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

“The Jonah Kit” by Ian Watson- Reading the British Science Fiction Association Awards: 1977

The British Science Fiction Awards often highlight books that don’t even make it onto awards lists dominated by American authors. I’ve been reading and reviewing winners and nominees, looking for hidden gems I might not have found otherwise.

1977: The Jonah Kit by Ian Watson

A plot description of The Jonah Kit is somewhat straightforward- a Soviet boy shows up in Tokyo, but appears to have the mind of someone else implanted imperfectly in his head. The plot follows the Americans as they try to figure out what to do even as echoes of scientific discovery suggest there’s something awful looming. The simplicity of the plot belies the complexity of the prose and interconnectedness of the story, however.

Readers experience life within the mind of a sperm whale to which has been added the mental capacities, in some disjointed way, of a man. Additionally, the Soviet boy provides some wayward musings, and the sub- or main- plot of questioning whether our universe was possibly an accidental offshoot of the “real” universe gets mixed in as well. The whole thing ultimately becomes a morass of confusion at times. Each strand has strengths of its own, and Watson’s prose makes some of the scenes quite striking. However, some of the strands read like afterthoughts, and a clunky middle section does little to shed light on the direction the plot is supposed to be going.

What are we to do with the notion that our universe is a kind of accident/unintended/destroyed already? I don’t know, because the vision of that question is only given through glimpses, and even those are largely disdainful comments by other scientists. What of the sperm whale, what lesson has it for us? Is it that humanity is something we’ve invented to make ourselves appear better than the beasts? Maybe, but it could be more or less than that as well. And what are we to make of the ending, which falls somewhat suddenly and without resolution? I don’t know.

The Jonah Kit was ultimately a cacophony of disjunctions. I struggled to piece together its plot, even as strange visions of reality were presented. I don’t know what to make of it, but it was a tantalizing read.

(All links to Amazon are Affiliates Links)

Links

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.

Announcing Team Red Stars SPSFC2 Semifinalists- Self Published Science Fiction Contest

The second annual Self Published Science Fiction Contest rolls on, and my team now has an exciting announcement! We have determined our three semi-finalists! These books will continue to the broader group, going to two separate groups to be judged for a chance at a coveted finalist spot. Without further adieu, let’s take a look at these three books.

Heritage by S.M. Warlow

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. 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.

Conclusion

The next stop on our SPSFC journey is that our group will receive two other groups’ semifinalists and analyze them. As last year, my commitment is to read and review every semifinalist to proved each other with a review. It may take longer than the contest runs to do that, but I had a blast with it last year and intend to do so again. Look forward to more interviews, semifinalist revelations, and more reviews coming up!

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.

Reading the BSFA Awards: 1975 “Orbitsville” by Bob Shaw

The British Science Fiction Awards often highlight books that don’t even make it onto awards lists dominated by American authors. I’ve been reading and reviewing winners and nominees, looking for hidden gems I might not have found otherwise.

Orbitsville by Bob Shaw

I was caught off guard by Orbitsville at several points throughout the novel. I didn’t read a description of it going in, so I had no idea what to expect. My description of the plot will have spoilers in it, of course.

Vance Garamond witnesses an accidental death but believes he may be blamed for it. He rushes to collect his wife and child and flee from the potential vengeance that might be wrought against him. It’s a fantastic setup that I thought would feature Garamond fleeing across space until some kind of epic confrontation. And, to some extent, I wasn’t technically wrong about those being aspects of the plot, but my expectations for how all of it would happen were completely blown up. Shaw weaves an endlessly entertaining yarn. Garamond eventually stumbles upon a Dyson Sphere, and realizes the humanity-defining moment this is fairly quickly. Many questions about the Sphere remain, however, and he contacts those he was fleeing to tell them about the spectacular find. His discovery leads to instant fame, making him basically immune to the vengeance he feared–probably. As humans start to make their way to the sphere and spread across it, more events lead to surprising consequences and discoveries throughout the book.

Shaw also has numerous fantastic lines that stuck with me after reading the novel. At one point, humans find some aliens within the Dyson Sphere. The chapter ends with some hopeful lines about first contact and the lives they may build. Then the next chapter starts “Rumours of massacre came within a month.” It was a gut-punch of a line that was set up so perfectly by the end of the previous chapter. These moments are scattered across the novel and done fantastically well.

If I have any complaint about Orbitsville it’s that it kind of just… ends. Yes, there are some great moments towards the end, but it reads like there ought to have been a bigger and better ending point. I realize two more novels follow this one, but I still think the ending could have been done better.

Orbitsville is a phenomenal read for any fans of space opera and adventure. It’s the kind of book that makes lists worth reading for me, and it has catapulted itself into my vintage favorites. I highly recommend it.

(All links to Amazon are Affiliates Links)

Links

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.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “The Invincible” by Stanisław Lem- The Universe is not for us

Vintage Sci-Fi is always fun to discuss!  There’s even an official “Vintage Sci-Fi Month” (January). As I recall, the rule they have for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like. Follow Vintage Sci-Fi Month on Twitter and get in on the fun, too.

The Invincible by Stanisław Lem

Stanisław Lem’s works are always thematically fascinating, and Invincible is no different. The Invincible sets down upon a desert planet, Regis III, in search of her sister ship, the Condor. That ship has gone silent, and the question of what could have even possibly managed to silence such a powerful machine hangs at the center of the novel.

Lem relies very little upon characterization. The people in the story are there almost as ghostly apparitions of emotion and sensation. They are there to give us that human grounding we need in the midst of a radically inhuman, though strangely familiar, landscape. Lem’s novel isn’t read for the sake of falling in love with the characters, but rather as a kind of warning and clarion call to humanity. What are we humans in the face of the universe, really?

As the humans spread out across the desert like ants, driving their machines, sending out probes, using various sensors, we encounter not just the Condor, but its horrific fate. People have been mind-wiped into a kind of infantile state, apparently without any kind of battle. As the novel goes on, we discover that this is due to crowds of nanobots called “flies” that have apparently evolved their own ecological niche on the planet, namely, its entire above-ground surface. They fiercely protect themselves and manage to use magnetic attacks to brainwipe living creatures.

The questions of how they got there (aliens, millions of years ago, apparently) and what it might mean are only briefly touched upon. Instead, Lem remains almost hyper-focused on bringing us into conversation with our humanity and the place of that humanity in a universe that may have such hostilities as we can’t even imagine. A cold, mindless hostility exists in the “flies” that is all the more horrifying for its very fact of being mindless. It isn’t calculated whatsoever. Instead, humans are just another enemy to be purged. Despite the late realization that the Invincible can likely take off and eradicate these flies (and one character’s objections to the plan), the message of the awfulness of the universe rings loud and clear.

Ultimately, we are left with the great, pseudo-heroic journey of the first navigator, Rohan, into the desert in a seemingly futile search for some lost members of the crew. On the journey he comes closest to the world of Regis III, walking upon its surface rather than driving, breathing its native air, and resisting attacks of the flies through scientific devices and his own decision to be as non-threatening as possible. But Rohan also realizes the ultimate message of the book, that the whole universe is not anthropocentric. We are incidental creatures on the world of Regis III, caught up in a battle that we’re not ready to fight. And how many Regis III’s might exist out there in the universe?

One could go on about the many predictions and ideas Lem has in this novel which are found in others. It’s one of the earliest (to my knowledge) explorations of nanomachines, and particularly their evolution (for which Lem coins the term “necroevolution”). Its foresight about how we might change existing technologies is often startling. While these are all impressive, the point of the novel isn’t found in Lem’s uncanny ability to predict, but rather in his constant drumbeat of futility for humanity in the cosmos. It’s a visceral hopelessness that calls to mind time and again perhaps the central line of the novel, uttered by Rohan, “not everything everywhere is for us.” Ware we tread, humans.

The Invincible is a powerful novel that relies as much upon its foreboding atmosphere as it does upon the storytelling itself. Readers are left to put together the messages for humanity scattered throughout the novel like diamonds on the sand. It’s an incredible work from a master.

(All links to Amazon are Affiliates Links)

Links

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.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “Moderan” by David R. Bunch

Vintage Sci-Fi is always fun to discuss!  There’s even an official “Vintage Sci-Fi Month” (January). As I recall, the rule they have for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like. Follow Vintage Sci-Fi Month on Twitter and get in on the fun, too.

Moderan by David R. Bunch

I spotted Moderan on the shelf at my local bookstore, a pristine new edition of a collection of olde stories. The cover’s haunting oddness spoke to me–there was a strangeness to it that both repelled and called to me. The Foreword by Jeff Vandermeer hyped me up even more. The back cover has a quote from Brian Aldiss describing it “As if Whitman and Nietzsche had collaborated.” That did it. I knew this odd collection of horrifying stories of post-humanity needed to be on my shelf. I bought it and then, over the course of months, read about one story per day.

Moderan is a collection of stories centered around one Stronghold’s post-human existence. Humans have gone to extremes to become immortal, and the celebration of various frivolities, excesses, and beauty have taken over various parts of Earth. For our protagonist, whose story links most of the short stories together, this endeavor took over his body in an extremely painful procedure that turned his body (minus a few flesh strips) into a fighting Stronghold, capable of waging endless, delightful war on the plastic-covered Earth.

No element of Earth or its humans is untouched by the push for the ever more modern, ever more immortal post-humanity. No aspect of humanity is unplumbed, and in the rare moments in which a human character breaks through with a realization that things may not be as perfect as imagined, our narrator reasons himself into a new stupor, denying his own humanity for the sake of the Moderan myth.

Mythmaking is a major part of the stories, operating often in the background but occasionally coming into focus. Our narrator rants about the “monster god of contrivance,” the God who dared to create humans such that they have bodies that tick down into uselessness over time rather than the “science of infinite life” (52-53). He scorns those who allow any but the elite to survive as pandering to weakness. Only those who he believes could contribute to the great moderan society–a society of endless faux warfare and destruction–should be allowed to survive (72-73). But even he must answer “THE QUESTION” of whether to let human life–that is, non post-humans–to survive, and finds in himself a startling weakness. Namely, that he would have voted to allow them to continue after all (75-76).

The oscillation between absurdity and poignancy found throughout this collection is surely intentional. Readers are buffeted with series of images that enthrall and repel; which are ridiculous and astute. Bunch creates a cacophony of wild imagery while he simultaneously takes the time to slow down and watch the (plastic/fake) birds fly across the skies of Earth. The imagery alone could yield endless fruits for the imagination and reflection.

The stories themselves are largely small windows into the mind of our narrator and the events he encounteres in the Moderan world. I mentioned above the absurdity–and that’s a good word. At first glance, the stories are absurd to the point of silliness at times. But the backbone of their existence is found in a contemplative spirit that pervades the whole collection and asks us to take the deepest questions of humanity into our hearts and wonder at them.

God, humanity, mortality, sexuality–all are contemplated under the strange microscope of Bunch’s collection of strange tales. Moderan is exquisite in its pain, agony, and denial. Bunch’s masterpiece deserves to be read by all fans of science fiction.

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SDG.

“Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Volume 3- Endurance” by Yoshiki Tanaka

The Legend of Galactic Heroes is a… well, legendary anime series. What far fewer people have experienced is the novels upon which it is based. I’m probably something of an outlier here–having only read some of the books while not having seen the anime. I wanted to write about the series of novels to encourage others to read them.

Volume 3: Endurance

Endurance marks a shift in the overarching story of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Yes, the focus remains on the conflict between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance, but the Phezzan Dominion grows in import and the major main characters of the first two books have lesser roles here.

Yang Wen-Li spends much of the book being summoned to face an inquest and fighting politics, which leads to a number of satisfying scenes when the politicos realize they’ve done messed up. Meanwhile, Reinhard is largely aloof throughout the novel, making major decisions on what gets done while staying out of most of the action himself. Side characters get more time to shine, like Yang’s protégé Julian Mintz’s exploits in fighter combat.

The big set piece here, though, is a massive scale battle between Iserlohn fortress and a fortress brought into place to try to destroy it. The battle takes up a large portion of the book, in between other scenes, as it starts with a standoff, ramps up into mutually assured destruction, and evolves from there. Tanaka takes the massive scale of the combat and makes it believable for this anime-like scenario he’s developed. The obscene size of the forces involved are so over-the-top that it could become simply comical, but Tanaka navigates that deftly by taking it all seriously enough that readers are forced to decide to either take it seriously themselves or move on.

The series continues to feature women very little. When they do appear, they’re as aides or other minor roles. It’s perhaps the largest strike against the series. The translation in this volume also seems a bit smoother than Volume 1 especially.

Endurance is another great entry in Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It gives us more time to focus on some other characters, introduces more facets of the conflict, and delivers epic space battles.

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SDG.

“Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days” by Drew Melbourne- An SPSFC Review

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing whichever books in the contest appealed to me! Follow the blog to keep up with more updates from the contest, along with many, many other reviews and topics!

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days by Drew Melbourne

Our group picked Percival Gynt as a quarterfinalist for this year’s SPSFC, and it’s easy to see why in the sample portion we read (the first 10-20%). I’m one who tends to be skeptical of novels that have comedy as a major driver, but the humor found in this book is consistently funny (to me) and never takes over or away from the plot. And the plot is truly not what I expected.

Melbourne navigates the line between absurd and expected, quickly introducing readers to a universe-ending threat, because of course that’s what would happen in a story like this. But he also subverts the tropes, hitting readers with regular twists, many of which both add to the humorous elements of the story while still making sense. And it’s that last bit that is most important to me as a reader of stories like this–is the humor the driving force of the plot, or does it result from the plot? It’s the latter that I prefer, and Melbourne delivers time and again, making the humor arise from situations that make sense within the story.

The story is, frankly, insane. And I mean that in the best possible way. The story starts with an escape using an outdated Apple Watch to turn back time, and it gets messier from there. It’s hard to go too far without spoiling it, and it features a character named Um. So, um, enjoy that! But seriously, the wildness of the adventure makes it a joy to read, and the humor helped keep a smile on my face even as Percival was facing universe-threatening consequences from his actions.

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days is a surprisingly deep adventure with its tongue firmly planted in-cheek all the way through. I recommend it highly.

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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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1983

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.

The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe (My Winner)- Grade: A
Gene Wolfe’s monumental epic, The Book of the New Sun continues here with the third book, The Sword of the Lictor. As with the whole series, there are layers upon layers of meaning, dimensions of thought, and completely mind-bending revelations and symbolism. These books are wonderful science fantasy, yes, but they also demand study in a way that few speculative fiction works seem to call for. There are literally books written about these novels, and dissecting the meaning found therein. And, frankly, the books deserve that level of analysis. Wolfe’s prose is captivating as ever, but the layers that can be peeled back over time make it worthy of re-reading and digesting in ways few science fiction novels touch. I’m planning to read and re-read this series many times. Top notch sci-fi/fantasy.

Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov (Winner)- Grade: B-
I loved the early parts of the book in spite of myself. The Foundation Trilogy, long hailed as the pillar of science fiction, has managed to bore me three times through. (Also Asimov was… not great.) I wasn’t sure I’d like this one, but found myself really getting into the premise of a mystery within a mystery within a wider, galactic story. But then Asimov dragged it out for far longer than the premise itself could carry and it began to wear out its welcome. As it wore on, the faults became more vivid: whether it is the nonchalance with which Asimov dismisses his own female characters or the absurdity of the parts that take place on Gaia, there’s some big flaws here. It’s also clear Asimov was really struggling with the anthropic principle as he wrote this, and his solution to the principle, set in the book as a kind of big reveal, really just boils down to waving one’s hand and saying “Well, we’re here, aren’t we?” Okay, but that doesn’t make for a good plot, nor a good philosophy. Despite these gaffes, Foundation’s Edge still manages to be slightly above average, largely riding on the strength of its core premise, which remained fascinating throughout, even as its luster was tarnished. A good read that could have been terrific.

The Pride of Chanur by CJ Cherryh- Grade: C
Ever read a book where you kept waiting for the main plot to get going? That’s definitely how I felt with The Pride of Chanur. I guess I expected that, at some point, someone would do something. But it seems, instead, everyone was so caught up in their own brand of intrigue that they all forgot to do anything about it. Oh! Those aliens are over there plotting! Let us counter-plot! And then we’ll manipulate them into stopping their plotting! Ah, but alas, other aliens have thwarted our own plot. Curses. That’s basically how this book seems to play out. I am disappointed. I enjoyed the beginning, and it felt like it might be the start of some ripping space adventure that would carry me across the stars, with battles and intrigue and everything mingling together in awesomeness. Instead, it seems every character–every species–was urgently ensuring nothing would happen in the book. I desperately want to love Cherryh’s stuff. I’m extremely hesitant to write off any author, and I have so much respect for Cherryh because, it seems, everyone adores her work. But The Pride of Chanur is the sixth book I’ve read from her, and not a single one has struck me as particularly excellent.

2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke- Grade: C+
The first book in this series, the famous (infamous?) 2001: A Space Odyssey was a delightfully vast, weird, and personal look at… everything? At it’s core, 2010: Odyssey Two carries the mantle of that other work, with a solid hard sci-fi foundation built upon by other threads sewn throughout the tapestry of the novel. It just isn’t as good as the first effort. It loses some of the vastness and weirdness that made the space odyssey stand out and turns much more into a human drama mixed with some questions about AI and robotics. The introduction to the work by Clarke explained he was trying to answer many of the biggest questions readers had about the first one, and that seems exactly like what this book ends up being. It reads more like an extended story written specifically to fill in gaps than it does as a work that can stand on its own.

Friday by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: D-
The general idea isn’t terrible, but wow this is filled with a lot more of the late Heinlein’s nonsense. It’s like he’s trying to create a sexually liberated world, but can only do so through perversion. Within the first 50 pages there is brutal sexual assault narrated in the most detached fashion, followed by some rather grotesque implications about the same. The female lead seems to only serve as a sex object for the vast majority of men, and once again we find that for Heinlein, sexual liberation is really just a male-dominated sex-fest. Oh, and the main plot isn’t really that great, either. It did have some promise at the beginning.

Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury- Grade: A-
I’m sitting back having just finished this book and I can’t figure out exactly how I feel about it. There’s no doubt it was very well done. But, what was it? Was it a novel about human colonization? Yes, I mean the people are all descendants from colonists in some distant past. Was it a novel of a unique culture that is both unsettling and tantalizing? Absolutely, there is everything weird in this novel, from cannibalism to using human skins for decoration. But it all somehow makes sense in the context in which it’s placed. Was it a dystopia? I don’t know, maybe? Was it a utopia? I guess? I don’t know. If there’s one thing I’m sure of, having read Courtship Rite, it is that I will never forget it. It was strange, disturbing, and alluring all at once. The fight for one’s own society, the disturbance of that society, the coming of war; all of these were themes in the book. I can’t get over it. It’s a great read.

1983- Courtship Rite could have won many years, but going up against Wolfe is unfortunate. I want to use some of this space to emphasize how strange that book is. The thing about it is, as I said, the weirdness and yuckiness of it all somehow still makes sense in the context of the story. Masterfully done, but still gross. Also, how is it not available on an ebook platform so far as I can tell? It’s excellent. Okay, obligatory Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke inclusions here, with varying success. Cherryh’s also become a perennial nominee, and will ultimately collect 5 nominations and 2 wins. It’s a solid selection here, though Friday is awful. Another good year for the 80s Hugo nominees.

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SDG.

“There Are No Countries” by Marshall Smith- 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).

There Are No Countries by Marshall Smith

It’s difficult to figure out how to begin a review of There Are No Countries. I could start with a plot summary, but that would make it sound too mundane. I could start with some comments about the strangely psychedelic cover, which is alluring and off-putting by turns. Instead, I started as I did here, bemoaning how to begin, as nothing seems quite right to say about it.

There Are No Countries is a story of colonization. Perhaps that’s where to start. There are no sentient species on the planet of Dandros, but there is a castle, from which emanates memories (???) of a traveler named Doug, whose interactions with a being he calls the Goddess are captivatingly strange and sporadically narrated throughout the story. Alongside that, there’s a story of colonization and victory, but only revealed in spurts and half-starts.

The characters are both intimately close and only vaguely present. Reading the story is like wading into a soup of existence and thought, bombarding the reader from multiple perspectives and stories all at once. It doesn’t always make sense, and Smith doesn’t hold the reader’s hand at all. This is one that I feel the strong need and desire to re-read to see if I conceptually am picking up everything there is to find. Indeed, I think this one deserves a slow, peaceful read.

There’s no way to resist comparing this to the New Wave science fiction of the 1960s-70s. The cover is one indicator, but the structure (or structurelessness) of it is another. It reads like a novel stepping into today out of that time, with all the grandeur, splendor, and foibles of the time.

There Are No Countries is science fiction that hearkens back to the zaniest New Wave science fiction. I loved it.

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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.