“A Touch of Death” by Rebecca Crunden- 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 Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden

Far in the future, humanity largely lives in a single Kingdom with totalitarian rule. Catherine, Thom, and Nate struggle with the strictures of the society. Then, a latent disease is awakened.

I admit I found this one a bit difficult to get into. The characters were fine, but with little explanation for why the world got to where it did 1000 years from now or what remnants were left behind, I struggled to understand why the world was constructed as it was. It could just as easily have been a world completely different from our own rather than being in the future. Indeed, that might have made it even more interesting, because the way the world is revealed so far in this book, there’s little doubt about where latent disease may have come from, even if it’s not fully revealed here.

Catherine and Nate spend much of the novel arguing about what to do next and the implications of what they’ve run into. I actually didn’t mind this aspect of their characters. While it’s a bit trope-y, it’s a comfortable trope for me that I actually enjoy. Indeed, the characters were the most interesting aspect of the book.

A major problem I had with the book is a lack of clarity regarding the major questions about what’s going on. The “who/what/where/when/why” questions about what happened to the world are left extraordinarily vague. Meanwhile, events needed to keep the plot going seemingly drop out of the sky. Modern (read: stuff that would exist in 2022) things just pop up whenever needed. But at other times it reads like a weirdly Medieval feel. The tone is all over the place, making it a confusing read.

A Touch of Death will have readers wanting more. It left this reader wondering if there was enough there to tantalize me into reading the next book. It certainly left enough questions packed into it to sustain a longer series.

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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: “All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise” by Neve Maslakovic

All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise by Neve Maslakovich

[This book is one of my group’s official semifinalists.]

New Seattle is an exclusive city in the midst of a frozen wasteland. The population is brutally controlled to ensure the society can continue to thrive, by whatever definition of thriving the elites have chosen. Many simply work to create goods and services for 10,000 people who dominate the culture of New Seattle through their brands. Delilah is foremost in brands, a walking symbol of epic marketing, thoughtfulness of pose and expression, and more. And… she’s dead.

Our story follows Scottie as she comes of age in this society and tries to form her own brand so that she won’t (potentially) be kicked out into the (literal, deadly) cold. It’s an absolutely fabulous premise to start off with. The story is told largely from Scottie’s perspective, and purports to tell us about what happened to the eponymous Delilah. I was super interested in finding out more about the world and the mystery of what happened to Delilah.

Unfortunately, after a promising start, the novel started to drag. Large portions of the middle section turned into discourse about what individual gems could mean, various discussions of brands, and more. Rather than letting the characters build the world, the world was relayed through lengthy info dumps. I typically don’t mind info dumps, so long as they’re punctuated by action or major character moments, but the middle section of the book read to me like it was an info dump followed by more people sitting around talking followed by an info dump (rinse/repeat). It made the book slow down to a crawling pace. Realistically, a lot of this could have been cut while still keeping the core plot engaging.

The ending was good, with a surprisingly hopeful upturn. I liked it, and it left me as a reader feeling better about having read the book, but it also felt a bit like too little, too late. The promising start with its interesting world and thrilling potential never seemed fully realized. The story of Delilah’s demise went to the side while characters seemed to flounder.

I hugely enjoyed the beginning of All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise, but some of my enjoyment fizzled out by the end. I would be interested in sampling another work in this world by the author, but would want more action and dynamic world building.

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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 Author Interview: Julian North, author of “Age of Order”

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! Specifically, I’ll have interviews from my team’s semifinalists. Without further adieu, to the interview!

Julian North, Author of Age of Order

See my review of Age of Order

What got you into science fiction?

I’m not sure there is one single thing that drew me to science fiction. My parents had no interest, but it called to me. I started young. I’ll also date myself and say the best things on TV I saw growing up (to me at least) were sci-fi: Dr. Who (on PBS), Star Trek (the original re-runs on Saturday at 7) Battlestar Galactica (the Richard Hatch version), and Buck Rogers (oh, that acting..). There was no “YA” literature back then. I read Asimov and Bova and Card. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was generally considered a nerd at school, which drove me further into sci-fi. I was also massively into Play By Mail gaming (this is way pre-internet), including a strategic game called Supernova, that I spent countless hours (and most of my scant cash) playing. Two weeks to make a move, and I’d be watching the mailbox like a hawk on Wednesdays. I had Blade Runner on VHS and would fall asleep watching many nights. Oh good times. Still love that tears in rain line that has become so famous…

Blade Runner is such an evocative film. I didn’t see it until I got to college and it just blew me away with its intense atmosphere. My friends and I would fall sleep to it frequently, as well. I noticed “Age of Order” prompts questions about our own society and justice therein what did you draw from to write it, and why the strong focus on such themes?

I was angry when I wrote Age of Order. Not yelling angry, but the low boil that Daniella has, particularly during the first portion of the book. That anger (as the author) came from my experiences in New York City, where my family still lives and where Age of Order is primarily set. So, while my wife and I settled in NYC, we are not from here. Not even close.

People warn you about some “quirks” of the city, but until you experience them, they aren’t real. In our case, it was the experience of trying to get our son in kindergarten (yes, kindergarten) that poked my outrage. Apparently, our son was deemed less than perfect by the gatekeepers to such places, and this was a judgment that could be confidently (or arrogantly) rendered upon a 5-year old. Of course, upon further inspection, there were very different standards for evaluating different families. As a parent, well, this was upsetting. Unfair. Unjust. And that’s where the theme at the heart of Age of Order came from: Do not underestimate those who appear to have–or be–less. This is an injustice, but it is also detrimental to society. Now, a book about kindergarten admissions wasn’t going to work as a dystopian novel (or maybe it would have), but the idea of an elite school, a group of diverse, fish-out-of-water characters, and an lurking threat far more vast than any of them came from that inspiration. It was therapeutic and tremendous fun to write.

It’s awesome how you managed to challenge something like your lived experience into a visceral feeling in your book like this. Some sci-fi writers try to predict the future, but it sounds like you were kind of writing to the present. How do you think dystopias help us reflect on our own choices and lives today?

I always took tremendous enjoyment from reading dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels from the time I was a kid and that love continues today. I just finished Sea of Rust, by Robert Cargill–absolutely excellent. As you suggest, I find the best dystopias a uniquely fascinating medium in which to explore what would happen to if (usually negative) trends of the time were to continue (or at least trends that are negative in the eyes of the author). A Handmaid’s Tale is one example, Oryx and Crake another. But Hunger Games and its progeny perhaps less so–sometimes dystopias just make great settings for another story. I’d put Age of Order in the middle of those examples. I had something to say about the present by projecting the future, but its also a story about characters, flaws, and relationships. Unfortunately, dystopias have largely fallen out of favor these days, which perhaps is understandable given the circumstances, yet they remain important. I see dystopias are cautionary tales, both for society and for individual behavior, and we could all do with a bit of caution and reflection in our lives.

I have read and loved all the books you mentioned! Sea of Rust is a hidden gem, to be sure! For a final question, can you tell us about any upcoming writing projects, links you’d like my readers to have, or anything else you’ve got for us readers?

I’ve written the first book in a new series which I’d say fits into no genre neatly … but it could be described as an alternate history with magic. It touches on the themes of equality, prejudice and “might makes right.” I have no idea how to market it, unfortunately. Anyway, I enjoyed writing it. Not sure when I’ll release it, though.

Amazon Page for Julian North.

Thank you for your time! Best of luck to Age of Order!

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: “Age of Order” by Julian North

Age of Order by Julian North

Dystopias are all the rage. Age of Order might strike some as just another dystopia, but it has more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. It starts of with Daniela Machado offered a shot to go to an elite school for the privileged and wealthy. There, she has to fight against classism and the genetic modifications of the “richies” even as she contends back home with the impact of a pseudo-police state. It’s a great setup that quickly turns into something that reads a bit like a school drama combined with dystopia.

Then… things kind of get out of hand, in both good and bad ways. At 20% in I was hugely enjoying it; at 40% it started to read like it wasn’t stopping. The extended school scenes and back-and-forth moves across the city read at times like an over-extended travelogue instead of a dystopic thriller. Then, twists and turns started to hit hot and heavy, and our main characters had some more interesting background revealed.

The novel begins to read like a roller coaster, with extremely high points of big twists and reveals punctuating an almost mundane otherwise story of going to school and dealing with bullying. The highs definitely outweigh the lows, however, and I found myself enjoying it all the way through. The character interactions are the strength of the novel, and I especially enjoyed how several major plots were intertwined almost behind the scenes before they got revealed to the reader. As that reader, I never felt cheated by having something come out of the woodworks. North certainly sets up the background to have even massive revelations about the characters feel believable. And there’s no way to avoid empathizing with these characters, who deal with struggles both in and out of their control.

As an aside, I appreciated the focus on questions of justice–economic, racial, and more–throughout the book. While these are sometimes implicit in a number of dystopic works, here they are part and parcel of even the character development. It’s great.

Age of Order is a great read that I would highly recommend to fans of dystopias. It’s got so many great character moments and huge plot points that it overcomes its own problems with being a bit over-bloated. I’ll definitely be reading the next novels in this series.

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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.

SPSFC Book Review: “Above the Sky” by J.W. Lynne

Above the Sky by J.W. Lynne

Above the Sky has a familiar-sounding premise: teens are coming of age in a society with mysterious strictures that they take for granted but we readers know don’t make sense. Seven, our main protagonist, takes us on a journey as she discovers that her world isn’t what it seems. Sounds like a fairly straightforward dystopia, right? The answer, as readers move on with the plot, is no. It’s not that straightforward at all.

Basically, what happens is we get to experience Seven’s journey as she goes from finding out what she’s supposed to do with her life (be a doctor), to taking her sister’s place to chase after a love interest she’s barely even had any (physical) contact with, to being trained as a warrior for mysterious reasons in order to fight the threat that lingers Above the Sky, to finding out everything is way more complex than any of this seemed to begin with. Along the way, major and minor side characters appear and become more ore less important in believable ways. One of the most riveting scenes in the book involves an action sequence while our characters are under fire and Seven has to decide what to do with extremely limited vision and knowledge of the situation. It’s a truly excellent way to frame a narrative like this, and Lynne delivers time and again on character moments like that.

The plot revelations are spaced out in a satisfying way, such that just as I got settled in to how I thought the plot was going, Lynne introduced a new wrinkle that kept me guessing. It’s difficult to know who the bad guys or good guys are, and as you discover more about the outside world with Seven, it becomes more alluring and more urgent to know who’s who even while the confusion mounts. Meanwhile, the teen drama, training sequences, and discoveries about the characters are what one might expect from standard YA dystopias, but they’re all so well written that I never found any of it remotely boring. Instead, the book is an absolute page-turner from cover-to-cover.

When we finally start to really see that there’s more to the world than Seven has been allowed to find out, it just ups the tension yet again. Lynne truly weaves a story that keeps readers guessing even while investing enough in each major act to slow things down and allow readers to ponder the events and get used to the “new normal” even as Seven does. It’s a great way to write a book like this, and it definitely kept me engaged all the way through.

My major complaint with the book is the way the plot was driven at the end. (MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW.) I wasn’t surprised to find that Seven was pregnant, but the solution to it seems impossible. She and Six are to swap places and somehow Six is supposed to somehow be competent in all the things Seven was doing while also passing herself off as Seven while Seven does the same back home with Six? And they’re going to swap places multiple times? I just… find it really hard to buy into as a real solution. It pressed my suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. I’m definitely going to read the next book, because I’m sold on the world and the mysteries happening there. The characters are great, too. I just wish the ending hadn’t been so hard to swallow. (/END SPOILERS)

Above the Sky is a thrilling read that has me wanting more. There are so many different mysteries being teased here that it is impossible not to want to know what’s going on. The characters are strong as well, and Lynne shows she’s not above serious tragedy happening for the sake of the story. I am invested, and I’ll be reading more.

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.

Vintage Sci-Fi Month: “Past Master” by R.A. Lafferty

January is Vintage Sci-Fi Month and I’m hoping to feature a number of looks at vintage sci-fi I’m reading for the month to spur some discussion and hear your thoughts! Follow Vintage Sci-Fi Month on Twitter and get in on the fun, too! As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like.

Past Master by R.A. Lafferty

I’ve never read a work by Lafferty before this one, though he was recommended to me time and again. One of the foibles of loving books so much is that you sometimes think you know better than other people do about what you may enjoy. My apologies to all who recommended Lafferty–I should have dived in the first time his name came up!  I was absolutely blown away by Past Master. I wish I’d read it earlier.

This novel is dense. Though it’s short, I could hardly believe it only weighed in around 190 pages when I looked it up online. The book took me as long to read as most 400+ page novels do, largely because I found myself so drawn into the premise, prose, and symbolism found throughout. There’s no question here that Lafferty has steeped this book in layers upon layers of meaning, to the point that unpacking it all would take quite a bit of study. Whether it’s the play upon “Evita” (Lilith? Eve? Someone else?), the way Lafferty interconnects discussions of Utopia with questions about the soul, or how dreams play out in faster-than-light travel, there are so many rabbit trails one could follow in this novel that reading it sometimes felt like work at times. But the work was enjoyable–like the work where you don’t want to stop. You’re loving it, and you’re good at it, and it’s got to be done!

There are whole scenes in this novel that had me re-reading them in order to try to pick up on more strands of meaning. One scene has Thomas More… wait, what? Yes, I forgot to mention that Thomas More–the one who wrote Utopia and was executed for not recognizing the annulment of King Henry’s marriage–is one of the main characters in the book. Let’s step back. The plot has Thomas More get fetched from his own time before his death to help rescue a future Utopia, but the inhabitants of the future Utopia apparently don’t realize that More’s Utopia was more a biting satire in Lafferty’s vision than it was a goal for a future society. Anyway, there’s a scene where Thomas More is confronted by a beautiful woman who tries to seduce him, apparently wanting to seduce a Saint, and More and her get in a lengthy conversation about the meaning of her name, Evita, and whether she is like Eve, the mother of life, or a Lilith-like seductress and wicked person, largely based upon her name. Twists and turns come fast and hard in the conversation, and it is a delight–especially for me as someone who knows a decent amount of church history and has studied Greek/Hebrew (only the basics!). Scenes like that, though, are found throughout the book.

There’s no question that Lafferty is offering the book as his own form of social commentary. Is a utopia with all needs met worth selling souls for? What is the church to become or do in such a society? What might Thomas More think of applying his thought to a real world situation? Mis-applying it? Is Lafferty really just making one extended commentary and pushback on Vatican II, as the introduction to the version I read briefly suggested? These questions warred in my consciousness while I read the book, though they never took away the enjoyment I had throughout, they simply added to it. Lafferty’s prose style is also great. As I said, it’s dense, but it also manages to be lyrical at times and full of wonder throughout.

Past Master is one of those novels that you read and realize it’s going to stick with you for a long time. I am so happy I finally got around to reading it, and I recommend it highly to you, fellow sci-fi/fantasy lovers! Heck, even if you don’t really care about sci-fi/fantasy, it’s a great read and occasional exploration of religious/science themes and more. Go read it!

Links

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!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

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.