Part of being a judge for the SPSFC is having to cut books, unfortunately. My team, Team Red Stars, had a batch of 31 books which we had to narrow down to 10 books we’d all commit to fully reading so that we can give them scores that will then determine our top 3 candidates to move on to the total group of judges as semifinalists. What a mouthful! To do that, we sampled at least 10-20% of all the books and then voted ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on them. The books with the most ‘yes’ votes moved on. We decided we’d give feedback on all the books that didn’t make it, too. So here’s my batch of announced cuts, with my feedback as well as some from other group members. Check out the links for my team’s other posts on cuts!
The Echo Effect by John McGuire
Aaron Anders wakes up in a different life, apparently able to sense that other lives had come before and that the life he had awakened in the middle of was not really his. It’s an interesting start to a time-bouncing story that soon enmeshes Anders in trying to figure out what’s happening. Some twists and turns later, the plot broadens even more. The Echo Effect ultimately didn’t make our top 10, while some in the group were intrigued by its setting, others thought it didn’t have enough that felt fresh to continue. Fans of mysteries about time paradoxes would be well-served to give this a go.
Eye of the Storm by R.K. King
I was hugely into this book based on my sampling of it. The Mad Max post-apocalyptic feel was right up my alley, and the book started with a bang and put me right in the action. I actually ended up reading the entirety of this book and greatly enjoyed it. I even bought the second one to have ready. So why was it cut? While the group was pretty unanimous in finding the setting intriguing, the characters’ sometimes simplistic interactions failed to grab the attention of some, and one pointed out how easily the characters moved on from serious emotional losses. If the elevator pitch of: ‘Mad Max but with a couple twists’ sounds interesting at all to you, I’d recommend giving this one a try.
Memories of the Khassos by Leah Flaherty
I was hugely intrigued by Flaherty’s setup for her world, with some questions of a police state mixed with world-bouncing adventure. As I read more, I started to wonder if the central plot would find direction. I also got kind of confused about the sense of time and place I was supposed to be following along. Other group members were interested at the beginning, but didn’t find the characters or setting gripping enough to unseat other books. Ultimately, this one fell victim to being in that enigmatic “maybe” zone and didn’t have enough at the beginning for us to push it up into the quarterfinalists. Readers looking for a thoughtful read that promises a big impact on the world from a group of characters can try this out.
The Jagged Edge by AJ Frazer
A climate terrorist meets with a major media mogul and things spiral from there in this cli-fi thriller from AJ Frazer. At 20% in, I was torn on continuing this one or not. Ultimately, I gave it a shot, continuing on to read the whole thing. It ended up winning my first battle royale for a contested spot in my top 10. The reason is because once readers get past a truly fabulously written scene between two characters, they’ll likely want to push on and read the whole thing as well. Frazer has written a fascinating story that had some twists that truly caught me off guard. The problem is, as several group members pointed out, it takes too long to take off. There’s a super macho scene at the beginning with mountain climbing and James Bond-style no-strings-attached sex that was offputting to most of us, and looking back, that first 5-10% of the book seems basically superfluous to the plot. I ended up thinking the book was pretty great, but have to admit that I agree with the critique that it just doesn’t move quickly enough out of the gate for a thriller. I’ll have a full review of this one coming, so look forward to that. Readers looking for a thriller that will truly make them sit back and think about our world–and who are willing to push through a slow start–should go read this book now.
Detonation by Erik Otto
Otto has set up a world that is intriguing, with hints of a dystopic, post-apocalyptic humanity that is struggling to survive. Our group was frustrated by how much effort it took to work through the early parts of the book, as characters seemed to bounce in and out of focus with little to ground us in the world in the meantime. By the 15-20% mark I hit, I had a kind of Clifford Simak feeling (a classic sci-fi author I enjoy) of a pastoral catastrophe, but that wasn’t ultimately enough for me to knock off other books from my personal top 10. As a group, we were left from our sampling mostly feeling confused about the direction of the plot and characters. I do think this is one I’ll circle back around and give another chance, though, because I was interested enough to give it a deeper look.
Skybound by Lou Iovino
I’ll admit it–I have super mixed feelings about this one. I was sold on it from the start. Across Earth, we get various perspectives on what happens when the planet suddenly just stops spinning. More and more hard sci-fi is piled on as explanations are offered for why certain things did or did not happen, and we follow several different plotlines as characters try to figure out what happened and why a mysterious, huge object in the sky may have caused it to occur. I ended up reading the whole novel in a whirlwind evening as I was totally engrossed. I can’t really say much without spoiling the end, but I will say that’s why I’m very torn here. The book just ties everything up so quickly and easily, while also seeming to totally cast off some plotlines without giving resolution, that I was devastated. I went from the feeling of “this is amazing” to “that’s it?” fairly quickly. I’d definitely check out another sci-fi novel from Iovino, and honestly I’d almost hope it would be a sequel to flesh out and explain the abrupt ending to this one. Readers who are fans of hard sci-fi and heart-poundingly quick plot movements would be well-served to check this one out.
First Round Status
As a group, we’ve determined our final 10 books. I have several posts in the docket to show how I came to my personal top 10, as well. 8 of my personal top 10 made our quarterfinalists, which is pretty exciting for me. So what’s next? More book reviews and discussions. I’ll have full reviews of a few of these cuts coming, and then there will be more posts as I release full reviews of our quarterfinalists as we determine our top 3 books to send on to the semifinalist round for all groups to read. Let me know your thoughts on these–and other–books in the comments!
All links to Amazon are affiliates.
The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– my hub post with links to all of my other posts related to the SPSFC.
SPSFC First Round Cuts from Team Red Stars– Over at Red Stars Reviews, a fellow team member outlines another set of cuts for the SPSFC! Like me, he’s got several selections he enjoyed but which were ultimately cut.
First SPSFC Cuts for Team Red Stars– William Tracy shares his set of cuts, noting positives and negatives for each.
First SPSFC cuts for Team Red Stars– Susy shares her take on a batch of cuts, noting some which she saw as interesting.
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