The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell, together, as quickly as possible. —Mark Twain
Tl;dr: 1 star.
(Update: Chatfield addresses my concerns with him trying to cash in on a popular genre here. You should read it before reading this review.)
This book fails at everything. It’s like reading the script for Star Wars: Phantom Menace. We get lots of exposition that doesn’t make any sense and is boring, followed by nonsensical character motivations. Reading this is like reading a student’s final paper.
The Amazon reviews are five stars, none of whom seem to be able to name anything they actually like about the book: Best scene, favorite character, best dialogue. Most also don’t seem to grasp English very well and either haven’t read any books or only awful ones, going through their reviews.
Just to find out, I ran it through Fakespot to see if the reviews were fake. It scores a D overall. Michael Chatfield’s game is simple. He writes in niche genres, gets fake reviews to boost his rankings, and then people read it because the novel shows up highly in their recommended lists. He pumps out books quicker than Marvel Studios pumps out movies, but he lacks any talent.
Maybe gaming the system would be acceptable if he was any good at writing. He isn’t. He’s the Uwe Boll of fiction writing. I’m sure there are genuine Uwe Boll fans out there. I’m not one of them. To me, as someone with morals and integrity, anyone caught gaming Amazon for money and literally stealing money from other authors would be permanently banned, but the community thus far has been too full of fanboys and circle-jerks.
Let’s look further. Here’s Joel’s review, 5 stars, of course:
This version compared to the RRL version is like night and day. I don’t know what editing magic was used but I could barely stand reading the other version.
It’s been a while since I’ve read the first page of a book and immediately knew the rest of it was going to be just as if not more exciting.
You know the kind of book you can read in one sitting despite having been awake for 24 hours already.
If only more books had this level of quality.
-Reasons to read this book-
1. The premise is so crazy that it’s brilliant! Manipulating humans using boredom in order to get them to fight their wars for them.
I loved watching the main character wonder why he couldn’t choose his race. It’s like creating a maze and watching a hamster navigate it.
2. The main character is easy to relate to and very believable. It’s nice after all the annoying Mary Sues people seem to love.
3. Side characters are not evil or good for the sake of being evil or good. They have desires that drive their actions.
4. Detail and World Building. Not too much that it bores you and not too little that you have no clue what’s going where or why it’s happening.
5. Plot twists. The plot twists are awesome and don’t come out of nowhere. Despite how shocking some of the twists may be, everything fits into place nicely.
6. LitRPG. Many of LitRPG’s I’ve read stop being LitRPG’s halfway through or never were one to begin with. To any aspiring authors, please stop writing half assed versions of LitRPG’s without having even finished an RPG before, played an MMO for more than 60 hours or something similar.
This author does it well. He has a predefined system which he sticks to instead of randomly coming up with crap as he goes. It makes the whole thing much more believable and enjoyable.
However, if you watch them now, after having seen hundreds of CGI-filled movies, the novelty wears off. You realize it’s just a terrible movie.
The only other nice thing I can say about this is that it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read. Barely. But what surprises me is that the author has written 12 books. As I discuss on my reviews section, I don’t review brand new authors unless they ask me or unless their work is being discussed critically as good. But this isn’t a new author, so gloves off.
The plot, such as you can call it, makes no sense. After an intergalactic war, humans are then maybe captured and maybe not (the book doesn’t bother to explain what exactly happens) and get put in a video game, and while in the first video game they then play another second video game, and this video game in the video game is meant to train them for intergalactic battles. Except instead of learning how to build nuclear bombs and space lasers, they shoot bows and arrows and use magic.
It takes forty or so pages of the worst exposition ever written to get that plot out, and it makes no sense. This is bad at an insane level. The entire novel is exposition on top of exposition on top of exposition. In my review for Aleron Kong’s “The Land: Raiders“, I say that good pacing is having an action and a reaction.
Action: Something occurs. Reaction: The people in the World react to the event, we learn about who they are through their reactions. A new event occurs, another chain of reactions go off, and so on and so forth. This book has neither actions nor reactions. It simply exists existentially.
In other words, you can have a quiet, contemplative book. This can range from As I Lay Dying by Faulkner to Jazz by Toni Morrison or Catcher in the Rye by Salinger. But there has to be some sort of internal conflict that propels this along. There is no internal conflict inside of The Trapped Mind Project. There is no external conflict in the novel. In short, there’s no substance.
If you’re going to write a book that’s short on substance, you better have fantastic prose to carry it along. Salmon Rushdie tends to get a huge amount of mileage out of just his prose. There’s none of that either because the prose is bad.
Further, there are no characters. No one has any motivation for anything they do. Our protagonist is a god-awful whining sack of sh** named Austin Zane. He’s actually a recycled character, it’s Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey. Remove the kinky sex drive and keep the same bored attitude towards everything.
Zane spends his time whining and complaining about being the richest man on Earth. That’s it. This is all he does in each and every scene. He exposits and he complains. If Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am”, Zane would replace it with, “I complain, therefore, I exposit.”
Yeah, you can get away with an unlikeable protagonist like Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, but you better have a story that carries this unlikeable protagonist along. Also, everyone has to realize that the protagonist is a piece of sh*t. There is no story here.
To escape from the tedium of being insanely wealthy, he plays the game in the game. From there, he quickly gets OverPowered for doing nothing, as we expect with any protagonist in a bad novel. This is our protagonist.
This is a book about boredom, and if this is meant to serve as an existential hell similar to Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit, then it achieves it brilliantly. Every page invokes ennui, all of the characters reflect on their sad existential state for being in this novel. No Exit told us hell is other people. This novel tells us that hell is reading this novel.
Maybe, like Camus’s The Stranger, this is meant to evoke the nature of our existence and the absurdity of it. Or maybe this is just a bad novel.
This novel is X-17, where the characters keep remarking how bad it is.
Plot: 1 star. Nothing makes any sense and is conveyed in the most dreadful, boring, expository way. No research or originality went into anything.
Characters: 1 star. Characters just do things because plot says characters should do things. No one has any real motivation except… they’re bored.
Emotions: 1 star. The emotion of boredom was conveyed in each and every sentence. I don’t know if I can “boredom” an emotion anymore than I can call “bald” a hair color. Boredom is the absence of any emotion.
Of course, this may not be fair. I am viewing this book as a piece of fiction, meant for entertainment. Perhaps this is meant to be a phenomenological discourse on the nature of ennui and boredom. In which the lived experience of boredom is captured, reified, and expressed through the novel, as the viewer goes along. In which case, as a phenomenological treatise, no other book has so well captured ennui and boredom.
If this is an existential and phenomenological novel asking us about the nature of boredom, then it gets my first five star review. In fact, every character is bored. Bob finds Zane/Dale because he’s bored. Deia finds Zane/Dale fascinating because she’s bored. Every character is as bored at being in this novel as I am in reading it, truly, this is the Double Indemnity of novels.
Long Review. Spoilers, obviously
We immediately start off with a violation of the basic rules of fantasy writing.
Ja’sheem looked to Lo’kal.
The first sentence is a cliche. Already, I’m not liking where this is going.
APOSTROPHES. Few NAMES in Fantasyland are considered complete unless they are interrupted by an apostrophe somewhere in the middle (as in Gna’ash). The only names usually exempt from apostrophes, apart from those of most WIZARDS, heroes, and COMPANIONS on the Tour, are those of some COUNTRIES. No one knows the reasons for this. Nor does anyone really know how an apostrophe should be pronounced, though there are theories:
1. You ignore the apostrophe and simply pronounce the word. (Here Gna’ash = Gnash.)
2. You leave a gap or lacuna where the apostrophe occurs. (Here Gna’ash = Gna-ash.)
3. You make a kind of clucking-sound to stand for the apostrophe. (Here Gna’ash = gnaglunkash.) Persons with insecurely mounted tonsils should adhere to one of the other two theories.
— The Tough Guide to FantasyLand
This gets followed by another violation, an exposition dump.
The Empire was the largest known organization of sentient creatures working together. For the most part, other sentients welcomed working with them to further the Empire and their own systems. However, there were other civilizations that preferred to fight instead of working together. They were called aggressive species, creatures that lived for violence. Despite the danger of aggressive species, the true threat to the Empire was from fractured species. Until the Empire had discovered Humans, they had only been a theoretical possibility.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 10-15). Kindle Edition.
Thank you for narrating the book at me, and doing it all in the passive tense to boot. I feel as if I could have picked this up as a corporate tour brochure. This beginning is even worse because all of this information is going to be repeated. Multiple times.
From a plot perspective, every species that isn’t a human must behave exactly the same, no exceptions. Because only humans are a “fractured species” that acts in their own individual self-interest instead of acting as a collective hive-mind or whatever plot device is going to be introduced to keep this thing going. Except it’s going to tell us that there are other fractured species, because the author doesn’t care and hopes you don’t either.
Also, this collective hive-mind “All acting the same” nonsense is immediately broken because we meet a Jukal (Bob) who goes against the system that he setup. So this is just an elaborate Rube Goldberg meant to distract us from the fact that there’s no plot here.
The massive amount of passive sentences, the awkward phrasing, the use of conjunctive adverbs, each sentence feels like it’s trying to cram as many details in as fast and painfully as possible. The book is a verbal root canal.
At the lowest level, if you want to be an author of anything, you have to be able to use words to communicate information. At the highest levels, you have to be able to use words to communicate emotion. Nothing communicates either information or emotion. As a novel, terrible. As a reflection on ennui, this is sublime.
So the story goes, because of the unexplained “fractured species” problem, the Jukal Empire is at war with the humans. It is unexplained if “The Empire” is the same thing as the “Jukal Empire”.
This is a no-win question. If the Empire is the same thing as the Jukal Empire, then “the largest known organization of sentient creatures” is really just one species. So the largest known organization of species is literally one species? If the two are not synonymous, then it means that the Jukal’s, part of this empire under edict from the Emporer:
The Emperor had put down an edict. Humanity was to be given a purpose or be destroyed.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 17-18). Kindle Edition.
Have been fighting the humans by themselves. Why? Surely if an Emperor puts out an edict, that should mean lots of these creatures should be banding together to fight humans.
We then get introduced to one of the most absurd plot lines I’ve ever heard.
“So your plan is to get a bunch of humans, grow them into different demi-human groups. Then make them fight the Aggressive species?”
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 32-33). Kindle Edition.
What can I say? Then we get even more nonsense.
“We get them to play a game.” Lo’kal’s eyes flickered in amusement, his frog-like mouth unable to show emotions. Purple mist sprayed down on their bodies as Ja’sheem stared at the other Jukal. “How?” In for a krAes, in for a GoA, Ja’sheem thought.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 35-38). Kindle Edition.
The author has done this twice, introducing nonsensical interpretations of our modern sayings. If you ever think about doing this, I’ll give you some handy advice. DON’T. It comes off as a lazy way to build a World. Why would they maintain our exact saying but only transmute the nouns? Why would any reader care about your nonsensical made-up nouns? This is known as “Call a Rabbit a Smeerp”.
This nonsensical plot keeps going.
“We make a game, the biggest one ever, and we let the Humans play.” Lo’kal said it as though it was obvious. “So we put them on a planet and get them to play games? I don’t see how that helps us with the aggressive species?” Ja’sheemasked. “No, no. Okay, so Humans want to escape boredom— we make a game that makes them bored, a simulation of Earth. They interact, going through their lives, going to work, coming home from work, having kids, retirement, and dying.”
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 46-50). Kindle Edition.
So let’s recap. They’re fighting wars with the humans, who are on the verge of extinction after the Jakal have destroyed their homeworld. This means the Jakal are much better fighters than the humans. So why would they need humans?
Let’s get back to the basics here and talk about Shandifying a novel. The Romans recruited fighters from all over Europe. Why? The Romans were small in stature. The larger men they recruited from other areas were better fighters for the front-line. The Romans were specialist in siege warfare, their armor was designed to absorb downward impact from dropped rocks and slide off when attacking armies would defend their settlement. After the area was breached, the recruits charged forward and did battle in the actual town.
When historians and archaeologists look at the armor, they can tell whether it’s a Roman or a barbarian by looking at whether the armor is designed for siege warfare or designed for front-line warfare.
Which took more bravery was a constant sore spot, and fights would break out between the Romans and their barbarian armies about which was more important. The other thing this did was move the best military strategists and fighters away from outposts and settlements and into the main Roman army, even though this eventually lead to the sacking of Rome by the Visigoth King Alaric.
So, what unique skills do humans possess that they should be captured, put into a virtual game where they’ll play a virtual game that will be boring and then go fight an intergalactic war?
This violates the principle of storytelling known as “Jon Voight’s ballsack.”
The horribly contrived plot doesn’t tell us anything useful. How many humans are there? To be an effective fighting force after having their homeworld destroyed, they’d need to be large enough to deal with any threat, particularly since we already know the Jukal are better fighters. Who’s paying for all of these simulations, keeping the humans alive, setting up the training, etc.?
The book will keep trying to make this nonsensical plot work, but it’s just the leaky bucket fallacy. Propping up one bad argument with another bad argument is like trying to fix one leaky bucket by putting another leaky bucket underneath it. It’s nothing but turtles all the way down in this explanation.
This is a twist on the usual plot setup, but just because an idea is new doesn’t mean it’s good. Tabasco flavored ice cream is novel, it isn’t good.
Even worse, this is the entire plot twist for the novel. It’s giving away it away in the first chapter. What?
We then get more boring/bad exposition after this.
Lo’kal looked at the planet that he would essentially create and maintain. The responsibility of the whole thing would be on his shoulders. As he’d worked on his project, he’d come to know the Humans’ history in detail. He’d never been that interested in history, rather looking for innovations. The Humans’ ability to create and invent was what drove him to make Emerilia.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 91-94). Kindle Edition.
We have so many, many problems in this. Reading this is like reading a student’s final papers. No, I really don’t want to read your final paper.
It was clear that the Humans’ tech was evolving at an ever-increasing rate, so the fleets were called and sent in. Humanity was blindsided as all of the Jukal Empire’s fleets except the home fleets appeared in their systems and started to destroy their infrastructure.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 118-121). Kindle Edition.
Didn’t we establish there were only two types of races, aggressive and “fractured”. So why did this non-aggressive race attack? If other races behave just like humans, what’s the claptrap about them being “fractured”?
We then get introduced to an AI named “Admin” so we can get yet more exposition.
“What were you saying before?” Admin asked. “Oh, the status quo thing?” Admin nodded. “Ah, well, my budding AI, many of the academics looked at the races that had made it to the stars. There were three main groups: Those that had subjugated others in order to push forward their plans. Those that had killed off their competitors on their world, or those that were united in purpose. This worked for races that were peaceful or aggressive. It was thought that the sciences that would be needed to leave a star system would require that races would have to be either the dominating group, all focused on the same goals or ideology, or the only race left. If they weren’t, then they would either become one of those three types, or there would be competing races that annihilated one another: those that didn’t care for space through their shared ideologies, or those that were in so many groups that they would kill one another before getting to the stars.” “Fractious species
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 141-147). Kindle Edition.
Great walls of text Gods. Let’s review some basic principles of writing. There’s a concept called Relative Velocity in writing.
The rhythm of action and character is controlled by the rhythm of your sentences. You can alter mood, increase or decrease tension, and pace the action by the number of words you put in a sentence. And because sentences create patterns, the cumulative effect of your sentences has a larger overall effect on the work itself. Short sentences are more dramatic; long sentences are calmer by nature and tend to be more explanatory or descriptive. If you’re writing a tense scene and use long sentences, you may be working against yourself.
The Elements of Fiction Writing: Theme & Strategy, by Ronald Tobias
Bridget McKenna has a book (free for Amazon Unlimited) that goes into this in detail. Her blog article about it is available here.
“Right! Fractious species, like the Humans. Their competitive ways led to great battles and tragedies, but there were so many of them everywhere that they never totally wiped out one another. They went to space for information and just to beat the other nations. They should’ve destroyed one another. Instead, they became the most productive society ever known.” Lo’kal shook his head. He might have fudged a few of the numbers but he couldn’t let that kind of brilliance die.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 147-151). Kindle Edition.
So are there more fractious species like the humans or are there only humans? Also, it doesn’t seem to occur to these grand wizard overlords that you can have competition without destruction. I.e. there are numerous fast food companies that compete with each other, but they aren’t killing each other.
Surely these advanced alien civilizations would have seen the fallacy in their thinking with the false trichotomy? No, because who cares?
Everything that this introduction sequence tells us leads us absolutely nowhere.
[The plot should have] its several incidents so closely connected that the transposal or withdrawal of any one of them will disjoin and dislocate the whole. For that which makes no perceptible difference by its presence or absence is no real part of the whole. — Aristotle.
Tl;dr: Not a single sentence or idea is worth keeping in this entire chapter.
He smiled to people as he passed them; they nodded back and smiled. He only knew a few of and most were just responding to their CEO giving them a smile. His friends had long ago disappeared as he’d moved from barely making a living to a trillionaire. Some had felt annoyed he’d made it while they hadn’t. With others, there was such a disconnect, it was odd. Who wanted to be friends with someone who would bring the press with him everywhere he went? He hadn’t been drunk in years. Having the press badger him about him being an alcoholic or depraved soul was enough to make him want to run into a wall.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 191-196). Kindle Edition.
Let’s talk about Shandifying your novel again. Did you know that there are exclusive clubs that cater only to rich people just so they don’t have to deal with this? That they hire teams of bodyguards to prevent this? Do you everyone who is on the Forbes 400 and would recognize them on sight?
In addition to not explaining some obvious objections, this is the “Let me exposit a scene at you” school of writing. This is one of the most fundamental things you learn in writing, directing, etc. Show, don’t tell. Show him having a hard time going out. Show him trying to get a drink and getting interrupted.
The four men and three women said that they were okay; they were already nursing a drink of some kind. They seemed a bit shocked with Zane’s attitude.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 201-202). Kindle Edition.
What do these sentences add to the book?
He saw the hesitation and sent them Jackie’s menu. There was a cafeteria just down the hall. Having food at the workplace meant more work and less wandering around to find a place to eat from. Economics one-oh-one. More time in the seat, more bang for your buck! Fuck, I hate economics. Zane caught sight of a lady with a moving food cart; his stomach responded.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 205-208). Kindle Edition.
Economics 101, the cost of running a cateteria is an opportunity cost that prevents any other businesses from being established there.
The return gained from people going to the cafeteria would have to be greater than any cost incurred by going outside of the building. I’m wondering how this guy is a trillionaire when he doesn’t know this. We learn that the CEO (Zane) is some kind of hybrid personality between Elon Musk and a wet blanket, conquering space and getting raw materials. By that I mean he lacks the personality and intelligence of Elon Musk and should be smothered to death with a wet blanket.
Rock Breakers Corporation was based in California. They had started with one goal: mine some darned asteroids. They’d been successful, grabbed some rocks, mined them, refined them on the Moon and sent them back to Earth. Overnight, Zane and his team of 300 had gone from well in the hole, even with the backing and VC’s money, to trillionaires. They crashed the market on metals and Google gave them a bounty for being the first ever group to successfully process and land materials back on Earth…
Which was why he found himself talking to a bunch of government officials from Japan. The country was small; they’d been getting smaller for decades. With the introduction of VR gaming, it was like watching some of Space X’s initial rocket landings. Boy, did those guys know how to make things blow up! Japan’s people as a whole were getting old and few were interested in doing the dirty in real life.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 224-228). Kindle Edition.
The logical flow between those sentences: Transitioning between talking to government officials, to VR, to blowing up, to old people having sex. Just brilliant. A question: “What in the flying f*** is going on in this scene?”
Also, let’s go over some basic science facts. Companies investing in space research plan to do all the mining in space, not on the moon. Why? Because the hardest part about space is a simple problem called gravity. You need to have enough fuel to overcome gravity in order to move an object into space, the more times you overcome gravity, the more expensive and dangerous the flight becomes.
I’m going to keep picking apart how dumb these arguments are, because it makes a simple point. The author didn’t bother doing any research. At all. The laziness in writing is everywhere from sentence structure, grammar choice, and logic holes. If the author doesn’t care, why should I, the reader, care?
Continuing non sequitur transitions, we learn that the CEO is now being taxed at higher levels.
Then the new flunky got elected, made a whole bunch of promises he couldn’t perform on. Few months later, we were informed that a new tax was required and that people were looking to travel over our flying platform.”
We paid the new tax, kept our heads down and we’ve been talking to other countries ever since. The United States government started to ask for more tax on orbital drops. So we stopped dropping items and stopped selling on the open market. People started going nuts and the United States government is pointing at us as the problem.” Zane drank from his cup.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 240-243). Kindle Edition.
None of this makes any sense. So he was doing what? Dropping raw minerals randomly on the Earth? That would be a problem, since the minerals would be worth billions and it’d be like throwing money into the streets. People would probably start killing each other or you’d have pirates and organized criminals racing to figure out where the drop was.
Selling it on the open market would be the sane solution. How you’d actually tax this is a bit of a mystery. Current tax laws in most countries specify two domains of a product: The property value and the mineral value. You can own the property but sell away the mineral rights to that property. The value of any minerals is taxed at the same rate as income.
This comes from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government:
Sec. 27. Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.
Roughly the government owns the land you get minerals from, but any value you add to it by extracting or refining the minerals are properly yours. If the government owns the land, then you pay a special tax called the Federal Land Royalty tax.
Anything mined in space wouldn’t be considered property of any federal entity. Outer space is governed by a treaty signed by 129 nations. The place the rocket is launched from falls under the Liability Convention, meaning if this company was causing damages, yes, they’d be 100% responsible for it. Surely our trillionaire knows some space law? It is his business.
The most likely agreement would be drawn up between a corporate lawyer, (the author of this book is apparently unaware of how corporations work), and the United States governing the rights and responsibilities of both parties, which is what the US already does with a host of other natural resources. When the US breaks a contract, they can be sued for damages. This is why we have an entire judicial branch of government.
Oh, let’s go back to the open market thing. Question, why would Google, a software company pay for minerals, which is a hardware problem? Should have at least gone with Apple or Tesla. Regardless, no business owner would care about their bounty given that rare metals are worth potential billions to trillions. Flooding the market with new metal depreciates the value of existing assets, supply and demand always comes into the equation.
Raw materials are what economists call a fungible asset or good. Even if our trillionaire entrepreneur gave away all his materials, (why?), the first thing everyone would do is turn around and sell them on the open market.
The point being this entire sequence, in only a few sentences, manages to be breathtaking in its laziness, boringness, and sloppiness. This is the Citizen’s Kane of bad writing.
The real world fell away as he came into a white circular room. He moved around. “Well, this is awesome.” He touched his hands, touched his face. “Look at me, Mom— walking and talking, a regular circus act.” He laughed at his own joke as a prompt came up.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 297-299). Kindle Edition.
So this is our protagonist? A whiny trillionaire who doesn’t seem to do anything other than complain? We even get this wonderful joke to start us off? Awesome.
The nice thing is we finally move away from the winning combination of exposition + passive voice into actual writing. Well, sort of:
New Active Skill: Analyze You actually give a crap about what’s around you! Or you’re a pervert. Whatever.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 325-327). Kindle Edition.
Is this a joke or this is a metanarrative commentary where the author is explaining how little he cares about writing?
You take time to look at your surroundings and analyze them. You notice details that others do not. At higher levels, people will think you can smell gold.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 331-332). Kindle Edition.
Again, is this supposed to be humorous? It looks like a poor man’s attempt at what Travis Bagwell did in Awaken Online. Except the reason it worked there is that Bagwell’s character was actively doing things, not just standing around and using passive skills. Trying to use snarky commentary when there isn’t anything going on doesn’t work.
New Passive Skill: Blend Others might run around like chickens with their head cut off. You blend in with your surroundings.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 376-378). Kindle Edition.
I’ll take Aleronisms any day over this.
From there we get boring quests and a huge number of skill increases. Question: If the plot is that this is preparing them to do intergalatic war, why would skills in trading matter? And why would they be using bows and swords?
From there, we get lazy character interior monologues.
So books can give skills as well as magical spells. Coolio! I need that friggin’ book…
“Come to Daddy,” Dave said, pressing the ‘yes’ at the same time.
Sauweeeet! Yes, yes, yes, yes!
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 535-536). Kindle Edition.
This is how he imagines a trillionnaire CEO engineer in his 40s talks in his head? Yes, when we think of our richest entrepreneurs with engineering backgrounds like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, and Peter Thiel, they sound like illiterate 20 year-olds. If only we had Ted Talks and interviews with them so we could hear how they talk.
I never once believe that I’m listening to the dialogue of a 40-ish engineer, (the book doesn’t give an exact age, because hey, details). I’m always painfully aware that I’m listening to the author.
Some people were annoyed; most were interested what this meant.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Location 614). Kindle Edition.
Forgetting his pursuits as an alchemist as he checked the other updates to his status; at such a low level, it was only natural his skills were racing higher.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 693-694). Kindle Edition.
Did anyone edit this? It’s not as bad as the horror that the first chapters faced, but if you want me to take you seriously, hire a professional editor.
“Ugghhh, this is worse than cleaning out my spam filter!”
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Location 743). Kindle Edition.
Fun fact about important people. They don’t actually handle their own emails and such. They usually have at least a personal assistant or teams of personnel that are devoted just to managing their mundane tasks so they can focus on the things that matter. There’s entire suites of apps that do everything for you for the nouveau riche.
Skip to 6:30 minutes in.
From there, he gets an insane amount of level ups for doing absolutely nothing. I mean it. I’m waiting for a level up in strength and dexterity from combing his hair. Since he doesn’t do anything to earn these power-ups, they don’t mean anything. See “How Many Powers Do I Have?”
He finds an Abandoned Cabin in his worldmap, because why not, (See “Does Anyone Remember What I’m Doing?”), filled with all sorts of exotic equipment that he gets for doing nothing.
As well, I list one of my sins as “Keep the Outside World Out“. My reasoning is that maintaining two sets of motivations is difficult, you have to remember who the character is in the outside World and who the character is in in the Inside World and what both characters motivations are.
After reading this book, I’m going to have to stand corrected. I learned that you should also keep the outside World out if you don’t know anything about the outside World. Most competent authors would try to research subjects that they didn’t know anything about, but not this one.
He then gets more overpowered stats for doing absolutely nothing. This is awesome, awesome character development.
- What’s our conflict here? What are the obstacles our hero is trying to overcome? ……
- What’s our protagonist like? ….. A wet blanket crossed with a pubescent teenager who doesn’t know much about law and business?
- Why should we keep reading? …. Because I always wanted to know what waterboarding myself was like.
Chapter 4: An Administrator’s Boredom
I’m glad that this Chapter recognizes in the title how bad it is.
“Well, what is this we have here?” He was one of seven; everyone got that wrong— always the six. Those six couldn’t do anything with all the egos and pheromones in the air. They were as likely to fight as they were to have an orgy.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1076-1078). Kindle Edition.
That is our introduction to this chapter. And the title says it all.
Queue up more boring outer World stuff that can be summed up as “Rich Trillionaire whines about his job and complains with his secretary.” Riveting.
We finally have a real conflict, where Zane shoots a snake once while it fights with a wolf. He then loots their pelts. This is the dramatic peak of the story so far.
Zane cuts down trees while Deia, a wood elf that is allied with a local group of dwarves, watches him work.
My, my. A mischievous smile appeared on her face as the man grunted out into the early morning sunlight. He was dragging a tree into the clearing he’d made around his foundations. She watched him drop off the tree; he pulled the rope off the tree and headed back into the forest. He repeated the process; more trees came out…
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1412-1420). Kindle Edition.
Yes, a wood elf that’s hundreds of years old is fascinated by watching a dwarf chop down trees. Is there a paint-drying festival as well?
Zane goes out hunting fire foxes. He’s amazed that fire foxes shoot fire. This is after telling us that he can view video feeds and learn all about the World.
Let me repeat this.
The second fox turned as Dave tried to grab another arrow. He found the real reason a Fire Fox was so hard to kill. The little b*stard spat flames.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1529-1530). Kindle Edition.
In a game where we’re told he can lookup anything he wants, he’s amazed that a creature called a fire fox shoots fire. No, I really want to hammer this point home:
Dave threw it off, panting as he looked at his Health. “Okay, Fire Fox— actually means fire spewing f**king b*stards. Got it.”
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1556-1557). Kindle Edition.
Since we already learned that he can gain skills and powers by doing nothing, (cash in those plot coupons), we don’t need to worry about him facing any real danger. He instantly has magic shield cast to prevent the flames from reaching him. Then he’s able to start using magic fire spells, because once you go this route, why not just throw out random spells and power-ups every five seconds?
“Come on. Goku did it— this sh*t has to work!”
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Location 1550). Kindle Edition.
Yes, I absolutely believe this is a 40-ish engineering genius who is a trillionaire. He then kills an elk, which causes the elf woman to fawn over how impressive he is.
We then shoot back to the elf and the dwarf, and get some amazing exposition:
“Are you trying to walk through the forest or mine it?” Deia asked, just a few feet away. “Damn you, points!” Lox growled, his heart racing. “He’s grown since you’ve been gone.” Deia sounded apprehensive. “Oh? He been impressing you with his muscles?” Lox laughed; it was deep and rolling.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1783-1786). Kindle Edition.
None of that makes any sense. As in, when people talk to each other, they try to communicate information or emotions. Here it’s as if they have half a thought and only speak the other half out loud. “Damn you points”, who/what is he talking to or about here?
Dave/Zane then finds a portal and this means we get more plot exposition. I’m glad that 20% of the way through a book, I’m still getting lots of plot exposition. He’s building a house.
Dave came here to get away from commitments and work. Not wanting to join a guild and add more commitments he couldn’t fulfil he went looking at different ways to level up his magic. It didn’t take him long to find several tutorials and wlalkthroughs that other gamers had uploaded. It seemed that every person was different, though the more one did an action, the better they got at it.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1822-1825). Kindle Edition.
More awkward phrasing, more misspellings, more improper switch from singular to plural, etc.
“Time to get some water and get a good old-fashioned stew going!” Dave strolled down to the lake.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Location 1853). Kindle Edition.
Well, we’re hitting those tropes nicely.
STEW (the OMTs are thick and savoury, which translate as “viscous” and “dark brown”) is the staple FOOD in Fantasyland, so be warned. You may shortly be longing passionately for omelette, steak, or baked beans, but none of these will be forthcoming, indoors or out. Stew will be what you are served to eat every single time. Given the disturbed nature of life in this land, where in CAMP you are likely to be attacked without warning (but see BATH), and in an INN prone to be the centre of a TAVERN BRAWL, Stew seems to be an odd choice as staple food, since, on a rough calculation, it takes forty times as long to prepare as steak. But it is clear the inhabitants have not yet discovered fast food. The exact recipe for Stew is of course a Management secret, but it is thought to contain meat of some kind and perhaps even vegetables. Do not expect a salad on the side.
— The Tough Guide to FantasyLand
And yes, it nails the cliche perfectly. He also didn’t buy a steel pot at any time, but he does manage to have one available. That’s a neat trick. He also manages to build a kiln. To build a kiln, you need to have stone or clay already available to build it. So he builds a kiln that builds the materials he needs to have in order to build the kiln that makes the materials he needs to build.
This is the mobius strip of book logic.
Without thinking, Dave activated his Touch as he kneeled down for the water. He saw through the ground, and then through the water; he could sense the fish there, and he could sense something else. Danger. Dave jumped back, pulling out his bow and stringing an arrow. A five-foot-long reptilian creature made of muscle leapt for where Dave had been.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1856-1859). Kindle Edition.
From here, we get more plot coupon redemptions because, who cares?
Without thinking, he threw his arm. His eyes widened as a javelin of grey smoke pierced the lizard.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1871-1872). Kindle Edition.
I’m so glad that he can just invent a handy spell every time an event occurs! One of the Jakal introduced in the beginning of the story logs in as a gnome, imparts some mystic wisdom to Zane/Dave, and then disappears.
MENTOR. A Tour official who will be at your service until halfway through the Tour, when you will unaccountably lose him. Before that he will guide you, tell you what to do in the face of strange customs, and even sometimes instruct you in how to perform minor MAGICS.
— The Tough Guide to FantasyLand
We get some more exposition:
We’re Dwarves, not Elves. We build from stone. Yet there is little around and you have still been able to create a home.” “What about Elven homes?” Dave looked at Deia. If there was one, there was probably more. “Elven homes take decades to build properly. They are grown from trees and imbued with magic. We have been looking into other options for building homes…
There was a cracking as the tree, aided with three pushing Dwarves, crashed down, hitting two other trees. Dave winced at the damage as Deia closed her eyes in exasperation.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2033-2036). Kindle Edition.
Why are the dwarves hacking at the trees? They said they build their houses from stone only. Why are they surprised that a half human/dwarf is building a home like humans do? How have the dwarves and elves, ancient races that have observed humans for millenniums, not figured out how to do that? Why doesn’t anything make any sense?
They do convert the log into a chair, but is that dwarves natural behavior? To run up to someone they don’t know, start smashing at trees when they’re supposed to be war party scouts, and fashion chairs? Who knows. Because who cares? This book doesn’t.
We then get more exposition about the nature of an artifact he uncovered in the Abandoned Cabin. We then get treated to exposition about how they make homes, and how they’re mystified at how he built his log cabin.
“Ah, nothing like a good tree to stare at all day long!”
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Location 2207). Kindle Edition.
It’s at moments like these where I feel the book is acting as a metanarrative commentary on what the book is, staring at a tree. Except I’m reading this on an electronic device, so it blunts the metanarrative commentary slightly.
They all seemed in a good mood, but the building— it was unlike anything that Bob had seen in all of Emerilia and its iterations. It was a composite of multiple buildings from humanity’s history.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2249-2250). Kindle Edition.
So yeah, let’s talk about architecture. The reason why log cabins are built a certain way is because they don’t work if you build them any other way. The reason why skyscrapers didn’t exist before iron rebar is because the shearing forces would destroy a building that got too tall.
The tensile and shearing stress of any material is inherently limited, hence, buildings were built in a certain way. If a log cabin was built by one person, they wouldn’t be larger than six feet because one person can’t lift heavy logs that far above their heads.
But right, who cares about these pesky facts? We need this because plot says we need this, because we need to know why one of the alien races is so interested in humans. Let’s get back to writing 101, with Aristotle.
In writing an Odyssey, he did not make the poem cover all that ever befell his hero— it befell him, for instance, to get wounded on Parnassus and also to feign madness at the time of the call to arms, but the two incidents had no probable or necessary connexion with one another— instead of doing that, he took an action with a Unity of the kind we are describing as the subject of the Odyssey, as also of the Iliad. — Aristotle
Aristotle divides two types of action that can occur. Those that are probable and those that are necessary. A necessary sequence is one where Action A will always cause Response B. A probable sequence is when Action A may cause Response B or Response C, etc. The less probable a sequence of events, the more it stretches audiences’ credulous.
Aristotle says that scenes which are necessary are better than scenes that are probable. They require no suspension of disbelief. In this novel, scenes are neither necessary nor probable. They simply happen.
Because you would have to actually care about something, and this novel doesn’t care about anything.
“The hell?” Dave woke up instantly. He’d seen that face before. Shadow Conjuring! “Dude, I’ve only had ramen for the last day watching you six put that house together. Bravo— you’re the first Player to actually build a house. Most people just pay the people to do it.”
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2275-2278). Kindle Edition.
Ancient alien responds to human by saying, “Dude”.
Of course, this leads to another exposition scene/dump.
“Take a planet, turning it into a staging area. Somewhere that Humans could fight and become stronger, you might know it as Emerilia. Add in portals, convince Players that they were in a game.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2312-2314). Kindle Edition.
Explaining a nonsensical plot twice doesn’t help. Also, why do we need the first chapters if the book is just going to sit us down again and explain the same thing… again?
“You, you’re different, you can see the walls of your imaginary prison.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Location 2318). Kindle Edition.
Chosen one plot coupon.
In the simulation of Earth, you were never supposed to make Rock Breakers.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2318-2319). Kindle Edition.
So Earth is a simulation and by logging into a game he goes to a real world that is also a simulation?
Because you did, you became a pivotal person to the simulation. Much like how world leaders are NPCs because having them be Players and disappear for days at a time would plunge Earth into chaos, you became a constant force on Earth. If you were to start disappearing, then contracts would start falling apart, the economy could tank and then all of the Players would have to be wiped as they are more worried about the simulation than Emerilia.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2319-2322). Kindle Edition.
It sounds like he’s rushing through exposition just so he can say that he did it.
I created a program that would use the social cues and systems of humanity to make you susceptible to consistent and continued gaming.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2374-2375). Kindle Edition.
Shouldn’t the obvious question be, “Why didn’t you just put everyone in the other game instead of making a simulation game that would require them to go into the other game?”
We then get more exposition (YAY!) about how Dave has only been alive for three years (gestation periods have really been refined) and how brilliant his idiotic plan is.
They take risks that living people wouldn’t.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Location 2382). Kindle Edition.
And there’s the issue. If you turned off death and dulled the pain, then most people wouldn’t have trouble fighting for war. We do it regularly here on Earth, and that’s with perma-mode enabled. So you can avoid this whole situation by simply starting people off in the game, telling them they can’t die, and that they have to kill an evil enemy.
This is like the M. Night Shyamalan plot twist for The Happening.
From here we get…. more exposition.
Post-exposition, the book has a bear fight where the dwarves work together to kill it. Of course, this is going to go right back to….
We get to some stat grinding where of course, Dave can do it all no problem. We’d really hate to have to present some sort of conflict that Dave has to overcome, what with this being 30% of the way through the book and all. And in our next exposition scene, because we really haven’t hammered this “it’s all an illusion except the thing that isn’t an illusion”, we get… more exposition.
Before you ask, Players are grown in cycles that take three years. We speed up the simulation for a bit, then slow it down to a third of normal speed. A crop of Players usually last ten years on Emerilia. In the last year, the nanites in your body that allow you to augment yourself with skills and use magic are seeded with a program that will kill anyone that doesn’t log out of the game at the end of nine years. By that time, a new batch of Players has been grown.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2914-2917). Kindle Edition.
Nothing in that makes any sense. They grow a crop of players for ten years. But earlier, it told us that they were given the respawn capability so they never die. So, are they killing them every ten years? But it also told us that the whole point of the program is so that as humans keep killing more aliens and earning more experience, they’ll be better at it and can function as a shock troop.
Literally, nothing makes any sense. Each time it tries to explain the previous plot hole, it digs the plot holes even deeper.
“What do you get out of this all?” Dave asked. “Entertainment,” Bob said simply.
Chatfield, Michael (2017-01-23). The Trapped Mind Project (Emerilia Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2922-2923). Kindle Edition.
“Everyone is bored in this novel.” Bob then gives Dave more super-powers, because a novel where the hero earns things is for losers.
I tap out
I simply couldn’t take anymore. This isn’t a book, it’s a physical assault. I am not phenomenologically strong enough to withstand such a concentrated dose of boredom at 31% of the way through.
Bottom line: If people really think this is a good book? Why? Don’t tell me “Such great book”, tell me what scenes exactly are good in this book? Which characters are interesting? What happens that’s exciting? Because outside from being novel, I can’t find anything to recommend about it.
The most common word used in the Amazon reviews is “book”. And that’s what this is. A book. Nothing else.
Bottom line? F*ck this hack author, f*ck Amazon’s broken system, and if you defend this behavior, then f*ck you too.
6 thoughts on “Review of “The Trapped Mind Project” by Michael Chatfield”
Thank you for this analysis which made me realize different aspects which had been irking me.
When “This is Our Land” started, I stopped reading because of the lack of character development. Till then I held out hope that the story would focus more and more on building up the clan and with it an interesting social conflict, but he continued hopping through new subplots.
This story is boring, but having endured much worse on RRL, it is not so bad in comparison with other stories which receive a regular update. It is readable from a language POV(English is not my native language), the MC does not undergo one or several 180° character turns, No harem, the logic loopholes are painted over with
“Look, stat window”.
The most emotional infuriating aspect of this story was the unlogical game mechanic which led to MCs OP status. You want to write LitRPG? Then you better get a game mechanic which makes sense and do not use plot coupons as to why he is the only one exploiting it.
Well, thanks again for your analysis. I enjoy reading this blog :=)
Thanks for your comment, I learned a lot. There is one question I have to ask you, because this is the one that has been killing me:
“This story is boring, but having endured much worse on RRL, it is not so bad in comparison with other stories which receive a regular update.”
My question is, “WHY?” Is it because the books are free that you keep reading them? If a book bores me, I put it down and get another one. Same with television shows, movies, etc., I don’t torture myself. Why do you keep reading books that are bad on Royal Road, WattPad, etc.?
Well, in my case just RRL :D. These stories are released as serials, not books. An important distinction when reading.
Therefore depending on the story, it is once up to three times a week that I read 1 – 4 updated pages on RRL.
This piecemeal approach does not really tax the mind, even if the quality of the story is subpar. Additionally there is always hope that things might be fixed retroactively or in the next chapter if the author decides to listen to feedback in the comments and reviews. Quite a few actually do.
To sum up, reading a few pages every few days rises the threshold for dropping a story. But if I would read it as a book, I would drop it after ten minutes. I hope it makes sense.
On a sidenote, this author has his mind made up and is not able to take constructive criticism. I have tried. He usually elaborates why this has to be that way and implies that it is your problem if you do not agree with him. Its his right as author, but also makes him appear not to be the deepest thinker when ignoring obvious fallacies or the ability to learn and grow.
Yeah, that makes sense. That’s about the same for me. Some of these books I could deal with in incremental doses, but when released as a book, the same problem keeps popping up over and over again.
As for Chatfield, he has a strategy. He mass releases books into niche markets and gets a profit off it. He doesn’t know how to write, and he doesn’t care to learn. He makes money doing what he does.
I don’t begrudge him that, but I’m never reading anything he writes again. The fact that he’s releasing his second book like three weeks after the first means he didn’t review it, edit it, or plot it out. He just started writing at the keyboard and stopped at a point, which is what the book reads like.
If he can’t be bothered, I won’t be.
Thanks for your spot on review. I too gave up on this book; probably later than you (I’d freaking paid money for it). It was simply unbearable reading this book, and the worst part is that people keeps singing its praises. All I can think when I see that is something best not said in polite company.
I had to give up on this series because by the 6th book the editing was so incredibly horrid I could not continue reading. It was truly bad. I could forgive the tropes. I could forgive the clumsy world building. I could even forgive the MC becoming so ridiculously overpowered in such a stupidly short amount of time that it nearly cancelled my suspension of disbelief (and that’s hard to do). It really was about the editing. Just putrid. It was as if he didn’t even bother with a simple spell-check. Continuity was non-existent.