SPSFC2 First Impressions: “The Astral Hacker,” “Falcon Fire,” and “Skein of Fates”

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (“SPACEFIC”) is underway, and my group is going through one of my favorite parts of the contest: sorting through a slush pile. Basically, we get a stack of books and need to sample them all to narrow down our selections for quarter- and semi-finalists. Here, I’ll be going over my first impressions of some of these books. Please note my “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe” vote is only indicative of my opinion and may not reflect the opinion of our whole group. Since we advance books as a group, it’s possible a “Yes” from me may end up a “No” overall and vice versa. Let me know what you think of the books in the comments!

The Astral Hacker by Brian Terenna

A foster child whose best friend is an illegally upgraded AI robot deals with… a lot in this intriguing novel by Brian Terenna. I kept thinking I’d settled in and figured out what the novel would ultimately be about and then a major twist or shift of the rails would hit and I’d find myself wanting to push forward to find out what would happen next. Fae Luna, our hacker-teenager extraordinaire, lives in a New America with a new set of heroes, new constitution, and newly found freedoms. So they say, anyway. What feels like a clear setup for a YA dystopia isn’t that. Or it’s not only that. Or… well, there’s so much more going on here than one would think. Even the first 5-10% hits with some super unexpected vibes. Terenna constantly subverts expectations, but doesn’t ever make the reader feel cheated for having done so. I ended up finishing the book. It’s a yes.

Falcon Fire by Erik A. Otto

On Venus, if you believe lies, you’re subject to be an underclass. Here, we have two main characters–Hix, who has risen from the underbelly of Venus to become a star, and Neeva, whose fate seems destined for greatness. I was into the vibes at the beginning of this one, but also was hoping for more than a kind of generic-feeling space opera. So far, it didn’t hit me hard on either the action or plot, but I am intrigued enough by the setting and characters to want more. I’m putting it down as a tentative maybe, and I’ll need to circle back to it to read more.

Skein of Fates by Leslie Ann Moore

I’m not sure what to make of this one at 20% in. It’s got a well-developed, real-feeling world. It has quite a bit of political court intrigue. There are vibes of stories I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. So far, though, it reads like a fantasy court drama, not like anything set on another planet. If I could describe it at this point, I’d say it’s like a story of Anastasia, but with a few twists. I am intrigued enough to want to keep going, but confused enough to not say a firm “yes” quite yet. I have it on my “maybe” stack to circle back to when I have time for final determination.


Another 3 books, and no firm “no” in the bunch. I am excited that our slush pile is so strong. Have you read any of these, or did these reviews make you want to check them out? Let me know in the comments.

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

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