The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest is into the semifinalist round. 10 groups have narrowed 300 books down to a top 30, which we will then narrow down even more before finally choosing a winner. Here, I’m presenting the semifinalists along with their (sometimes partial) blurbs, covers, and my own initial thoughts purely based on both.
Gates of Mars by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays
IN THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE, HOW CAN A PERSON GO MISSING?
The year is 2187. Crucial Larsen, a veteran of the brutal Consolidation Wars, is working as a labor cop on Earth. The planet is a toxic dump and billions of people are miserable, but so what? It’s none of his business. He’s finally living a good life, or good enough.
But then Essential, his beloved kid sister, disappears on Mars.
I don’t know why, but the blurb makes me think of the Mars scenes in Babylon 5 quite a bit, and that definitely piques my interest. Also, there are giraffes on the cover for some reason.
What Branches Grow by T.S. Beier
Thirty-five years ago, the world was ravaged by war. Delia, a tough-as-nails survivalist, travels North in search of a future. Gennero is tortured by his violent past and devotion to his hometown. Ordered to apprehend Delia, he follows her into the post-apocalyptic landscape. The wasteland is rife with dangers for those seeking to traverse it: homicidal raiders, dictatorial leaders, mutated humans, and increasingly violent and hungry wildlife.
Post-Apocalyptic novels are fairly hit-or-miss for me. Too often, they’re relentlessly depressing. In this day and age, that’s not what I’m looking for. This one promises some hope, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.
ARvekt by Craig Lea Gordon
Ord is a black-ops cyborg assassin. A highly-trained human-weapon, dedicated to hunting down the last of the brain hacking syndicates. There’s just one problem…
Her mind was broken from a psychotic episode. Neural programming erased her trauma, gave her a fresh start. But when an old brain hacker cult resurfaces, and a sentient AI is set to govern the entire human population, she starts seeing things. Horrors that can’t possibly be real… that make no sense… that only she can see. Ix, their AI Guardian, is abducting innocent citizens from the streets in broad daylight. And it’s using the Augmented Reality it has thrown over the world as cover. Is the AI hellbent on humanities destruction? Or is her mind tearing itself apart again?
I saw this one in another group back at the beginning of the contest and immediately hoped it would be passed on to the next round. Here it is! First of all, it has one of the best covers in the contest. Second, the words “cyborg assassin” came up and it sounds like cyberpunk plus craziness, and I love that as a premise.
A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden
A thousand years in the future, the last of humanity live inside the walls of the totalitarian Kingdom of Cutta. The rich live in Anais, the capital city of Cutta, sheltered from the famine and disease which ravage the rest of the Kingdom. Yet riches and power only go so far, and even Anaitians can be executed. It is only by the will of the King that Nate Anteros, son of the King’s favourite, is spared from the gallows after openly dissenting. But when he’s released from prison, Nate disappears.
A stark contrast, Catherine Taenia has spent her entire life comfortable and content. The daughter of the King’s Hangman and in love with Thom, Nate’s younger brother, her life has always been easy, ordered and comfortable. That is, where it doesn’t concern Nate. His actions sullied not only his future, but theirs. And unlike Thom, Catherine has never forgiven him.
Two years pass without a word, and then one night Nate returns. But things with Nate are never simple, and when one wrong move turns their lives upside down, the only thing left to do is run where the King’s guards cannot find them – the Outlands. Those wild, untamed lands which stretch around the great walls of the Kingdom, filled with mutants and rabids.
The cover had me immediately thinking of hard sci-fi with a chemist going wild, but the blurb sounds more like a kind of dystopia. I am definitely interested, and the series looks complete so if I love it, I can keep going.
Age of Order by Julian North
Daniela wants more for her family. She’s a track star and an ace student, but for someone born like her, talent isn’t enough.
The Orderist movement has spawned a society that rewards those who supposedly possess “merit,” which includes America’s wealthiest. Manhattan has become the capital of the forty-nine Orderist-led states, while California suffers under an economic embargo. Cities are cocoons where the so called “highborn” enjoy the pleasures of farm-grown food and private parks, while their outwardly perfect children are protected by floating nanny-like drones that follow them everywhere.
Daniela has grown up fighting for the chance to live beyond the desperation of Bronx City. An opportunity to attend the elite Tuck School—a place where even the highborn struggle to obtain a spot—is too great an opportunity to ignore. But what do the richies really want from her?
This was one of my group’s books, and I’ve read it in its entirety already. It’s a great book–a dystopia focused on questions of justice with strong characters. I can’t wait to see what other reviewers think of it. See my review for more.
Captain Wu: Starship Nameless #1 by Patrice Fitzgerald and Jack Lyster
Captain Wu’s the name. Smuggling’s her game.
To be fair, they only started shooting after she started insulting them. She was just about to hand off the package—Wu didn’t know what was inside, and she didn’t want to—when three tentacle-faced strangers attacked. Wu loves a good fight and lives for a good heist. The Captain and her crew make their living taking undercover assignments from questionable clients… and it pays. Or at least, it used to.
But this time the merchandise is a little too hot to handle. So when the squid-shaped xenos show up and destroy the guys who are there to receive it, Wu is barely able to make it back to her ship alive. Soon the Nameless is racing around the galaxy with not only the powerful Commonwealth on its tail, but another dangerous creature bent on revenge. And then an unexpected visitor arrives, putting Wu and her crew in the position of taking care of some very precious cargo. Is it time for the Captain to give up criming and retire to a sedate life more suitable for a woman of her age?
Not a chance.
Sounds like a kind of Han Solo space adventure, and I’ve found those to be wildly varying in how I end up thinking of them. I am excited to see some of this type of book moving on, though, because when they hit well, they’re among my favorite books to read.
Daros by Dave Dobson
High above Daros, sixteen-year-old Brecca Vereen prepares to unload a cargo of trade goods aboard her father’s ship, the Envy’s Price. Nellen Vereen shows her a mysterious artifact bound for a contact below, one that will earn them a lot of credits, and one that they definitely won’t be declaring to customs.
Materializing out of nowhere, alien invaders fire upon all ships, destroy the jump gate, and knock out communications. The Envy’s Price is crippled, and as her father tries to guide it down from orbit, Brecca rescues the illicit artifact and jettisons in a life pod to an uncertain fate below.
On the flagship of the invading fleet, Navigator Frim tries to persist within the cruel autocracy of the Zeelin Hegemony, under constant threat of death, but wishing for something better. And then she notices a whisper of radiation above Daros – the trail of a cloaked Vonar ship. What are they doing in the midst of all this? And will the captain kill her just for revealing this disagreeable news?
The group that chose this one said it was humorous all the way through. I don’t really get that from the blurb, but I’m curious to know how a fairly serious sounding premise combines with humor.
The Last Shadow by J.D. Robinson
In 1991, strange things are afoot in Boston. Bas is on the verge of hanging up his hat, until his final client—the missing woman’s father—suddenly claims to be someone else entirely. Someone without a daughter.
Across town, Dee Khalaji finds herself seeing visions of someone in the shadows watching a recorded video—one that changes each time it’s played back.
Okay, the premise has me totally sold on this one. Sounds mysterious, I love the lingering sense of haunting confusion behind it all. I am ready to roll on this one!
Destroyer by Brian G. Turner
Jaigar expected to wake up after thirty years to start building a new world in another star system. Instead, he finds himself one of a handful of survivors on an abandoned colony ship.
With no food or water, and only emergency power, his first challenge is to keep everyone alive. The next is to try and solve the mystery of their situation, by figuring out what happened to the original crew and other colonists.
But Jaigar will find survival more difficult than he expects, especially when each of the other survivors has a secret that could help him – or kill him.
Based on the cover and name I was definitely thinking military sci-fi here and was thrilled, because so far we haven’t seen much in the way of space shooting happening. The blurb definitely suggests the “destroyer” might not be the ship but rather whatever happened on the ship. I’m curious, and hoping we get some more military sci-fi out here!
Resistance by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
From the moment you are born, you are conditioned to know this truth: Unorthodoxy is wrong action, Heterodoxy is wrong thought. The first will lead to your Detention. The second to your Execution.
A century from now, the walled city-state of a future Paris is enjoying its Golden Age. The horrors of the Singularity forgotten, citizens revel in an intoxicating mix of abandon and apathy made possible by the Orthodoxy—a new world order where everything is engineered for maximum efficiency, including identities. Dividing the population into four neuro-social classes has allowed the government to maintain control and ensure its citizens exist in complete equality, fraternity, and liberty. But, not everyone is satisfied with the status quo.
You had me at that cover, but with the focus on a totally dominant dystopia, I am all in on this one. Excited to read it!
Dusk Mountain Blues by Deston J. Munden
The Caldwells have one goal in life: to be left alone. They’ve been living on the backwater planet of C’dar for years, smuggling and scavenging their way to a comfortable life on their Homestead. But you know the saying about all good things – they come to an end. The Civilization wasn’t content with falling apart the first time and has finally caught wind of the ol’ boys and girls on their little rock in the middle of nowhere. Ain’t nothing much they can do about that, though…except fight ’em.
I get distinct vibes of a kind of Firfely-esque setting alongside some character pieces from this blurb. I am looking forward to reading this one.
Iron Truth by S.A. Tholin
When miners on a remote colony dig too deep, the golden age of space exploration comes to a bloody end. A corruption springs from Xanthe’s alien soil, possessing every mind it touches.
Embroiled in civil war, the galactic community spirals into panic, and the Primaterre Protectorate seizes control. In order to preserve Earth, its surface is quarantined, and all further deep space colonisation is outlawed.
There’s more to this blurb, basically describing as cosmic horror, space opera, and more. I am sold. Super excited to dive in to this one. I love a sense of mystery going in.
Of Cinder & Bone by Kyoko M.
After centuries of being the most dangerous predators on the planet, dragons were hunted to extinction. That is, until Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali cracked the code to bring them back. Through their research at MIT, they resurrected the first dragon anyone has seen alive since the 15th century.
There’s just one problem.
Someone stole it.
This was from my group and so I’ve read it all the way through. It’s an absolutely delightful mix of Jurassic Park with wonderful characters and Yakuza street action. It’s a riveting read and I recommend it highly. My full review is here.
Lost Solace by Karl Drinkwater
Opal is on a mission. She’s been seeking something her whole life. Something she is willing to die for. And she thinks it might be on a Lost Ship.
Opal has stolen Clarissa, an experimental AI-controlled spaceship, from the military. Together they have tracked down a Lost Ship, in a lonely nebula far from colonised space.
The Lost Ship is falling into the gravity well of a neutron star, and will soon be truly lost … forever. Legends say the ships harbour death, but there’s no time for indecision.
Opal gears up to board it. She’s just one woman, entering an alien and lethal environment. But perhaps with the aid of Clarissa’s intelligence – and an armoured spacesuit – Opal may stand a chance.
A kind of risky salvage operation? Possible space hijinks with near death? Sounds thrilling.
Mazarin Blues by Al Hess
Introvert Reed Rothwell is part of a subculture of art deco era enthusiasts, pushing back against bland mainstream society and its mandated technology. Stuck with an AI assistant in his head is bad enough, but when he’s inflicted with a forced upgrade to a new beta version, named Mazarin, the navigator starts to take on feelings and opinions of his own.
When rumors spread of beta navs turning on their pilots, Reed is determined not to become a victim. Mazarin hasn’t become violent yet—the AI is sympathetic and understanding—but with beta participants coerced into slitting their own throats, it’s only a matter of time before Reed is next.
I think this cover is absolutely stunning. I love the style, and combining an art deco theme with a fairly serious threat sounds awesome. Can’t wait to dive in!
Dog Country by Malcolm F. Cross
A crowdfunded civil war is Azerbaijan’s only hope against its murderous dictatorship. The war is Edane Estian’s only chance to find out if he’s more than what he was designed to be.
He’s a clone soldier, gengineered from a dog’s DNA and hardened by a brutal training regime. He’d be perfect for the job if an outraged society hadn’t intervened, freed him at age seven, and placed him in an adopted family.
Is he Edane? Cathy and Beth’s son, Janine’s boyfriend, valued member of his MilSim sports team? Or is he still White-Six, serial number CNR5-4853-W6, the untroubled killing machine?
My group’s final choice for semifinalists, Dog Country is an absolutely stunning piece of science fiction. Not only is its cover among the best in the contest (just look at it!), but the plot is incredibly thoughtful on every level. I love it.
Shadows of Mars by I.O. Adler
The message from Carmen Vincent’s mother wasn’t possible.
She died in the Mars base disaster two years ago.
But when government agents show up at Carmen’s door, she realizes the message is no hoax.
Someone is still trying to cover up the disaster and the reason why Earth abandoned its space program.
It’s a race to discover the truth of what happened on Mars before Carmen loses her mother for a second time.
The blurb also compares the book to “The Expanse” and “Mass Effect.” if those comparisons are even close to on point, this will be a book I will love.
Monster of the Dark by K. T. Belt
None of the other children seemed able to read minds. None of the other children were able to manipulate their toys without touching them. On the morning of her sixth birthday, three men dressed in black arrive to remove her from the loving care of her parents.
She is taken to an underground facility meant for others like her, for Clairvoyants. Stripped of her name and identity, over the years she is fashioned into something scary—something lethal. Each day is an endless struggle and every night is plagued by nightmares. Yet Carmen’s ultimate battle won’t be to save her life but to keep her soul.
Latent mental powers with lurking nightmares and hints at a bigger plot? Sign me up.
Steel Guardian by Cameron Coral
Banking is wiped out overnight. No internet, phones, or electricity. Anything “smart” or “connected” turns against humans. The military’s SoldierBots have one function–seek and destroy.
Block is a simple CleanerBot programmed to clean and serve hotel guests. Forced to leave his city, he must avoid dangerous SoldierBots and find a new hotel he can call home.
But when Block discovers a human infant, his surprise attachment to the girl compels him to protect her while traveling across the metal infested wastelands of America to a safe haven. Without his help, the abandoned baby could die before they reach safety. When he encounters Nova – a surly soldier who becomes an unlikely ally – they must tackle the biggest challenge of their lives.
It sounds like “The Mandalorian,” except instead of Baby Yoda, it’s a human and IG-88 is the Mandalorian. Cool.
The Hammond Conjecture by M.B. Reed
The Hammond Conjecture is an alternative history novel which explores themes of memory, identity and historical narrative. It is also a lot of fun.
Are you sure you know who you are? If your memories disappeared and were replaced with someone else’s, would you still be you? And what if those memories were not just from another person – but of a different world?
London 1982. Regaining consciousness in an isolation ward of catatonic patients, glimpsing the outside world only through a television news bulletin, that is the dilemma facing Hugh Hammond.
Alternate history can be super fun, so I’m interested to see where this novel takes it. I tend to enjoy alternate histories, so I’m excited to read it, especially with the twist of alternate history and being thrust into it.
All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise by Neve Maslakovic
When New Seattle’s most popular resident—charismatic Delilah—takes a tumble off her balcony, the blame for the seeming accident lands on nineteen-year-old Scottie. More interested in finding out who her parents were than in searching for a personal brand, Scottie’s already scraping the bottom of the popularity list. This will send her down to last place—and that means a short ride out into the frozen wasteland outside New Seattle’s gates.
I enjoy mysteries with sci-fi twists, and this seems like another one. The semifinalists have many books in this vein, but I love the creative title and the notion that everyone focuses on “brand.”
Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks
Jonah Everitt is a killer, an addict, and a memory thief.
After being hired to kill a ranking officer of the Pacific Rim Coalition and download his memories, Everitt finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a terror cell, a rogue military squadron, and a Chinese gangster named Alice Xie. Xie is a profiteer of street drugs, primarily DRMR, a powerful narcotic made from the memories of the dead. With his daughter, Mesa, missing in post-war Los Angeles, Everitt is forced into an uneasy alliance with Alice to find her.
Mesa’s abduction is wrapped up in the secrets of a brutal murder during the war’s early days, a murder that Alice Xie wants revenged. In order to find her, Jonah will have to sift through the memories of dead men that could destroy what little he has left.
I love sci-fi thrillers, so I am thinking this one will be right up my alley. I wonder how much character building we’ll see here, because it certainly reads like there’s potential for quite a bit.
Broken Ascension by Dave Walsh
The war is over, and there are no winners. Just a broken galaxy.
Now humans and aliens must share this war-torn galaxy. None of this matters to Drake, though, he’s just an artist. He’s tagging along on the busted up ship Trystero, along with its ragtag crew. Together, they traverse the Demilitarized Zone between Terran and Gra’al borders, taking on any job they can find. Big or small. Human or alien.
The galaxy changes when the crew encounters a derelict alien ship, its crew slaughtered. With his dying breath, a crewman points them to a box. In it? An abandoned alien baby. When their government refuses to get involved, Drake and the crew need to return the baby they’ve been calling Bruce home, a bloodthirsty warlord on their tail.
His quest? Find Bruce and claim the Gra’al throne, declaring a new war on humanity.
I’m here for this. There are very few spaceships blowing each other up on this list, and I think this has the potential to be one such book. I’m hoping it is!
A Star Named Vega by Benjamin J. Roberts
The 30th Century is a technological paradise. Androids have built a utopian future of advanced robotics, augmented reality, and simulated worlds. Humanity thrives across the Thirteen Suns.
Why not spread some chaos, shake things up a bit?
Aster Vale leads a secret life as the Wildflower, a competitive street artist with dreams of infamy. When her father joins a mysterious research project in the Vega System, Aster sees their luxury starcruiser as just another canvas to explore. How else is she supposed to channel all this teenage rebellion?
I think the premise for this one feels like so much fun. Sometimes a breath of fresh air is needed, and the style of this feels so different from the other books. I am excited to check it out.
Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M. Nair
Michael Duckett is fed up with his life. His job is a drag, and his roommate and best friend of fifteen years, Stephanie Dyer, is only making him more anxious with her lazy irresponsibility. Things continue to escalate when they face the threat of imminent eviction from their palatial 5th floor walk-up and find that someone has been plastering ads all over the city for their Detective Agency.
The only problem is: Michael and Stephanie don’t have one of those.
Despite their baffling levels of incompetence, Stephanie eagerly pursues this crazy scheme and drags Michael, kicking and screaming, into the fray. Stumbling upon a web of missing people curiously linked by a sexually audacious theoretical physicist and his experiments with the fabric of space-time, the two of them find that they are way out of their depth. But unless Michael and Stephanie can put their personal issues aside and patch up the hole they tore in the multi-verse, the concept of existence itself may, ironically, cease to exist.
A zany space detective story? Sounds like a blast. The author of this one clearly had fun with the name and premise, and sometimes that makes all the difference. I also love the cover!
Life on Planet Earth by Andy Gorman
Nearly 700 years ago, the Terminal Plague turned Earth into a desolate wasteland—a world now riddled with the devolved progeny of Homo sapiens.
The descendants of the only survivors live out a bleak existence in a lunar city called Omega, where the privileged live deep underground while the poor suffer radiation poisoning on the surface.
Headstrong seventeen-year-old Liam Stone hates it there. When he’s not scrubbing shrimp and algae vats, he spends his limited free time in the Earth Simulator, training to leave the cramped halls and rigid schedules of Omega behind. Boasting higher scores and better biometrics than any other candidate, Liam is confident he will earn a spot on the return mission to Earth…
Until the moment his sister is chosen instead.
Plagues turning evolution on its head sounds like a cool premise for some world building. I think this one has some potential to be something different. Looking forward to reviewing it!
The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones
Ten strangers trapped in time…A ticking sound fills the air as Tim MacGregor enters The Daily Edition Café to meet his new girlfriend for coffee. Moments later, the café is transported 67 million years back in time, along with everyone inside.Time is running out as ten unlikely companions search for a way home, while one member of the group plots to keep them all in the past.Who will survive?
A time travel story with a kind of social “Among Us” playing out as well? Time travel is a premise I love, but I rarely see it done well. I think the twists this one throws out in the premise have quite a bit of potential. And, come on, dinosaurs are awesome.
In the Orbit of Sirens by T.A. Bruno
When starship mechanic, Denton Castus, is caught in the destructive path of a devastating war, he abandons his home and seeks refuge on a distant planet. However, this new safe haven has undiscovered threats of its own. Eliana Veston, a scout preparing the planet for the refugees, struggles with a deadly pandemic that is killing off colonists. The hunt for a cure unleashes a new threat to humanity—the Sirens—mysterious beings with incredible powers and a deep hatred for invaders.
Sounds like space opera with a latent mysterious aliens twist. I’m here for it! Also, I love the cover. It evokes shades of Arthur C. Clarke.
Dead Star by Simon Kewin
The galaxy is in flames under the harsh theocratic rule of Concordance, the culture that once thrived among the stars reduced to scattered fragments. Selene Ada, last survivor of an obliterated planet, joins forces with the mysterious renegade, Ondo Lagan.
Together they attempt to unravel the mystery of Concordance’s rapid rise to galactic domination. They follow a trail of shattered starship hulks and ancient alien ruins, with the ships of the enemy always one step behind.
But it’s only when they find the mythical planet of Coronade that they uncover the true scale of the destruction Concordance is capable of unleashing…
I’m a sucker for space opera, and this sounds like an epic take on galaxy-spanning destruction. I love that we’re seeing some spaceships mixed in, here, too.
Zero Day Threat by R.M. Olson
Jez is a damn good pilot, and she’s always worked alone. Until she got picked up for smuggling, that is. Now she’s an ex-con and ex-employed, and there are plenty of people with old scores to settle. So when a mysterious stranger in a battered pilot’s coat comes to her with an offer that sounds too good to be true, she reluctantly agrees to listen.
All she has to do is fly one little job.
It says it’s a cross of Ocean’s Eleven and Firefly, so I’m already on board with this space adventure!
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[…] judge for the inaugural SPSFC- The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest. The judges have selected 30 semi-finalists from just over 300 novels to move on! Now, we narrow down the list to get our finalists, from which […]