My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1984

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end.


Millennium by John Varley (My Winner)- Grade: B-
The concept here is pretty awesome. On a future Earth, the present is bleak, so they send back time travelers to grab healthy humans from the past to try to reinvigorate their present. They’re spotted, and hijinks ensue. It’s a great thread, and one of the better uses of time travel. I love time travel abstractly as an idea for a story, but it’s so rarely used in ways which make it actually integral to the plot. Varley, however, uses it in a way that is impactful without ever feeling like it’s just there for the sake of the plot or throwing people into past situations. The characters aren’t terribly compelling, which makes it difficult to get into the book. Ultimately, the ideas behind the story are what kept me going as a reader. It’s definitely of the better time travel-themed novels I’ve read recently.

Startide Rising by David Brin (Winner)- Grade: C-
Conceptually, Startide Rising–and indeed, the rest of the series–has quite a bit going for it. The idea of “uplifting” other species to sentience and then traveling through the stars with them is a good one that I have surprisingly not really run into much anywhere else. My issue with this book and the others in the series is that it drags out the concept for far too long and without as much payoff as I’d like. The cacophony of viewpoints becomes more than a bit annoying to try to follow as aliens, dolphins, and humans each chime in on galactic affairs and the events surrounding one specific ship, the Streaker, on which the humans and dolphins reside. The reader is shifted back and forth so frequently that settling in and trying to experience the story is impossible. The book is also quite lengthy, which adds to the difficulty of trying to manage so many sporadically appearing characters. I found myself wondering occasionally if I should remember a character encountered in one or another part, and it became a chore to read after a while. With a more tightly focused narrative, I think this would have been a much better read. As it stands, it shows flashes of brilliance throughout.

Tea with the Black Dragon by R. A. McAvoy- Grade: C-
Sometimes you read a book and you can tell it’s probably much better than it feels. For me, Tea with the Black Dragon was one of those books. There’s a quietude in the novel that is both appealing at times and also off-putting at others. I found myself feeling a bit bored. I know that’s a strong indictment, but its nevertheless true. I found my mind wandering off to other novels or locales, hoping that some action would occur, or that something would break the tone of the novel. I don’t really know how to describe it; I was underwhelmed here. I acknowledge the craft while at the same time noting it’s not for me.

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern by Anne McAffrey- Grade: B-
McAffrey takes readers back to an earlier time in Pern, making this book one of the potential entry points into the series. The science fantasy world of Pern has humans using dragons to fight voracious alien invaders known as Thread which falls whenever a sister planet gets close enough for them to cross the space between planets. In Moreta, a disease is spreading throughout the Weyrs to the point where effectively fighting against Thread is in danger. That puts the whole planet at risk, and Moreta must muster up the people of the Weyr to finally fight off the incursion, which is only successful when they rediscover vaccination. Reading the novel post-Covid makes it feel like a somewhat pointed and possibly refreshing science fantasy defense of vaccination as a proper way to combat disease. The book is, as I said, a good entry point into the series, but for those who’ve read everything so far, it could feel formulaic. At this point McAffrey definitely has a pattern in the stories of the novels and even in tropes of characters that show up. Fans of the series will enjoy it, and those who are new to the series may find it a good point to jump in. Those already unimpressed or with waning interest in the series will find this one another tough read. I enjoyed it pretty well, and continue to find the series a kind of comfort read. You get what you expect to get out of them.

The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov- Grade: C
I enjoy Asimov’s Robots series overall. They tend to have stronger characters than the Foundation series (let’s be honest, basically any characterization is stronger than that series) and I enjoy mystery novels, so combining that with sci-fi makes for a potent mix. We revisit Elijah Baley and see what he’s up to as he tackles yet another mystery, this time mixed with a heaping helping of agoraphobia. It’s a fairly good mystery story in which Asimov continues to use the setting to his advantage. The problem is that it seems almost interminably long with very little action to drive the plot forward. It’s a fine novel, but it serves much more as a springboard for discussions of Asimov’s pet issues than it does anything else. It’s a fine read, especially if you enjoyed the other books in the series, but there’s nothing extraordinary about it.

1984- A somewhat disappointing year for the Hugos. None of these books are runaway winners for the award, but none are egregiously bad, either. It’s more of a milquetoast feel to the whole thing. I chose Millennium as my personal winner over Moreta only because the former feels much fresher as a read. Each book on this list has some difficulties, but each has enough qualities to make them worth at least sampling. Not a bad year, nor a good year. Look, even the cover of the winner, Millennium, is boring! What did you think?


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!


“Aestus Book 1: The City” by S.Z. Attwell- An SPSFC2 Semifinalist Review

I’ll be reading and reviewing every semifinalist for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! Check out my list with blurbs, covers, links, and first impressions for all the semifinalists here. Please let me know what you think of any/all of these books! I love comments, and love talking about books.

Aestus Book 1: The City by S.Z. Attwell

The City is below the surface of the planet. Whatever is above the surface requires people from the Patrol to deal with it. Jossey and her brother went aboveground when she was 10 years old, but that led to her losing her brother and coming back convinced that whatever is above, it is a serious threat. Now a member of the Patrol, she has signed up to help the City grow and be successful with solar arrays, aboveground farms, and more. But she discovers that everything is not quite as it seems.

Aestus is a lengthy work. Readers follow Jossey on a journey of fear, discovery, finding herself, and renewal. Attwell’s narrative voice is strong. There’s a commanding grip on the narrative that makes it feel directed without being heavy handed. The story itself develops over time, bringing some twists and turns–a few of which I found predictable, but overall quite satisfying–to go with an extended narrative that is a kind of coming of age for Jossey as well as her society.

The setting has a surprisingly lived-in feel despite not always getting fleshed out at times. One scene near the beginning just has Jossey riding a transport, and I was confused about the context. Readers just get dumped into it, but Attwell deftly makes them feel at home in this world of the City and the aboveground. One downside in the novel is that it feels too long to me. While I mentioned the strong narrative voice above, that doesn’t fully cover up the several times in which it felt like the novel could wrap up a scene or a plot thread in a swifter fashion. At times, it feels dragged out for length. On the flip side, several scenes were very impactful and memorable, even more than a week after finishing the book. I kind of wish that some of the length in some scenes had been cut and added to those that were more memorable.

What can’t be denied, though, is that Aestus has “it.” What is “it”? It is that certain feel hat you get when reading a novel that just clicks for you in the right way. It makes you look past whatever flaws might exist because there’s just something about the book that is compelling and compulsive reading from the get-go. That is here in spades. A large part of “it” is, as I said, Attwell’s narrative voice. The strength of the writing is evident throughout the novel.

Overall, Aestus Book 1: The City is a satisfying read. It delivers a realistic sci-fi world with enough invested in it to make readers care about the plight of those living in it.


 Check out my many posts from the SPSFC (scroll down for more).

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!


The Great Honor Harrington Read-Along: “Flag in Exile” by David Weber

The Great Honor Harrington Read Along is a read along led by me with critical analysis and SPOILER FILLED looks at the Honor Harrington series and related works by David Weber and collaborators. I’ve read the whole main series and the overwhelming majority of the offshoots, but some of these will still be first time reads. However, spoilers will be abundant throughout these posts, including for much later books in the series.

Flag in Exile by David Weber

Honor Harrington is “exiled” politically and from the military after killing Pavel Young. She makes the most of what she can with it, returning to Grayson and dedicating herself to building up its infrastructure and military as she uses her clout as Steadholder to bring about societal change. She is, however, still emotionally bereft and so at least some of the planning and plotting about Grayson is being done by those close to her. There’s a lot to love in this book, which starts to truly blow open the world of the series in a bigger way than before.

Mayhew gets some character development early on, including the fact that he’s a horticulturalist and loves arranging flowers–something that he intentionally does to jab societal gender norms. We also briefly see Miranda LaFollet, the sister of Andrew LaFollet, one of Honor’s Steadholder’s Guardsmen, show up as Honor’s maid.

A major theme through this book is challenging cultural norms about men and women, largely through religious lenses. We see this, for example, in chapter 5, where Honor is confronted by a clergyman, Marchant, who tries to condemn her from the Grayson books of scripture. Honor herself has been studying up, though, and quotes back to him other portions of the same scripture which seem to suggest that learning of new ways and new ideas is a good thing, and should not be resisted at all costs. This interchange is of great interest to me, because Weber is using an interesting tactic to engage in debate with very real world notions within Christianity of women and men’s places in the church and home. By placing the conversation one step removed from the Bible–with a different set of Scriptures–he makes it safer to discuss for whatever readers might be deeply involved in one side or the other. The fact remains there are people who believe women shouldn’t teach men, that women shouldn’t be pastors, or that women shouldn’t hold other positions of authority over men due to various readings of Scripture. This back and forth with Honor and Marchant illustrates how that can go, but inevitably puts the reader on the side of Honor, and for me personally, as someone who stood on Marchant’s side many years ago, it was a stunning reversal that made me think more about the issue. It’s so well done.

In this book we do run into one of the biggest issues I have with Honor Harrington as a character, though. Namely, she’s apparently good at everything. While there are occasional asides about her not being great at math, for example, the bottom line is that she’s nearly omni-competent and has so many interests and things she does that it becomes difficult to believe she could do them all. For example, in chapter 6 we discover she’s been learning how to duel with swords, but we also know she’s an expert marksman, loves hang gliding, swims a lot, loves going on boats that she knows how to sail, obviously is a great tactician, and the list continues to grow as we go through the books. How does she really have time for it all? I don’t know. I can suspend my disbelief, but it’s good that Weber starts to introduce more side characters to fill in the (very few) gaps in Honor’s ability later, as she’d otherwise grow to be too good at everything. It is a testament to Weber’s ability to write a strong character, though, that we care about her and love her as a person even though it’s sometimes hard to believe she could be what she is.

We get more politicking on the Republic of Haven side, too, as there’s discussion about the dole system and some tilting against universal basic income. Weber’s politics show through at times, and this is definitely one aspect. While it seems to make sense in-universe that a universal basic income could bankrupt a country repeatedly and/or cause them to turn into a kind of pirate state, robbing other nations to pay the dole, the implication is this would be a necessary following from the concept, and I’m highly skeptical of that. Along with this, we also get some insight into Grayson’s own constitutional crises that might be looming as Mayhew and the Steadholders vie for power.

Baseball makes a funny appearance here as Honor believes a bunch of baseball players are trying to start a riot because they’re wielding “clubs.” I love when sci-fi and baseball get combined, as these are two things I absolutely love. We get additional characters showing up throughout this novel who are of high importance later: Captain Yu and Mercedes Bingham reappear, Theisman, Shannon Foraker (who will be a massive thorn in the side later), and more make cameos and more. It’s an exciting read for longtime fans of the series doing a re-read.

Then the big events start to happen in a kaleidoscope of intrigue, action, and reprisal. One of the Sky Domes Honor Harrington helped fund collapses, but then it turns out to be a terrorist act to discredit her as a person, and it killed children. Haven launches a number of attacks, ultimately maneuvering to try to take out Grayson system, which is now a keystone of Manticore’s Alliance. Meanwhile, Honor et al. are dealing with the crisis of the Sky Dome fallout, only to uncover that it was another Steadholder who did it. Honor survives an assassination attempt, ultimately showing up at the Steadholder’s meeting in a super epic scene to then strike down another Steadholder in a duel. But the real brains behind the operation, Mueller, survives.

Here we have another several scenes in which actions are ascribed either to Satan or God depending upon whether one agrees with them. It’s a telling scene that shows how easily religious violence can erupt, and also how easily we can justify our own actions with a religious veneer.

The battle in space, led by an exhausted Honor, is deeply satisfying. Weber always delivers the goods on action scenes like this, and while it’s not super long, the battle here is decisive. I especially loved how Honor (maybe) thinks he fooled Theisman, but we know Theisman was instead fooling the Citizen Commissioner on board his ship, in part, because he wanted to live to fight another day.

Ultimately, Flag in Exile is a thrilling read that opens the world up into many broader possibilities than we’ve seen before. Whether it’s societal upheaval on Grayson, looming problems in Haven, or the broader war opening up, Weber introduces a number of threads here that are of great importance later. This is one of my favorite reads in the series, and every time I read it I discover more to like.


The Great Honor Harrington Read Along– Follow along as I read through and review all the books and offshoots in this series!

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!


“Cleansing Rain” by Holly Ash- An SPSFC Review

I’m reading and reviewing many books from the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest as a judge. Check out my many posts from the SPSFC (scroll down for more).

Cleansing Rain by Holly Ash

Zoe Antos is a scientist working for a corporation whose goal is to help reverse and prevent the spread of climate change. When she heads home from work after a strange encounter in a parking lot, she is kidnapped and thrust into a web of conspiracy that she hadn’t even suspected existed.

That description might lead you to suggest the book is a thriller, and you’d be right. While there are plenty of sections to slow down and think about things, much of the plot revolves around Zoe, her fiancé, Cole Wilborn, and his family and the corporation. Zoe begins to discover more about a conspiracy happening and she suspects that she may have been deceived. It keeps building from there.

There’s not much I can say about the rest of the plot without revealing too many spoilers. What I will say is that it is a compelling narrative, and I especially enjoyed the way that Holly Ash wrote the interaction between the two main characters. I appreciated the directions she took the plot.

The book was submitted as a science fiction novel, and it is that, but only in the lightest terms. At its core, this is an eco-thriller with science fiction trappings. And to me, that’s fine. I don’t believe in gatekeeping genre lines, and this one definitely qualifies as sci-fi in my opinion. If there’s a downside to the book, it’s that I thought some of the way the police interacted related to Zoe’s kidnapping stretched credulity a bit.

Cleansing Rain is a captivating, hyper-focused read. Ash provided me with an audio version of the book for review, and I’m happy to report the reader does a fine job capturing the characters and the intensity of the plot. I listen at a fairly accelerated speed (2-2.5x) and was quite satisfied with the audio performance. The book is recommended for those interested in eco-thrillers or thrillers more generally.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates


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!


“Dragon’s Heir” by Glenn Parris- A space opera with huge depths

Glenn Parris’s Dragon’s Heir guides readers into a vast universe of imagination that starts with a simple question. What if humans weren’t the first civilization to come from Earth?

When dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the Efilu made a huge civilization and fled to the stars before a potential extinction event. They’ve returned to Earth searching for a powerful object, but it appears as though Earth may have just been another setup. Questions about galactic-spanning plagues, the relation of advanced civilizations–and what it might mean to be advanced–and more abound in this novel.

The book reads like it is just scratching the surface of a massive world Parris created. There’s a glossary at the back which I constantly turned to. In some works, this could be annoying, but in this case I found it interesting. There’s so much information there about the people groups populating the pages of the novel, different words and phrases unique to the vocabulary therein, and more. Parris has made a big world with quite a bit of ground to play with.

Despite all of this, so long as the reader stays aware of the (admittedly many) threads interwoven with various species and terms, they’ll find that Parris’s plot here is fairly tight. Aliens (kind of) come to Earth to try to investigate something, are swept into some broader events, and find a resolution. It’s a well-paced story that serves the hefty world-building well. As readers juggle the various species and players involved in the world, the plot moves along at enough a clip to make it never feel like it’s dragging despite all the content.

Dragon’s Heir is a must-read for fans of space opera. Parris deftly guides readers on a story that has big implications for the massive world he’s built. Recommended.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates


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!


Announcing the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest 2 Semifinalists

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest exists to elevate interest and readership in indie science fiction. I’m excited to announce this year’s semifinalists to you, dear readers! I hope you’ll find something to read among this diverse array. I’ll end with the semifinalists from my own team, and I’ll be starting with the semifinalists my team was assigned to read to determine finalists. My plan is to read and review every semifinalist, regardless of whether it was assigned to my group or not. I’ll have quotes around sections from blurbs I posted, and my own thoughts, along with links to the books to buy on Amazon.

Aestus: The City by S.Z. Attwell

“When Jossey was ten, the creatures of the aboveground took her brother and left her for dead, with horrible scars. Now, years later, she’s a successful solar engineer, working to keep her underground city’s power running, but she’s never really recovered. After she saves dozens of people during a second attack, she is offered a top-secret assignment as a field Engineer with Patrol, but fear prevents her from taking it…until Patrol finds bones near where her brother disappeared.”

Initial Thoughts

Aestus is the chonkiest book our group received, and I’ve already started. The first chapter was gripping, and it appears to be shaping up to an intriguing, mysterious adventure.

Shakedowners by Justin Woolley

“Some starship captains explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilisations. Some lead missions of discovery through wormholes to the other side of the galaxy. Then there’s Captain Iridius B. Franklin, someone who spent too long seeking out strange new bars and new alien cocktails. After graduating bottom of his class at Space Command Academy Iridius Franklin hasn’t had the glamorous career he envisioned, instead he hauls cargo ships full of mining waste, alien land whale dung, and artificially intelligent toy dogs across the stars.”

Initial Thoughts

Okay, I could get into this. I don’t know why but I’m reminded a bit of the scenes in Titan A.E. where the main character is down-on-his luck and not doing much near the beginning. This one clearly is more humor bent and less save the universe bent… maybe? We’ll find out when I review it! This is another book our group was assigned.

Hammer and Crucible by Cameron Cooper

“The Fourth Carinad Empire stretches across hundreds of settled worlds and stellar cities, and thousands of light years. The Empire’s people and data are linked by a space-folding gates array controlled by the Emperor and his cohorts. When the array evolves into a sentient entity, it recognizes the Emperor as its foe.”

Initial Thoughts

Okay, this sounds like a big, epic space opera starting off, and I just… I’m so here for it. Our group was assigned this semifinalist.

Melody by David Hoffer

“Childhood therapy cured Stephen Fisher of disturbing visions and the delusion of having come from another world. But when his daughter obsesses over a star in the night sky, he fears that his genetic legacy may have burdened her with the same illness. His sanity is then shattered when he loses his child and the military abducts him claiming that she recorded a song broadcast from another world.”

Initial Thoughts

I gotta say, this sounds like it’s going to be a sad read for at least parts of it. I am ready to get hit in the feels by this intriguing premise. Our group has this as an assigned semifinalist.

A Space Girl from Earth by Christina McMullen

“From her six foot four inch height to the uniform white dots that peppered her skin in perfect geometric patterns, Ellie Whitmore was certainly unusual, but an alien from the other side of the galaxy? Of course not. That’s just what the tabloids said to sell papers.”

Initial Thoughts

Oh, she’s definitely an alien. I wonder what’s going to happen with this space girl from Earth. Our group was assigned this book as a semifinalist.

Echoes from Another Earth by J. Daniel Layfield

“A scientist in hiding. An admiral on the brink of treason. A man who has lived hundreds of versions of his life across the same number of dimensions. Three paths converge in one dimension. Their actions will affect them all.”

Initial Thoughts

I’m curious to see how the disparate elements in this blurb will come together. The cover reminds me of another book, but I can’t remember which one. This is the final semifinalist we were assigned.

The Audacity by Carmen Loup

“May’s humdrum life is flung into hyperdrive when she’s abducted, but not all aliens are out to probe her.  She’s inadvertently rescued by Xan, an “I Love Lucy” obsessed alien with the orangest rocket ship in the universe.”

Initial Thoughts

You know who else is obsessed with “I Love Lucy”? Me, as a kid. I have absolutely no idea what to make of this as the driving point in a sci-fi novel, but I’m eager to find out.

Bubbles in Space: Tropical Punch by S.C. Jensen

“Does she like her job? No. Is she good at it? Also no. She can’t afford to be too good. The last time she got curious it cost her a job, a limb, and almost her life. But when a seemingly simple case takes a gruesome turn, and Bubbles discovers a disturbing connection to the cold-case death of an old friend, she is driven to dig deeper.”

Initial Thoughts

Based on the cover and title, I was not expecting the blurb to sound like a murder mystery. But hey, I love the mash-up of mystery and sci-fi. Let’s find out what Bubbles does next!

Debunked by Dito Abbott

“When Alex and Ozzie read their grandfather’s latest “death” letter, they barely blink. Dying six times in two years has to be a record, even for an explorer as incompetent as Sir Quidby Forsythe III.”

Initial Thoughts

Incompetent Explorers, you say? Sounds like a Disney movie waiting to happen! I’m excited to see where this steampunk-looking explorer-drama will take us.

The Diamond Device by M.H. Thaung

“After diamond power promises to replace steam, an unemployed labourer and a thieving noble unite to foil an international plot and avert a war.”

Initial Thoughts

Steampunk is the name of the game this year, it seems. We’ve already got our second book in the subgenre, and I think there is at least one more in the mix–10%! I love steampunk as a concept, but haven’t found many books I love in that type of setting. Here’s hoping The Diamond Device will be one to add to that collection!

Dim Stars by Brian P. Rubin

“Kenzie Washington, fourteen-year-old girl genius, signs up for a two-week tour as a cadet on the spaceship of her idol, Captain Dash Drake. Too bad Dash, who once saved the galaxy from the evil Forgers, is a broke loser and much less than meets the eye.”

Initial Thoughts

Does this mean the cover is Kenzie closing her eyes in exasperation? Maybe! I love the cover here, and I know you shouldn’t judge books by them, but I’m interested in the premise, too. We’ll see.

Earthship by John Triptych with Michel Lamontagne

“In the near future, a stellar collision with a rogue planet destabilizes the sun’s fusion output, turning it into a ticking time bomb. With the ever-increasing heat, earth will become uninhabitable within a decade.”

Initial Thoughts

Hey! A hard sci-fi book in the mix. I have a lot of fun in that subgenre in sci-fi, so consider me ready to tackle this story that looks to mesh science and plot.

The Emissary by Michael J. Edwards

“A troubled young woman is recruited by a race of ancient alien explorers to be their emissary to save the human race from extinction. The problem is that not everyone believes the world is doomed, and not everyone trusts the aliens’ motives. Holly Burton will have to overcome opposition from world leaders, attacks by religious zealots, assassination attempts, intractable bureaucracies, and her own fears and doubts if she is to save the human race, not just from the coming apocalypse, but from itself.”

Initial Thoughts

Well that sounds like an easy enough job, right? I anticipate a lot of flustered conversations between alien and emissary as they try to figure out why humans can’t er… figure it out.

Empire Reborn by A.K. Duboff

“Jason Sietinen lives in the shadow of greatness. He’s worked hard to become a TSS officer in his own right, but having war heroes for parents is hard to top. When Jason is assigned to investigate a mysterious attack, he finds evidence of powerful transdimensional beings never before seen. Or so he thought.”

Initial Thoughts

Space opera with forgotten aliens? Sometimes, I’m a simple man, and I just want that. Hoping we’ll see some awesome twists and galaxy building in this first book in a series.

Exin Ex Machina by G.S. Jennsen

When man and machine are one and the same, there are many crimes but only one sin: psyche-wipe. The secrets it has buried could lead to a civilization’s salvation, or to its doom.

Initial Thoughts

Cyberpunk on a grand scale is often a challenging feat. I will be interested to see where Jennsen takes this one.

Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage by Marcus Alexander Hart

“Leo MacGavin is not the brightest specimen of humanity. But when he inadvertently rescues a flirty alien heiress, he’s promoted from second-rate lounge entertainer to captain of the galaxy’s most sophisticated cruise ship.”

Initial Thoughts

We’ve got another read that seeks to blend comedy and sci-fi, which is a tentative combo for me. We’ll see how it goes, but I do love the cover on this one–and the “your old pal” to introduce the author.

The Last Gifts of the Universe by Rory August

“When the Home worlds finally achieved the technology to venture out into the stars, they found a graveyard of dead civilizations, a sea of lifeless gray planets and their ruins. What befell them is unknown. All Home knows is that they are the last civilization left in the universe, and whatever came for the others will come for them next.”

Initial Thoughts

I love the campy cover combined with the epic description. What kind of book is this going to be? Will it hearken back to 1950s-60s sci-fi? We’ll see!

Lightblade by Zamil Akhtar

One day, Jyosh will climb the heavens and slay a dragon god. Though nothing could seem less likely for a slave, especially one whose body is too broken to cycle sunshine into destructive magical energy. Until he meets a woman who can secretly teach him the lightblade, an energy sword transmuted from sunlight, capable of changing size, shape, and performing incredible magical feats according to the wielder’s skill level.”

Initial Thoughts

The blurb reads a bit like LitRPG or gamelit, and the author appears to write a lot in that subgenre. I haven’t read much of it as a subgenre but basically loved everything I have read therein. Consider me excited to get to this one!

Mouse Cage by Malcolm F. Cross

“Troy carries more secrets with him than most. A test subject for experimental surgery, a clone gengineered from modified lab mice, an addict. He tells himself that his past is behind him, but he’ll never escape his childhood in Lake North’s labs. What was done to him there, what he was made into, what he did.”

Initial Thoughts

Dat cover tho. It’s so beautiful. Malcolm F. Cross was the author of Dog Country, possibly my favorite book from last year’s contest (my review here). It’s safe to say that I am eagerly looking forward to devouring this read. Cross writes haunted characters with deep backstories and realistic motivations. I can’t wait.

Night Music by Tobias Cabral

“The colonization of Mars has begun. Following a rapid expansion of the manned space program due to the discovery of a potentially catastrophic Earth-crossing comet, Zubrin Base has been established on the Red Planet to oversee the capture of the rogue object.”

Initial Thoughts

Possibly terrible comets are a legitimate fear for the long term health of humanity on Earth. Night Music‘s blurb reads like another hard sci-fi novel dealing with that threat, and I want to know where Cabral takes it.

Reap3r by Eliot Peper

“Nothing is what it seems in this speculative thriller about a quantum computer scientist, virologist, podcaster, venture capitalist, and assassin coming together to untangle a twisted enigma that will change the course of future history. Everyone has something to hide, and every transgression is a portal to discovery.”

Initial Thoughts

You had me at “quantum computer scientist” and then just piled on more interesting threads. I am here for it. Let’s see where Reap3r takes us!

The Clarity of Cold Steel by Kevin Wright

“The kid disappeared two days ago. Missing. Abducted. Murdered. What have you… Just another in an endless line of indigent kids wrung from the dregs of the Machine City. And it’s my job to find him.”

Initial Thoughts

Steampunk mystery. Enough said. I’m sold.

The Peacemaker’s Code by Deepak Malhotra

“Professor Kilmer, a renowned historian of war and diplomacy, is collected from his home and whisked off to Washington. Thrust into the highest levels of government as an adviser to the President, the young historian must come to terms with the seemingly impossible, figure out how to navigate a world where not everything is as it appears, and use all the skills and knowledge he has acquired in his life to help save humanity from a conflict of truly epic proportions.”

Initial Thoughts

I like history and therefore am rooting for this historian to do whatever it is he needs to accomplish.

The Pono Way by Kirsten M. Corby

“In 2050, the United States of America finally crumbled. Jake Weintraub’s family fled the burned-out ruins of Chicago for the safety of the artificial island steading of Pono. Now grown, Jake works as an independent journalist, but the horrors of the Chicago River Riots still haunt him. As Pono watches, safe in the Pacific Ocean, the West Coast nation of Cascadia collapses under a further series of catastrophes. Thousands of desperate refugees arrive on Pono’s shores – homeless, stateless, and hungry.”

Initial Thoughts

Okay, this is a great setup for questions of colonialism, empathy, and more. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Those Left Behind by N.C. Scrimgeour

“Time is running out for the people of New Pallas. Nobody knows that better than Alvera Renata, a tenacious captain determined to scout past the stars with nothing but a handpicked crew and a promise: to find a new home for humanity. But when a perilous journey across dark space leads to first contact with a galactic civilisation on the brink of war, Alvera soon realises keeping her word might not be as easy as she thought.”

Initial Thoughts

I love that it’s not just humans running into a totally intact civilization and having to deal with them either rejecting or helping us but rather that it’s a civilization with war breaking out. That adds some wrinkles to what would otherwise be a premise I’d read several times before.

Titan Hoppers by Rob J. Hayes

“Born talentless, Iro has all but resigned himself to a life of drudgery, watching his sister hop across to the massive space titan for supplies. But when the titan explodes and his sister is killed, Iro finds a new determination to take her place. He’s not about to let weakness prevent him.”

Initial Thoughts

Billed as a progression sci-fi, this one also has inspiration from gamelit/etc. written all over it. Basically, the notion behind progression fantasy/sci-fi is that the main character trains hardcore throughout to overcome some challenge. It should be interesting to see where this one goes.

The View from Infinity Beach by R.P.L. Johnson

“They call it the Kera: a secret Eden, far from the overcrowded Earth where the air is clean, and summer comes every afternoon at the touch of a button. A new wilderness, deep in the asteroid belt where Kade Morton, teenaged migrant from Earth, can start over.”

Initial Thoughts

Nothing could possibly go wrong in paradise, right? We’ll find out.

Heritage by S.M. Warlow

The first of my group’s semifinalists, Heritage is space opera on a grand scale. Galaxy-spanning war, massive consequences, and a focus on the crew of a ship make this plot move quickly. Group members loved the scale of it, the characters, and the story. The most obvious comparison to the book would be The Expanse series. I plan to re-read it for the competition later, but for now I hope this has whet your appetite enough to check it out.

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days by Drew Melbourne

I don’t often go for books that lean into comedy, especially when that’s a sci-fi novel. But Drew Melbourne perfectly captured the blend of humor and plot that makes such books work when they do work. And Percival Gynt er… works. That’s what made this our second semifinalist. Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Melbourne throws all kinds of hilarious hijinks at the reader, but the hijinks actually matter on a large scale and are placed within a universe that is, despite being an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink experience, somehow meshes into an intriguing backdrop. I was won over by the tone of the story and stayed to enjoy the characters and evolving plot. An obvious comparison would be Douglas Adams.

Check out my full review for more.

Intelligence Block by Kit Falbo

A computer whiz uses VR and other technology to become a wizard in this strange story that has elements of gamelit and cyberpunk. What surprised me here was the tonal shift from what read initially like a happy YA adventure to a much more serious read within the span of just a few pages. The ride ends up being a wild one, with twists and turns that reveal more to the reader about the world and characters. Is everything as it seems? Read the book to find out with our group’s third semifinalist.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates