Pact, reviews, points of order *spoiler alert*

7 years ago | G.S. Williams (Member)

This thread discusses a story plot point so I suggest reading it before this thread so as to not engage with spoilers.

The story in question is Pact by the talented Wildbow. Point of Order recently reviewed Pact and criticized its use of time magic as a flaw in the writing. In fact, I see it being used brilliantly - which just goes to show that everyone has different tastes. My issue is that I would never put my explanation of why it is brilliant into a review, because it would cause spoilers and ruin the plot for new readers.

So I'm discussing it here. Wildbow describes a demon in-story that erases peoples' memories of anything it eats. This meant that the protagonist saw creatures die but didn't remember bringing any with him to the fight. It created a very suspenseful, somewhat disorienting scene that was brilliantly constructed - and Wildbow filled in the potential plot hole by showing the creatures in a bonus chapter to prove it was brilliantly constructed and not a mistake.

Recently time magic users caused time to go backwards for a mulligan and also induced amnesia, causing a chapter to be skipped. Wildbow is quite cleverly manipulating the conventions of writing to help readers experience the protagonist's perspective - and I applaud him for it.

I challenge Point of Order's perspective that this somehow "breaks" a story or a genre, when it is one of the most creative stories out there. There is no internal logic flaw or plot hole - just some unreliable narration to create reader-protagonist sympathy. It is quite well done.

Read responses...


  1. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Going by his comments in the story's comment section, his issue seems to lie more with the fact that there's no doppler effect when viewing slowed down time (Because of the way light travels, you're supposed to see things tinted blue/red depending on if they're accelerated or slowed), the fact that the setting isn't internally balanced like a video game might be, and the fact that the de-facto bad guys at this point appear so powerful that they shouldn't be losing any fights (and by winning, Blake seems like a Marty Stu).

  2. Tempest (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    It is cleverly done and it does disturb the narrative as it is meant to. But I can see how that would shake the readers faith/suspension of disbelief.
    Retconning is a hard one to pull off and while Wildbow does it well, it makes sense that it produces mixed feeling amongst readers.

  3. Psycho Gecko (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Anything that breaks the standard conventions is going to leave a bad taste in people's mouths, even if it's also completely realistic.

    I can somewhat see the point of Blake always coming out ahead. Even his losses seem like they're there to make his eventual victory even better. It's like an odd take on the Boring Invincible Hero concept. Like no matter what, Blake will win the big picture. He'll just go through lots of dark torture to get there.

    Anyway, my main criticism is unrelated to the time magic thing that is the focus of this particular thread. I think the time magic is powerful and it could be poorly done, but it's generally acceptable in media to not have the colors change when time slows down. Still, if you've got somebody who focuses on that sort of thing, it sticks in their craw. It's like if you're into engineering and someone gets shrunk without worrying about the square-cube law, or if you're big into history and a story involves someone making a bunch of obvious mistakes to anyone who has done any research.

  4. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I'm pretty sure "magic" kind of "defies natural physics" in any sort of literature, so automatically missing the doppler effect or the cube-square law doesn't invalidate "suspension of disbelief" when you already did that by signing up for a magic or superhero story. Suspension of disbelief happens when the plot stops making sense, when characters act in unbelievable ways, and something jars you out of the story world and into the real world.

    I don't see Blake as winning -- I see him getting wounded, hurt, failing, and then occasionally defeating something pretty minor. The Behaims have the same human limits he does, so sometimes he outlogics or outworks them, but he's never once outpowered them. Power doesn't necessarily make you smarter -- and he's been fated to die so "winning" is going to be relative here.

    I take issue with someone giving 1.5 stars to something that didn't actually break a genre, when they acknowledge that the writing quality is excellent. There are way more illogical, nonsense stories out there with flawed concepts. I don't see a flaw thus far, because the chapter style might be ground-breakingly different but it's internally consistent with the logical rules of the story.

    Mary-sue stuff is kind of part and parcel of protagonists -- it's always a risk. Blake getting hurt all the time and losing quite often kind of invalidates the godlike amazingness Mary-sue is associated with. But if he dies in chapter 2 then there's no story -- so protagonists have to kind of live through stuff, 'natch.

  5. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Umm... doppler shift is happening when things are moving toward or away from you at an appreciable measure of c. the wavelength of the light itself is changed by the difference in motion. Slowing time wouldn't do any such thing, if it were possible to do so. If anything, an area of slowed time would act like a lens, the bending of light going through different materials in which it travels at different speeds (c being, of course, only correct IN A VACUUM). Sound should be shifted a bit, doppler shift from moving objects of the SOUND waves would happen, being mechanical in nature.

    I think the use of time magic is brilliant. They have been loathe to use the big powers until having no choice, showing even without us seeing the negatives that they have to be there. The skip chapter... I went back a chapter and read the bottom again to make sure I didn't miss anything, after the first two paragraphs. I went back, failed to notice the missing chapter, and read further, and was very amused when the characters were as confused as I was. I thought it was wonderfully done, I was very disoriented and offput, and just as I was about to makea comment about you forgetting an update, I got the payoff, so the, to forgive the pun, timing of the gag was perfect as well, imo.

    You have spent a LOT of time building up that the natural law of magic in this world responds to things like the western view of karma, that will and desire have power. Blake is a desperate, dangerous man, and the world responds to that, by screwing him over and over, but he still hangs on until things reverse. He's not a sue in the slightest, imo, is not coming away unscathed, and is earning his victories.

  6. Shogi (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    In point of fact, time magic IS too powerful to be believable, a fact of which Wildbow is completely aware and of which he makes splendid use later in the story. Readers have been constantly warned that the things that the characters believe, practitioner and Other alike, are not necessarily how they are, even though perception lends some weight and truth to those beliefs. The repeated warnings about the dangers of classifying Others (demons and goblins come to mind immediately) are a good example of this.

    In Blake specifically, and the other characters generally, we have a classic use of the unreliable narrator. We are given a very limited point of view, and the conclusions about the world at which the characters arrive make sense (for the most part) through the limited lens through which the reader is allowed to view events. This lens, of course, is the trap, especially in a world in which the characters not only do not know everything, but may be actively being deceived, up to and including the distortion of the very senses through which the characters view the world.

    The question of how much the reader should trust the narrator is always a part of limited perspective fiction, and in the case of Pact, the answer is probably "not very much."


You must log in to post.