SPSFC Book Review: “Derelict” by L.J. Cohen

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and have been delighted to see the wide range of offerings authors have shared with us. Check out all my posts on the SPSFC here.

Derelict by LJ Cohen

What happens when you’ve got a bunch of smart kids locked on a space station with a derelict spaceship and not enough to occupy their time? Basically, you get the plot of Derelict, a coming-of-age/hard sci-fi mashup.

The plot centers around that eponymous derelict ship as several characters find themselves in life-or-death situations struggling to figure out how to survive when they accidentally launch the ship. There are enough of these situations to draw comparisons to The Martian with its constant “what goes wrong next?” chorus, but the way the characters move through the challenges feels a bit more realistic even as the focus is less on the science here.

What’s especially impressive is how very real each of the characters feel. Even when I wasn’t sure I liked some of them, it was hard to deny that their motivations and concerns made sense in the moment, and that they were clearly learning and changing over the course of the novel. I also enjoyed that physical pain and injuries had more of an impact on the story than they often do. Too many times, I’ve seen characters in novels suffer debilitating injuries only to be fine a chapter or two later. It doesn’t happen here.

My main complaint with the novel is that it can seem to drag through some sections as characters face a challenge, defeat it, and then have something else go wrong that makes it feel like the original challenge wasn’t really resolved. Honestly, this is pretty realistic, but at times I just wanted the magic plot wand to get waved and for things to get settled down a bit. The combination of so many Things Going Wrong with the occasional slice of life narrative made a few chapters slow to a crawl.

I do want to note one other thing I enjoyed, which was the way antagonists were developed here. I can’t say too much without spoiling anything, but every time I thought I figured out why a certain character and another had so many issues, Cohen introduced a new thread that made their relationship even more interesting. It’s quite well done.

I listened to the audiobook of this one, and it was read well. It would be a good way to experience the novel.

Derelict is an entertaining read that ends with a flourish. Fans of coming-of-age stories and hard sci-fi should give it a try.

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I was provided with a copy of the audiobook for review


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