Slightly Mad is the book forum user AFGNCAAP is, well, trying to move out of this section. It takes place in a thus far unnamed universe on an Earth that is different from ours in that it has the Atlanteans, tricksters who have considerably more longevity and power over its workings than they deserve. The affectionately satirical nature of this and other works taking place in their world is their conscious doing, but in their defense, 10,000 year lifespans could make tricksters out of anyone. With their power, ordinary humans with the lifespans of their infants are tons of fun; the Atlanteans play with their weaknesses and quirks just to amuse one another. What they are is unknown—there certainly isn't anything special about the island they came from, which eroded boringly and became a miserable little atoll years ago.
This story, a tour of a large part of the East, a deconstructor of fantasy tropes and archetypes and a loving historical satire, is not about one of them, though they do have some fun in it as usual.
It is 1889, and as always, keeping a low profile as a 6'7" redhead is not terribly easy. Nineteen-year-old Vetch Ferez-Mallory comes from Nilth, a remote little dot on the map with more reindeer than people, Eighthly, the northern colonies' main metropolis—a cynical city of steel and ice, divided sharply by bloodlines and technologically stuck in the eighteenth century due to reliance on the high Atlantean population. They charge a fortune. Most notable about the place is its strained, petulant relationship with the Snofflands, its mother country far to the south and a vast desert away. For the love of all that is holy, don't ask them why budgies figure so prominently. Here, Vetch secures a job as a city guard (no, folks; not a lamplighter), accepted in case his captain ever needs something to make her laugh.
He begins the story during an insufferably long break from his employment, instead doing boring tasks for an embalmer (list: making sure the bodies aren't alive, making sure the bodies are dead) at the order of his captain after a terrifying accident during one of Eighthly and the Snofflands' least happy moments. What makes it so scary is that it involved learning that Vetch may be a seer—that is, have a degenerative condition in which the afflicted's mind is invaded by more and more visions of the future they have no power to control; this, if not the vivid, excruciating level of empathy involved, drives every one of them insane long before they die. Vetch has had two of the three episodes required for the damning diagnosis.
The shadow of this possibility hangs over Vetch even as the world moves on around him. The colonies decide they want out; the Snofflands send troops across the desert to the colonial capital to quash this nonsense. Vetch, who has become more involved in the conflicts, travels through the south to the desert's edge to head one of many lookouts meant to spot the incoming troops, with a little talent but no leadership experience whatsoever. And they thought giving him the youngest lookout was supposed to be easier... Here, he meets the Snofflands' formidable opponent—unlike the north, the southern colonies, under far fewer Atlanteans, have developed into a steampunk paradise alien to him. Most mystifying of all is the group of scientists adjacent to the lookout, their mysterious "project" and the mystery of why so many abandoned it, leaving only six to see it to its end.
Here, he trusts Danielle, an outcast under his command, with his potential condition, but it's not going to do much good. Emotional stresses pile up fast, suspiciously weakening Vetch even as he continues to deny that there is anything wrong with him—Danielle's inexplicable symptoms, the Snofflandish's wraiths (dumb animals) straying too close for comfort, his friends' project nearing its completion in bitterness and worse. The desert's edge becomes a dangerous place to lose one's mind—potentially cataclysmic.
Tropes in this here story:
- Afraid of Needles (Vetch. All he has to do is look at one, and...*barf*)
- The Blacksmith (Indio, which enables the following trope...)
- Blade Spam
- Butt-Monkey: Mr. Ishleil's efforts at villainy get him nothing but humiliated repeatedly and eventually banned in two countries for being a slimy jerkass who couldn't Evil Plan his way out of a paper bag.
- Catch-Phrase (Vetch stating that he has never seen something before, like fireflies—he just can't get over those lovelies.)
- As well, Christine suggesting that someone is stupid.
- Cliffhanger (Parodied. A revelation about Danielle is put off for several pages via an awkward change in scene, Finney, an enormous footnote, and even a mid-book ad for mechanical budgies—semi-realistic speech without the legal troubles!)
- Country Mouse (Vetch, rather one.)
- Decoy Protagonist (While Vetch doesn't die, he rapidly becomes less effective later in the story. The result: he spends the climax under a 30-BSOD pileup and Ringo, who has been moving away from woobiness and toward heroism for a while now, does what comes naturally.)
- Determinator (See Good Thing You Can Heal.)
- Doting Parent (Blade to his two children. He is an Atlantean, though, and surrounded by normal adults who are younger in years than the twins—he treats them all this way without thinking.)
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture
- Good Thing You Can Heal (Ringo uses his healing factor as an excuse to completely forego safety precautions in his work for the sake of speed. He should have died or been permanently disabled hundreds of times. During the night he hit upon a successful formula, he lost hands and regrew them several times. To top it all off, he hasn't slept since he received his assignment—for about a year. His body literally repairs itself as it breaks down from lack of rest.)
- Hammerspace (Finney's robes contain it and perhaps hundreds of stolen clocks.)
- Hartman Hips (Ringo, a male example. Considering how he came to be, his legs could, in fact, have come from a female.)
- Healing Factor (Ringo, a young chemist sewn together in infancy from both normal and Atlantean parts, has a few of their assets, including this.)
- Healing Hands (If Ringo wishes to heal someone else, his blood must enter their body. Complicating this further, if he loses enough blood, old injuries he has healed start to reappear. Because of how he abuses his healing factor, doing this for too long will reduce him to chunky salsa.)
- Hot-Blooded (Don't let Ringo's appearance fool you.)
- IdiotHero (While Vetch has a fair amount of IQ points, there's a difference between that and common sense...)
- IN SPACE!: ( A linguistics major. RUN; he's going to ask what all the switches mean, and there are hundreds!)
- It Was a Gift (Subverted. Tip: if a pirate or other troublemaker just gives you a sword, don't expect it to be any good.)
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Only Finney gets to torment his favorite targets.
- Latex Space Suit: (Averted. Sharon's creation is awkward as hell, and the longer it is used, the more out of whack the pressure gets.)
- Loads and Loads of Characters (With so many locations, it's going to happen.
- Martyr Without a Cause: (Vetch gets so much crap for this. His mommy instincts for the entire world are likely, though, an effect of his condition. Along with being cranked up to prescient levels intermittently, a seer's sense of empathy is a little elevated all the time. A high drive to keep others from pain becomes ingrained early in life as a result.)
- Mind Rape (Put simply, foresight is mind rape disease.)
- Sharon, an Atlantean, can force obedience from anyone. When an encounter with all of his discarded formulas at once turns Ringo into a neurotic ball of hallucinations, she instructs him to enjoy it.
- Mind Screw (Ringo's resulting dreams.)
- Naïve Newcomer (Vetch's innocence is frequently comic relief.)
- Rule of Scary (One of AFGNCAAP's world building techniques is to make this work.)
- Self-Deprecating Humor (Vetch. Fucking goofball.)
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism (Eighthly and its natives are, in general, very cynical, making Vetch look like a comedy Wide-Eyed Idealist in comparison. Among its citizens, the Bones family is the least trusting of all, with Christine falling off the end of the scale. The south is much more idealistic, particularly the city of Carbide.)
- Tsundere: (Christine, a member of a family rivaling Vetch's. That doesn't mean she can't appreciate him...in a very confusing way.)
- Captain Gile is a familial example. She dispenses slapstick on you because she cares.
- The Unfavorite (Danielle. And that's why she's hidden in the lookout instead of at a safe distance from the action like the rest of the royal family. Unsafe indeed.)
- Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma (What happens when Vetch writes the lookout a note on half an hour of sleep.)
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes? (Ringo's blood looks different; he faints at the sight of the ordinary red kind.)
- Woobie (Val, an example of a seer who is rather far gone—so far, in fact, that he cannot be trusted to go into orbit without assassinating a royal. What?)
- Ringo counts, too. Friendless, crisscrossed with scars, without family, physically unimposing, lives with Finney, in his late teens...