The Second Annual Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC2) Begins! Here are Team Red Stars’ Slush Pile Reads

I am beyond thrilled to be a judge once again for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! The SPSFC can be shortened to “spacefic” (a la SPFBO being spiffbo), by the way! Here, I’d like to introduce all of our group’s “slush pile” reads. These are the reads that we are assigned to narrow down to quarter- and semi-finalists! I’ve posted covers, blurbs (shortened from Amazon), links to the books (affiliates), and my very short initial impression purely based on those two unless otherwise noted.

A Hardness of Minds by Eric Kay

Blurb

Against of backdrop of escalating tensions, double-sided revelations of first contact ripple through all involved as the probe attempts the first landing on the ice of Europa. The novel intertwines perspectives of Earth and under Europa as all struggle for truth.

Initial Thoughts

I like first contact and hard sci-fi, so I’m hoping to love this novel, too! The cover is quite striking in its stark simplicity.

All is Silence by Robert L. Slater

Blurb

A bat virus brought the world to its knees.
Lizzie had it worse than most. Will she give up?
At 17, Lizzie barely remembers her father. She needs to forget her mother’s loser boyfriends.
Surviving an apocalypse could push anyone to the unthinkable.
Lizzie’s shotgun is loaded.
Then she meets Spike.  

Initial Thoughts

Post-apocalyptic books are super hit-or-miss for me. They can trigger some latent anxiety, because the world already feels somedays like we’re headed there. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one strikes me!

Along the Perimeter by Steven Healt

Blurb

A caustic fog blankets the Earth. Only the transparent barrier known as the Shield holds it at bay. It is the Amboians—an advanced alien species—and their technology that saved the last remnants of Humanity from the deadly Haze…

As disturbing reports of attacks from beyond the perimeter of the Shield reach the capital city of Amboy, all eyes turn eastward.

Initial Thoughts

I already reviewed this book last year when I saw it in another group’s slush pile and even interviewed the author. My thoughts can be found there, but here I’ll just say that I think the book delivers on its premise for an epic introduction to a big world.

Blackthorne by Clayton W. Snyder

Blurb

Framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Haunted by the ghosts of his past. Incarcerated in the most notorious prison in the Freeholds. Fate has mauled Mattias Temple, a failed cadre necromancer, leaving him with little hope.

Initial Thoughts

Um… what? A necromancer, notorious prison, and military sci-fi-ish showing up all together? This reads like a premise I’ll love. I look forward to diving in.

Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere by Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Blurb

In 2029, Gabriel Martiniere testified against the Martiniere Group’s forced imposition of mind control programming on unwilling indentured workers.

For his pains, he was forced into exile for over thirty years. Forced to divorce the love of his life.

Initial Thoughts

Okay, I didn’t really even read the blurb before I started reading this one, which I selected somewhat at random. Now that I’ve started it, I don’t know how to say much without spoiling some of the surprises I’ve run into. Let’s just say I definitely didn’t look at the tagline “An Agripunk thriller” before I started, lol. I look forward to continuing it for my great sifting of the slush pile!

Celestial Awakening by Frank Lobue

Blurb

Nearly 1,500 years have passed since the Human race fled Gaia, Earth to the ancients, in an effort for survival and, with time, expansion among the stars. Through dwindling hopes, a mass collaboration brought Humanity back from the brink and not only did they survive, they thrived. The vestiges of the Human race formed the Gaian Interplanetary Alliance, the GIA, to continue their expansion, known as the Auctius, past their home solar system and beyond.

Initial Thoughts

Can someone say “Space Opera”? This premise reads like space opera on a high level. It’s one of my favorite sub-genres, so I am excited to know how this one strikes me.

EMP Strike by Bo Thunboe

Blurb

Dan Fallon is a courtroom warrior at the pinnacle of his profession. That’s what he knows—it’s who he is. As he’s driving back from the biggest victory of his career an electromagnetic pulse [EMP] wipes out modern civilization and strands him hundreds of miles away from his family.

Initial Thoughts

Okay, the Amazon description of this starts with “THE ROAD meets SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON” and I just…. what is that!? Lol, I have to find out.

Ever the Hero by Darby Harn

Blurb

Kit Baldwin can’t afford trouble, not in a city where superhuman Empowered offer their help only for a fee. But rent doesn’t wait so she scavenges the ruins for valuable artifacts from a crashed alien ship. When Kit discovers a powerful alien object, it pays off more than she ever hoped.

Initial Thoughts

I also read this one from another group’s slush for the heck of it, and then it ended up in our slush pile! This superhero-fueled sci-fi story deserves attention. Check out my review for my fuller (mostly spoiler free) thoughts.

Falcon Fire by Erik A. Otto

Blurb

On colonial Venus, people who are susceptible to lies have been denigrated and barred from the citizenry. Ancient dirigibles dock at the top of colossal towers to shunt people to and from underground cities. Armies of enclosed, beetle-shaped biocrawlers creep around the planet providing a coveted, yet deficient, natural environment. Colonists strive for an outdoor ecology to call their own, but terraforming is faltering.

There is growing unrest, and at the heart of this rift is Hix, a member of the Venusian underclass. He has risen from the tenements to become a renowned film star, until he is accused of murder. Neeva is destined to be Keeper, an esteemed protector of First Colony Heritage. She is also an inspector assigned to Hix’s case… and the victim happens to be her sister.

Initial Thoughts

I love me a good sci-fi mystery, so I’m ready to settle in and read this one once I get the chance. I also like the cover. There’s a lot of detail to sink into the longer I look at it.

Fid’s Crusade by David H. Reiss

Blurb

For more than two decades, the sight of Doctor Fid’s powered armor has struck terror into the hearts of hero and civilian alike. But when a personal tragedy motivates Doctor Fid to investigate a crime, a plot is uncovered so horrific that even he is taken aback. Haunted by painful memories and profound guilt, the veteran supervillain must race against time if he is to have any hope of confronting the approaching threat. Every battle takes its toll…but the stakes are too high for retreat to be an option.

Initial Thoughts

Another superhero story that promises drama! I love superhero novels, so I’m ready to see where this one takes me.

Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher

Blurb

The children are the future. And someone is turning them into highly trained killing machines.

Straight out of school, Griffin, a junior Investigations agent for the North American Trade Union, is put on the case: Find and close the illegal crèches. No one expects him to succeed, Griffin least of all.

Installed in a combat chassis Abdul, a depressed seventeen year old killed during the Secession Wars in Old Montreal, is assigned as Griffin’s Heavy Weapons support.

Nadia, a state-sanctioned investigative reporter working the stolen children story, pushes Griffin ever deeper into the nightmare of the black market brain trade.

Initial Thoughts

That got dark fast… the cover strikes me as badass sci-fi western. The blurb reads as nightmarish hellscape cyberpunk. We’ll see which it is (both?) when I sample it!

Heritage by S.M. Warlow

Blurb

25 years after the fall of Earth, the Commonwealth is locked in a vicious, galaxy-spanning war against the Revenant. Countless worlds have been lost in the fighting, and now one crew must come together and stand in the way of galactic annihilation.

Initial Thoughts

The blurb reads like an epic space opera with a traditional premise: spaceships and guns on an adventure to save the galaxy. Strap in, and let’s ride!

In Times of Peace by The Loneliest Lone Wolf

Blurb

When the life Alex had created away from his murky past is destroyed by creatures from the deepest and darkest parts of space, vengeance forces him to return to the path of war! But can he walk this path, when the ghosts of his past come back to haunt him?

Join him and an ensemble cast of characters as they try and find a place for themselves in a changing new world as their old world begins to collapse… lost souls in the vast star system trying to help each other find their true paths… just as a great War charges ahead on its path to them!

Initial Thoughts

I’m curious about this one for so many reasons. The cover; the pseudonym; what is going on with the big cast; everything.

Intelligence Block by Kit Falbo

Blurb

Talos June performs with the creed of never break character. It lets him hide his awkward self from the universe as the ancient and powerful Wizard Joontal. No one knows the man behind the curtain.

It is a good job, and he has his artificial companions to keep him company as he plays with the most fabulous technologies the colonized planets have produced. Technologies as dangerous as they are exciting.

Initial Thoughts

On Amazon the subtitle is “A Gamelit Inspired Space Opera” and I’m all about that premise.

Mercury’s Shadow by PJ Garcin

Blurb

Imogen “Chim” Esper is thrust into the center of an interplanetary conflict when her family is torn apart by the cruel and indifferent Kardashev Corporation. Forced to run, along with her robotic best friend, Chim struggles to find her place in a society that is poised for revolutionary transformation.

The Kardashev Corporation dominates all commerce and politics in the solar system. Its megalomaniac CEO, Alton Neal, is hell-bent on transforming society by capturing the full energy output of the sun through the creation of a Dyson Swarm.

Citizens of Earth and the stations throughout the system must band together to protect access to the lifeblood of the system or risk becoming permanently enslaved to the Kardashev Corporation.

Initial Thoughts

What’s this: a corporation in unfettered capitalism being evil? Say it ain’t so! I look forward to seeing what Garcin does with this premise.

Mother Savant by A.L. Hawke

Blurb

Savant Elise Jackson, Arkite’s supreme leader, is stricken with terrible grief over the recent loss of her lover. She has spent the last two years with her assistant, Sara, trying to repair and genetically engineer her lover’s damaged body and mind.

But the Viceroy of Pyramid City and her followers in the Savant Council have no interest in squandering the city’s resources for Elise’s personal gain. With the help of the mainframe AI, they will vie for power, even attempting collusion with Sara and sabotage.

Initial Thoughts

A Matriarchal society in sppppaaaaace. I dig it.

Novum Chronicles by Joseph Rhea

Blurb

As the last descendants of Earth struggle to survive beneath the surface of an alien ocean, one man’s discovery will lead him on a journey of redemption, while he fights to save what’s left of his world.

Jacob Stone is a man haunted by his past. When he reluctantly accepts a job to help pay for a cargo submarine he inherited but doesn’t want, he inadvertently awakens an ancient and terrible power. Its arrival triggers a chain of events that could destroy what’s left of the human race or be the key to its future. But, is it a future he’s willing to fight for, let alone die for?

Initial Thoughts

As a kid I was absolutely mesmerized by the show SeaQuest DSV (as an adult, apparently the last season is terrible, so I haven’t watched it because I don’t want to ruin those memories). I love the idea of humanity hiding under the sea. Submarines are super cool.

Of All Possibilities by Joe Butler

Blurb

What does someone who can slip between universes do for a living? They help shape the fate of this reality. When his grandfather dies, a young Eli Clarke takes over as the Key: an individual with the power to traverse the multiverse. Raised inside a cult that works with the government, he erases targets from the timeline. Then he meets Jess, a fellow outsider who shows him what it is to question everything. Set in the 80s, 90s, and now, OF ALL POSSIBILITIES is a dark universe-hopping, story about loss, identity, and obsession that explores the repercussions of the choices we make and what makes us who we are.

Initial Thoughts

The premise is haunting and promises to use time travel in an actual impactful way. I’m here for it.

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days by Drew Melbourne

Blurb

The year is 20018. The famed magician Illuminari is dead, and his greatest illusion has died with him. Dark forces now seek the Engine of Armageddon, the ancient, sentient doomsday weapon that Illuminari hid amongst the stars.

Enter Percival Gynt, accountant and part-time hero, whose quest to find the Engine before it falls into the wrong hands may be our universe’s last best hope for survival. It is a quest that will take him from the highest reaches of power to the lowest pits of despair and through every manner of horror and absurdity between.

But beware. This accountant has a secret. A secret that may damn us all.

Initial Thoughts

Is it a comedy? A serious time-travel novel? Something else entirely? I don’t know, but I am interested.

Pink Apocalypse by Carpenter Gibson

Blurb

Pink is a mysterious woman who walked out of the wastes. She is an up and coming member of the Patrol. They are the sheriffs of the wild wastes, taking on zombies, mutants, bandits and robots left over in the ruins.

Initial Thoughts

Something about the anime vibes of this cover and premise have me interested and this is the first book I grabbed on Kindle Unlimited from our stack. I haven’t started it yet, but rest assured, I’ll share my thoughts when I do!

Qubit by Finn Mack

Blurb

An ambitious Singapore gangster recruits an elite hacker to steal a devastatingly powerful quantum computer and hijack the world’s financial markets. Meanwhile, a beautiful streetwise CIA agent is determined to foil their plan in a case that could make or break her career. With settings ranging from Detroit to Singapore to the slums of Bihar, India (the “Sicily of India”), *Qubit* examines both the vulnerability of our cryptographic infrastructure and corruptibility of our financial systems. The story features international intrigue, a violent gang war, an unlikely love story, and an intricate cryptographic chess match that takes place as the global economy teeters on the brink of collapse.

Initial Thoughts

Will this be a math-filled novel about cryptography or something else entirely? I don’t know, but the premise has me wondering what direction it will take the global economy chess match.

Skein of Fates by Leslie Ann Moore

Blurb

Nuetierra. An alien world where twin moons light the night and massive air-breathing jellyfish float through the violet skies trolling for prey. Nue Bayona. A gaslit, steam-powered city caught between the iron fist of a despot and the bloody fist of a terrorist… Four hundred years have passed since The Great War toppled the technologically advanced colonial civilization created by refugees fleeing a dying planet. Since its fall, the descendants of the survivors have gradually rebuilt a new society on the bones of the old.

Initial Thoughts

The blurb has a ton of info in it (I only posted a fraction of it here), and I gotta say, it strikes me as potential for an epic space opera with a huge cast. I’m very excited to dive into this one.

Sudden Death by L.L. Richman

[NOTE: This book was actually taken off our allocation and given to a different group. I posted this before I knew that news. Apologies!]

Blurb

Fresh off his first Marine deployment, Boone must now choose between two schools: Intelligence or Scout Sniper. Though he’s shown clear aptitude for the second, he’s not sure he has what it takes to do the job.

When he puts the decision aside to join his buddies on a day of leave, the last thing Boone expects to see is a naval weapons locker in the hands of a man who is clearly not Navy. On impulse, he shadows the man, only to find himself running for his life… smack into a Unit operator.

Initial Thoughts

If this is a military sci-fi novel about a sniper I think it could be totally awesome.

The Treasure of Lor-Rev by Bryan Asher

Blurb

One discovery has unimaginable consequences…

While searching a deserted mountain range, an explorer locates a high-tech artifact he assumes is merely another interesting find. It’s only one piece in a greater puzzle leading towards a device of ultimate power, the Diffusor-Sphere. Suddenly, he’s thrown into a battle between an engineer who’s remade himself as a cybernetic demigod, and the one tasked with safeguarding humanity from him. The only way out is recovering the Sphere first, but will he reach it in time?

Initial Thoughts

Space archaeology is one of my favorite things. It doesn’t sound like this will have a ton of that, but the lost lore/artifact/etc. thing is something I am absolutely a sucker for. Is this Space Indiana Jones? We’ll see.

The Astral Hacker by Brian Terenna

Blurb

In 2120, New America is the world leader in technology and individual freedom. Why, then, has seventeen-year-old Fae Luna felt like an isolated prisoner her entire life? She survived the worst of the foster care system by honing her skills as a top-level hacker and thanks to the support of her humanoid robot, Sunny, who is illegally upgraded to a human-level AI. Finally, she’s matched with a foster mom who treats her kindly. Fae slowly lets her guard down until a suspicious tragedy tears them apart. 

Initial Thoughts

I think the premise for this dystopia-cyberpunk mashup (based on the blurb, that’s what I’m calling it) sounds neat. Dystopias need a twist to make them interesting, so lets see of Brian Terenna brings it!

There Are No Countries by Marshall Smith

Blurb

Scouting crews arrive on newly discovered Dandros to find it ripe with life and fresh for colonization. There are no people and no vertebrate animals. But there is one castle, and one statue of a man known as the anomaly. Energy resonates from the head of this monument of times past where instruments and machinery probe the anomaly’s head and its empty keep, the only signs of civilization. It mourns for its love, speaks of its demise, and tells the humble beginnings of Dandros. It is kept under lock and key for the stories it tells. They learn that his name is Doug, a traveler from long ago, and he had prayed to a being known as the Goddess. Doug’s energy mentions her endlessly just before he had turned to stone. He had been making plans for her physical arrival on Dandros.

Initial Thoughts

The blurb for this reads like some zany New Wave sci-fi from Robert Silverberg way back when, and readers who know me know I love me some Silverberg. We’ll see where this wacky story leads us.

The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall by Chris Dolley

Blurb

Wodehouse steampunk version of The Hound of the Baskervilles!

Initial Thoughts

Welp, that blurb basically says it all. If it can execute, it should be quite the intriguing tale.

Tracker220 by Jamie Krakover

Blurb

When everyone has a brain-interfacing tracking chip, one glitch threatens the entire network.

Kaya Weiss is that glitch.

Through thoughts and blinks, Kaya can access anyone or anything on the tracker network. But the authorities monitor everything—where Kaya goes, who she talks to, and what she searches. And without the ability to turn it off, Kaya and her family can’t observe a tech-free Shabbat. To fix the glitch, the authorities slice into her skull to reset her tracker, leaving Kaya to question more than the system’s invasion into her faith.

Initial Thoughts

I read this one on a whim after the end of the last SPSFC. It’s a kind of YA dystopia with some great twists and turns, and I’ll have fuller thoughts and a review coming up.

Unplugged by J.B. Taylor

Blurb

Zendaya Fernwood carries with her a secret. The world around her is a lie, an ingeniously designed digital prison for the mind. Escape occupies her every thought. Freedom is her goal and nothing will stop her from unplugging. What awaits Zendaya is a fate far worse than she could have imagined. Beyond her prison is a scorched earth where man and machine wage war in a seemingly endless campaign of suffering. There is hope on the horizon, a unique figure with the potential of rising from the shadows of the scorched earth to make a difference. To finally, after so very long, give humans the freedom they deserve.

Initial Thoughts

Sounds like “The Matrix.” Sign me the hell up.

Conclusion

Let me know which books you plan to read/check out! Are there any you’ve read already? Share all your thoughts in the comments.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

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