Visual Novel Review: Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet

planetarian-the-reverie-of-a-little-planet

From Steam:

It is thirty years after the failure of the Space Colonization Program.
Humanity is nearly extinct. A perpetual and deadly Rain falls on the Earth.
Men known as “Junkers” plunder goods and artifacts from the ruins of civilization.
One such Junker sneaks alone into the most dangerous of all ruins — a “Sarcophagus City”.
In the center of this dead city, he discovers a pre-War planetarium.
And as he enters he is greeted by Hoshino Yumemi, a companion robot.
Without a single shred of doubt, she assumes he is the first customer she’s had in 30 years.
She attempts to show him the stars at once, but the planetarium projector is broken.
Unable to make heads or tails of her conversation, he ends up agreeing to try and repair the projector …

For those unfamiliar with visual novels, and kinetic novels in particular, before I get into Planetarian’s review I will give a short explanation. Visual novels essentially are compromised of text, visuals, and music. Often there are choices to be made that will feed you into alternate endings and paths, making the experience one that is worth repeating, such as a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. The amount of interaction can range from a “kinetic novel”, which has no choices, to “adventure games”, which contain more gameplay elements. While there are many that have been written in Japan, the amount that have been translated into English officially is much smaller, though growing. There are also many fan translation patches that you can get if you have Japanese copies of certain games, so that is an option that exists.

To warn you, however, many have eroge content, meaning that there often is 18+ scenes added in, which I will warn you about if I review one of that nature. Additionally, I will let you know if there is an official English version available or if I played a patched in fan translation.

Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet is an all-ages kinetic novel developed by Key that was originally released in 2004, and has been released in English on Steam. The story follows a Junker who scavenges a post-apocalyptic world for anything useful he can find. The unnamed protagonist, on one of his excursions to a sarcophagus city, finds himself in a planetarium with a female android named Hoshino Yumemi that has been waiting for customers for thirty years. Much of the plot centers around this planetarium and its sole occupant, who is unaware of the nuclear and biological warfare that encompassed the planet a generation prior.

First of all, this visual novel broke my heart. I can’t really get into why without spoiling the whole story, but do go in knowing that you’ll probably cry. I knew this beforehand from the Steam reviews, and still I was a sniveling wreck.  This means that the novel is easy to connect to and empathize with the characters, which is great in the four hours it takes to play the game.

Over the course of the story, there are only two characters that are presented, and in the setting, that is honestly just enough. Seeing the interactions between the Junker and Yumemi is heartwarming and simultaneously heartbreaking, as the Junker’s cynicism and Yumemi’s optimism often clash. Yumemi believes that customers will eventually come back to the planetarium, while the Junker time and time again tries to explain that there is nothing left. It is a contrast between the optimistic belief in humans and the reality that humanity has wrought onto itself.

The aspect I loved the most about this story is the focus on the stars. With the Rain pummeling down on the world constantly, the sky has long been obscured from view. The stars represent hope and belief in humanity’s possibility to heal.

While relatively short and predictable in many aspects, the novel packs a punch. There’s just enough exposition to color the story in the beginning, discussions on humanity’s path to the stars, and character growth from both parties.  Even the Junker’s harsh manner becomes manageable by the end.  The artwork, while relatively simple in comparison to modern day visual novels, is still just enough to paint an accompanying picture to the text. The music, particularly “Gentle Jena”, does a fantastic job at tugging at the heartstrings and making one want to look to the night sky.

Overall, I give this visual novel four out of five twinkling stars in the sky, mainly because it is rather predictable. Even so, I feel like it will stay with me for a long time, and I look forward to trying the anime adaptation soon.

Steam

 

 

ARC Review: Dark Orbit

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in a tor.com sweepstakes. This has in no way affected my review.

DarkOrbit

 

From Goodreads:

Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she’s been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

I had essentially no expectations going into this book–which is unusual for me, these days. Most everything I pick up is either by an author I already know and trust, or upon the recommendation of a large number of friends. My TBR pile is just too big to allow for much else. But I had a review copy of this one, and one of my goals for this year was to start reviewing the books I win in sweepstakes–or why else enter them? So, I read this one.

And I was very pleasantly surprised. The book combines a number of very exciting, interesting elements that I did not expect, and it makes for a quite interesting read. Much of it has some very intriguing scientific basis, and I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity it showed.

The first cool idea is that of the wasters, which grows naturally from the teleportation in the book. The teleportation accepts the limits of lightspeed–but still allows for transportation to seem instantaneous to the user. In essence, to travel 9 light-years away, you also have to travel 9 light-years into the future–and there’s no going back. The explorers of the society have been dubbed wasters, those who travel so often that politics, families, etc. all have little meaning to them. Our main POV character, Sara, is a waster, and the jumps in time that she goes through give her a really cool background–and bring up some questions I’d honestly never asked myself.

But that’s just a small part of it, and almost brushed aside just as a piece of world-building. The real story here is about an accidental first contact with s species of blind humans in a location 54 light-years away from the closest civilization, all set on a planet dangerously near completely undecipherable clumps of dark matter, covered (among other things) with strange multi-dimensional forests that are truly mind-boggling.

The world-building–or perhaps I should say worlds-building–here is superb, but it never gets in the way of the story, and the story is brilliant. I can’t say too much about it without spoiling things, but I will say that it plays to the strong points of science fiction while always being, at its core, a story about the characters, the main group of which are extremely well sketched out.

If I had any complaints with the book, they would be with the ending. Before then, it seemed that things might have a scientific explanation, but some of the character actions and abilities shown near the end verge on magic, which I was not expecting from the science fiction setting. Then again, it’s not like we’ve never had a story where the main character saves the day by shooting torpedoes down an impossible shaft that nobody else can hit by using a mysterious magical power at the end of a science fiction story, so… Your mileage may vary. Just be aware that if you’re looking for pure hard-sf, you will be a little disappointed.

And while I’m on the subject, the science fiction that is mentioned here is really cool. Parts of the novel felt like The Three-Body Problem–except they were exciting the whole time.

The book works very well as a stand-alone, and I did not realize until I was doing some research after reading that it’s not the only book that Gilman has written in this universe–and I’m definitely going to be picking up the other one, and reading it when I can fit it in my schedule.

In summary, Dark Orbit was a complete surprise–and a delightful one, with some really cool science-based world-building, great characters, and a plot that kept me interested the entire time. Even if the ending wasn’t perfectly what I was expecting, the novel as a whole was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I give it a hearty four of five stars.

Also, check out this really cool guest post that she did over at The Book Smugglers.

Dark Orbit on Goodreads.