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Holy Crap, That Was Great

Sorry for my crass review title, but again--holy crap, that was great. You are obviously a well-read, intelligent individual, and those qualities shine through in your writing through your literary references (Kipling's "If" was used to great effect) and your various quotes from historical figures. I was also quite impressed at several of the political stances you took--in today's culture, I think it is beyond rare to find an artist who has politically conservative sensibilities (and who can actually write an enthralling fictional story). I am so happy that you reached out to me on my "ReviewMe" post, as we seem to share some very similar political ideologies (I'm assuming, of course, that you share the views of your protagonist, Adrian Marshall). Just reading the various acts of legislation and your outline for government in this book, you absolutely have my vote if you ever want to run for office.

Your world-building is also quite good--I truly believed in Amity as a country. As stated, you went to great lengths to describe its legislation; you also went to great lengths to describe the mechanics of its government, the feel of its news media outlets, and the biographies of several of its inhabitants. Even characters who I initially thought would be minor, like Zabek, were given full, rich biographies. Zabek could have easily been just a one-note tough guy, but you fleshed him out and made him far more terrifying.

The setup is solid as well, and though it reminded me of the setup for the television series "Designated Survivor" (I don't know if you've seen it or not), it definitely went off in its own unique direction; whereas the show explores a new President struggling with his new position of power, your story takes a guy who is confident in his vision and allows him to execute it, thus focusing more on the creation of a new political atmosphere as opposed to focusing on a personal struggle. I almost found this to be a modern-day remake of Thomas More's "Utopia" (though obviously your book proposes an imaginary capitalist society rather than a socialist one, as More's did), in that it's more about the structure of an ideal government than it is about characters.

That's not to say that the characters and the main story aren't good--quite the contrary. I found the rivalry between Marshall and Montgomery to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the plot. The idea that these two men, who are superficially enemies on opposite sides of the political spectrum, highly respect each other as they play their game of high-stakes chess, reminded me of the respectful rivalry of Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty. Their conversations provide some of the strongest scenes in the book. Marshall's comaraderie with his Vietnam buddies, his complex relationship with Claire, and his strong marital bond with Joanna is also very well-explained. And honestly, with the amount of subplots you're juggling here, I was quite impressed with your ability to hold it all together and drive each thread to work in one cohesive story.

There were a few things that I thought you could maybe improve on, but they are relatively minor, so I don't think any stars need to be detracted from this excellent work. The reason I am pointing these issues out is to be constructive, and by no means to belittle the good work you've done here. (NOTE: A FEW SPOILERS AHEAD) The first issue I found was that you have a few grammatical and spelling errors--however, they were few and far between. Most of the writing here is strong, and I think that you could very quickly fix this in a revised draft.

Some of the dialogue is also a bit clunky--specifically, there are scenes where the characters are talking in an almost robotic fashion. These are usually scenes where you're trying to drive the plot forward and are using the characters as a mouthpiece for exposition, but it also occasionally occurs due to the characters coming off as too smart to be real. I love Adrian's journal entries, especially the quotes at the end--however, when you have characters use really sophisticated words and make obscure quotes, they almost come off as too smart to be realistic. This doesn't happen often--like I said, it's a minor issue. It makes sense for Adrian to have these super intelligent journal entries, but in casual conversation, the references and sophisticated vocabulary occasionally come off as a bit too much.

There's also a lot of repetition of plot points throughout the book that is not entirely necessary. It's okay to repeat plot points, and I appreciate it when a book reminds me of something I might have forgotten otherwise, but every so often you do it just a bit more than you should. For instance, in the dinner scene with Adrian, Claire, and Tom, you have Adrian relay the entire story of how they stopped Tom from getting blackmailed. We just read that, you don't have to tell us again. Instead of relaying that plot thread over again, you could simply state that Adrian explained to Tom what happened. There are other instances in the book like this, and I think you could whittle them down in a similar style--I would then use the newly found space to add even more characterization and fun dialogue that isn't so focused on delivering exposition.

There is also some repetition of the phrase "auspicious day" in Marshall's journal entries towards the end--I'd just swap one of the two uses I saw for another phrase to keep it fresh.

My final main critique has to do with the last part of the story and its relation to the title. I LOVE THE TITLE! I love its mention throughout the story. However, when you get down to the end, there wasn't really a huge price that Adrian had to pay for changing the political structure of Amity. He died, yes, but that was due to his cancer--there was no repercussion for his political actions. He died as a beloved figure. It would make more sense based on the title that he died tragically as a martyr for his cause--he changed the government to work brilliantly, but maybe Montgomery is able to successfully paint him as a villain using the fact that he never took care of his biological son, Thomas, until recently. Then, Marshall would have paid the price of having people despise him, but he still changed society for the better. I don't know if I would go with that ending exactly--I'm just spitballing ideas, and at the end of the day, this is your story. I did like the ending you have, but my point is that there is no real price Adrian pays, as he has almost no critical flaws--he's too perfect (unless I'm missing something, which very well could be the case). As a side note, while I'm talking about the whole Thomas thing, I thought you let Sam and Randolph off way too easy for their involvement in the murder of the young lady. Sure, they didn't directly kill her, but they knew about it and continued to pay the man who did it without even thinking of going to the police. Their punishment didn't seem fitting, although it did allow for Sam to publish a fantastic final article about Adrian, so I see why you let him live (and while on the note of Sam Montgomery--he is a fantastic villain, and I LOVE how you made a journalist out to be a villain, as most stories now paint journalists as martyrs in search of the truth, which is increasingly not the case in reality anymore).

Again, these are minor complaints. Overall, I loved your story, your writing, your political sensibilities, your world-building, your characters, and your pacing. When I first read your blurb, I was worried--I am not a huge fan of political thrillers. I am currently reading "The Dark Tower" series by Stephen King, so you can tell from that that my fictional taste lies more in the realm of science fiction and fantasy than it does in grounded political thrillers. However, I was almost immediately drawn into your work, which just goes to show how good it really is. I not only look forward to hearing your thoughts on my novel, as I think you are a truly gifted writer, but I also look forward to buying a copy of this in book form when it is published professionally--it is that good. I don't see an option to give you a vote for the novel contest--please change that, because this is the best book I've read on this site so far.

PROS: Intelligent, complex story; fleshed out characters; amazing world-building; excellent political ideas.
CONS: Occasional grammatical and spelling mistakes; title inconsistency; a little too much exposition at times; occasional clunky dialogue.


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Imagination Overload

Right off the bat, I'd like to discuss what I enjoyed about this story. The first chapter, in my opinion, is the best of all of them. It sets up a very intriguing, eerie scenario--an elderly, wheelchair-bound man whose only goal is to enter into the dreamworld and make it through a mysterious door that promises to renew his youth. It's a fantastic setup. I also liked how it was not all that clear in the beginning whether the dream world was real or whether it was a product of Jon's imagination. The first five chapters in particular are, for the most part, good in building up this narrative.

It is the second half of the book in which I think things go a little off the rails, and this portion of the book could use the most work (spoilers ahead for those of you who haven't read it yet). We learn that Jon is schizophrenic in a way, making up imaginary friends that want to kill people. However, these imaginary friends don't have much in the way of their own personality--Parker and Mona are the most interesting ones, and yet they have the least characterization (they simply want to murder things and act as agents of chaos). Sandy, the one we are supposed to care about the most, merely seems to be there as an object of affection for Jon, with little character traits other than being attractive. Some of the dialogue (particularly in the romantic sections) comes off as cliched. Because this story is so original and unique, you are doing yourself a disservice by not having dialogue that matches the story quality. I also wouldn't call the hamburger stand "Bob's Burgers" for the same reason--this story deserves a hamburger stand with a more original name.

But again, I don't think the final half of the book really does justice to your great setup. What starts out as an interesting story about meditating on youth and a yearning for the old days quickly turns into a medley of too many things going on at once. This story starts from being about a crazy person to being about raising mummies, to being about aliens, to being about finding the lost city of Atlantis, to being about Shadow people, and finally to being about accepting death. Accepting death was the real story all along, and I'm glad the book finally found its way back to that theme. However, there are far too many different, isolated stories told along the way that have nothing to do with accepting death (unless I'm missing some symbolism--in which case, make the symbolism more apparent). These isolated stories depend upon the narrator's psychotic state, and yet the narrator himself knows that he is psychotic--this shouldn't be the case. A person with schizophrenia should not be aware of the fact that they have schizophrenia. Leave it up to the reader to interpret whether or not what the narrator is seeing is real, rather than feel the need to explain it all the time. Another reviewer said there's a lot of telling in this story rather than showing, and I agree--build up the scene for us, don't explain why everything is happening. Just let it happen.

There are also some significant technical issues (spelling, grammar, unnecessary capitalization, punctuation) that hold this story back--this feels like a first draft that, upon some revision and editing, could turn into something great.

Again, you have a lot of good stuff in here--the beginning felt like the setup to a Stephen King story, the meditation on life, death, youth, and old age is intriguing, and the acceptance of death so the narrator is no longer stealing life from others is a solid final revelation. If you just expand those parts of the story and maybe take some of the crazier stuff out (I didn't find the Atlantis bit or the mummy bit necessary), I think you could revise this into something truly special. I might also suggest a title change--I don't think "Dead or Alive" is a good enough title for a story this unique.

PROS: Enthralling setup, intriguing themes on life, death, and aging, imaginative twists.
CONS: Too many isolated stories that don't have much to do with final themes, not a lot of character development outside of the main character, some cliched dialogue, grammar issues.

I hope this review helps, and I hope to see a revised version of this story in the future! You've got a great imagination, and I think if you just rein it in and focus it into the more important parts of the story, you've got something awesome on your hands.

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An Exciting Start

Overall, I enjoyed quite a bit of "8th Round." Though I have only read 3/4 of the work so far, I wanted to go ahead and give a review while my thoughts on the story are still fresh. First off, I think the plot is highly original--another reviewer stated that it was reminiscent of such films as "Groundhog Day" and "Edge of Tomorrow," and in many ways, yes, it is similar. However, I like the notion of getting a longer "round" each time, progressing further into the future before the reset occurs so that more information can be learned. This is different from those two films in that the main character has a constantly expanding set of time to work with.

I also liked the backwards storytelling--I liked how we started out on the last round of the protagonist's run, and we sort of have to keep up as he fills us in on other characters and what they mean to the plot. It reminded me a bit of Christopher Nolan's "Memento," in which not everything is clear at first and we slowly put the pieces together. However--I would recommend letting those pieces stay on the sidelines for a bit longer than you do. Exposition is just sort of thrown at the reader, and by the time we get a few chapters in, there's almost no mystery. Rather than having the main character outline everything for us about time travel, have it be a bit more of a mystery. It also doesn't make sense for him to know certain things--how does he know he only has eight rounds to save the world? Focus more on character building initially, then gradually throw in the explanations for the time travel stuff.

I love how the plot takes place in a ton of different settings all around the globe--let us live in these places, let us read about them, let us read about how the characters react to them, and propel the plot forward without explaining yourself constantly. There will be time to explain later, no need to worry about it right from the word "go." You have some great rapport between characters--let's see more of that! You have some genuinely funny lines in here. I also think the romantic tension between Jakes and Danielle is heartbreaking, especially given the note in the beginning. Can he live this new round without her, even though he loves her? It's a really good setup for some serious drama.

There's also an awesome sense of buildup here--much like Steven Spielberg did with "Jaws," you're sort of holding off from showing the main event (in this case, the apocalypse), instead focusing on building up the suspense. This makes it different from a lot of other apocalyptic stories (for instance, "The Walking Dead"), in that you don't start out with the event in question. The story is more about the mechanisms of the event than the event itself, and that's refreshing.

Two quick fixes--I'd change the name of Jakes' investment company, as "Equinox" I believe is also the name of a fitness organization. Also, is "Jakes" a common name in South Africa? I keep wanting to say "Jake," and I don't know if the "s" is intentional or not (I know another reviewer pointed this out already). I might consider just changing it to "Jake."

The biggest issue with the story is not really in the story itself, but some of the more technical aspects of the writing--grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. There are some misspellings and some awkward phrasings scattered throughout, making it feel like a rough draft rather than a final product. You are writing (mostly) in present tense, but every now and then you fall back into past tense. I would pick one and stick with it--if I were you, I'd change it to past tense just because that's how most stories are told, and I think it would flow better. Then again, it is a time travel story, so if you can make present tense work for that in the moment stuff, go for it--just be consistent.

Another reviewer stated that they disliked the quotes at the beginning of each chapter--I would actually disagree. I think they're a good way to set up the next part of the story, and it's something that a lot of professional writers do. I loved how you started out with a quote from "Doctor Who." Very fitting.

PROS: High-concept, original, complex, globe-spanning plot with a focus on build-up over the climactic event. Good rapport between characters.
CONS: Grammar, punctuation, writing style, past versus present tense, some minor plot holes.

Again, I think this is an exciting start to something that could be really good--if you just go through this draft and do some heavy-lifting with revision, it could be awesome. Hope this helps.

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