“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.

“Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire” by G.M. Nair- An SPSFC Review

We’re reading finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and I’ll have reviews up here for every single one! For more coverage of the contest, including many, many reviews and some interviews with authors, check out my SPSFC Hub!

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

Michael Duckett and his roommate Stephanie Dyer are Private Investigators–they just don’t know it at the beginning of the book. Duckett just wants to get a date, get the girl, and move on with life. Dyer wants… well that seems to change on a whim. When people start disappearing and others start demanding Duckett and Dyer investigate, they get roped into a plot that’s bigger than either of them anticipated.

I think credit where it’s due is important, and I want to say that the cover for this book and its tongue-in-cheek title were hugely enjoyable. Every time I see the cover, I get a little smirk. Kudos for a well-designed indie book.

Anyway, the meat of the novel is its comedy. The plot is there mostly as a vehicle for throwing the characters into ridiculous scenarios where their synergy (or lack thereof) can be tested. There is some character development through the novel–Michael perhaps learns some about himself, and Stephanie shows she’s not entirely useless–but the rubber hits the road on their comedic interplays. Many of the scenes read as though they’re set pieces to launch a clever line from one or the other character. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Nair’s sense of humor struck me, at least, in the right ways. It does, however, get a bit stretched out over the course of the story. I felt some relief when one major plot reveal happened that allowed a focus less on the humor and more on a plot that was happening.

Readers who like plot as a vessel for comedy should be right at home here, and it’s a sub-genre with a venerable tradition in science fiction. Nair doesn’t bring the acerbic bite of satire to the table; instead, the comedy here is more slapstick or character comedy. It’s a read that would do great on a beach or a plane ride: it’s light, fun, and leaves readers feeling satisfied afterwards. Those looking for a strong plot or serious science should look elsewhere.

Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire is a fun romp that fans of comedic sci-fi should read. It brought a lot of smiles to my face, and I suspect other readers would feel the same.

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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.

“Steel Guardian” by Cameron Coral- An SPSFC Book Review

We’re reading finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and I’ll have reviews up here for every single one! For more coverage of the contest, including many, many reviews and some interviews with authors, check out my SPSFC Hub!

Steel Guardian by Cameron Coral

Block is a CleanerBot who just wants to do what he’s programmed to do: clean a hotel. When readers start the story, we’re dropped into a post-apocalyptic world in which an AI uprising led to widescale destruction and killing of humans. Pockets of humans survive, and robots are aggressively hunting them.

Block, though, is trying to find the perfect hotel to keep clean. He’s struggled to do so due to the state of disrepair or destruction of several he’s encountered. Nevertheless, he presses on. Eventually, as he’s taking cover from some fighting with SoldierBots, he finds an infant that he decides to take care of. In doing so, he works to nab a human woman being sold at auction by malevolent bots, meets up with more humans, and goes on a bigger adventure than he’d been planning.

Steel Guardian is a comfort read type of book, in my opinion. It’s fairly predictable so far as the plot goes, and the attitude of Block makes even the most intense action scenes read as just another step along the way. Block is a fine narrator, though he’s clearly confused about how the world works at times. This makes him more endearing than he may otherwise have been. The narrative voice from Block is perhaps not quite alien enough [or robotic enough] to feel anything other than human [read: robot], but it gets close enough to suspend disbelief. The few twists near the end made the setting more interesting. It remains a bit generic, in my opinion, but the major plot details that are revealed late in the game do bring up some interesting questions.

I did, however, have some difficulties with the book. For one, characters appear and drop off at extremely convenient moments and basically always do exactly what they need to in order for the main plot to advance. And here, I need to elucidate a specific example. When Block starts off the story, he’s traveling with a Vacuubot, a rather simple-minded bot with an interactive interface that basically just makes smiley faces like “=-)” or frowning faces in the same vein. I was immediately drawn to this Vacuubot as a kind of cute tag-along with some potentially momentous smiley faces about to drop. For the first 10-20% of the story, I was riveted to its interactions with Block. But then, when Block is forced to go looking for a power source, he leaves Vacuubot behind. When the crap hits the fan, he’s unable to immediately retrieve his buddy bot, but then… he never does. Vacuubot is just left in the woods for the remainder of the book and the only reference later is that Block at one point wishes he’d been able to stay in the woods with the other robot and that would have meant death for him. Well, apparently it does mean death for Vacuubot! =-(, indeed! Worse, the implications of this are never really acknowledged by Block. I just wanted the robot buddy comedy to continue. This is the most egregious of the times in which this happens, but more than once characters just pop in and out whenever it’s most convenient for the sake of plot. It makes it feel more contrived than it ought to.

There are a few plot threads that got more interesting as the story went on, especially the question of the malevolent AI and why robots are so interested in chasing a baby down. These made the story interesting front-to-back. I never got bored reading the book, despite the issues I mentioned.

Steel Guardian is a good robot-centered read. Fans of AIs, robots, and post-apocalyptic settings 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.

SPSFC Book Review: “Mazarin Blues” by Al Hess

The SPSFC started with 300 books and narrowed it down to 30 semi-finalists. I’ll be reviewing every semi-finalist, as well as several books from other group’s slush piles that looked interesting to me.

Mazarin Blues by Al Hess

In the future, U.S. citizens are required to have AI tech riding around in their heads in order to identify themselves, make purchases, and more. A subculture has developed around an art deco style. They wear colors, accessories, and push back against tech requirements. Reed, our protagonist, has a newly-updated (against his choice) AI that has named itself “Mazarin,” acknowledging Reed’s love of the color blue. Reed is a hep cat art deco guy who struggles to fit in at work. Mazarin encourages him to find dates, go out with friends, and embrace himself for who he is.

Let’s get this out of the way: Mazarin Blues is a relentlessly stylish, book. It’s a hep cat in between dust jackets. Hess has clearly thought about the idea of this art deco subculture quite a bit, and, for this reader at least (with little knowledge of art deco/etc.), the slang, style, and records that go with it were totally believable. The development of this subculture is the primary piece of worldbuilding in the book, and it absolutely shines all the way through. The world is absolutely believable, and the development of the subculture makes sense contextually. Even the aspects of the world that hint at the government control and conspiracy theories about rogue AIs are woven intricately together into a cohesive whole.

The story itself is a kind of slice-of-life narrative that follows Reed as he looks for love, Mazarin as the AI seeks to figure itself out, and a broader plot of how the Beta AIs are driving some owners to horrible acts or self-harm. Reed is a fantastic protagonist who makes mistakes, has flaws, and sometimes gets things figured out. Mazarin is an intriguing AI, and there are enough twists in the plot to keep the narrative moving.

This story, though, isn’t the kind to whip through in an afternoon. It’s one you want to sit down with a mixed drink and savor over the course of several evenings. You can feel the essence of the world and story as you read. Queer representation is found throughout the story, and they never feel like placeholders are checked boxes. They’re all people, living their lives within the world Hess has created.

Mazarin Blues is a stylish, character-driven science fiction story that delivers a wonderful experience. It’s got great vibes all the way through, and makes you relate to its main characters. Highly recommended.

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.