten their emotions, senses, cognition (which I term the Agonies and Sanities) when drawing energy from the world to create cold, or they can give some of it up to create fire, hence the title Agony’s fire. Pull in too much energy from the world and they can have a seizure, but give too much energy to the world and they can lose consciousness, or worse, their sanity. This magic has also created a society of people who wish to learn, for only in understanding something completely will they be able to create it.

I would encourage you all to write down the laws of your magic and summarize them like I just did. If they are noticeably fickle laws, and they fall into the realm of soft magic, then perhaps there is a way to strengthen them. Sanderson’s laws are a great template to start from. But the logical consistency of magic and science is just a small part of what readers are looking for in a book, so if it becomes too monumental a task, make sure to focus your energies on good writing, powerful plots, and believable characters.