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posted by CoolHand on Monday October 15 2018, @06:42PM   Printer-friendly
from the reviewing-the-internet dept.

What if Earth was an unusually volcanic and hostile planet? What if an unusually bright sun and unusually high gravity made humans unusually compact and strong? What if religion kept humans sane and striving in such a hostile environment? What if apex predators were the exception rather than the norm? What if 30,000 alien abductees had been taken for medical research and the Interspecies Dominion had no qualms with indigenous flora and fauna (and especially meat-eating fauna) being taken in this manner? These are not new ideas but rarely have they been expounded so thoroughly.

The Jenkinsverse begins with Kevin Jenkins caught in a bureaucratic trap. The Canadian barman with a prominent crucifix tattoo was abducted by Alien Grays, forcibly given an experimental translator implant and dumped at an interstellar trading post. He is unable to assert citizenship, get a job or go home. Where is Earth, anyhow? Many bureaucratic systems refuse to register sentient life from a planet similar to Earth and some bureaucrats think he's a liar. After being pushed around for six months, he saves numerous lives when marauding cannibal spiders attack a space-station. He becomes famous throughout the galaxy - although he is deemed insane after he mentions religion.

The warrior cannibals are not pleased with defeat. An advance party attacks Earth. They foolishly decide to attack a televised ice hockey game in Vancouver. They are quickly beaten to pulp with ice hockey sticks. Many humans think that the event was a hoax to gain television ratings. The alien technology recovered from the attack leads to the formation of SCERF [Scotch Creek Extra-terrestrial Research Facility] in Canada. A Private Investigator, Kevin Jenkins and a bunch of other abductees descend on the facility (much like Close Encounters Of The 22nd Kind). They arrive with a sketched catalog of alien species and it is promptly leaked on the Internet. Despite this, Kevin Jenkins gets a job running SCERF's café and bar where his input to casual conversations is pivotal. The Private Investigator encounters misfortune - and so does the police officer investigating the Private Investigator.

The police officer wants a fresh start and this allows the reader to follow one of humanity's first colonies. The police officer is assigned a small hut in a small settlement. He sees the first school, the first church, the first park, the first restaurant, the first gymnasium, and eventually the settlement develops into multiple cities with major agricultural exports to the galaxy. This may be quite enjoyable for anyone who likes computer games such as Settlers, Civilization or SimCity. Due to a personality quirk of a minor character, the main city is called Folctha - which is Irish Gaelic for bath-tub.

A clever device is used to keep the story in the immediate future. Specifically, all dates are given as years, months and days AV [After Vancouver]. So, for example, a scene may be set 1y2m3d AV and some are set in Folctha, Planet Cimbrean, The Far Reaches. The story is written in chapters from 2,000 to 180,000 words (sometimes split into five or more pieces), is heavy with dialog and often switches focus at pivotal moments. It is normally in a style similar to a soap opera but often makes interesting observations, such as the difference between investigative journalism and clickbait churnalism. However, the story may also follow one character for 50,000 words or describe a battle in detail.

[read the rest...]

This space opera has a large cast. Each region of the galaxy has a loose federation of species. Each major species has multiple planets. Each planet is held by a differing mix of species and political factions. (Given that herd species are common, interplanetary politics often resembles a stampede.) Each political faction has one or more representative characters. For humans, the factions are a mix private consortia and military alliances. (Ceres is run by an asteroid mining consortium. Folctha is nominally British but the local garrison is staffed by AEC [Allied Extra-solar Command], presumably based upon AAC, ALC and AMC.) The sorta dog/bear/raccoon ambush predators are feudal. The unified Clan Of Females mostly live in communes and mostly maintain a selective breeding program. There is also Clan StoneBack (logistics and civil engineering), Clan WhiteCrest (officers), Clan FireFang (fighter pilots), Clan LongEar (tele-communications), Clan StraightShield (justice), Clan GoldPaw (merchants), Clan StarMind (priests) and numerous other clans and clanless who live in communes.

The Alien Grays sometimes appear as comic relief, sometimes as antagonists and sometimes advance the plot with a MacGuffin. While the Grays are motivated by fame, fortune and flashy research with a quick pay-off, the plodding sorta mammoth species of the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun Confederacy spends decades or centuries working through the details. As expected from fiction which is similar to Babylon5 or StarWars, there are numerous species and individuals with dubious motives. However, the characters are excellent.

There is Jennifer Delaney (formerly IT support in Dublin, currently self-styled space-babe pirate queen), Adrian Saunders (former Australian soldier, currently "The Human Disaster"), Kevin Jenkins (barman and bagman), Drew Cavendish and Drew Martin (spacesuit designers), Moses Byron (billionaire rocketeer), Adam Arès, Legsy and Owen Powell (commanding officers of the space marines and their oft forgotten technicians), Admiral Knight, Captain Bathini (wears turban, drinks tea), Ava Ríos (Mary Sue, chaos monkey and occasional journalist), Julian Etsicitty (part Native American wilderness expert shamelessly modelled on The Mighty Buzzard), Allison Buehler (Mormon runaway), Xìu Chang (Chinese-Canadian linguistic expert, martial artist, dancer and aspiring actress), Wei Chang (3D printing expert), Amir (pilot and devout Muslim who has difficulty facing Mecca to pray until he gets a Mecca-detector), Lewis (geek), Zane (megalomaniac), Krrkktnkk A'ktnnzzik'tk and Vedregnegnug (alien bureaucrats with names that will trip any text-to-speech system), Daar (big oaf from Clan StoneBack), Ragaari (Clan WhiteCrest), Gyotin (Clan StarMind), Mark Tisdale and Hayley Tisdale (hippy scientists), Vemik ("Cavemonkey scientist"), Yan (tribal chief), the Alpha Of Alphas (warlord), the Alpha Of The Brood That Builds (geek) and at least as many more.

The serialized story is currently 1.5 million words (excluding the non-canon fan fiction) and is currently increasing by more than 30,000 words per month. Installments are published monthly or slightly more frequently. This fiction has been ongoing for about five years and the plot has advanced by more than 15 years. Therefore, senior characters retire, junior characters get promotion, children become adults and new characters are born. Despite the wide cast, the sheer volume of words creates an emotional investment and it can hit hard when a character is suddenly killed. This can realistically happen to any character at any time. One of the funerals has made me cry on at least four occasions. It was more emotional than StarTrek 2: The Wrath Of Khan or StarTrek Continues, Episode 1: Pilgrim Of Eternity. However, within 500 words, I had cause to openly laugh. Indeed, the story is such that it is common to cry then laugh.

Although it is not strictly a military saga, more than 20% of the writing depicts the space marines and some of the action is quite intense. This includes Operation Nova Hound, Operation Empty Bell, Dark Eye and multiple reconnaissance and extraction operations. For anyone who plays GURPS table-top rôle playing, Hello Kitty 40K or similar, there is plenty of source material for a campaign. It is also gratifying to see the technology advance over the 15 years (so far) of the story. As much as possible, a 900,000kg salvaged vessel is stripped of untrusted "alien space magic", fitted with keel and hatches to space navy standards, fitted with triple redundant 0.5GW fusion reactors (don't dare imitate Doc Brown and say "One point twenty one jigawatts!!!"), bus-bars to super-capacitors (reverse engineered by SCERF) and 90% efficient solid state inertial drives. In a burst, it can accelerate to 3g while dumping 3GW of heat. On a smaller scale, an EM rifle with 90 DU rounds per clip has a RS-485 bus on the Picatinny rail integrated with the suit HUD. There's also an RFG which is not to be confused with a VLM or a BFG.

A quirk of the Jenkinsverse is that the primary author was initially unaware of its success. Therefore, multiple story-lines gained considerably more chapters before characters were brought wholesale into the main spine of the story. Additionally, the primary author has written a prequel, looped off repeatedly and maintains a secondary story-line. Contemporary serialized fiction is decidedly collaborative and non-linear.

The final three chapters of the eight chapter prequel are quite amusing. The five chapter fan fiction, Wounded Rabbit, is particularly good and made me cry. Similar fan fiction covers the daily life of a human adopted by aliens. In addition to difficulty with language and cuisine, attempts to teach self defence are hindered by differing proportions.

I ignored the recommended reading order and read through the main spine of the story skipping parts required for continuity with fan fiction. This works very well with the exception that a batch of additional characters are introduced in Chapter 19. It is otherwise the most effective method to see improvements in writing quality. This is notably more flowing and candid every 10 chapters or so. From Chapter 20 or so, adult themes are covered. Swearing occurs from Chapter Zero and gets significantly more prolific from Chapter 12. Military characters swear like troopers but this is typically with British regional accents. "Well, fook me" is a typical example.

Adjusting for inflation, the primary author, Hambone3110, earns less money per word than a 1950s science fiction author. However, the author does not write to length and is certainly not restricted by it. Donations (per chapter) are almost US$3,600 and this is likely to grow considerably. Multiple levels of sponsorship are available up to and including product placement and naming characters.

DeathWorlders has a mix of gung-ho abandon, peril and consequences which is preferable to much commercial output. The major downside is the time required to read 1.5 million words. (It took me three months to get to Chapter 48 while doing graphic design.) A reader may incur increased swearing and a general feeling of invincibility which could be dangerous in some circumstances. However, before DeathWorlders obtained its own website, much of the work was placed in a section of Reddit.Com called Humans, F*ck Yeah which is an invigorating mix of factual and fictional accounts of people overcoming adversity. DeathWorlders will similarly raise spirits.

Original Submission

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Also at Science Magazine, Ars Technica, CNN, and Retraction Watch.

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by rondon on Monday October 15 2018, @07:18PM (1 child)

    by rondon (5167) on Monday October 15 2018, @07:18PM (#749185)

    I've read the first few paragraphs, and I'm interested. Doesn't appear to be bad so far, anyway. Thanks for the rec.

    • (Score: 2) by rondon on Wednesday October 17 2018, @01:02AM

      by rondon (5167) on Wednesday October 17 2018, @01:02AM (#749736)

      Update: 8 chapters deep in the main line and 14 deep in the Salvage story line and I'm loving it, to be honest. Great recommendation so far.

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 16 2018, @01:30AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 16 2018, @01:30AM (#749338)

    Ive read up to the chapters publish back in August, couple of notes for interested readers.

    A) It has a particularly American rightwing bent (This may be a deal breaker, it was for me in the end as it just became too obnoxious to continue to enjoy the story otherwise)
      i) Glorification of the Military vs Useless Civilians (I can't recall a single instance of the Military figures not being a heroic archetype, yet there are several civilian Jobsworth types to foil the noble warriors in their sacred duty)
      ii) Jordan Peterson expy (- A particular peeve of mine, he is most certainly not a leading light in philosophy and further popularising his nonsense is a giant black mark)
      iii) All international assemblies are useless/stopping the Americans from "doing whats right" (Yes, America, that paragon of exporting FREEDOMâ„¢)
      iv) Usual World police nonsense (absolutely no quibbles with military action on foreign Terran soil, completely glosses over the fact that was once upon a time an act of war)
      v) Liberals (the American version of the word) are always making things worse and at best misguided, at worst traitorous decadents destroying western culture. (This may be an unfair characterisation, but there was a specific arc that happened whilst I was becoming increasingly non-plussed with the story that stood out as exemplifying this)
      vi) Apparently can't go without a snipe at the rest of the world thinking gun control is a good idea.

    B) The alien civilisations/Hegemony have a rather bizarre capitalist economy
      i) You have FTL, perpetual motion machines (Quantum Cores) [!!] a huge number of uninhabited stellar systems and access to Desktop replicators, yet still have currency?!

    C) Has a rather odd obsession with body building and physical fitness (Cool, I didnt mind, but it was sortof jarring how often its brought up)
      i) [SPOILER] Reasonable distrust of cybernetics given plot events, but the overall tendecy towards squick with regards to augmentation is... well, kind of weird.
      ii) Apparently all women will throw themselves at sufficiently large pieces of moving muscle. (raises eyebrow)

    Its not all bad however, it does feature a rather diverse cast in both culture and competencies, the poly relationship is cute, the author tries to be even handed (if if they fail often). Its entertaining though not particularly thought provoking.
    Solid B+ material if you can get past the conservative nonsense that threads itself through the story indelibly.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 16 2018, @08:27PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 16 2018, @08:27PM (#749652)

      As someone who has read the whole series (disclaimer: and supports the patreon), I'd like to offer another viewpoint.

      I'll work through your comments backwards, avoiding spoilers as much as I can.

      C) Has a rather odd obsession with body building and physical fitness (Cool, I didnt mind, but it was sortof jarring how often its brought up)
            Spot on. The focus on the male body and working out is a bit unusual. Especially if you read the companion (and canon) stories "good training".

            i) I think it is well enough described why augmentation is avoided in the story. A) Alien species are so much more frail than humans that augmentations/prosthetics they designed simply can't withstand the forces a human body produces. This is in fact a major problem faced by one of the main characters. B) The race of "warrior cannibals" described in the OP heavily use augmentation. Since they are the boogeyman of interstellar life for herd species, they associate augmentation negatively. C) Many of the characters do actually have augmentation, but it is a failure of the writing that it isn't touched on more often, and can actually be easy to forget.

            ii) Again I agree. These men you are describing are also supposed to be the hand-picked pinnacle of humanity in more ways than just muscle. Most of them having extreme intelligence and skills in addition to their physique. Still, that's only a hand-wave - the story is absolutely guilty as charged here.

      B) The alien civilisations/Hegemony have a rather bizarre capitalist economy
            This is addressed in multiple ways in the plot. First is that the people at the top of a capitalist society like staying at the top. Second is that the aliens are overall not the most ambitious or clever things, and are happy to maintain status quo. Third is that the interstellar capitalism is used a lever to keep multiple species in line as they grow out of their planet - effectively forcing them into non consensual debt. The fourth and primary reason is a major spoiler.

      A) It has a particularly American rightwing bent (This may be a deal breaker, it was for me in the end as it just became too obnoxious to continue to enjoy the story otherwise)
            The story is definitely America-centric, but I think someone from the right wing would see this story as leftist propaganda as well. While I'll be arguing against some of your points here, I'd like to state for the sake of understanding that I am speaking form the perspective of a left leaning moderate American.

      To address your specific points:
          i) Glorification of the Military vs Useless Civilians
                  If you look at the events of the story, aside from strengthening a relationship with one other particular species NO accomplishments of note were made by the military. Civilians did all of it. If anything, the military comes off as somewhat evil - swooping in and claiming civilian's work at the 11th hour, bullying them around, and often refusing to share critical live saving information that results in the deaths of many characters. Sure, some big battles happen where humans win, but it is almost always too little too late, or unable to significantly alter the state of things in a way that is good for the universe in the long term. For a story that is effectively human supremacy fanfic, the military gets more flak than you'd really expect.
                Meanwhile, the civilian characters are bleeding edge explorers, inventors, etc. While I'll admit it is often by accident, almost every discovery and plot advancement made throughout the story is done by civilians.
                  There is one character in particular that I feel the ball was dropped on, and winds up representing the "noble hero" archetype. Despite the author's attempts to make it stick the trauma that drives him sort of just vanished as a plot element. The other people in that classification do not fit the argument you are making. Each of them struggles deeply with the tools of war they have found themselves to be, and generally are very self destructive and reject their own opportunities at happiness, or even basic empathy from others believing they don't deserve it. One character in particular demands to be introduced to humanity as (paraphrasing to avoid spoilers) "the most evil known being ever to have existed".

          ii) I'm actually going to have to pass on this comment, as I'm not certain which character you are referring to.

          iii) This depends on which assembly you are referring to. If you mean between the alien species, then for spoiler reasons that is intentional. If you mean among human species than it is for spoiler reasons also understandable, as the Americans/Brits are aware of something the rest are not. This is actually an inversion of a different trope, because the other nations are seeing the Americans and British act in a manner that outwardly appears to represent the most commonly evil things they are accused of - expansionism and meddling in other state's affairs. The other nations are acting with the information they have in an entirely reasonable manner, and America is being blocked because of its own past mistakes, failures, and missteps coming back to haunt it.

            iv) I think the writer made an assumption that the audience would understand the implications of the clandestine operations on foreign soil. I agree that aspect of it could have been handled better, but it was likely brushed aside to not distract from the major results of that event (which were absolutely horrific).

            v) Liberals making things worse is absolutely untrue. Folctha is an extremely liberal location, and is seen as the beacon of human advancement. By far the majority of the characters are left leaning (excluding some opinions on gun control). If you are referring to the ALF terrorist group, I don't think those are intended to be liberal analogues, more of a combination of the worst aspects of both extreme liberal and conservative groups. A sort of hybrid between PETA and the KKK.

            vi) It is definitely pro gun. It is also taking place largely on a frontier planet that is a clash of British and American culture with hostile alien species and high profile targets during wartime, so it is at least mildly understandable that the topic comes up.

  • (Score: 2) by CZB on Tuesday October 16 2018, @02:34AM

    by CZB (6457) on Tuesday October 16 2018, @02:34AM (#749365)

    That's more story than I'd want to start reading, but its cool to hear people are having fun on the internet!

  • (Score: 2) by JeanCroix on Tuesday October 16 2018, @04:56PM

    by JeanCroix (573) on Tuesday October 16 2018, @04:56PM (#749597)

    The warrior cannibals are not pleased with defeat. An advance party attacks Earth. They foolishly decide to attack a televised ice hockey game in Vancouver. They are quickly beaten to pulp with ice hockey sticks.

    The most plausible event in the entire story synopsis.

  • (Score: 1) by Dr. Manhattan on Tuesday October 16 2018, @10:40PM

    by Dr. Manhattan (5273) on Tuesday October 16 2018, @10:40PM (#749689)
    The Damned [] trilogy. Even including some author philosophy injections.