There were 5 slots left on my “yes” list for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest but 15 books in the running. That means I need to eliminate 2 out of every 3 books. To do so, I decided to commit to fully reading these 15 books (or, minimally, reading until I decide it’s not for me) and pitting them against each other for the final 5 slots. I had to re-think my reading to do this, because I enthusiastically put too many books on the “yes” stack to start off. So, for the sake of seeding, each former “yes” goes up against two “maybe” books (except for one post where two higher seeds will face off).
Memories of the Khassos by Leah Flaherty
The first 10-20% of this novel had me intrigued by a world-hopping adventure that seemed to blend some elements of hard sci-fi, dystopia, and, frankly, whimsy. As I read the rest of the novel, though, it didn’t ever get over the hump. That is, the premise of the world never seemed fully to be cashed in. There are supposedly numerous civilizations on the line here, but we don’t get enough of a view of any of them as a reader to become invested in their setting. Are they civilizations worth saving? One, hinted at early on, seems to be something of a police-state. But that’s it–we just get hints. The characters feel the same way. While a few of the main characters get fleshed out over time, most of the others seem to be just their as props, barely carrying along the plot. There’s not enough flavor to this world, and that’s a shame, because I think the potential for a wonderful read is there. I thought Flaherty’s prose was a strong point. The Memories of Khassos was initially intriguing, but ultimately it’s getting the cut.
Extinction Reversed by J. S. Morin
I hugely enjoyed J.S. Morin’s Black Ocean series, which is like “Firefly” with magic (and it does work and feel about that way). So, when I first sampled this book, I was surprised it wasn’t an immediate yes. I threw it on the “maybe” stack and figured I’d give it a deeper go later. I’m glad I did, because while I haven’t had the chance to fully read the book, once I got past the confusion with names and places that was piled into the front portion of the book, the plot truly takes off. It becomes an interesting look at how AI and robotic life might examine itself and try to find a place in the world. It also picks up more of the humor and personable characters that I expected from familiarity with some of Morin’s (huge) corpus. I have been enjoying it hugely ever since, and it has moved up the pile.
Things They Buried by Amanda K. King and Michael R. Swanson
I have such mixed feelings here, because Things They Buried is quite the strong work, as well. It’s all about world-building here. There are several different alien(ish) factions here battling for control in a cityscape that is as depressing as it is hope-filled. The characters are fighting against an evil threat that is stealing and harming children. There are dark themes and awful violence here, but its for a purpose and never feels, so far as I can tell, exploitative or pointless. The book is also relentlessly dense, forcing an intense focus as you’re reading it. This is a science fantasy not to be missed by fans of the subgenre, and certainly more so if you enjoy the darker side of storytelling while still having hope even in the midst of atrocity.
Round 1 Status
Battle Royale Round 4 may have been the most difficult of them all. These books each have many merits, and they each bring entirely different things to the table. Memories of the Khassos didn’t quite live up to a promising start, but stands as an interesting enough, if disjointed, story. Things They Buried vs. Extinction Reversed is a tough battle, and I ultimately decided that Extinction Reversed is my choice, though it was very, very close. I’ll be interested to see what my fellow reviewers think of these books. Let me know your own thoughts in the comments!
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