“The Last Shadow” by J.D. Robinson- An SPSFC review

As a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

The Last Shadow by J.D. Robinson

Boston in 1990s has some weird stuff going on. Bas Milius gets in a ring fight and loses… a cherished ring. Then, he accepts a PI case that leads him down some strange trails. Dee is a nonverbal autistic teen with some strange abilities thrust into a wider world. There’s also a reclusive couple who are doing some weird–possibly cultish–things with people and monitoring them. What’s going on with that?

The central hook is a mystery that keeps growing throughout the novel as more and more odd things keep happening. Readers are kept in the dark for quite a while with only tantalizing clues to go off. The characters are what needs to keep readers involved in these central sections, which can occasionally feel bloated. For my part, I’d have liked the mystery to move on at a faster clip. While I enjoyed the reveals getting doled out, I think the speed of it could have moved up a bit.

Again, the characters have to sustain this middle section, and they do an okay job depending on readers’ preferences. Bas has some real character growth, though readers who aren’t fans of the kind of stereotypical tough guy private investigator in SFF will perhaps not enjoy the tropey nature as much. Dee also experiences quite a bit of growth, and it’s great having a neurodivergent character feature so prominently.

The Last Shadow has a great hook and good characters. It might need some editing down, but it has enough story of interest to keep readers going. Fans of urban fantasy and mysterious sci-fi should check it out.

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.

“The Hammond Conjecture” by M B Reed- A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Semifinalist Review

The first Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) has finished, but I’m still finishing reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

The Hammond Conjecture by M B Reed

Hugh Hammond awakens, ostensibly injured and with memory loss. He’s an agent for MI6, and the world suddenly feels… wrong. But are his memories false, or is the world, or is something else happening?

Readers follow Hammond and a few other characters through the course of the novel, ultimately seeing the story across the course of years and unveiling more and more of the truth behind the events occurring therein.

My biggest problems with the novel are that it seems to be far too soft on Fascism and has some scenes that set off my “yuck” factor regarding men and women. In one of the latter, a man and wife are reunited after the wife was off at an SS convention–yes, that SS. Anyway, the husband thinks it’s time to get it on, but she doesn’t. He bitterly imagines all the SS agents chasing his wife the whole time she was there because she was on birth control and therefore apparently more desirable than their own spouses or other women. He gets angry at his wife for this imagined scenario. It’s a pretty gross scene, in my opinion, and not the only one that took me out of the story in that fashion.

The plot itself has some delightfully funny moments, with Hammond’s spy exploits often showing him as a kind of hapless Indiana Jones or James Bond. the way the ultimate reveals are slowly rationed out makes it interesting to keep finding those nuggets of information, but I’d have liked to have them feel more impactful than they initially do.

The Hammond Conjecture was not my favorite read. I think a lot of the style struck me the wrong way, but I could see where it might find an audience. Fans of alternate history and humor might want to check it out.

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.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through: “X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble” by Michael A. Stackpole

I’m on a quest to re-read all of my favorite (or least favorite that I kept for whatever reason) Star Wars novels in the Expanded Universe and beyond. Come along for the ride and check out my Star Wars Hub for more. There will be SPOILERS for the book discussed.

X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble by Michael A. Stackpole

I’ve read so many novels in the Star Wars Expanded Universe but, as I said in my review of Rogue One, I missed the X-Wing novels. That means this is my first go-through of the series, and I’m having a blast.

Wedge’s Gamble is the story of the Rebellion attacking Coruscant, but most of the novel is the lead-up to that event. Stackpole starts it off with a blast as he shows off his ability to write a great space dogfighting scene. Does it make scientific sense? Absolutely not, but that’s not what you’re reading Star Wars for (I hope). It’s a great action scene and sets up Corran Horn as a major player again.

The novel fairly quickly moves to Rogue Squadron dealing with Black Sun and the planet of Kessel before diving into a plan for Rogue Squadron to lower the shields on Coruscant for the ultimate attack. The action drags in each of the major scenes, making it seem a bit overly long. This was especially evident in the scenes in which Rogue Squadron was on the ground in Coruscant, which clearly means they ought to be out in space fighting dogfights.

Ysanne Isard as a villain isn’t bad, but she’s almost comically evil. Like, I get the Empire is the baddies, but it can seem a bit over the top with how one-dimensional it seems. On the flip side, there was a surprisingly thoughtful scene in which Wedge and Iella see how the Empire has presented the history of the Jedi Knights and see Vader as “rooting out the evil” therein. It’s a brief scene, but shows how easily history can be reframed by people on different sides of a conflict, something which is clearly still an issue into today.

The way Isard is obsessed with a virus may be seen as a way to make it a less predictable final conflict for Coruscant, but it ultimately makes the conquest of this planet a bit anticlimactic. It’s the capital of the Empire and they decide to defend it with a virus? It didn’t sit right with me, and if there’s anywhere where a major space battle would make sense, it would seem to be on Coruscant.

X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble is a fine read in the series, but not as mind-blowing as the first book. I’m looking forward to reading book 3!

The Good

+Great dogfights
+More development for side characters
+X-Wings
+Captures Star Wars-esque feel
+Surprisingly thought-provoking

The Bad

-Pacing issues abound
-Enemies remain pretty one-dimensional
-Droids are mostly non-players again
-A bit anticlimactic

Cover Score: 5/10 – it’s an explosion with some ships in front of it. Though, to be fair, I spent quite a bit of time staring at the Lambda class on the cover.

Grade [measured against my super objective* Star Wars enjoyment factor]: C+ “It’s a good read but has pacing (and other) issues.”

*Not super objective and in fact wholly based on my feeling at the time of this review. Not measured against any other sci-fi works or really any other literature. This score is purely because I like giving scores to things.

All Amazon Links are Affiliates

Links

Star Wars Hub– All of my Star Wars-related posts can be found here. These include posts about more expanded universe books, the movies, and new canon novels.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

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!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “Shadow of Mars” by I.O. Adler

We’re now in the round of semi-finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

Shadow of Mars by I.O. Adler

Carmen is starting a new job and just trying to make things work when she gets a message from her mom. The only problem is her mom was on a space mission and died. Almost immediately after this, Carmen is visited by government agents, which in this near-future setting include some kind of theocratic peace patrol type folks. Carmen is eventually captured by a weird alien spider thing and the plot gets going from there as she discovers what happened to her mother, and what else is going on in the universe.

I’ve got to say it, I thought this book was very strange. At times, I wasn’t sure if it was trying to be a lighthearted space adventure, a sci-fi horror story, or a kind of extended coming-of-age metaphor. Something just felt kind of off throughout the book. Is it supposed to be a comedic romp? Or am I supposed to be horrified by some of the really weird stuff happening? It was kind of disorienting. (SPOILERS the rest of this paragraph) One scene, in particular, stood out to me: Carmen and her mother are talking with each other shortly after Carmen has had her consciousness transferred to one of the spindly spider robots with TV heads, and I just sat there as a reader thinking “What the heck is going on?” At this point, I think the goal was to grab readers with a very odd, body horror-inspired mystery that would keep them going but it felt so off from the feel of the story to that point that I was just confused. (/SPOILERS)

There are significant elements of first contact here, as well. Adler does a fine job subverting some of the themes of alien contact and certainly making it feel more baffling and off-putting than many authors have done. There are almost elements of cosmic horror mixed in here, but going into that might be too spoiler-y. Suffice to say, these are some of the strongest elements in the book, but they come a bit too late into the story.

The questions about what’s going on back and Earth were the most interesting to me, but very little by way of answers were provided. Why are things so different when the tech base seems not that much into the future? What’s going on with the nigh-theocratic “police force”? Maybe this is just my own reflected biases in what I find interesting, but on the flip side I like first contact novels. It’s just that the introduction to the book (the first 10% or so) felt like there was some huge Earthside mystery happening, and then we completely leave that for the overwhelming majority of the novel. It made it feel a bit of whiplash about where the plot was going.

Shadow of Mars is the first in a series, and it feels like its just getting its legs under it by the end. Resolutions aren’t really provided here, as readers must wait for later books in the series to find out what is going on.

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.

“A Star Named Vega” by Benjamin J. Roberts- A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Review

We’re now in the round of semi-finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

A Star Named Vega by Benjamin J. Roberts

Aster Vale loves doing street art, competing in an interplanetary game that ranks the art based on quality, danger of getting caught, and other details. She dreams of moving up the ranks as Wildflower, her screen name in the game. Isaac, a wizard for hacking, is on the same luxury liner she’s on board as they head towards Vega. Rel is a genetically-engineered soldier whose mission is to stop that liner before it can reach Vega. Why? It would mean extinction for his people.

A Star Named Vega is an incredibly fun space adventure story. Aster was immediately compelling to me as a character, and Isaac quickly grew on me. They each had such shenanigans and fun throughout the novel that it was hard to not crack a smile at times. Rel, our erstwhile antagonist/protagonist (question mark) is compelling as well.

The world-building is both narrowly focused and expansively broad, and I liked how focused the plot was to go along with it. The characters live in our far future, largely dominated by AIs who take care of humanity’s every needs. The inevitable dark side can rear its ugly head here, but Roberts balances the setup for a kind of dystopic plot with the many benefits of this near-utopian society. Of course, some of that plays into the main plot, so I don’t want to spoil too much of it. The takeaway here is that Roberts deftly balances questions about ‘What Could Go Wrong’ with ‘What If It’s Worth It’? in ways that I found unexpected and unique. I’d honestly have liked even more along those lines going on.

Roberts also builds some political intrigue and family drama into the book. I thought this was exciting, especially given the hyper-focused setting of the novel. It’s difficult to balance broader possibilities when the story is taking place on a star cruiser, but Roberts does it here and it makes the world feel very lived-in and real despite the narrow focus.

The novel starts as a kind of young adult, perhaps even juvenile fiction feel, but the amount of content going on behind the scenes and the way stakes are raised steadily from the beginning make it an ultimately satisfying read for readers of any age. I ended up hugely enjoying it, and I would think most of my readers here would as well.

Ultimately, A Star Named Vega is a delightful romp. Yes, there are darker things at the fringes, but the characters make the journey fun–and often funny as well.

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.

SPSFC Book Review: “Refraction” by Wick Welker

Refraction by Wick Welker

Refraction has three storylines set about 80-100 years apart from each other, between circa 1980 and circa 2150. The first of these follows a scientist, Timothy Straus, as he works on a groundbreaking discovery. The second, set in the middle time period, follows Caleb (aka “Cal”) as he learns some of the darker secrets behind his cloistered dream life. The third is centered around Custos, a sentient robot who has become the President of Mars. While these stories initially seem unconnected apart from the link of the first two characters hearing voices, they eventually become entangled within each other in deeply connected ways.

What’s remarkable about this is that at no point did the entanglement of these narratives seem contrived or forced. Welker does a simply phenomenal job of weaving a cohesive narrative across three timelines while keeping readers on the edge of their seat the whole time. It would be easy to fall into numerous traps in this story that eventually features some common stumbling blocks like time travel or temporal difficulties, but time and again Welker makes them fresh or, minimally, presents them in a way that is sensible within the narrative.

Moreover, each society and time period felt fleshed out and full of side characters who mattered. There were several minor characters in each timeline, and they all read as genuine characters that had interactions with our protagonists in ways that had real impact on the plot and characters. The science-y aspects were detailed enough to survive the suspension of disbelief, and the big reveals, when they started to hit, were fun even if occasionally predictable. If I have one complaint, it’s that it could stand to be maybe 50 pages shorter to tighten up some of the narrative. In particular, there’s one part that’s basically just a lengthy scene of explaining why a bunch of different societal structures are doomed to fail. It reads more like a diatribe than something in-character for the novel. That and a few other scenes could be cut out or shortened down to make the flow of the novel better.

The book is almost 450 pages but I sat down on my day off and marathoned through the last third or so of it over a morning (cat on my lap, the best way to read!) because I couldn’t get enough of it. This is a compelling science fiction yarn, folks. It truly is books like this that are the reason I love delving into indie novels. You find treats like this that make all the effort worth it. If you’re a fan of hard sci-fi or character-driven narratives, I recommend Refraction very highly.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates

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 the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Semifinalists Round of 30!

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest is into the semifinalist round. 10 groups have narrowed 300 books down to a top 30, which we will then narrow down even more before finally choosing a winner. Here, I’m presenting the semifinalists along with their (sometimes partial) blurbs, covers, and my own initial thoughts purely based on both.

Gates of Mars by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays

Blurb

IN THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE, HOW CAN A PERSON GO MISSING? 

The year is 2187. Crucial Larsen, a veteran of the brutal Consolidation Wars, is working as a labor cop on Earth. The planet is a toxic dump and billions of people are miserable, but so what? It’s none of his business. He’s finally living a good life, or good enough.

But then Essential, his beloved kid sister, disappears on Mars. 

Initial Thoughts

I don’t know why, but the blurb makes me think of the Mars scenes in Babylon 5 quite a bit, and that definitely piques my interest. Also, there are giraffes on the cover for some reason.

What Branches Grow by T.S. Beier

Blurb

Thirty-five years ago, the world was ravaged by war. Delia, a tough-as-nails survivalist, travels North in search of a future. Gennero is tortured by his violent past and devotion to his hometown. Ordered to apprehend Delia, he follows her into the post-apocalyptic landscape. The wasteland is rife with dangers for those seeking to traverse it: homicidal raiders, dictatorial leaders, mutated humans, and increasingly violent and hungry wildlife.

Initial Thoughts

Post-Apocalyptic novels are fairly hit-or-miss for me. Too often, they’re relentlessly depressing. In this day and age, that’s not what I’m looking for. This one promises some hope, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

ARvekt by Craig Lea Gordon

Blurb

Ord is a black-ops cyborg assassin. A highly-trained human-weapon, dedicated to hunting down the last of the brain hacking syndicates. There’s just one problem…

Her mind was broken from a psychotic episode. Neural programming erased her trauma, gave her a fresh start. But when an old brain hacker cult resurfaces, and a sentient AI is set to govern the entire human population, she starts seeing things. Horrors that can’t possibly be real… that make no sense… that only she can see. Ix, their AI Guardian, is abducting innocent citizens from the streets in broad daylight. And it’s using the Augmented Reality it has thrown over the world as cover. Is the AI hellbent on humanities destruction? Or is her mind tearing itself apart again?

Initial Thoughts

I saw this one in another group back at the beginning of the contest and immediately hoped it would be passed on to the next round. Here it is! First of all, it has one of the best covers in the contest. Second, the words “cyborg assassin” came up and it sounds like cyberpunk plus craziness, and I love that as a premise.

A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden

Blurb

A thousand years in the future, the last of humanity live inside the walls of the totalitarian Kingdom of Cutta. The rich live in Anais, the capital city of Cutta, sheltered from the famine and disease which ravage the rest of the Kingdom. Yet riches and power only go so far, and even Anaitians can be executed. It is only by the will of the King that Nate Anteros, son of the King’s favourite, is spared from the gallows after openly dissenting. But when he’s released from prison, Nate disappears.

A stark contrast, Catherine Taenia has spent her entire life comfortable and content. The daughter of the King’s Hangman and in love with Thom, Nate’s younger brother, her life has always been easy, ordered and comfortable. That is, where it doesn’t concern Nate. His actions sullied not only his future, but theirs. And unlike Thom, Catherine has never forgiven him.

Two years pass without a word, and then one night Nate returns. But things with Nate are never simple, and when one wrong move turns their lives upside down, the only thing left to do is run where the King’s guards cannot find them – the Outlands. Those wild, untamed lands which stretch around the great walls of the Kingdom, filled with mutants and rabids.

Initial Thoughts

The cover had me immediately thinking of hard sci-fi with a chemist going wild, but the blurb sounds more like a kind of dystopia. I am definitely interested, and the series looks complete so if I love it, I can keep going.

Age of Order by Julian North

Blurb

Daniela wants more for her family. She’s a track star and an ace student, but for someone born like her, talent isn’t enough.

The Orderist movement has spawned a society that rewards those who supposedly possess “merit,” which includes America’s wealthiest. Manhattan has become the capital of the forty-nine Orderist-led states, while California suffers under an economic embargo. Cities are cocoons where the so called “highborn” enjoy the pleasures of farm-grown food and private parks, while their outwardly perfect children are protected by floating nanny-like drones that follow them everywhere.

Daniela has grown up fighting for the chance to live beyond the desperation of Bronx City. An opportunity to attend the elite Tuck School—a place where even the highborn struggle to obtain a spot—is too great an opportunity to ignore. But what do the richies really want from her?

Initial Thoughts

This was one of my group’s books, and I’ve read it in its entirety already. It’s a great book–a dystopia focused on questions of justice with strong characters. I can’t wait to see what other reviewers think of it. See my review for more.

Captain Wu: Starship Nameless #1 by Patrice Fitzgerald and Jack Lyster

Blurb

Captain Wu’s the name. Smuggling’s her game.

To be fair, they only started shooting after she started insulting them. She was just about to hand off the package—Wu didn’t know what was inside, and she didn’t want to—when three tentacle-faced strangers attacked. Wu loves a good fight and lives for a good heist. The Captain and her crew make their living taking undercover assignments from questionable clients… and it pays. Or at least, it used to.

But this time the merchandise is a little too hot to handle. So when the squid-shaped xenos show up and destroy the guys who are there to receive it, Wu is barely able to make it back to her ship alive. Soon the Nameless is racing around the galaxy with not only the powerful Commonwealth on its tail, but another dangerous creature bent on revenge. And then an unexpected visitor arrives, putting Wu and her crew in the position of taking care of some very precious cargo. Is it time for the Captain to give up criming and retire to a sedate life more suitable for a woman of her age?

Not a chance.

Initial Thoughts

Sounds like a kind of Han Solo space adventure, and I’ve found those to be wildly varying in how I end up thinking of them. I am excited to see some of this type of book moving on, though, because when they hit well, they’re among my favorite books to read.

Daros by Dave Dobson

High above Daros, sixteen-year-old Brecca Vereen prepares to unload a cargo of trade goods aboard her father’s ship, the Envy’s Price. Nellen Vereen shows her a mysterious artifact bound for a contact below, one that will earn them a lot of credits, and one that they definitely won’t be declaring to customs.

Materializing out of nowhere, alien invaders fire upon all ships, destroy the jump gate, and knock out communications. The Envy’s Price is crippled, and as her father tries to guide it down from orbit, Brecca rescues the illicit artifact and jettisons in a life pod to an uncertain fate below.

On the flagship of the invading fleet, Navigator Frim tries to persist within the cruel autocracy of the Zeelin Hegemony, under constant threat of death, but wishing for something better. And then she notices a whisper of radiation above Daros – the trail of a cloaked Vonar ship. What are they doing in the midst of all this? And will the captain kill her just for revealing this disagreeable news?

Initial Thoughts

The group that chose this one said it was humorous all the way through. I don’t really get that from the blurb, but I’m curious to know how a fairly serious sounding premise combines with humor.

The Last Shadow by J.D. Robinson

Blurb

In 1991, strange things are afoot in Boston. Bas is on the verge of hanging up his hat, until his final client—the missing woman’s father—suddenly claims to be someone else entirely. Someone without a daughter.

Across town, Dee Khalaji finds herself seeing visions of someone in the shadows watching a recorded video—one that changes each time it’s played back.

Initial Thoughts

Okay, the premise has me totally sold on this one. Sounds mysterious, I love the lingering sense of haunting confusion behind it all. I am ready to roll on this one!

Destroyer by Brian G. Turner

Blurb

Jaigar expected to wake up after thirty years to start building a new world in another star system. Instead, he finds himself one of a handful of survivors on an abandoned colony ship.

With no food or water, and only emergency power, his first challenge is to keep everyone alive. The next is to try and solve the mystery of their situation, by figuring out what happened to the original crew and other colonists.

But Jaigar will find survival more difficult than he expects, especially when each of the other survivors has a secret that could help him – or kill him.

Initial Thoughts

Based on the cover and name I was definitely thinking military sci-fi here and was thrilled, because so far we haven’t seen much in the way of space shooting happening. The blurb definitely suggests the “destroyer” might not be the ship but rather whatever happened on the ship. I’m curious, and hoping we get some more military sci-fi out here!

Resistance by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Blurb

From the moment you are born, you are conditioned to know this truth: Unorthodoxy is wrong action, Heterodoxy is wrong thought. The first will lead to your Detention. The second to your Execution.

A century from now, the walled city-state of a future Paris is enjoying its Golden Age. The horrors of the Singularity forgotten, citizens revel in an intoxicating mix of abandon and apathy made possible by the Orthodoxy—a new world order where everything is engineered for maximum efficiency, including identities. Dividing the population into four neuro-social classes has allowed the government to maintain control and ensure its citizens exist in complete equality, fraternity, and liberty. But, not everyone is satisfied with the status quo.

Initial Thoughts

You had me at that cover, but with the focus on a totally dominant dystopia, I am all in on this one. Excited to read it!

Dusk Mountain Blues by Deston J. Munden

Blurb

The Caldwells have one goal in life: to be left alone. They’ve been living on the backwater planet of C’dar for years, smuggling and scavenging their way to a comfortable life on their Homestead. But you know the saying about all good things – they come to an end. The Civilization wasn’t content with falling apart the first time and has finally caught wind of the ol’ boys and girls on their little rock in the middle of nowhere. Ain’t nothing much they can do about that, though…except fight ’em.

Initial Thoughts

I get distinct vibes of a kind of Firfely-esque setting alongside some character pieces from this blurb. I am looking forward to reading this one.

Iron Truth by S.A. Tholin

Blurb

When miners on a remote colony dig too deep, the golden age of space exploration comes to a bloody end. A corruption springs from Xanthe’s alien soil, possessing every mind it touches.

Embroiled in civil war, the galactic community spirals into panic, and the Primaterre Protectorate seizes control. In order to preserve Earth, its surface is quarantined, and all further deep space colonisation is outlawed.

Initial Thoughts

There’s more to this blurb, basically describing as cosmic horror, space opera, and more. I am sold. Super excited to dive in to this one. I love a sense of mystery going in.

Of Cinder & Bone by Kyoko M.

Blurb

After centuries of being the most dangerous predators on the planet, dragons were hunted to extinction. That is, until Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali cracked the code to bring them back. Through their research at MIT, they resurrected the first dragon anyone has seen alive since the 15th century.

There’s just one problem.

Someone stole it.

Initial Thoughts

This was from my group and so I’ve read it all the way through. It’s an absolutely delightful mix of Jurassic Park with wonderful characters and Yakuza street action. It’s a riveting read and I recommend it highly. My full review is here.

Lost Solace by Karl Drinkwater

Blurb

Opal is on a mission. She’s been seeking something her whole life. Something she is willing to die for. And she thinks it might be on a Lost Ship.
Opal has stolen Clarissa, an experimental AI-controlled spaceship, from the military. Together they have tracked down a Lost Ship, in a lonely nebula far from colonised space.
The Lost Ship is falling into the gravity well of a neutron star, and will soon be truly lost … forever. Legends say the ships harbour death, but there’s no time for indecision.
Opal gears up to board it. She’s just one woman, entering an alien and lethal environment. But perhaps with the aid of Clarissa’s intelligence – and an armoured spacesuit – Opal may stand a chance.

Initial Thoughts

A kind of risky salvage operation? Possible space hijinks with near death? Sounds thrilling.

Mazarin Blues by Al Hess

Blurb

Introvert Reed Rothwell is part of a subculture of art deco era enthusiasts, pushing back against bland mainstream society and its mandated technology. Stuck with an AI assistant in his head is bad enough, but when he’s inflicted with a forced upgrade to a new beta version, named Mazarin, the navigator starts to take on feelings and opinions of his own.

When rumors spread of beta navs turning on their pilots, Reed is determined not to become a victim. Mazarin hasn’t become violent yet—the AI is sympathetic and understanding—but with beta participants coerced into slitting their own throats, it’s only a matter of time before Reed is next.

Initial Thoughts

I think this cover is absolutely stunning. I love the style, and combining an art deco theme with a fairly serious threat sounds awesome. Can’t wait to dive in!

Dog Country by Malcolm F. Cross

Blurb

A crowdfunded civil war is Azerbaijan’s only hope against its murderous dictatorship. The war is Edane Estian’s only chance to find out if he’s more than what he was designed to be.

He’s a clone soldier, gengineered from a dog’s DNA and hardened by a brutal training regime. He’d be perfect for the job if an outraged society hadn’t intervened, freed him at age seven, and placed him in an adopted family.

Is he Edane? Cathy and Beth’s son, Janine’s boyfriend, valued member of his MilSim sports team? Or is he still White-Six, serial number CNR5-4853-W6, the untroubled killing machine?

Initial Thoughts

My group’s final choice for semifinalists, Dog Country is an absolutely stunning piece of science fiction. Not only is its cover among the best in the contest (just look at it!), but the plot is incredibly thoughtful on every level. I love it.

Shadows of Mars by I.O. Adler

Blurb

The message from Carmen Vincent’s mother wasn’t possible.

She died in the Mars base disaster two years ago.

But when government agents show up at Carmen’s door, she realizes the message is no hoax.

Someone is still trying to cover up the disaster and the reason why Earth abandoned its space program.

It’s a race to discover the truth of what happened on Mars before Carmen loses her mother for a second time.

Initial Thoughts

The blurb also compares the book to “The Expanse” and “Mass Effect.” if those comparisons are even close to on point, this will be a book I will love.

Monster of the Dark by K. T. Belt

Blurb

None of the other children seemed able to read minds. None of the other children were able to manipulate their toys without touching them. On the morning of her sixth birthday, three men dressed in black arrive to remove her from the loving care of her parents.

She is taken to an underground facility meant for others like her, for Clairvoyants. Stripped of her name and identity, over the years she is fashioned into something scary—something lethal. Each day is an endless struggle and every night is plagued by nightmares. Yet Carmen’s ultimate battle won’t be to save her life but to keep her soul.

Initial Thoughts

Latent mental powers with lurking nightmares and hints at a bigger plot? Sign me up.

Steel Guardian by Cameron Coral

Blurb

Banking is wiped out overnight. No internet, phones, or electricity. Anything “smart” or “connected” turns against humans. The military’s SoldierBots have one function–seek and destroy.

Block is a simple CleanerBot programmed to clean and serve hotel guests. Forced to leave his city, he must avoid dangerous SoldierBots and find a new hotel he can call home.

But when Block discovers a human infant, his surprise attachment to the girl compels him to protect her while traveling across the metal infested wastelands of America to a safe haven. Without his help, the abandoned baby could die before they reach safety. When he encounters Nova – a surly soldier who becomes an unlikely ally – they must tackle the biggest challenge of their lives.

Initial Thoughts

It sounds like “The Mandalorian,” except instead of Baby Yoda, it’s a human and IG-88 is the Mandalorian. Cool.

The Hammond Conjecture by M.B. Reed

Blurb

The Hammond Conjecture is an alternative history novel which explores themes of memory, identity and historical narrative. It is also a lot of fun.

Are you sure you know who you are? If your memories disappeared and were replaced with someone else’s, would you still be you? And what if those memories were not just from another person – but of a different world?
London 1982. Regaining consciousness in an isolation ward of catatonic patients, glimpsing the outside world only through a television news bulletin, that is the dilemma facing Hugh Hammond.

Initial Thoughts

Alternate history can be super fun, so I’m interested to see where this novel takes it. I tend to enjoy alternate histories, so I’m excited to read it, especially with the twist of alternate history and being thrust into it.

All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise by Neve Maslakovic

Blurb

When New Seattle’s most popular resident—charismatic Delilah—takes a tumble off her balcony, the blame for the seeming accident lands on nineteen-year-old Scottie. More interested in finding out who her parents were than in searching for a personal brand, Scottie’s already scraping the bottom of the popularity list. This will send her down to last place—and that means a short ride out into the frozen wasteland outside New Seattle’s gates.

Initial Thoughts

I enjoy mysteries with sci-fi twists, and this seems like another one. The semifinalists have many books in this vein, but I love the creative title and the notion that everyone focuses on “brand.”

Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks

Blurb

Jonah Everitt is a killer, an addict, and a memory thief.

After being hired to kill a ranking officer of the Pacific Rim Coalition and download his memories, Everitt finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a terror cell, a rogue military squadron, and a Chinese gangster named Alice Xie. Xie is a profiteer of street drugs, primarily DRMR, a powerful narcotic made from the memories of the dead. With his daughter, Mesa, missing in post-war Los Angeles, Everitt is forced into an uneasy alliance with Alice to find her.

Mesa’s abduction is wrapped up in the secrets of a brutal murder during the war’s early days, a murder that Alice Xie wants revenged. In order to find her, Jonah will have to sift through the memories of dead men that could destroy what little he has left.

Initial Thoughts

I love sci-fi thrillers, so I am thinking this one will be right up my alley. I wonder how much character building we’ll see here, because it certainly reads like there’s potential for quite a bit.

Broken Ascension by Dave Walsh

Blurb

The war is over, and there are no winners. Just a broken galaxy.

Now humans and aliens must share this war-torn galaxy. None of this matters to Drake, though, he’s just an artist. He’s tagging along on the busted up ship Trystero, along with its ragtag crew. Together, they traverse the Demilitarized Zone between Terran and Gra’al borders, taking on any job they can find. Big or small. Human or alien.

The galaxy changes when the crew encounters a derelict alien ship, its crew slaughtered. With his dying breath, a crewman points them to a box. In it? An abandoned alien baby. When their government refuses to get involved, Drake and the crew need to return the baby they’ve been calling Bruce home, a bloodthirsty warlord on their tail.

His quest? Find Bruce and claim the Gra’al throne, declaring a new war on humanity.

Initial Thoughts

I’m here for this. There are very few spaceships blowing each other up on this list, and I think this has the potential to be one such book. I’m hoping it is!

A Star Named Vega by Benjamin J. Roberts

Blurb

The 30th Century is a technological paradise. Androids have built a utopian future of advanced robotics, augmented reality, and simulated worlds. Humanity thrives across the Thirteen Suns.

Why not spread some chaos, shake things up a bit?

Aster Vale leads a secret life as the Wildflower, a competitive street artist with dreams of infamy. When her father joins a mysterious research project in the Vega System, Aster sees their luxury starcruiser as just another canvas to explore. How else is she supposed to channel all this teenage rebellion?

Initial Thoughts

I think the premise for this one feels like so much fun. Sometimes a breath of fresh air is needed, and the style of this feels so different from the other books. I am excited to check it out.

Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M. Nair

Blurb

Michael Duckett is fed up with his life. His job is a drag, and his roommate and best friend of fifteen years, Stephanie Dyer, is only making him more anxious with her lazy irresponsibility. Things continue to escalate when they face the threat of imminent eviction from their palatial 5th floor walk-up and find that someone has been plastering ads all over the city for their Detective Agency.

The only problem is: Michael and Stephanie don’t have one of those.

Despite their baffling levels of incompetence, Stephanie eagerly pursues this crazy scheme and drags Michael, kicking and screaming, into the fray. Stumbling upon a web of missing people curiously linked by a sexually audacious theoretical physicist and his experiments with the fabric of space-time, the two of them find that they are way out of their depth. But unless Michael and Stephanie can put their personal issues aside and patch up the hole they tore in the multi-verse, the concept of existence itself may, ironically, cease to exist.

Initial Thoughts

A zany space detective story? Sounds like a blast. The author of this one clearly had fun with the name and premise, and sometimes that makes all the difference. I also love the cover!

Life on Planet Earth by Andy Gorman

Blurb

Nearly 700 years ago, the Terminal Plague turned Earth into a desolate wasteland—a world now riddled with the devolved progeny of Homo sapiens.

The descendants of the only survivors live out a bleak existence in a lunar city called Omega, where the privileged live deep underground while the poor suffer radiation poisoning on the surface.

Headstrong seventeen-year-old Liam Stone hates it there. When he’s not scrubbing shrimp and algae vats, he spends his limited free time in the Earth Simulator, training to leave the cramped halls and rigid schedules of Omega behind. Boasting higher scores and better biometrics than any other candidate, Liam is confident he will earn a spot on the return mission to Earth…

Until the moment his sister is chosen instead.

Initial Thoughts

Plagues turning evolution on its head sounds like a cool premise for some world building. I think this one has some potential to be something different. Looking forward to reviewing it!

The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones

Blurb

Ten strangers trapped in time…A ticking sound fills the air as Tim MacGregor enters The Daily Edition Café to meet his new girlfriend for coffee. Moments later, the café is transported 67 million years back in time, along with everyone inside.Time is running out as ten unlikely companions search for a way home, while one member of the group plots to keep them all in the past.Who will survive?

Initial Thoughts

A time travel story with a kind of social “Among Us” playing out as well? Time travel is a premise I love, but I rarely see it done well. I think the twists this one throws out in the premise have quite a bit of potential. And, come on, dinosaurs are awesome.

In the Orbit of Sirens by T.A. Bruno

Blurb

When starship mechanic, Denton Castus, is caught in the destructive path of a devastating war, he abandons his home and seeks refuge on a distant planet. However, this new safe haven has undiscovered threats of its own. Eliana Veston, a scout preparing the planet for the refugees, struggles with a deadly pandemic that is killing off colonists. The hunt for a cure unleashes a new threat to humanity—the Sirens—mysterious beings with incredible powers and a deep hatred for invaders.

Initial Thoughts

Sounds like space opera with a latent mysterious aliens twist. I’m here for it! Also, I love the cover. It evokes shades of Arthur C. Clarke.

Dead Star by Simon Kewin

Blurb

The galaxy is in flames under the harsh theocratic rule of Concordance, the culture that once thrived among the stars reduced to scattered fragments. Selene Ada, last survivor of an obliterated planet, joins forces with the mysterious renegade, Ondo Lagan.

Together they attempt to unravel the mystery of Concordance’s rapid rise to galactic domination. They follow a trail of shattered starship hulks and ancient alien ruins, with the ships of the enemy always one step behind.

But it’s only when they find the mythical planet of Coronade that they uncover the true scale of the destruction Concordance is capable of unleashing…

Initial Thoughts

I’m a sucker for space opera, and this sounds like an epic take on galaxy-spanning destruction. I love that we’re seeing some spaceships mixed in, here, too.

Zero Day Threat by R.M. Olson

Blurb

Jez is a damn good pilot, and she’s always worked alone. Until she got picked up for smuggling, that is. Now she’s an ex-con and ex-employed, and there are plenty of people with old scores to settle. So when a mysterious stranger in a battered pilot’s coat comes to her with an offer that sounds too good to be true, she reluctantly agrees to listen.

All she has to do is fly one little job.

Initial Thoughts

It says it’s a cross of Ocean’s Eleven and Firefly, so I’m already on board with this space adventure!

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.

The Wheel of Time Season 1, Episode 7 “The Dark Along the Ways” Review

The Wheel of Time is one of the biggest fantasy blockbusters of all time, and I have read and loved the fantasy novels for decades. I was beyond thrilled to see that an adaptation was coming to Prime TV, and now that it’s here, it’s time to offer weekly reviews!

The Dark Along the Ways

Best cold open in the series so far. I can’t describe how awesome it was to see our first Aiel in action, and to unite that with the birth of the Dragon Reborn was a great move. It’s a fantastic scene that set the stage nicely for more epic-ness with the Aiel. Can’t wait.

I appreciated the abbreviated stay in the Ways. Readers of the books know they were in there for a while, but it could easily have felt like a depressing, too-long stretch of time. I almost think it was too easy getting out, but as we’ve seen in the series so far, the writers are not slowing down for anything. Take it or leave it. The scenes we did get in there were good, and I’ll be interested to know if they incorporate it more.

I loved basically all of Fal Dara. The feel of it, the look as a desert fortress. I loved Uno and the others at Fal Dara as well. It had the right feel. I hope we get to see it again. The look of the Blight surprised me, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve read its description in the books. I’m not sure what I expected, to be honest, but I know that the look I saw wasn’t it. I’m not saying it felt wrong or anything–just different.

Min was interesting, too. I always imagined her as very slight and probably younger, but that could be a disconnect between my own vision and the actual descriptions in the books. I did enjoy the very brief glimpses we got of her visions, though it makes me want more badly.

Also, it looks like we may know who the Dragon Reborn is, as far as the show is concerned now! I can’t wait for the final episode of Season 1. I’ll be eagerly anticipating Season 2.

Spoiler-y discussion for speculating RE books

It’s becoming clear that they’re going to be changing a lot. I mean, we all knew that going in. There’s no real way to turn 14 massive books into a 6-8 season TV show and not lose anything. Frankly, I’m impressed with the decisions they’ve made so far. Accelerating the Nynaeve/Lan romance is one that definitely makes sense for the sake of viewers, and they’ve dropped enough hints at this point that it didn’t feel abrupt.

I am wondering if they’re just going to cut entire huge things out of the story. I’m not saying this with trepidation. There are some pretty big things in the books that could fairly easily be cut without losing much. The Great Hunt for the horn, for example, feels at times like it gets completely dropped from importance after the fact. I’ll be interested to see what things we miss.

I also wonder if Mat is missing at this point because he left the show or something happened. I haven’t been able to find any official story of why his actor is gone, but obviously he’s re-cast. You can’t drop Mat as a character. He might actually be my favorite of them all in the books by the end. I’m bummed they had to re-cast him here because I thought he was played quite well.

Links

Fantasy Hub– I have a post collecting all of my fantasy-related posts into one place!

The Wheel of Time– Read all my posts on the series from a Christian worldview perspective, both the books and the TV show.

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.

SPSFC Round 1, Battle Royale Part 5

Skybound by Lou Iovino

I was intrigued by the hard sci-fi premise of this novel. What would happen if the Earth stopped spinning? Iovino dives into some of the science questions this brings up, and provides answers to some of the big ones, like what happens to the moon (in this book, whatever stopped the Earth’s spin kept the moon in a kind of stasis as well), or satellites, or why didn’t everyone just fly off into space? Scatter in some great character pieces, and the book was set up for success. I had a ton of questions as I got to the 3/4 mark of the novel. I was especially interested in the strange alien (?) object that seemed to be the source of all the problems. [There are spoilers for the ending after these brackets. I’ll close out spoilers with more brackets.] But then, they just solve the problem. An astronaut from the ISS worked throughout most of the novel to get information back to Earth, and they can’t read it, but that doesn’t matter because nukes. I re-read the last 20% or so of the novel twice because I was so surprised by how so many threads were left dangling and some of the biggest investments in characters were just dead ends. They literally just shoot a bunch of nukes at the object and it disappears after a couple hits. Flash forward 5 years and some people are bittersweet about the events. That’s it! There’s no explanation of what the object was, why it did what it did, nothing! I am left wondering if it is supposed to be some broader point about the pointlessness of various things, like how we could invest a ton of time and effort into a project only to have it all be for nothing. But really, it just feels incredibly unsatisfying after a super strong first part of the novel. [/Spoilers.] Because of this, Skybound is, disappointingly, a “no.” There’s just not the satisfaction of an ending I was looking for. I would read another novel by the author, though.

World of Difference by WJ Donovan

I don’t really know what to make of this book, now that I’ve finished. It’s got a kind of sardonic narration style that makes it difficult to tell if some of the worst comments are satire critiquing awful things or whether the narrator is just… awful. One example is a character who goes on about how incarceration rates (even in the future, apparently) are skewed in America towards imprisoning people of color, which seems like a potential critique of mass incarceration. But then that same character jokingly (?) says mass incarceration is good because it was a way to help explore the Solar System through forced labor. Moments like this abound. The plot is at times buried to the point it feels one needs an excavator to figure out what’s happening. Is it a slice of life novel, showing what’s happening across the lives of several characters? Or is it something more? By the end I was still asking myself this question. It’s got the seeds of interest here, but not enough for me to bump it to a “yes,” especially with my concerns over some of the problematic content.

Age of Order by Julian North

We’ve got another school-based dystopia here! I gotta confess, I love this concept. Combine Harry Potter with a dystopia and you’ve got the classroom drama of teens or kids and the potential for much bigger consequences.

Round 1 Status

As my group pushed to find the last 10 books our group selected, I had to cut my reading of Age of Order short (about 43% in), but I could tell that it stood out from the crowd enough this round to move on. I’ll be interested to see if my group decides to pick it as one of the group choices, as I know there were some mixed opinions on it. World of Difference is an intriguing story with maybe just a bit too little cohesion and too many things going on for a satisfying answer to any of the many basic character questions it raised in my head. Skybound is a fantastic read that just… kind of fizzles out. With Age of Order, we’ve rounded out my personal top 10 from my team’s books for the SPSFC! I can’t wait to see what my group’s official choices are, but I said I’d promise reviews for all my own selections, and you’ll have them even if they don’t make the group’s list! Let me know in the comments what you think!

All links to Amazon are affiliates.

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.

“Brittle Innings” by Michael Bishop- A literary achievement

I did not expect to find one of my favorite books ever when I began reading Brittle Innings. I read it because it was a Hugo Award nominee, and I love reading lists. Going in, I saw it was a science fiction novel with a baseball on the cover, and that was it. What I found when I read it was a sublime work of characterization and insight into 1940s America.

Brittle Innings is less a work of science fiction than it is a perfectly constructed character piece about playing minor league baseball in the southern United States (Oklahoma) in the 1940s. I was captivated by the story of Danny Boles trying to navigate the dusty baseball diamond and the dust-bowl like setting of the novel. In exacting detail, Bishop drew me in to Boles’s world and would not let me go. I could smell the dust of the diamond. I could feel the dust kicked up as someone attempted to steal a base. I could hear the conversations on the bus traveling between venues. I sweltered in the heat of an Oklahoma summer and smelled the scents of a hot kitchen.

Boles’s journey is not without difficulty, nor is he a perfect world. And Bishop does not sugar coat the racial tensions of the time, showing the disdain for which many characters treated black people throughout the novel–and there is use of unedited racial slurs throughout. Boles is, for most of the novel, unable to speak, and so we experience most of the world through his narrative voice, without the other characters ever hearing his voice. It’s an interesting device that serves to allow much introspection along the way.

Of course, the reason this novel ended up on the Hugo list is it is science fiction as well. Bishop has imagined a kind of sequel to Frankenstein here, and that part of the plot only really ramps up on the second half of this 500+ page novel. I knew this twist was coming, having seen a brief blurb about the premise for the novel before reading it. I was a little worried it would seem forced into the midst of the plot. But this interwoven plot is also excellent. Bishop writes in a voice that readers could be mistaken for thinking truly was Mary Shelley writing the parts of the Frankenstein monster’s journal. More incredibly, Bishop has created a follow up that feels worthy of the original while expanding in his own way.

The book is also a period piece. It’s totally immersive as such, as well. Whether it’s the language used, the events taking place, or the references to contemporary events, the book reads like it was lifted directly out of the 1940s. I wonder how much research Bishop put into it before he set pen to paper. It’s frankly incredible to see how he managed to create such a believable setting. Our protagonist deals with prejudices, biases, and taboos of his time in ways that sometimes brutalize the reader. This is not a book for children, as sexual violence and racism run rampant. But it is a book that also puts readers into that world through the eyes of an outsider, the Frankenstein monster. And what he sees as humanity and inhumanity becomes subversive in surprising ways.

Brittle Innings somehow manages to be a riveting literary work about baseball; a period piece; and a surprising science fiction narrative all at once. The novel is a literary achievement. 

(All Amazon Links are my Affiliates link.)

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.