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Monday, March 11, 2019

SPFBO FINALIST: Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike (reviewed by David Stewart & Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
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AUTHOR INFORMATION: J. Zachary Pike was once a basement-dwelling fantasy gamer, but over time he metamorphosed into a basement-dwelling fantasy writer. By day Zack is a web professional and creative-for-hire, but at night he returns to his lair to create books, films, and illustrations that meld fantasy elements with offbeat humor. A New Englander by birth and by temperament, Zack writes strangely funny fiction on the seacoast of New Hampshire.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Brimming with swords, sorcery, and wit, Orconomics: A Satire introduces Arth, a world much like our own but with more magic and fewer vowels. For the licensed wizards and warriors of Arth, slaying and looting the forces of evil is just a job. The Heroes' Guild has turned adventuring into a career, selling the rights to monsters’ hoards of treasure as investment opportunities. Corporations spend immense sums sponsoring heroes to undertake quests, betting they’ll reap the profits in plunder funds when the loot is divvied up.

Questing was all business for famous Dwarven berserker Gorm Ingerson, until a botched expedition wiped out his party, disgraced his name, and reduced him to a thieving vagabond. Twenty years later, a chance encounter sees Gorm forcibly recruited by a priest of a mad goddess to undertake a quest that has a reputation for getting heroes killed. But there’s more to Gorm’s new job than an insane prophecy; powerful corporations and governments have shown an unusual interest in the job. Gorm might be able to turn a bad deal into a golden opportunity and win back the fame and fortune he lost so long ago.

Promising fun, fantasy, and financial calamity, Orconomics: A Satire is the first book in The Dark Profit Saga, an economically epic trilogy.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): Some reviewers have compares Orconomics to Pratchett novels. A bold statement if you ask me. As a fan of satires, I needed to experience and verify it myself. And I liked it.

It’s funny and uplifting but also serious and sad in some places, as every good satire should be.

On the world of Arth, adventuring is the industry that drives the economy. Groups of battle-hardened warriors hunt and kill Monsters and Shadowkin (Orcs, Goblins, Kobolds) and claim their hoards. These loots are bought and sold by corporate interests to plunder funds long before the hero’s guild attacks. You’ll easily see similarities to Goldman Sachs in Goldson Baggs operations.

The story follows Gorm Ingerson - a fallen dwarven hero whose hero’s license has been revoked. His clan disowned him, and he lives as a rogue. One of funds forcibly recruits Gorm to undertake an impossible quest with a team of similar fallen heroes. If he succeeds, he may win back the fame and fortune he lost so long ago.

His new team includes colourful and fun cast of characters– a goblin squire (who brings a lot of comic relief), clumsy and naïve prophet of a mad goddess, an elf warrior addicted to alcohol and drugs (healing potions in the book), two mages who are at each other's throats, a thief who claims to be a bard (even though he can’t really sing) and a warrior seeking his own death. They start the quest to find Elven Marbles. As we follow the story, the plot gets a little more complicated and nuanced.

I always appreciate a well-plotted and solid high fantasy tale with humour woven into the plot and the world. The world building mixed seamlessly into the story impressed me. The characterization doesn’t disappoint - even characters that seem very archetypical get significant development by the book’s end. The pacing is just right. It speeds up and slows down in all the right places.

The humour made me laugh. Obviously, no author should be compared to Sir Terry Pratchett - simply because no one stands a chance. In no way is this book on par with Pratchett’s novels. It is, though, a superb fantasy satire.

Thanks to mostly uplifting tone, Orconomics works as a well-deserved rest from dark books in which characters you love die, become evil or destroyed. On the other hand, it’s not all sunshine and roses. After finishing the book I’m impressed by Pike’s skilful blend of humour and tragedy. I mourn one of characters. Every good satire needs to contain a level of tragedy and Orconomics delivers both.

The ending of the book set ups for the sequel I will definitely read once I sort out my reading schedule.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (DAVID): Satirical fantasy has never been my sub-genre. I like Terry Pratchett (no way I’m getting through this review without mentioning Pratchett, so might as well get it out of the way), but not in the devotional way of many of fantasy connoisseurs. I get it.  There’s no denying the clever writing and imaginative world-building, but for whatever reason my personality type needs serious fantasy. Going into Orconomics, I was prepared to like it and likely not love it. This was the right mindset to begin this book with because by the end I was surprised and delighted to find that, yes, I loved Orconomics.

Gorm Ingerson is a dwarf with a checkered past. Once considered one of the greatest heroes in the realm, Gorm has since fallen into innumerable gutters and increasingly finds it difficult to crawl out. The world according to J. Zachary Pike is one where heroism is a commodity. Heroes are for hire in every sense of the world, and like many video games of our own world, there is a system of points and values associated with questing and slaying what society considers to be evil creatures, or Shadowkin. Gorm used to have a high rank and more prestige than he knew what to do with until he ran from a quest, which in the Freedlands is criminal. Gorm was cast out of the Heroes Guild, rank stripped, and continued to dig himself into a hole by robbing would-be adventurers of their own gains simply to survive. Then a goblin is literally thrown onto Gorm’s sleeping self and everything changes.

In form, Orconomics is nothing extraordinary. It’s a book about a quest, which is a timeless and well-worn path. What makes it so good is its ability to tell this boilerplate story while inserting so many satirical references. Commerce rules the Freedlands much in the same way corporations run the Earth. In many ways Pike is just substituting specific terms and jargon and telling a story that could come out of the New York Times. This even became a slight detriment for me as the economics terminology being thrown about made my eyes glaze over, but it’s all in service to the greater effort and any daze quickly passed as a new joke or metaphor was juggled in front of me. I have no doubt that this story could not have been told in any other way, and it works incredibly well.

I have read a few different books this year that have been heavily inspired by video games. Some, like Phil Tucker’s Death March, use the literal game world as setting. Others, like Orconomics, are slightly more subtle. Pike uses the mechanics behind many video games and posits that such systems could be used as real-world structures. In the Freedlands, the Heroes Guild and the efforts to earn points and rank by slaying monsters is society’s way of forcing ideals of black and white over a shades-of-grey form that it simply does not fit. What makes this novel so competent is the pushback by the heroes against that system, even if they might not realize that they are doing so until the very end.

My only real issue with Orconomics is that Pike has long passages of exposition, or telling as those in the writing world would say, that seem to be viewpoint independent. In fantasy, it is difficult to avoid the problems of exposition because the world is always so fresh and strange that it needs explaining. However, that fact does not mean that there aren’t more efficient ways to slip said exposition into the text without over-long paragraphs of pure tell. Pike switches his viewpoints around, and it is apparent and effective when he does so, but the exposition almost feels told by a narrator in its own consistency and lack of voice.

The final point I want to make about Orconomics is a compliment disguised as a critique. There is no mistaking the satire in this work. Pike sees it through for most of the book, and it is at times brilliant in both its subtlety and overture. However, a certain scene whips away all the pretense of this fantasy novel and renders it as heartfelt and meaningful as any of its peers. Pike deftly builds the relationships between his main characters to the point that we don’t even realize how much we care about them until it hits, like a bolt from the blue, and then it dawns on the reader that the book has transformed from satire into something more. It is a beautiful moment and can not be understated. I look forward to seeing how the sequel to Orconomics flows because it will take a skilled pen to manage what Pike has accomplished with this book and yet transcend it further. He has certainly set the stage for more, and I am curious to see where this goes.

SPFBO Final Score - 8/10



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