So, amazing as it is, I have actually started Book 3 of Nowhere Island University. The first track won’t be posted until December, though, so there’s that. In the meantime, I have decided to do something called a Post-Mortem. This is a term that I believe has originated in the videogame industry. This is basically what a development team does when a project is released, or, as the metaphor implies, “dead.”
However, I wouldn’t say NIU is dead in that sense. Hell, not even all the content is done. I think that there are at least three more volumes of NIU in store, most likely more. That being said, this serial has come a long way since the WordPress site went up on February 21st, 2015, and even longer way since I posted the first two chapters in the Spacebattles Creative Writing Forums ten days prior.
Also, I’ve recently come to several good stopping places where, for my own benefit, I should take time to reflect back on what I’ve done. Hopefully, you’ll agree with me that there’s a lot of good stuff in here. However, there’s not that much great stuff in here. Apart from the side stories, there is only one scene that I would say is great. There is also some bad stuff as well.
The first thing I feel I need to talk about is the goals of all this and if I accomplished any of them. Honestly, seeing as there aren’t that many people who even know that this serial exists, these are the best ways for me to judge myself. Hell, I probably should get into the habit now because if this gets big, I’m going to have to deal with a lot worse than silence.
Goal 1: Be Wildbow
Ok, look, I knew I could never be Wildbow. From the first sentence, Worm had me hooked like nothing else. I read through the entire thing in the course of a month. It sounds like a slow pace, but in actuality, it was kind of a race. The fight scenes and character drama made my heart pound. The tragedies, such as the character deaths, hit me hard. The injustices that the main character suffered enraged me. I exited Worm a changed man.
So, naturally, when I was bored after dropping out of college, I decided I’d start a web serial about superheroes. The idea (as well as many others) had been kicking around in my head for almost a year, slowly gaining traction. Finally, I decided that not only did I want to start writing again, I needed to start writing again. Now, subconciously, I knew it wouldn’t be as good as Worm. However, I’m actually how surprisingly different it is.
For instance, Worm is, at its core, a superhero story in the same strain as Alan Moore’s Watchmen: a towering praise-magnet set in a dark world and designed to ask the audience hard questions about morality. And, like so many other superhero stories, it focuses on the people in the costumes who go running around hogging the spotlight. They also both absolutely revel in deconstructing the tropes of the genre.
Nowhere Island University, on the other hand, is not a superhero story. For a while, I did not realize this. Then Billy Higgins correctly identified what it truly is in his review on Web Fiction Guide. Then I started to fight it. After all, the plot is [redacted for spoilers]! It has to be this inherently nerdy piece of fiction that celebrates inherent nerdiness!
But I was wrong. Despite the sci-fi bits, despite the Parahumans, despite the person in costume who showed up that one time and hasn’t been mentioned since and despite the fact that this plot revolves around [spoiler redacted], this is not a superhero story. At the core of Nowhere Island University is a Tom Clancyesqu spy thriller, complete with attempted self-insert protagonist.
The thing is, though, that is not a bad thing. Ok, it might be a bad thing for the people who want a superhero story, but for me, it’s wonderful because I might stave off some of the inevitable comparisons to what I attempted (and kind of failed) to rip off.
Goal 2: Set Up the Plot and Tone
The thing about Book 1 is that it is really self-contained. Yes, there is a blatant sequel-hook at the end, but apart from that, everything ties up nicely. People go into a situation, some people get out, others die, and there’s this wonderful moment of closure.
However, the meat of the story is only hinted at once (pay close attention to what Bai says in Track Nine,) and two of the characters who will… become extremely important later on are only briefly mentioned and one of them is only barely mentioned. These two characters, plus another two who we don’t even meet yet, are the driving force behind the plot. For the past five hundred years in-universe, everything has been building up to these four meeting in an explosive confrontation. And I, the author, have only slightly hinted at it.
What I was good at foreshadowing was potential projects I want to do at certain points. Track Nine, for instance, was an April Fool’s joke about an idea for Magical Girl-themed serial I plan on doing. There are also some bits that are almost horror, which ties into an idea for a police procedural/ghost story I had. But that’s not for a while, and there are at least two other serial ideas I have.
Goal 3: Establish How Bad Hell Semester Is
Yeah, I think I did that.
Goal 4: Create a Diverse Cast of Characters
First off, before we go any farther, let’s define terms. By “diverse cast,” not only do I mean diverse from racial, ethnic, mental, religious, and gender-identiy standpoints, I also wanted to avoid that thing that happens in lots of early comics where every character is basically the same guy with a different face and wearing a different costume talking to him/herself and only doing things because the plot requires it. In fact, the main reason I wanted to write many different identity types of characters was to avoid that problem.
For the different from each other part, I think I did a great job. I have made so many God damn characters in this book, but they are all distinct. The two most similar characters, Nathan (or Killer, as most people in and out of universe are calling him now) is much different from John. While John is desperately searching for a way out, or a reason that things aren’t so bad, Nathan actually seems to be embracing the violence and casual depravity of this world.
It doesn’t just stop there. Doc and Cross, despite their cordial ribbing are actually dating now (in case you didn’t catch it in Track Nineteen.) Salim is undeniably psychotic, but unable to recognize it in himself. Eric is a boisterous, charismatic leader.The Monk is just the most perpetually chill guy ever. Eliza is just amazingly snarky.
However, the two characters I’m most proud of so far are May and Ulfric. For May, it mostly comes from the side story Crash, but even at other times, she has just proven time and time again that underneath her goofy, socially inept facade lies a genuinely good person. By a good person, I do not mean pushover. She will get her way, and she will stand up for what’s right.
Ulfric, on the other hand, is an amazing killing machine. But underneath his bloodthirstiness is… well, more bloodthirstiness, but there’s also some warped sense of morals and fair play. His capacity for violence and size is matched only by his intellect. He is also disturbingly childlike and almost mute, but has a talent for getting in people’s heads. He’s supposed to be one of the most disturbing characters in this world, and he fits that bill to a T. Now I have to keep him just as interesting.
The problem, though, is that most of these characters are terrible, terrible people. Sometimes, people mistake having a minority as a bad person means the author is a capital-B Bigot, who hates said group with a burning passion for bizarre reasons. Usually, though, they are lowercase-b bigots who are just kind of ignorant about things. The thing is, I probably am a lower case-b bigot, which I will have to work on. If you feel I have fucked up in any way, please tell me. Then I either try to justify myself or fix it.
Honestly, I can’t really say that NIU didn’t get any response. There just wasn’t a lot of it. My impression is that if you ask the average netizen who follows web serials about NIU, their response would probably be “What’s that?” The people who have heard of it usually have something good to say.
The two most helpful comments have come from the two reviews on WFG and my beta reader/sister. My sister came in after Book 1 was mostly finished (which is why Book 2 is so much better on a technical level,) but both the reviews are about Book 1. For instance, I’m pretty sure that Tartra’s review was written before we even got to The Chamber of Horrors.
That review, even though I was very shocked to get that good a score, pointed out some problems in my story. In fact, it actually shook me enough to have me make some drastic changes to how Book 2 would end. There are also some other changes, like less internal monologuing from our main character. In fact, I think that’s why Billy Higgin’s review was more positive: I had taken time to fix those issues.
The thing is, though, no one else has done a detailed review of NIU that touches on anything beyond Book 1. Billy’s review, while very wonderful, only touches on events from Track 18 and before. Tartra’s only covers things from Track 8 and previous.
Now, on to the fans. On the WordPress site, I know I have several people subscribed to my stuff. However, few of them are regular commenters. In the Spacebattles forums, I actually do have some regular commenters. I just wish they would engage each other as well as me. Maybe I shouldn’t have split my base. Or maybe I should split it even further and open a subreddit! (No. No I shouldn’t, that would be stupid.)
Still, it is heartening to see discussion in the fanbase whenever it does happen like “OH NO! DEATH FLAG!” incident or the lovely discussion on mechs. I just wish it would happen more often, is all. Still, of all the people who could be giving me money, so far you guys have turned out to be the best.
I’ll have to give Book 2 a look-over, but it seems to be much more bleak, which is a damn shame. There were some moments in this one that were just fun. However, in the next book, there just wasn’t as much chance for the fun and the funny. Mostly because I’m using it to talk about PTSD, which is an inherently unfun topic.
At least I cut down on the repeated language. At times in Book One, there are times that have multiple paragraphs in a row, sometimes even multiple sentences in a row, that began with the same damn word. I’ve fixed a lot of it, but it still annoys me that I’m doing that.
Weirdest flub: “How many people have they died?”
You know what? I think I’ll save this for the next Post-Mortem. The goal will be to have it sync with the final track of Book 2. Hope all you students of NIU are ready for it.