Threadbare: Cheering for the Protagonist

Readers, I owe you an apology. Several months ago, when I haphazardly updated this site’s look to serve as more my personal platform than anything with a particular purpose, I changed the tagline to “I guess this is a LitRPG blog now?” And since then I have not done any LitRPG blogging. This is clearly a complete betrayal of the sacred bond that exists between a plant commonly used to make tea and an unhygienic space messiah, a Romanian who blogs about blogging, a creepy little horned thing, and the rest of the ragtag assortment of followers my literature blogging carries in its wake.

Today I’m restoring that trust. Today we’re talking about Threadbare: Stuff and Nonsense, a LitRPG book that began as serial fiction on Royal Road Legends and is now on Amazon. I went ahead and bought the more up-to-date and edited Amazon version of this, so I can say I gave it a fair shake in case I end up hating it.

Chapter 1

It didn’t know that the hard thing it was sitting on was a wooden shelf. It failed to comprehend that the brown thingies lashed around its limbs that ran down through the holes in the wood were ropes binding it in place. It had absolutely no concept of books, which were the things that filled the shelves across the way. It couldn’t tell you that the oddly-shaped thing three slots down from it was a wooden hobby horse, or that the thing two slots down was a stuffed ragdoll, or that the black-and-white shape next to it was a taxidermied skunk.

People interested in incessant ranting may find this series of posts disappointing, because there’s some pretty decent signs that this book will actually be good. On the one hand, there is an apparently completely extraneous prologue that I have entirely skipped over, but on the other, it’s like two pages long and so far as I can tell mainly serves to reassure jittery LitRPG readers that yes, there are stats and such in this book, regardless of whether they’re shoved in your face in the first two or three goddamn pages. LitRPG readers are weirdly obsessive about the presence of numbers in the text. Not the presence of numbers in the setting, mind you, but the actual presence of numbers in the text. It’s not enough to say that people have HP, a decent chunk of the LitRPG audience will not be satisfied until you show them exactly how much they have and how much they’re losing to any given blow. So probably that page and a half of prologue is just there to say “look, a character sheet, now calm your tits and read the goddamn story.”

Looks like I was able to worm some ranting in about things other than the story, so that’s good.

This first paragraph does a pretty good job of setting up our protagonist and our location, fixing in mind the presence of various props (the skunk, the horse, etc. etc.) that presumably will be relevant in the ensuing scene, while also establishing mood. Making these early paragraphs pull double duty like that is a pretty good sign for the story overall.

Heck, it didn’t even know it was a toy teddy bear, a very old one as they went.

I’m deducting points for this, but only because I feel like every book staring a teddy bear should be at least as British as Paddington Bear, and this sounds very American to me. So for those keeping track, the time from “starting to read a book I like” to “implementing a reign of terror to justify posting critical rants about totally arbitrary nitpicks” was about two pages.

Also, I realize that Paddington Bear is not actually a teddy bear, but they make teddy bears out of him, which has apparently made a firm connection between the two in my mind.

Any human who wasn’t currently wearing diapers and had a few years of experience under their belt could have told you that this was an older man.

This is a weird of pair of attributes to give together. Ordinarily I’d assume “any human who wasn’t currently wearing diapers” to mean any human older than about two or three, but then being older than two or three is given as an additional requirement. So this man’s age is indiscernible to both infants and diaper fetishists?

The words echoed inside what passed for the teddy bear’s mind. It became still. It could not conceive of any alternative, nor could it want to, even if it had the ability to want in the first place. It could no more go against that command than it could breathe fire or turn itself into marmalade jam.

Marmalade reference. +1 Paddington point.

On the windowsill, rapt and staring at the birds with the lust for excitement and an ancestral urge for predation bred into its very soul, was a fat, yellow-eyed, black cat.

Is this one also secretly the personal avatar of an AI controlling the universe?

The man moved past the teddy bear’s vision, tucked away his notebook, and stretched out his hand toward the toys down the shelf. “Greater Golem Upgrade!”

I’m not feeling the naming scheme on this magic system. I get why the D&D style “descriptive title for spell name and spell name as incantation” thing is popular – it’s easy, and I definitely recommend someone rely on the easy, boring thing if they don’t have any actual ideas to make it better. I’d much rather sit through the D&D-derived blandly descriptive magic system than some pretentious attempt at originality by someone who doesn’t actually have any original ideas. Plus, Threadbare has a teddy bear as its protagonist, so it’s doing better than a lot of books for cool new ideas in the first five pages. All this to say that I am deducting more points, and the reign of terror continues unabated.

Liquid splashed against metal. The cat whipped its head around and made a sort of ‘blart’ noise. “No, Pulsivar. This isn’t milk, and Celia would kill me if I fed you seventy-proof rum.”

Oh, wow, that’s a lot of proofs. Definitely don’t want a cat drinking that amount of proofs of rum, a subject on which I am well-acquainted, on account of being a respectably hard drinking and very masculine fellow indeed! Ha! Ha ha…

Uh…

I have never had rum in my life, guys. Is seventy proofs a lot?

“You too, huh? Pity. And you’re double the intelligence, so it’s not that,” the man mused, as the ragdoll didn’t react to his invitation. “Goodbye, my dear. Disenchant!” Again, the toy turned to dust and crystal. Though the teddy bear was new to sentience, and new to this whole concept of, well, things and existence in general, a notion formed in its newly-enlightened mind. And the first thought to cross its mind that wasn’t a question, was a pretty simple one; I don’t want to be dust.

You know how in MMOs you’ll sometimes get someone who’ll just send party invites completely at random to whoever’s in town, and you just reject them without thinking? Better hope you never run into this old guy, or else when you dismiss his unprompted party invitation he will straight up vaporize you. In fairness, I sympathize with his frustration. “I have been looking for a PUG for Cultists’ Refuge for two goddamn hours, so get in the fucking party or I will end you!”

Though the vials were pretty big, he only put one pile of dust into each vial. “Stupid godsdamned nonsensical storage requirements,” he muttered, the lines on his brow creasing.

Threadbare – I assume our bear protagonist is named Threadbare – is definitely native to this world because he just got here. This old guy, though, seems to be at least familiar enough with normal storage requirements to realize that “one dust pile per bottle, no exceptions” is a nonsensically oversimplified storage requirement. Are there other containers that work better, is this guy non-native and knows how this works in the real world, or did the author just beam knowledge of how normal storage works into his head?

Intelligence three really didn’t give it a lot to work with, there, and those words filled most of its vision in a really distracting manner. But Wisdom eleven was a bit better than the average golem, and the common sense the attribute bestowed was telling it that the break in the man’s routine meant the teddy bear wasn’t at risk of being dusted just yet.

Yogi Bear
He’s wiser than the average bear!

 

“Sit tight. I’ll get to you shortly.” He reached out and patted them each on the head. “If it’s any consolation your essence will save me time and trouble with batch eight.”

“I know it sucks that I’m going to murder you all, but look on the bright side: Your deaths will be mildly convenient for me.”

Context: Pulsivar the cat has just attempted to pounce on some string, discovered that the shelves in this workshop are just planks laid across nails in the wall and are not actually secured directly to the wall at all, and upended the shelves, wrecking the workshop and bringing Threadbare and the skunk – the only surviving golems – to the floor.

LUCK +1

Yeah, no kidding.

So the little bear wobbled to its feet—

—and promptly fell over.

This sight gag works surprisingly well in text.

The teddy bear, blinded by his own screen, had no idea the golem it was trying to free was resisting. All it knew was that something was attacking it. It came to the conclusion that whatever had trapped the skunk was trying to stop it getting free. The teddy bear found that idea unacceptable! The skunk was clearly trapped and it needed to be free! So to save it, the bear endured the unpleasant ripping, and pulled with all its might!

CRIK-SNAP!

The skunk went limp, as its animus fled. Golems could not die, but they could certainly break, and this one’s animus had departed its shell. And for his part, the teddy bear’s joy at freeing the skunk was tempered by the realization that it had freed only half a skunk. It put down the skunk’s upper half, and stared at it. Maybe it was just resting?

You okay, buddy?

As an aside, I’m beginning to question the wisdom of the line-by-line review strategy for this book. It is, at the very least in its opening scene, too original for the basic gist of what’s going on to be evident just from occasional snippets. With AO, Alex is a bully, Riley is the love interest, and whatever the one teacher’s name was is the teacher who is biased against our protagonist for no reason, and those three facts are all you need to understand to follow any snippet of text from anywhere in the first three chapters of the book. I can pick out whichever sentences or paragraphs I have specific comments on without having to worry that if I go too long without commenting, people who are reading my post but not the actual book will lose track of what’s happening. With just a few sentences of exposition, you already know where AO’s first three chapters are going and I can skip over as much of that as I want of them with no problem. With Threadbare, it feels like I need to quote a much higher proportion of the text to keep people caught up on what’s going on.

Some threshold had been passed, some bar invisible neatly limboed under, and concepts that were completely out of its reach now were a lot simpler now.

This sentence supplied by the Department of Redundancy Department.

Pulsivar wasn’t entirely sure of the particulars of this situation or whose fault it was, (definitely not his though,) but he was pretty godsdamned sure of two things; One was that he was stuck in this workshop until his hoomin came back, so he couldn’t escape. Two was that he’d just seen that teddy bear straight up murder a fucker.

This cat’s gonna put me out of a job. Waste him, Threadbare.

The [chair] leg hit a wall, rebounded, and shattered an urn next to the window. Ashes puffed out.

I hope that wasn’t anyone important.

Then a scritching caught his ear.

The teddy bear was still moving.

Long rents in its fur, stitches cut, half of its stuffing on the outside, one ear gone, the bear was slowly rocking, trying to wobble the table edge free.

Pulsivar stared. He tried to groom himself again, but his paw was shaking, ever so slightly, and he botched the skill.

Finally the bear gave a mighty heave and a twist, and the round table rolled free.

STR +1

And with the magic ebbing from him, with damage crippling him and every atom of him aching, the bear. Stood. Up.

Adrian!

The teddy bear looked around for something to help him out, and saw a possibility.

PER +1

It half-slumped, half-marched its way over to the fallen table leg. Pulsivar, spooked now, but knowing that it was either him or the bear, puffed himself up and stalked closer, step by step, waiting for the moment of weakness, psyching himself up for one last pounce.

The teddy bear grabbed the table leg, wrapped its arms around it, and lifted. Stitches popping, one button eye half-off, legs flailing to keep upright on the tile, the bear managed to get the makeshift club upright

I don’t know how much of this is coming through in fragmentary form, but listen: This fight is compelling. I feel for this bear. I want him to win, and only partly for the sake of job security. Threadbare is badly outmatched, yet relentless, and when the initial tussle doesn’t go his way, he’s smart enough (despite what is apparently an abysmal intelligence score) to start looking for a way to level the odds. And what he lands on isn’t some convoluted and therefore very likely ineffective scheme, but just an improvised weapon. Which is simple enough to actually work, instead of being mainly an exercise in trying to show off how super smart the protagonist is.

I mentioned frequently in my Awaken Online review that the fights in that book are good, and they are, in that they keep new powers, abilities, and situations coming fast enough that I don’t get bored and stop caring what’s even going on. What Threadbare’s done in about a dozen pages that AO never did, though, was get me cheering for the protagonist. A teddy bear fighting a house cat is novel and that’s important, but more important is the fact that I want the bear to win.

“I can have him now, right? I mean you were probably saving him for a surprise or whatever, but I’m just glad we got here in time before Pulsivar wrecked him completely.”

“What?” The old man finally found his composure and turned, goggling at the sight of the teddy bear golem in his daughter’s arms. “Ah… technically he’s…”

“Finally, a golem of my own!” She held him out at arm’s length and smiled.

The old man sighed. “Are you sure you want that one? He’s… threadbare.”

THREADBARE
BRAAAAWRM

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