Review: Liam Arato’s “The Gold Farmer”

Tl;dr:  1 star.   This book is bad. It’s an adolescent power fantasy where the author is obviously the main character, see “Marty Stu“.  He used to have the picture of the main character up as his profile picture, which is always a bad sign to me.  It’s one thing to be proud of your book and have a picture of it up, another to have a virtual image of your PC as yourself.

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This is not a good sign.  You are not your characters, even if they may embody certain traits you see in yourself.

This was the very first critical review I ever did of a book, and I did it so long ago I didn’t even have this website.  In many ways, this book actually inspired this website, because this book is irredeemable shit.

But at the time, some people were praising it as good.  And I just thought, “No, this isn’t good.  This is plain awful.”  Things have changed, as at the time, there weren’t a lot of LitRPG books out.  Now, poor R.A. Mejia of Geek Bytes and LitRPG Podcasts can’t keep up.  He used to be able to review every LitRPG book that came out on Amazon, now, there are so many that he is only able to review around ten or so a week, which is still really impressive.  He does have an amazing list of finished series, sci-fi LitRPG stories, etc. that really breaks it down by sub-genre, so go check it out.

Anyway, during those early years, people were so hungry for LitRPG novels that if anything came out, people praised it to high heaven.  Such is the case of this book.

Long Review, Spoilers, but there’s not actually anything to spoil:

The obvious thing to point out with this book, even before going onward, is that it’s an obvious ripoff of the Overlord light novels.  However, I’ve said in other reviews that even if an idea isn’t original, it’s execution that counts.  The execution in this novel is horrible.

So the book’s central premise is that all of the jobs are gone in the future except gold farming in video games.  It doesn’t really explore this, it just simply states that’s how it goes.  So our MC is trying to earn enough gold to pay for his sister’s surgery or something, (also not explored), because the author wants to make the hero out to be more noble than just some guy gold farming in a video game.

We then get introduced to one of my least favorite tropes in any LitRPG novel, In Another Life.    The premise is that the main character is playing a different game, and then gets sucked into a new World.  The MC keeps all of the stuff and characters from his previous game, so we never see him level up or gain any skills. He just starts off as the strongest character in the game.

This immediately creates a huge amount of problems.  Ideally, we want the hero to get powerful, but we also want to feel as if the hero has done something to deserve to get powerful. A hero who already has everything is a story already completed.

Somehow, Arato does this even worse than that though.  I can at least partially understand the motivation for starting a MC with some level of skills and powers, even if I think it’s better to make them good at the game their playing, not teleport them in from some other game.  But fine, I can at least understand the motivation for it even if I have never seen it done well.

But Arato gets even lazier than that.  He doesn’t just teleport the PC in with all of his skills and abilities intact, he also teleports in NPCs, items, and other characters from the other game.    Because of this, the MC is constantly running into things and people that the character already knows, but haven’t been introduced in the story.

In turn, this leads to large exposition and explanation dumps to explain these scenes and characters, which grinds the pacing down to nothing.  We have to see a long-winded explanation for five random characters that we meet, none of whom are interesting or unique in any way outside of a random special attribute they have.  It’s sort of the M. Night Shyamalan school of writing where you don’t give people personalities, you give them a weird quirk.

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You see, he only works out one arm.  You don’t need a personality, you just need to have a character trait.

Even then, the story doesn’t hold any internal logic by its own rules.  For example, the main character worries that he’s going to run into higher level players now that he’s been transported to this new game:

The worst case scenario would be that these other players were not only as strong as he was, if not stronger, but also malicious PKers.

So he’s supposed to be scared that other people from the previous game might come in and kill him. Okay.  But then he states that he’s at the level cap for the previous game.

The first was that while level 120 was the level cap in AO, and players didn’t gain any experience beyond that,

Well, which is it? Is he supposed to be scared of running into stronger players from the other game or is he at the level cap from the previous game?  There are several scenes where this will be a problem.

Additionally, the side characters that have been imported in have no personalities.  Since the book is mostly a form of autoerotic Marty Stu-ism, the side characters are often completely ignored or only only useful when serving to fluff the MC.

An example scene is where the main character kills one of his NPCs.  Since his characters have no personality, he has to refer to them by what their role in the story is.  Here, his henchman Zhuge Liang is considered the wisest man in all existence.  The MC kills one of the other NPCs and wants Zhuge Liang to explain why he did it, as some sort of loyalty test.

That’s already a nutjobs idea of testing loyalty, and making your MC look like an idiot or a nutball is not a good idea, but let’s look at what Zhuge Liang actually says:

Of course I cannot hope to match your peerless wisdom, lord Zettou, but if you will allow your loyal servant to venture a guess…” “Go ahead, Zhuge Liang. You have my permission.” “Thank you, my lord.” Actually, there were two other objectives Ken had in mind when he killed the Shikamaru.

Zhuge never actually says anything. That’s because the author is more concerned with stroking himself than telling a story. Everyone is just there to act as fluffers to the main character.  All of the dialogue is literally just the NPCs telling the MC how wonderful he is.  At any point where the NPCs need to say something that’s actually important, they don’t usually say anything, because we need to get more lip service of the NPCs telling the MC how amazing he is… for having done absolutely nothing in the story.

Outside from the weak side characters, we have no character motivations. His motivation is that he has a “sister who is sick”, and he’s farming gold to pay for her medical condition. But he seems to have mountains of gold.  In fact, if there is one thing he is not lacking at all, it seems to be gold.

So, how much does he need to pay for his sister’s medical bills? We have no idea how much it costs to save her, how far off he is, how long his sister has to live, or basically any information other than he’s a heroic hero who is saving his sister.

Without knowing what the stakes are, it’s hard to be invested in the main character.  As well, I’m really tired of stories using “my poor sibling” as an excuse to make the MC seems more selfless than they really are.

Additionally, he is now thrown into a new game.  Okay, so his first instinct should have been to freak out and log out.  So, can he log out?  If he can’t, how is he supposed to get money to his sister?  And how is he going to gold farm for a game that no one else is playing?

This should lead to some sort of freak out reaction from the MC, or some attempt at trying to log out or find out what’s going on.  Instead, the MC blithely continues around the map, making no effort to find out or figure out anything that’s going on.

So, our MC has no real motivation for anything he is doing.  And that brings us to our main bad guy.  Ideally, a bad guy should have a moral conflict with the main character such that they are unable to exist in the same World.  Their conflict must be inevitable and natural.

Here, our main bad guy is an ogre named “Grimgar”. He is 28 years old, and took over the tribe when he was 8. Here’s how we’re introduced to him.

In addition to the quality of the tribes’ warriors, they also worked on the quantity. Right when Grimgar took over as the tribe leader, he encouraged the ogres to mate and reproduce as much as possible. Thus, the tribe which never numbered over 200 suddenly had their numbers almost tripled, and now they were around 500 in strength. Furthermore, most of these younger ogres are now just reaching 20; the age where they are the strongest, physically.

So, there’s a lot of stupid to unpack and not a lot of time.  He took over the tribe at the age of 8 and he made them breed 2.5 times their number in 20 years… and now they have an average age of 20?  This math makes no sense.

If 20 is when they are strongest, that’s presumably when they are at breeding age, so you could get one generation of orcs, maybe two max out of that.  Since you have 2.5x as many people, your average age of an orc warrior would be closer to the low teens, depending on things like gestation time, how long orcs had to wait to have a new child, if orcs breast feed and you can only have two children because of two breast restrictions, how many women die in childbirth, how many children die in their early years, rates of infant mortality, etc.

And what is Grimgar doing to get more people breeding?  Mandatory orgy sessions?  Why weren’t they breeding before?

The reason we don’t have answers to this is because these are things called “plot details”.  It’s not really important what these answers are so much as it is important that these things are thought about.  Audiences need to know that authors think about this stuff and write books based upon that.  Throwing out random factoids to make the main villain seem tough is lazy writing.

The reason that we don’t learn any of these important details is we need scene after scene of NPCs telling our MC that he is most awesome and worthy.   Every female falls in love with him and spends their time fighting about which one is going to get to marry him, all the men spend their time telling him how wise/brave/masterful he is, etc. It’s literary masturbation.

So we now have a MC with the personality of a paper cloth, a bunch of useless NPCs, a deadweight villain, and a World with no substance or interest.

But to top it off, the writing is awful.  This isn’t a bad foreign translation that we sometimes see, as far as I can tell, this guy is native born in the USA.  But he mangles everything.   Basic sentence structure is wrong, the prose is awkward and stilted, the tense of verbs changes randomly, etc.

Here’s an example sentence, although you can pick a passage at random and have the same problem:

Even though VR games with such realism were extremely complex and took a huge amount of computing power to run, hardware improvements have been more than sufficient in keeping up, thus loading times were normally very short, and very smooth.

How many pages like that do you want to read?  Read that sentence out loud, it’s awkward and clunky.

Another example is that our main plot involves Grimgar’s ogres have been harassing a village near where Ken (or Lord Zettou) has been.  Ken agrees to help them.  He’s talking to the village chief and notices a church.  The village elder says:

You have good eyes, lord Zettou. The Church is one of the most impressive buildings in all of the Al-Azruth Empire. It was built when Estia was still thriving. Unfortunately, as the village started declining, we had to focus our money on employing adventurers and our private troops in order to protect the village against monster invasions. That’s why the church has not been fix in a hundred years. But it is still used as a gathering place for the villagers.

It’s a nice encapsulation of the problems.  It starts with, “You have good eyes, Lord Zettou”.  You might go with the Overlord idea where all of the NPCs he owns are constantly fawning over him, but now a regular NPC is complimenting him for noticing that a building exists.

That’s followed by an info-dump about a Church no one cares about in full exposition.  Then we get awkward sentences like “the church has not been fix in a hundred years”.  Then we get the World-building and logic problems.

A church is a pretty basic part of any medieval style town.  A place that can’t have a Church for people to meet in is in despair.  So, how did this town survive like that for 100 years?

So we get our final confrontation between Grimgar and Ken.  Ken has one of his servants flick the main ogre’s head and explode it. Yep, that’s our conclusion. The team is in such little trouble that they can kill the most powerful bad guy in the game by flicking their fingers. The remaining ogres swear loyalty to them and become the village’s defenders.

Overall, the book is bad in every which way a book can be bad. The plotline is boring, the writing is poor, and even though it’s set up as a series, there’s not much left to go in the continuation.

The build-up is some random nobleman is looking for the group of adventurers.  The adventurers that dispatched the ogres that have been plaguing the town for a hundred years.  The ogres that are, according to the story, at their strongest point in the past 28 years.  That means this guy poses literally no threat to them.  So… a very tense and eagerly awaited new book.

The weirdest thing is Arato then writes an afterword to it.

My story is so heavily influenced by Overlord that it is almost a copy, but I seemed to have deleted the charming parts of the characters in Overlord without adding in anything back in. I also have a problem with descriptions. It’s so hard for me to think of how to describe things.

I also hate writing fight scenes. I simply do not know how to write them. So why even write a book? Well, I believe that the good points of my story is not the character building or the world  building, but the asset building.

So by admission, he can’t write characters, descriptions, has little World building, or action.  Those are all pretty important things.  As I normally say, “Git Gud”.  Learn your craft.

Anyway, he’s writing about assets?  Ok, go on.

What do I mean by asset building? Well, in this book, lord Zettou not only managed to gain a whole village and an army of ogres, he was also lucky enough to find a whole forest full of ultra rare trees! (lol). In the future, I plan to add more and more assets to lord Zettou’s name. Instead of leveling up or gaining new skills, the focus of The Gold Farmer will be the amount of things lord Zettou gains.

Right, except Lord Zettou didn’t earn anything.  He has a village and ogre army because he can literally flick the enemies and kill them.  Actually, he can stand still and let them hit him, his reflect damage kills them.  So he doesn’t technically have to do anything to beat them.

The fact that a character can gain stuff in a book isn’t interesting.  We have to like the character and the character has to undergo real struggles to achieve the things they have.  Otherwise, they’re just a dull inventory list.   The fact that Arato thinks people would be interested in reading a laundry list of random things a MC can collect is so confused it’s almost baffling.

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