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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.“
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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