Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Around the Table On Nethereal

In which Jon aggregates links to other reviews of Nethereal, and highlights a few selections from each. 

Yard Sale of the Mind
A couple caveats: I suspect I’m not exactly the target audience for this book. I’ll confess I’m not much for super-cool mind powers, which abound here. The advanced enough science/indistinguishable from magic deal seems like so much hand-waving when what you really want are Merlin-equivalents in your sci fi. This is just a personal quirk, traceable, perhaps, to my never having played RPGs – an obvious shortcoming on my part. I know many people enjoy this kind of stuff, but for me it takes some getting past. But given that, the magic/technology is well done.
One other curiosity, also just a personal thing: much of the action takes place in a Hell unique to the Nethereal Universe, but roughly structured after the Nine Circles in Dante’s Inferno. Now, I’m as big a Dante-freak as you’re likely to find outside a university Dante department, so, naturally, I’m mapping Dante’s Hell against the Nethereal Hell – and, I ended up reading the book three times, and couldn’t make sense of it. Sure, there are points of contact and shared imagery, but I ended up thinking it was just for drama and color – I could not find any of Dante’s sophisticated sense of morality, which is the true structure of his Hell, in Nethereal’s weird and evocative afterlife. But again, rare is the reader who will find this an issue.
Russell Newquist
Nethereal is a strong debut novel. The characters are interesting. The setting is interesting. The plot bogs down just a bit in the middle, but otherwise moves at a brisk pace. Most importantly, you’ll want to know what happens next to these characters. The most frustrating thing for me in reading this book was that I was so busy that I had to read it in short segments. I kept getting angry that I had to put it down to do other things. 
Millennial King
I have just finished Brian Niemeier’s Nethereal, first of the Soul Cycle. It’s alright. Short Form: I liked it quite a bit, but not 18 bucks for a paperback quite a bit.
I enjoyed this book as an Opera. I read it slowly and quickly in turn. Pacing was a bit of a problem, but not too much of one. Characters fell into archetypes, which I appreciated, as every character had clear or hidden agendas, and could, if called on, sing about them. The author was clearly aware of Tropes as Tropes, which lead to a certain flavor and shorthand I could appreciate. Overall, a good read, kindle money, certainly. 
Wasteland Sky
Imagine if Abraham Merritt read Galactic Patrol and said "Pshaw! I can do that!" then while writing his space opera he read Dune and watched some classic anime and decided to throw those in too. Of course, he couldn't do any of that being that he died so long ago, but that's not my point. That's the closest I can come to describing what reading Nethereal is like. 
As a classic anime fan, I couldn't help but picture this as a 26 episode series by Studio Deen made way back in 1992 or so. This is not a criticism. That is not a feel anime can even get down anymore, but a point for the book in matching a feel and spirit that isn't really done today. I'm not sure if non-anime fans would get as much out of the Nethereal's style as I did, but that does help to make it totally unique and wrapped in with the world-building that Brian Niemeier sets out to accomplish. By the end, you just want a second season right away. Unlike that season 2 of Outlaw Star I've been waiting around fifteen years for, the Soul Cycle series already has a second book out, Soul Dancer, which I hope to get to eventually. 
Castalia House
And while the baseline universe is a humanocentric setting, the protagonists all come off as if they are insane demi-human types drawn from some unholy rpg splatbook drawn from an alternate timeline and glommed onto some already-heretical role-playing game. Just like first person shooters, pulp hero’s tend to be ordinary, straight-ahead, plain vanilla, white bread, square jawed “regular guy” types. And that archetype is nowhere to be found in Nethereal. Indeed, the characters come off like GURPS PC’s with way too many character points handed out from session to session and a game master that simply cannot say no when they decide to spend them on completely insane stuff that ought to cause the campaign to fly apart at the seams.
In short, this is the kitchen sink book’s kitchen sink book. It is a product of a culture in which BadWrong Fun™ has become a way of life. This is exactly the sort of thing that has disappeared from mainstream fantasy over the years, but which could have been taken for granted as normal back when the fantasy tabletop role-playing hobby was just starting to take off.


  1. Just want to add, because it's not exactly clear from the snippet from my review above: I actually liked the book, bought the sequel immediately as soon as available, and am 30% through it. As other reviewers with broader experience (when I was a sophomore in college, the punk freshmen were playing some new-fangled game they called 'D&D' which was clearly beneath my 19-year-old dignity...) say: its sources, aside from Dante, are RPGs, video games and other non-sci-fi-lit stuff - which threw me for a bit of a loop, as all those things are outside my experience. AND - it fits no existing category (Sci-Fi fantasy horror mythology gamer something something?). But my mind was pretty blown by the end.

    1. Don't wreck the reveal! One of the purposes of a post like this is to drive traffic to your blog. Don't listen to Joseph, everybody - you should go to Yard Sale of the Mind and read for yourself.

      Seriously, it's fantastic. One of the more contemplative blogs out there, and I often have to read his posts in small bites in order to digest everything they contain. It's like a less pompous version of John C. Wright's Blog. (I say that as a big fan of JCW's pomposity.)

    2. Thanks for the review and clarification, Joseph. And Jon's right. Your block rocks!