An Argument Against Self-Publishing

Dan the Destructor: Barbarians of the Storm – Book I by Rob Rimes
January 10th, 2022

In beginning this review, I find myself wondering whether I have been overly harsh in previous reviews I’ve written. As I’ve pointed out before, I’ve not published any fiction myself and as such, I can’t claim anything I write would be better than those I criticise. I am also a big supporter of the “Iron Age” pulp revival and the advent of independent publishing and I want to support these creators. However, this doesn’t extend to calling bad “good” and generally I’ve chosen silence when I have disliked work by independent authors and creators. In the case of Rob Rimes’ Dan the Destructor,  I have decided to make an exception as this is one of the most crass and juvenile books I have ever read. 

I came across this book in a retweeted link to an article from Raz0rfist whose recent contribution to the pulp renaissance The Long Moonlight — I quite enjoyed. In blurb form, this has all the makings of a fun pulp story: barbarians, chainmail bikinis, machine guns, magic, evil sorcerers but as good as these ingredients may be on their own, they need to be properly mixed to taste good. In the case of Dan the Destructor, we have something that reads like it was written by a teenager, edited for punctuation and published without further changes. 

It does start well enough with the protagonist Dan getting magically pulled into a mysterious world and meeting the muscular barbarian Fenrik. The first problem is not so much the writing but the characters. Dan is a very obvious self-insert of the author being an overweight guy from Florida who loves comic books and action movies. Fenrik is more a caricature than a character being a heavy drinking, meat-eating, fornicating barbarian who does not change, grow or reveal anything interesting about himself at all through the story. Dan is given big muscles like Fenrik by something called ‘The Stone of Sentience’ and absolutely no effort of his own about a third of the way through and becomes a great warrior too. Like Fenrik, there is no real growth. 

Now to the writing and we’ll start with description of the female antagonist  Erzulyn:

The female, smiling, is incredibly attractive, and shrouded in a black cloak with jagged black armor featuring purple accents. Her armor contours to her tall and voluptuous body making her look as sexy as she looks deadly.

So… Evil-Lyn from Masters of the Universe. Towards the end we get a similar description of Fenrik’s paramour Vasilia:

In the distance is another army, led by a very attractive woman holding a bow, riding on a large white horse. She has long, wavy, black hair and is scantily clad with armor on her shoulders and arms. She’s wearing a black leather bikini top, covered with some chainmail. She also has armored knee-high boots with an armored black leather and metal skirt.

Not quite Teela but close. Very incredibly attractive.

Almost every chapter irritatingly begins like a set-up for a Dungeons and Dragons scenario:

The next morning, outside the gate to Agamemnon, Fenrik and Dan are on their horses with Frank, Killer and Merrith seeing them off. 

Dan is still wearing his Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts. However, Frank outfitted him with some light, chainmail body armor under his short. He is also wearing a leather belt, which drapes some chainmail protection over his genital region. The belt also allows him to carry a sword and his still unsheathed dagger.

To the author’s credit, I am sure he’d be an entertaining dungeon master — and I don’t mean this sarcastically.

There are also plenty of redundancies in the text:

[The Towers] walls look like obsidian, as they’re black, glossy, and very slick.

And bafflingly bad descriptions too:

[The Citadel] resembles the Eiffel Tower, but it is much taller and slenderer. It’s also more jagged and gnarly. It looks like the Eiffel Tower if it were p***** off, medieval and ready to cut a hole in the cosmos above.

This is only a short book but was still very difficult to read at times and these are just the immediate examples that come to mind. I could make quite a list if I were inclined and I came very close to putting it down completely multiple times.

As for all the monsters, sword and sorcery and 80s machismo? Well… the story is certainly full of it. Almost every chapter has Fenrik fighting one creature or another but by the end most have blurred together and it was often hard to know what was going on. Every single monster is initially menacing but quickly overcome making every battle anticlimactic. An unintentionally hilarious example is a Cthulhuesque squid monster described as an “old god” who is left for the side-characters to fight a page after being introduced. The story ends more as a set-up for the next though the evil sorcerer is at least defeated. Throughout there is little real sense of danger or genuine conflict and were this a film or a comic book, it wouldn’t work any better.

Lastly, the book is full of frequent and completely unnecessary profanity which the author seems to take a childish delight in. I know this is a hard sell in the society we live but filthy language very, very seldom adds anything to a work and is best avoided. Removing the profanity alone would be a big improvement including the silly name for the vehicle that I won’t repeat. Even the notoriously coarse Razorfist knew better.

One might point out that the story is meant to be this way but bad writing is still bad writing. The gate-keepers of the decaying entertainment industry won’t be overcome with poorly written books like this. And I’m not exaggerating when I describe it as childish as this is the exact type of stuff I used to write when I had to write stories for English class in middle school. Dan the Destructor has a lot of potential as a concept — it is just executed extremely poorly. If I were Rimes I would unpublish this and do some heavy re-writes — preferably with help from an editor and then publish it. The related short-story included at the end is no better and I have no desire to read the next two books.

To be clear, I’ve got nothing against the author and wish him every success but this is simply a terribly written book.

UPDATE (13/11/22): I have been thinking some more about this book and how it could be improved because I really do think it has potential. I offer a few of what I hope are constructive suggestions below. 

  • Although I criticised Dan as a self-insert there is a way this could work in a refreshing way. It was amusing the way Fenrik mocked Dan for being flabby and weak but nothing was done with this and it could be used as a way to grow both characters. So remove the “Stone of Sentience” nonsense and make Dan grow in courage and strength as a result of Fenrik’s endless mockery and his experience as his unlikely side-kick. In other words, keep the self-insert but have him the subject of constant mockery with him earning heroic status in the end. Also remove “Elizabeth” as that is not going to go anywhere good.
  • Cut most of the monsters and action out and focus on character growth. This will be necessary to achieve the above but as I said, most of the monsters don’t add anything and a few could be saved for a sequel. Include a few minor battles with one big climactic one at the end that sees Dan proving his worth. 
  • Change the Dungeons and Dragons scenario writing that begins each chapter and work on better descriptions. I noticed after publishing this that a positive review of this book had noticed this and described it the same way. 
  • Get rid of all the subplots and don’t bother trying to set-up the next adventure until this one is done right.
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