3 min read

Anti-Review: Beyond The Ranges

Anti-Review: Beyond The Ranges

John Ringo with James Aidee, published by Baen Books. Buy it here.

I mean, I can't say this was phoned in, because it's got loads of detail about stuff. And I have to be honest. I'm only about 60% of the way through.

Premise is "Boop." Stuff happens. Earth and humans go bye-bye, but get awakened ala Riverworld on a new planet, prepared just for them. The conceit here is that all the humans that were alive at the time of the oopsie have been brought back to existence on separate worlds, based on their political leanings. Sure, why not? It's scifi, and scifi is more fun when it lets itself get a little weird.

For a queer lefty (or raging communist if you are an American, I guess) I really like military scifi. It's like romance, except instead of happily ever after, the hero gets a promotion. Comfort reading, the thought of doing the right thing and being recognized for it? Damn. That's wish fulfillment right there.

Ringo writes cracking good military scifi. When I picked up "A Hymn Before Battle" at the Granville Street Bookstore, the premise was crazy. Alien invasion? That was soooo passe. The consensus amongst scififolk was that alien invasion was a lame ass trope that made no sense. Good writers avoided it. Niven and Pournelle's "Footfall" was a stellar exception. I bought the book because I was in a whimsical mood, and had a good-paying job so I could afford to take chances on things. Plus, he was in a related career, so I wanted to give my support.

That book was a RIDE. First chapters were damned rough...you could feel chapter by chapter how he improved as a writer, and by the end I was invested. And I consider the "Prince Roger" series he co-wrote with David Weber to be one of the better scifi character arcs ever.

Politics? If you haven't developed a bit of a filter, probably you will chuck most of his books at the wall at one point or another.


So I grabbed "Beyond the Ranges" because the premise was clear to me. It was a LitRPG book being written by a bestselling author. LitRPG, if you haven't gotten to reading it yet, is a genre built around the conventions of video games. Instead of the usual western "Hero's Journey" story arc, we instead have a steady progression. Character starts with nothing, kills some rats, levels up. Repeat...uhm...forever, basically. That's your whole arc right there. If you get excited reading about what skill someone might choose as they get stronger, this is the genre for you. More about that later. For now, Beyond the Ranges falls into a subgenre of base building. In this subgenre, the hero starts with nothing and then builds a tent. Then a house. Then a wall, then a bigger house and then a farm and a village and a city and you get the idea.

Figured it would be interesting to see how a "mainstream" writer handled this.

The answer is: not great.

It's okay, but it misses a lot of what makes the genre interesting. Stakes? Nada. I'm not even sure if the hero is motivated by boredom. The writer is motivated to hit the expected progression, and I can't say they are bored, because they keep dropping in little tidbits about how much they researched. They seem to be bored though. The middle of this book is a slog. It's got a severe case of the second half slump. Also, some weird second characters thrown in for no reason, and maybe forgotten? Dunno. Maybe they will show up later.

I'll probably finish it, but it's not really for me.

I'm not gonna recommend this book, and frankly if you're reading anything I've written online, you are probably the kind of person who can happily avoid giving any money to the writer or publisher on principle alone, even if it was much better. That said, if you're a LitRPG/Progression writer and looking to do some research? This book is an example of how to mainstream the genre. Probably worth getting a copy from the library and skimming for notes, good and bad. I think you'd be better off reading Tao Wong's "A Thousand Li", though. He draws from the real roots of the genre, Cultivation, and has written a very accessible series for folks not up on the genre. Also tasty for those who get the references! Highly recommended.

You actually read this far? Thanks! I'm planning on starting to review the books I'm reading here, because I keep coming across really good books that people don't seem to know about. Had to start with this one, to clear the pipes as it were. Not sure what's next, but I want to get back into regular posting, so this is how we start.