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PaulAsaran


Technical Writer from the U.S.A.'s Deep South. Writes horsewords, and reviews both independently and for Seattle's Angels. New reviews posted every Thursday! Writing Motto: "Go Big or Go Home!"

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Jan
16th
2020

Non-MLP Review: What a Time to Be Alice! · 9:47pm January 16th

What a Time to Be Alice!

105,819 Words
By G. S. Taylor

What? G.S. Taylor? Yes, or as you may know him, JawJoe, author of such stories as Rainbow Dash: Re-Animator, Twilight Sparkle: Night Shift, and Queen of Queens. JawJoe has always focused a bit more on pessimistic and/or dark stories, in which happiness is never guaranteed. So What a Time to Be Alice! proves a very different and rewarding endeavor.

The story centers on Alice, a typical girl growing up in the 22nd century. She’s got nanobots guaranteeing her a potentially infinite lifespan, permanent internet hookups feeding information to her constantly, and lives comfortably in a four-mile-tall megatower with her parents off universal basic income. But Alice is ambitious and not willing to settle for a life of doing nothing. Through effort and diligence, she has earned a chance to attend Stella’s Stellar Academy on the moon. Which would be great if there weren’t anarchic terrorists getting in the way and a school principal out to make her scholastic career a very short one. At least she has her friends Kati and Tenma to help get through this… even if one of them isn’t as ‘normal’ as she seems.

The thing about this tale is its more… positive perspective on the future. G. S. Taylor envisions a world where science went right and humanity’s fate, while not necessarily a utopia, is vastly better than you might expect. With most science aspects grounded firmly in reality (and some cheeky winks at the audience when that just didn’t work out), the author clearly went through great pains to ensure that every bit of futuristic tech we see is genuinely possible within the realms of science as we know it today. We just haven’t made it there yet. You won’t see faster-than-light travel, cyborgs hell-bent on destroying humanity, or massive fleets of alien invaders.

Okay, you’ll see an alien invader, but that’s in a video game and doesn’t count.

Along this ride we’ll also get to witness Alice’s gradual growth as she makes discoveries connecting her to all the strange events surrounding the school. There’s an underlying mystery that pervades the story almost from the beginning, and much of the plot revolves around our heroes’ efforts to solve it. At the same time, Taylor never forgets that our protagonist is a fifteen-year-old girl, with all the emotional reactions and self-imposed drama that entails. Not only Alice, but all her friends (and enemies) are fully fleshed out characters who reflect their backgrounds and ages delightfully.

It is interesting to me that the author seems to place certain aspects of their own perspective into these characters. Laura, for example, appears to be a characterization of all Taylor’s negative opinions regarding capitalists and the religious bundled into a single body. Yet even with Laura being at times a character of negative stereotypes, Taylor manages to turn things around and reveal over time that she’s still just a normal girl with her own fears, insecurities, and expectations. Not to say that Laura is made into a redeemed or anti-heroic figure, but instead that Taylor managed to keep her character bounded in reality… which is impressive. This is all the more apparent in the character of Laura’s cousin Justin, who truly exemplifies the concept of characters being shades of grey.

That being said, bullheaded adventurer Kati was easily my favorite character.

On top of all this is a narrative that maintains a certain whimsy at all times. Even when things are dire – arguably desperate – the narrative likes to be playful. It gives the entire story an almost childish feeling, like it’s viewing all these events with an ever-present half-smile of amusement. Not only does this serve to keep the reading itself from getting stale, it also reinforces the dominant theme of the story: things are never as bad as they could be. Oh, bad things happen, certainly. There will be sadness, self-doubt, good old-fashion fisticuffs, and a little blood thrown in the mix. But things could always be worse.

Therein lies the point of the story, underlying every little moment. It’s all about the inherent good in humanity, maybe not in the individuals but certainly in the whole. The message isn’t firmly stated until the end, but nevertheless the allusions and hints are there practically from the first page. Taylor does an exceptional job of keeping that theme firmly in place no matter where you look.

There isn’t much to complain about. Some might think that the story moves too slowly, though I felt it moved at exactly the pace it needed to. I also would have loved to get a ‘where are they now’ scene at the end for Alice’s friends Kati and Tenma, although I can’t blame the author for not putting that in. But overall? A great showing by Taylor, and one I hope will be a sign of things to come.

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Comments ( 3 )

Psst, guys, listen: until the 19th of January, the book is also completely free on Amazon.

Thank you for the review, Paul. I hope others will like it as much as you did.

This sounds like a lovely story! And reminds me I never got around to reading Chuck Finley’s non-MLP sci-do story >_>

5187484
Oh hey, you also are anti-capitalist? We should talk.

I like free books!

Feel like I could use some optimistic-yet-realistic sci-fi. I think I'll check this out.

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