eBook Review: two series that are too much alike

As I've been reading a lot of eBooks lately, one thing I've noticed is that there are certainly themes in the type of eBook it seems popular to write and publish. "WHOA! I've got magical powers!" seems to be a popular one and there are not as many variants on it as I might like. There is "I'm a tough guy/ex-con/bad dude and WHOA! I've got magical powers!" There is "I'm a hot girl and WHOA! I've got magical powers!" Today I'm reviewing two different series but they are largely the same story (thus far) -- their story? "I'm a petulant, angsty teen and WHOA! I've got magical powers!"

The first book (and series) I read in this space is B. Justin Shier's Zero Sight: Book 1. This is the story of Dieter Resnick, a kid from a post-recession Vegas that looks even bleaker than the real post-recession Vegas. Dieter is a pretty good student, hopes to get a scholarship and go to college but weird things start happening around him -- like a bully's head explodes when he is picking on poor Dieter. Some folks take an abnormal interest in Dieter but he doesn't think much of it, is surprised to be offered a special scholarship from some far away special school that produces super successful kids. Off to school goes young Dieter, where he meets a bunch of kids, has usual teen experiences of distrust, dislike and lust, and is introduced to the ideas of magical powers and the politics of magical land. Unsurprisingly, over the course of the two books I've read -- the second book in the series is Zero Sum -- Dieter and his classmates become humanity's only hope and then they trash Bob Stupak's Vegas World.

The second series I read, and it is so similar to the first I felt I had to review them both in the same post, is The Central Series by Zachary Rawlins. Book one is The Academy where our teen protagonist Alex is attacked by werewolves, rescued by an "Operator" and then given an injection of nano machinery to activate his special magical powers. He is taken to a special school where the same general things that happen in the prior series repeat. Teen age introductions, learning about the politics and structure of the magical world, angst and eventually the kids have to save the world.

Both have interesting universes. The authors really do a good job of creating their own Harry Potter-esque worlds to story-tell in. Central is maybe for a bit more adult audience and Zero Sight is a bit more campy, super hero-y fun. As the Central series develops its physics are starting to remind me a bit of the Lev Grossman The Magician series. Zero Sight's sparse use of real world landmarks and history to fill out the universe was also fun and I enjoyed it as well.

If you have lots of time (and I spend a lot of time on planes) you could read both but I'd recommend just pick one series. Both Central series installments are .99 eBooks, The Academy and the Anathema. Maybe that'll make a difference for you. B. Justin Shier does offer DRM free copies of the Zero Sight books if you contact him.

The Zero Sight Series by B. Justin Shier
Zero Sight
Zero Sum

The Central Series by Zachary Rawlins
The Academy
The Anathema


  1. Also sounds like Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. But I think that novels where the hero (the reader) turns out to have magical powers are pretty much the same as all novels where the protagonist that the reader identifies with turns out to be more awesome than any of his friends or family ever realized. It’s a pretty popular fantasy…

  2. Given the widely cherished, and as widely dashed, theory of “Nobody Understands Me!”, I suspect that the genre of fiction, aimed at ‘young adults’, where, in fact, this is true, validated, and comes with awesome magical powers will be ineradicable…

    It’s more or less the ‘Mary Sue’ of teen wangst.

    1.  came here to say this, albeit in a more roundabout way.  as a late-80s-early-90s teen, i indulged in these very same tropes.  their names were Colossus, Shadowcat, Jubilee, Phoenix (the younger) etc.  compare with King Arthur:  “I’m a poor, orphaned teen–oh look!  I pulled the sword from the stone!”  there is nothing new under the sun.

      As the masthead says:  http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_O4ZzhRdo84M/TIbwLR61i3I/AAAAAAAAB9I/-RU1ZYs4Xt4/s1600/X-Men+60+logo.jpg

  3. Since I received a kindle fire as a x-mas present, I too, have been reading lots of e-books. I’ve bought a few and have taken advantage of the free intros and, yes, have gone on the purchase the follow up episodes of the ones I really liked.  

    The most interesting phenomenon for me is that the ability to publish a work by an independent author has given rise to the availability of so many new and unique voices, plots and scenarios within my chosen genre. The homogenized and formulaic offerings by the “snail-book publishing” world had become so predictable that very few new ideas or authors could make it through the editorial gauntlet. The publishing houses would always choose the safe few authors (safe in their little bean counter minds, at least). In defense of these publishers, I realize they have to define some limits due to costs of printing, distribution, &cetera. 

    To be clear, the hero’s quest is a major learning device for all of us in this life and I’m very happy that operas are now space operas, and even magic makes it on board where technology and magic becomes indistinguishable. Context is still important in philosophy!

  4. We saw the movie “Chronicle” about telekenetic teens at the dollar movie and it was pretty  good.

    Afterwards I said “Who even green-lighted the millionth movie about telekenetic teens? Jeese, this goes all the way back to “Carrie.””And then the question has to be, why was Chronicle fairly good? It was a tragedy, and the only way to make it work is as a tragedy.  The “nobody understands me” angle should be backed up by something really shameful and secret (like abuse). That was also what made “Carrie” work. 

    Traditionally, powers were bestowed by the gods – a magic shield, a magic sword etc. At it’s worst, these stories are about slackers who are redeemed by powers they did not know they had and which they hardly need to develop, but they get to race off and a save the world, then be home by bedtime.  “Lightning Thief” was pretty awful in this respect. Harry Potter started off that bad, but got a bit better as it became more tragic. 

  5. Suppose flushing that one story from the second collection of shorts I’m sorta working on would be a good idea then.

    No sarcasm filter needed. Specifics are a bit diffrent (no real angst, just a situational change to get the story rolling) but if it’s too similer it’s too similar and it needs to be chopped.

  6. In real life, many famous dictators spent years idling in cafes and bookstores before their “powers” were revealed.  This theme of super teens is almost a metaphor of the real life authoritarian, and stories in this genre work best as tragedies (“Carrie”) where power and hubris create mayhem and finally self destruction.

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