Aphrodite's Orphan

a Sci-Fi by ThomasLaHomme

Commended by mizal on 3/29/2020 11:43:46 PM

Player Rating6.26/8

"Too few ratings to be ranked"
based on 43 ratings since 10/19/2020
played 938 times (finished 37)

Story Difficulty5/8

"run through the jungle"

Play Length7/8

"It keeps going and going"

Maturity Level6/8

"I'll need to see some identification"
Some material may be inappropriate for persons under age 16. If this were a movie, it would probably between PG-13 and R.

A teenage girl living on a Venus out of 1930's Pulp Science Fiction must search the planet and other worlds with her robot tutor to find the killers of her parents.

This is done in the format of an Interactive Novel, so it's pretty far removed from the standard Dungeon Crawl format. This is more reminescent of the old CYOA books of the 80's and 90's, particulary T.S.R. Hobbies' Endless Quest Books. The characters have arcs which will be determined by the decisions you make.

Because this is set in an outdated version of the solar system, I consider this to be more a work of Fantasy than Science Fiction. Think Science Fantasy.

Also, there are elements of Hard Boiled Detective fiction and Film Noir. Like if Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain wrote about Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.

Player Comments

This is a weird game, but it's already one of my favourites on the site. To tell the truth, I'm not really sure why, but I'm going to try to articulate it as best I can. When I was done with it, (the last ending I bothered with was the one where you shack up with Margaret but don't seek revenge) I was left with the deep sense that I had read something special.

I want to get all the mechanical stuff out of the way. This game felt like it might have been slightly undercooked, but I liked it enough that it doesn't matter. It felt like it killed me when I stepped off the beaten path, and there were minor syntactical errors sprinkled throughout. I'm not pressed about them, though; with a work this size, on an amateur site, it's bound to happen. None of us are copy-editors.

I now have the task of articulating why I feel like this is special and why I like this game so god damn much.

The other day in the Discord I was talking about The Last of Us Part II, specifically how I liked how that game has very little regard with what the audience "wants" from the story, but is largely concerned with naturalistic character development and resolving its themes. I think I like this game for the same reason. The revenge plot ends unsatisfyingly, with either my agonizing death or the death of Margaret. It's crucial that in either instance, the death is short and miserable and not described with too much pathos. I fucking love that. I almost feel like the reader is "trained" by most popular media that on a mission like this, you get revenge and you get the girl. I found it really compelling stuff that, from what I saw, you only ever get one or the other - and you're unsatisfied either way. I feel like this is as close to reflecting a fundamental truth about life as I've ever seen a CYOA get. Sometimes things just end badly.

I also found the protagonist deeply likeable. The snark with Esmerelda was great, and her emotions throughout were consistently relatable. You even managed to capture the bitter, impotent fury you feel when your crush dates someone older and cooler than you, which is hilariously relatable but not something that most people try to reckon with.

Another thing you did exceptionally well was pairing the whimsy of the setting with the often shocking violence of the events. Something about the way the childishly named ray gun kills people by lighting them on fucking fire makes the whole thing feel like a blood-soaked version of Thomas A. Swift and his Electric Rifle.

It's very easy to compare this game to other things, like I just did. But really, it stands on its own. I think people who are unsatisfied with the endings might be missing something. It's not truncated, it just doesn't give you what you want.

Thanks for sharing this with us. Cheers.
-- hetero_malk on 10/30/2020 11:39:10 PM with a score of 0
This is certainly an impressive and ambitious story, and for a while I was seriously enjoying it. But there were two key points where the story just fell flat for me, and those ultimately left me disappointed with the overall experience of reading "Aphrodite's Orphan."

However, before I get to those points, let's begin with the premise. The author describes the story as a mixture of Film Noir, detective fiction, and classic sci-fi. I agree with most of this, although I think the only contributions made by Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon might be the phrases "ray gun" and "rocket ship." The sci-fi element here reminded me more of H. G. Wells, and particularly his assumption that one needed to look no farther than our own solar system to find alien life.

And thus this story is set in a reality in which both Mars and Venus (if not other worlds as well) are habitable and already possess their own biomes, ripe for 20th century space exploration. In one branch, I learned of at least one manned Soviet mission to Venus in the 1950s; in reality, the U.S. may have beat the U.S.S.R. to the Moon, but here the U.S.S.R. beat us to one of Venus's two continents.

Therefore, in this alternate history, space travel must have began as a New Deal program, which would explain why everyone still talks about ray guns and rocket ships. It's actually a fascinating concept to explore.

But there are no jet packs, no floating cities a la "The Jetsons," and Esmeralda is certainly no Robby the Robot. There was a time during the first half of this story where it looked like the plot might unfold in an episodic format, but never did this storygame remind me of what little I know of Buck Rogers.

That being said, this verdant version of Venus was a hoot to explore, and I was happy to settle in for the long haul. It seems that Venus is home to some colorful characters, including one with a memorable eating habit.

Structurally, this storygame is a branch-and-bottleneck, with no state tracking that I could see, but with a plethora of ways to get yourself killed and end prematurely, if you so chose. Sometimes those endings were fun to read, and sometimes they were just a distraction from the central storyline.

As for that storyline (and beware of SPOILERS from this point forward):

The beginning and main ending were problematic for me. The opening page was much better (and clearer) than an earlier draft I was invited to read a few months ago, and I got a clearer understanding of who Sandra, Margaret, and Esmeralda were.

But then things go south on the next page, and people start to die. Sandra has mixed emotions about these people, although I never caught an explanation for this, or felt any emotional impact. Nevertheless, these events set the plot in motion, and I was willing to forgive this rushed beginning because the trip on the raft to the island and beyond was fun in a pulp-fictiony way. Things that happened here had no bearing on the larger plot, but this gave me the expectation that the big story was going to unfold in a big way. From a pacing perspective, this felt like an "Act I" in a three-act epic.

Upon connecting with Margaret, there is a lull where some new characters and settings are introduced, and facts are learned. I assumed this was going to be Act II... but character motivations began to stop making sense, at least one character who had been carefully introduced stops adding any meaning to the plot (despite, I think, being present in all of the final scenes), and the story ends right at the moment Act II should have been revving up (meaning, of course, there is no Act III unless I seriously screwed up and merely strayed into a long dead-end branch).

So... I was left with a serious aftertaste of disappointment. The mystery was explained away (Scooby-Doo style) by a very talkative dead person, the authorities come and take care of the bad guys, and not a single character arc has anything resembling a resolution. While I was willing to overlook the rushed beginning, this quick ending was just the result of a poor sense of pacing.

Thus I rated this a 6/8, giving credit for the elements I really liked, but having to take back some of that praise for the points where this story just failed to live up to its promise. Hopefully there will be more to Aphrodite's Orphan someday, completing the excellent work this should be (but currently isn't).
-- Bill_Ingersoll on 5/1/2020 6:13:06 PM with a score of 0
Already, we're introduced into two likeable characters, Sandra and Esmeralda (sorry Margaret). Not only that, we're introduced into the advanced, and sometimes confusing, technology of robotics, rockets, space travel, and lesbians -- and it still gets better. The story wastes no time in jumping into the plot. Danger and suspense hits before you even get to the first link.

When it comes to the story itself, I'd like to address the overall style first. Initially, I did not like the use of the phrase "rocket ship." In my mind, it's something an uninformed person would call a generic space shuttle. It's like how every game system in the house is an "X-box" to your mom. Then, I realized the lens that we're looking through: Sandra. The word choice is fitting of her age and experience.

I had similar thoughts on the usage of "...." I think that's the correct way to type it out. I'm talking about dramatic pauses or gaps in thought. There's a fair amount written both in the dialogue and description. Sandra is an extremely smart girl, so I can't chalk it up to childlike inability to recall certain words, but I think it does fit in nicely with the overall story voice, and while there were enough pauses to give me pause, it didn't feel overdone.

On that topic, there are times where I feel as though Sandra breaks character a bit. The opening with her creative thoughts on Thoreau thrust her to an adult level intelligence in my mind, but then calling Esmerelda "Esse" sends her back into being a little girl. Sure, she can be book smart, formulating original ideas, but the dramatic shift (it felt dramatic in my mind) feels unlike the girl in my imagination.

In terms of grammar and polishing, there are places where the story isn't perfect. While our inner English nerd wants to scream "comma splice!" nothing is too distracting from the story. I think I saw a "riffle" early on, and there are a couple pages with no links a little later. They're death pages, so nothing too atrocious. Also, most of the paragraphs are indented, while others are not. The writing is very well done, and it's a shame that simple "importing" errors would possibly deter anyone from reading this story. I hope it doesn't because it's really worth reading.

This story is exactly that: worth reading. As someone who does not post on the Forums, Thomas, I can see a drastic elevation in your writing quality from The Dolls' Quest. Sometimes when users post short stories and such, you don't get to see a huge amount of improvement in the writing itself from storygame to storygame as quality gradually seeps into their shared work.

Not to take the focus from your story, it's a finely-crafted piece filled with adventure, danger, and characterization on a high level. It definitely deserves to be featured, and it definitely is a positive contribution to the site. Keep up the good work, Thomas, and I hope you return to share more of your stories.
-- ninjapitka on 3/31/2020 11:34:56 PM with a score of 0
This was a very fun game, I sugguest playing it.
-- Lucy on 3/29/2021 4:25:49 PM with a score of 0
-- oliver pender on 3/25/2021 12:18:22 PM with a score of 0
Oddest thing I've ever read here. I liked the robot. SHe's funny.
-- Monarch Butterfly on 10/23/2020 3:06:51 PM with a score of 0
Film Noir is a French term that means dark cinema. This is certainly cinematic and places and it's definitely dark! It begins with a girl's parents getting murdered and spirals out of control from there. Most of the endings are of the girl, Sandra Acosta, getting brutally killed. It's almost impossible to beat this game. I'm not sure if that's supposed to be the point, but it certainly is unnerving.

Lots of plots within plots. Thomas's post in the Lounge said you needed to try to read all the branches to get the most out of this. That certainly helps to get a fuller picture of the characters and the strange universe they inhabit.

All the principal characters are fairly well-drawn. The more branches you read, the more they get fleshed out as people.

I like the different aliens, ecspecialy the Jovians. Very creative creatures.

The one thing that truly bothers me, though, is that this teenage girl wants to kill the people who killed her mother and father. It's unsettling for a site that caters to high-school kids to have a story with a teenager who solves her problems by killing people with a gun.

But the story seems unusual and the settings are detailed.
-- WeRNestor on 10/22/2020 4:14:10 PM with a score of 0
Thought it was gonna be star wars but it turns into david lynch, WTF! whys the girl a lesbian? is this supposed to be woke or sumthing?
-- Oslo Williams on 10/19/2020 6:01:15 PM with a score of 0
Crazy, weird stuff! Writer must be on drugs.
-- Blue Fairy on 10/19/2020 3:26:05 PM with a score of 0
-- sophia on 4/13/2020 12:12:21 PM with a score of 0
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