Book Review: Light Online Vol 1 & 2

I’m going to review Light Online: Farmer by Tom Larcombe and Light Online: Keeper together here, since I read them almost back to back. I’d give them about a four out of five stars; they’re well-written and good entertainment, but I came into the stories expecting a little more substance. Like going for a hamburger and getting a nice glazed donut instead. It’s a perfectly good glazed donut, but more of a snack than a filling lunch.

The story starts out well, with Eddie, a guy desperate for a job, taking a position that will employ him in deep-immersion gaming that sounds just a bit too good to be true. Of course, it is; and the guy in charge of the project is up to something distinctly hinky, from stolen code to starting people as level zero to not setting the player flags that would let Eddie, Karl, and the others hired respawn if they were killed. And at level zero a bunny could kill them.

(No, not a joke. Some of the advanced bunnies in a warren do a heck of a lot of damage to those two. If not for a friendly bobcat, things would have been dicey.)

Watching Eddie improvise and think his way through problems higher-level characters would solve by brute force is fun. And I like that there are only a few actual bad guys in the setting; like real life, most characters are either decent people just trying to get by, or no worse than serious jerks. On top of that the author’s obviously put a lot of thought into both worldbuilding and how Light Online should work. It hangs together very well.

But there are some things that make me go, “Eh.” One is a formatting problem. A lot of places in the text where only one line of thought should be italicized, the whole paragraph – or several – are instead. This is a consistent problem in both books.

The others are character and plot problems. First, Eddie. While he starts out at level zero and has to improvise his way up, I’d say he’s too good at coming up with working ideas. Nobody has good ideas all the time, and even good ideas don’t work all the time, due to environment, unforeseen factors, and just plain human cussedness. Yet in-story, just about every last one of Eddie’s ideas work, and usually work spectacularly. When IRL nobody sets a gameworld in “easy” mode and expects to keep players long-term.

Second, a literal deus ex machina, in the form of the Freya AI, interfering just about any time it looks like our players are in for seriously Interesting Times. Would it have been that hard for her to still be busy until after the goblin invasion got going? Yes, it’s her job to keep the game running the way it should be, but… as the story stands, it feels like the players just don’t have enough at risk.

Third, and this may just be personal preference, but there’s a bit of in-game sexual assault as backstory that just doesn’t ring right to me. If you know you’re building a game sometimes used for medical purposes, so someone may not be able to logout under duress, you’d think there would be a ‘kick’ option. Even for NPCs. Especially for NPCs. What kind of sick dev programs goblins to do that to humans in the first place? Ugh.

They are good books. But I like to see characters struggle a little to earn their happy ending. And when it feels like level 150 sorcerer Diablo in How Not To Summon a Demon Lord had to fight harder and smarter to earn his victories even when everyone around him was a lower level… yeah, Light Online could use a little more “hard mode” in there.

Will I get the next book? Very likely. I’ll just expect it to be more donut, and less hamburger.

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: Light Online Vol 1 & 2

  1. I’ll bet the author read Goblin Slayer and thought the increased stakes made the story more compelling. But it’d require one sick fluffer to code that in to a full-sensory VR with disabled logouts.

    (Unless one branch of the development team wasn’t talking to another, due to misapplication of The Mythical Man-Month. That’s disturbingly plausible. But it’s ultimately all on the meatspace author, to decide what kind of drama he wants in the story.)

    Out of curiosity, how often do you think that clever ideas should fail, succeed with complications that hardly make the idea worth it, be something that already has known counters, etc., vs. something that works outright? One thing I’ve tried to do with my practice writing is figure out how to have the POV character’s ‘clever’ ideas fail entertainingly, but it requires discipline to not be a power fantasy _and_ experience to make the failures work without the POV character being an uninteresting loser.

    -Albert

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    1. Over on Honyaku, Klinh wrote Electric City, which is sorta ‘what if the development teams were so big that people were losing track of the implications of design choices’.

      I recently read Petrowski’s Success Through Failure, which is a discussion of engineering design choices through historical examples.

      So, in story terms, what does a failure mean?

      A story where the hero constantly succeeds in everything might reflect a worldview where there are winners, blessed to inevitable successes, and losers, cursed to inevitable failures.

      That worldview is not one that in real life leads to the successes that real life engineers and entrepreneurs can realize. Those people have a worldview that ‘bad’ choices lead to losses or poor quality victories, that you can learn by paying attention to your decisions and processes, and by evaluating your results. Engineers are a little biased towards deep study of prior art, and minimizing uncaught failures. Entrepreneurs can’t get away with just studying prior art, and tend to accumulate a lot of failures before building something they can make last.

      Shiroe, Diablo, perhaps Momo from Overlord, are in theory characters of this latter type who have learned enough from prior experience that they can make shrewd guesses in similar alien situations, and take more risks for the same ratio of success to failure. Max Level Wizard has a similar OP power level, but knows much less about the world.

      I think the Japanese writing culture tends to think about the type in terms of something that might be translated as tactician or strategist. The wiki for Kingdom might be a deep dive into those archetypes.

      Death March guy is super OP, but a failure for him is finding himself in a place where he has to spend a lot of time thinking really hard. Smartphone I don’t really have a handle on what makes it tick, but the guy isn’t driven to take huge risks. Jun from Klinh’s Wizard of the Flower Blades is hard to explain, but is deeply in denial, and obsessed. One could joke that Jun’s sexual preference is making a better sword than the last one.

      How OP or underpowered are they, where are they in their learning curve where current circumstances are concerned, how much do they plan, what kind of risks do they take, and how driven are they? You can also sell an idiot protagonist who screws up constantly.

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    2. I’d say about fifty-fifty. Though an experienced hero should get the edge of knowing when things are going wrong before they go completely pear-shaped, or possibly even before the plan gets too advanced, depending on the situation.

      It’s like writing a story. Lots of things SEEM like a Good Idea. It takes practice to winnow out which ones you can actually make work. And sometimes you spend an awful lot of time and effort to get nowhere.

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  2. Then there is always the reader factor. Just because an author has made an effort to shape the narrative to show that the characters have varying levels of success or failure, doesn’t mean that the readers will pick up on the author’s intentions…

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  3. In the manga ‘mushoku tensei’ the isekai MC used to be a fat jobless NEET, who vowed to take things seriously and train hard in his new reincarnated life. but there are scenes where the nature of a NEET in japan shows itself by both insight on trope, AND by having him react really badly to certain things that are weaknesses from previous life-a weakness to certain social events.like how the very idea of going to play outside the front yard of the family house in his new life caused a paralizing fear in the boy, despite being trained in sword combat and magic by skiled teachers and showing promise, and there being no danger from it.

    OR like how in No Game No Life, Shiro and Sora, when seperated, are utterly helpless… that episode of the girl alone, was even made all grey to emphasize the melancholy and hopelessness. they are each other’s emotional crutch, no more like each other’s emotional legs, as they can barely stand alone, and even then, only for a very short time!

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