The Second Annual Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC2) Begins! Here are Team Red Stars’ Slush Pile Reads

I am beyond thrilled to be a judge once again for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! The SPSFC can be shortened to “spacefic” (a la SPFBO being spiffbo), by the way! Here, I’d like to introduce all of our group’s “slush pile” reads. These are the reads that we are assigned to narrow down to quarter- and semi-finalists! I’ve posted covers, blurbs (shortened from Amazon), links to the books (affiliates), and my very short initial impression purely based on those two unless otherwise noted.

A Hardness of Minds by Eric Kay

Blurb

Against of backdrop of escalating tensions, double-sided revelations of first contact ripple through all involved as the probe attempts the first landing on the ice of Europa. The novel intertwines perspectives of Earth and under Europa as all struggle for truth.

Initial Thoughts

I like first contact and hard sci-fi, so I’m hoping to love this novel, too! The cover is quite striking in its stark simplicity.

All is Silence by Robert L. Slater

Blurb

A bat virus brought the world to its knees.
Lizzie had it worse than most. Will she give up?
At 17, Lizzie barely remembers her father. She needs to forget her mother’s loser boyfriends.
Surviving an apocalypse could push anyone to the unthinkable.
Lizzie’s shotgun is loaded.
Then she meets Spike.  

Initial Thoughts

Post-apocalyptic books are super hit-or-miss for me. They can trigger some latent anxiety, because the world already feels somedays like we’re headed there. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one strikes me!

Along the Perimeter by Steven Healt

Blurb

A caustic fog blankets the Earth. Only the transparent barrier known as the Shield holds it at bay. It is the Amboians—an advanced alien species—and their technology that saved the last remnants of Humanity from the deadly Haze…

As disturbing reports of attacks from beyond the perimeter of the Shield reach the capital city of Amboy, all eyes turn eastward.

Initial Thoughts

I already reviewed this book last year when I saw it in another group’s slush pile and even interviewed the author. My thoughts can be found there, but here I’ll just say that I think the book delivers on its premise for an epic introduction to a big world.

Blackthorne by Clayton W. Snyder

Blurb

Framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Haunted by the ghosts of his past. Incarcerated in the most notorious prison in the Freeholds. Fate has mauled Mattias Temple, a failed cadre necromancer, leaving him with little hope.

Initial Thoughts

Um… what? A necromancer, notorious prison, and military sci-fi-ish showing up all together? This reads like a premise I’ll love. I look forward to diving in.

Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere by Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Blurb

In 2029, Gabriel Martiniere testified against the Martiniere Group’s forced imposition of mind control programming on unwilling indentured workers.

For his pains, he was forced into exile for over thirty years. Forced to divorce the love of his life.

Initial Thoughts

Okay, I didn’t really even read the blurb before I started reading this one, which I selected somewhat at random. Now that I’ve started it, I don’t know how to say much without spoiling some of the surprises I’ve run into. Let’s just say I definitely didn’t look at the tagline “An Agripunk thriller” before I started, lol. I look forward to continuing it for my great sifting of the slush pile!

Celestial Awakening by Frank Lobue

Blurb

Nearly 1,500 years have passed since the Human race fled Gaia, Earth to the ancients, in an effort for survival and, with time, expansion among the stars. Through dwindling hopes, a mass collaboration brought Humanity back from the brink and not only did they survive, they thrived. The vestiges of the Human race formed the Gaian Interplanetary Alliance, the GIA, to continue their expansion, known as the Auctius, past their home solar system and beyond.

Initial Thoughts

Can someone say “Space Opera”? This premise reads like space opera on a high level. It’s one of my favorite sub-genres, so I am excited to know how this one strikes me.

EMP Strike by Bo Thunboe

Blurb

Dan Fallon is a courtroom warrior at the pinnacle of his profession. That’s what he knows—it’s who he is. As he’s driving back from the biggest victory of his career an electromagnetic pulse [EMP] wipes out modern civilization and strands him hundreds of miles away from his family.

Initial Thoughts

Okay, the Amazon description of this starts with “THE ROAD meets SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON” and I just…. what is that!? Lol, I have to find out.

Ever the Hero by Darby Harn

Blurb

Kit Baldwin can’t afford trouble, not in a city where superhuman Empowered offer their help only for a fee. But rent doesn’t wait so she scavenges the ruins for valuable artifacts from a crashed alien ship. When Kit discovers a powerful alien object, it pays off more than she ever hoped.

Initial Thoughts

I also read this one from another group’s slush for the heck of it, and then it ended up in our slush pile! This superhero-fueled sci-fi story deserves attention. Check out my review for my fuller (mostly spoiler free) thoughts.

Falcon Fire by Erik A. Otto

Blurb

On colonial Venus, people who are susceptible to lies have been denigrated and barred from the citizenry. Ancient dirigibles dock at the top of colossal towers to shunt people to and from underground cities. Armies of enclosed, beetle-shaped biocrawlers creep around the planet providing a coveted, yet deficient, natural environment. Colonists strive for an outdoor ecology to call their own, but terraforming is faltering.

There is growing unrest, and at the heart of this rift is Hix, a member of the Venusian underclass. He has risen from the tenements to become a renowned film star, until he is accused of murder. Neeva is destined to be Keeper, an esteemed protector of First Colony Heritage. She is also an inspector assigned to Hix’s case… and the victim happens to be her sister.

Initial Thoughts

I love me a good sci-fi mystery, so I’m ready to settle in and read this one once I get the chance. I also like the cover. There’s a lot of detail to sink into the longer I look at it.

Fid’s Crusade by David H. Reiss

Blurb

For more than two decades, the sight of Doctor Fid’s powered armor has struck terror into the hearts of hero and civilian alike. But when a personal tragedy motivates Doctor Fid to investigate a crime, a plot is uncovered so horrific that even he is taken aback. Haunted by painful memories and profound guilt, the veteran supervillain must race against time if he is to have any hope of confronting the approaching threat. Every battle takes its toll…but the stakes are too high for retreat to be an option.

Initial Thoughts

Another superhero story that promises drama! I love superhero novels, so I’m ready to see where this one takes me.

Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher

Blurb

The children are the future. And someone is turning them into highly trained killing machines.

Straight out of school, Griffin, a junior Investigations agent for the North American Trade Union, is put on the case: Find and close the illegal crèches. No one expects him to succeed, Griffin least of all.

Installed in a combat chassis Abdul, a depressed seventeen year old killed during the Secession Wars in Old Montreal, is assigned as Griffin’s Heavy Weapons support.

Nadia, a state-sanctioned investigative reporter working the stolen children story, pushes Griffin ever deeper into the nightmare of the black market brain trade.

Initial Thoughts

That got dark fast… the cover strikes me as badass sci-fi western. The blurb reads as nightmarish hellscape cyberpunk. We’ll see which it is (both?) when I sample it!

Heritage by S.M. Warlow

Blurb

25 years after the fall of Earth, the Commonwealth is locked in a vicious, galaxy-spanning war against the Revenant. Countless worlds have been lost in the fighting, and now one crew must come together and stand in the way of galactic annihilation.

Initial Thoughts

The blurb reads like an epic space opera with a traditional premise: spaceships and guns on an adventure to save the galaxy. Strap in, and let’s ride!

In Times of Peace by The Loneliest Lone Wolf

Blurb

When the life Alex had created away from his murky past is destroyed by creatures from the deepest and darkest parts of space, vengeance forces him to return to the path of war! But can he walk this path, when the ghosts of his past come back to haunt him?

Join him and an ensemble cast of characters as they try and find a place for themselves in a changing new world as their old world begins to collapse… lost souls in the vast star system trying to help each other find their true paths… just as a great War charges ahead on its path to them!

Initial Thoughts

I’m curious about this one for so many reasons. The cover; the pseudonym; what is going on with the big cast; everything.

Intelligence Block by Kit Falbo

Blurb

Talos June performs with the creed of never break character. It lets him hide his awkward self from the universe as the ancient and powerful Wizard Joontal. No one knows the man behind the curtain.

It is a good job, and he has his artificial companions to keep him company as he plays with the most fabulous technologies the colonized planets have produced. Technologies as dangerous as they are exciting.

Initial Thoughts

On Amazon the subtitle is “A Gamelit Inspired Space Opera” and I’m all about that premise.

Mercury’s Shadow by PJ Garcin

Blurb

Imogen “Chim” Esper is thrust into the center of an interplanetary conflict when her family is torn apart by the cruel and indifferent Kardashev Corporation. Forced to run, along with her robotic best friend, Chim struggles to find her place in a society that is poised for revolutionary transformation.

The Kardashev Corporation dominates all commerce and politics in the solar system. Its megalomaniac CEO, Alton Neal, is hell-bent on transforming society by capturing the full energy output of the sun through the creation of a Dyson Swarm.

Citizens of Earth and the stations throughout the system must band together to protect access to the lifeblood of the system or risk becoming permanently enslaved to the Kardashev Corporation.

Initial Thoughts

What’s this: a corporation in unfettered capitalism being evil? Say it ain’t so! I look forward to seeing what Garcin does with this premise.

Mother Savant by A.L. Hawke

Blurb

Savant Elise Jackson, Arkite’s supreme leader, is stricken with terrible grief over the recent loss of her lover. She has spent the last two years with her assistant, Sara, trying to repair and genetically engineer her lover’s damaged body and mind.

But the Viceroy of Pyramid City and her followers in the Savant Council have no interest in squandering the city’s resources for Elise’s personal gain. With the help of the mainframe AI, they will vie for power, even attempting collusion with Sara and sabotage.

Initial Thoughts

A Matriarchal society in sppppaaaaace. I dig it.

Novum Chronicles by Joseph Rhea

Blurb

As the last descendants of Earth struggle to survive beneath the surface of an alien ocean, one man’s discovery will lead him on a journey of redemption, while he fights to save what’s left of his world.

Jacob Stone is a man haunted by his past. When he reluctantly accepts a job to help pay for a cargo submarine he inherited but doesn’t want, he inadvertently awakens an ancient and terrible power. Its arrival triggers a chain of events that could destroy what’s left of the human race or be the key to its future. But, is it a future he’s willing to fight for, let alone die for?

Initial Thoughts

As a kid I was absolutely mesmerized by the show SeaQuest DSV (as an adult, apparently the last season is terrible, so I haven’t watched it because I don’t want to ruin those memories). I love the idea of humanity hiding under the sea. Submarines are super cool.

Of All Possibilities by Joe Butler

Blurb

What does someone who can slip between universes do for a living? They help shape the fate of this reality. When his grandfather dies, a young Eli Clarke takes over as the Key: an individual with the power to traverse the multiverse. Raised inside a cult that works with the government, he erases targets from the timeline. Then he meets Jess, a fellow outsider who shows him what it is to question everything. Set in the 80s, 90s, and now, OF ALL POSSIBILITIES is a dark universe-hopping, story about loss, identity, and obsession that explores the repercussions of the choices we make and what makes us who we are.

Initial Thoughts

The premise is haunting and promises to use time travel in an actual impactful way. I’m here for it.

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days by Drew Melbourne

Blurb

The year is 20018. The famed magician Illuminari is dead, and his greatest illusion has died with him. Dark forces now seek the Engine of Armageddon, the ancient, sentient doomsday weapon that Illuminari hid amongst the stars.

Enter Percival Gynt, accountant and part-time hero, whose quest to find the Engine before it falls into the wrong hands may be our universe’s last best hope for survival. It is a quest that will take him from the highest reaches of power to the lowest pits of despair and through every manner of horror and absurdity between.

But beware. This accountant has a secret. A secret that may damn us all.

Initial Thoughts

Is it a comedy? A serious time-travel novel? Something else entirely? I don’t know, but I am interested.

Pink Apocalypse by Carpenter Gibson

Blurb

Pink is a mysterious woman who walked out of the wastes. She is an up and coming member of the Patrol. They are the sheriffs of the wild wastes, taking on zombies, mutants, bandits and robots left over in the ruins.

Initial Thoughts

Something about the anime vibes of this cover and premise have me interested and this is the first book I grabbed on Kindle Unlimited from our stack. I haven’t started it yet, but rest assured, I’ll share my thoughts when I do!

Qubit by Finn Mack

Blurb

An ambitious Singapore gangster recruits an elite hacker to steal a devastatingly powerful quantum computer and hijack the world’s financial markets. Meanwhile, a beautiful streetwise CIA agent is determined to foil their plan in a case that could make or break her career. With settings ranging from Detroit to Singapore to the slums of Bihar, India (the “Sicily of India”), *Qubit* examines both the vulnerability of our cryptographic infrastructure and corruptibility of our financial systems. The story features international intrigue, a violent gang war, an unlikely love story, and an intricate cryptographic chess match that takes place as the global economy teeters on the brink of collapse.

Initial Thoughts

Will this be a math-filled novel about cryptography or something else entirely? I don’t know, but the premise has me wondering what direction it will take the global economy chess match.

Skein of Fates by Leslie Ann Moore

Blurb

Nuetierra. An alien world where twin moons light the night and massive air-breathing jellyfish float through the violet skies trolling for prey. Nue Bayona. A gaslit, steam-powered city caught between the iron fist of a despot and the bloody fist of a terrorist… Four hundred years have passed since The Great War toppled the technologically advanced colonial civilization created by refugees fleeing a dying planet. Since its fall, the descendants of the survivors have gradually rebuilt a new society on the bones of the old.

Initial Thoughts

The blurb has a ton of info in it (I only posted a fraction of it here), and I gotta say, it strikes me as potential for an epic space opera with a huge cast. I’m very excited to dive into this one.

Sudden Death by L.L. Richman

Blurb

Fresh off his first Marine deployment, Boone must now choose between two schools: Intelligence or Scout Sniper. Though he’s shown clear aptitude for the second, he’s not sure he has what it takes to do the job.

When he puts the decision aside to join his buddies on a day of leave, the last thing Boone expects to see is a naval weapons locker in the hands of a man who is clearly not Navy. On impulse, he shadows the man, only to find himself running for his life… smack into a Unit operator.

Initial Thoughts

If this is a military sci-fi novel about a sniper I think it could be totally awesome.

The Treasure of Lor-Rev by Bryan Asher

Blurb

One discovery has unimaginable consequences…

While searching a deserted mountain range, an explorer locates a high-tech artifact he assumes is merely another interesting find. It’s only one piece in a greater puzzle leading towards a device of ultimate power, the Diffusor-Sphere. Suddenly, he’s thrown into a battle between an engineer who’s remade himself as a cybernetic demigod, and the one tasked with safeguarding humanity from him. The only way out is recovering the Sphere first, but will he reach it in time?

Initial Thoughts

Space archaeology is one of my favorite things. It doesn’t sound like this will have a ton of that, but the lost lore/artifact/etc. thing is something I am absolutely a sucker for. Is this Space Indiana Jones? We’ll see.

The Astral Hacker by Brian Terenna

Blurb

In 2120, New America is the world leader in technology and individual freedom. Why, then, has seventeen-year-old Fae Luna felt like an isolated prisoner her entire life? She survived the worst of the foster care system by honing her skills as a top-level hacker and thanks to the support of her humanoid robot, Sunny, who is illegally upgraded to a human-level AI. Finally, she’s matched with a foster mom who treats her kindly. Fae slowly lets her guard down until a suspicious tragedy tears them apart. 

Initial Thoughts

I think the premise for this dystopia-cyberpunk mashup (based on the blurb, that’s what I’m calling it) sounds neat. Dystopias need a twist to make them interesting, so lets see of Brian Terenna brings it!

There Are No Countries by Marshall Smith

Blurb

Scouting crews arrive on newly discovered Dandros to find it ripe with life and fresh for colonization. There are no people and no vertebrate animals. But there is one castle, and one statue of a man known as the anomaly. Energy resonates from the head of this monument of times past where instruments and machinery probe the anomaly’s head and its empty keep, the only signs of civilization. It mourns for its love, speaks of its demise, and tells the humble beginnings of Dandros. It is kept under lock and key for the stories it tells. They learn that his name is Doug, a traveler from long ago, and he had prayed to a being known as the Goddess. Doug’s energy mentions her endlessly just before he had turned to stone. He had been making plans for her physical arrival on Dandros.

Initial Thoughts

The blurb for this reads like some zany New Wave sci-fi from Robert Silverberg way back when, and readers who know me know I love me some Silverberg. We’ll see where this wacky story leads us.

The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall by Chris Dolley

Blurb

Wodehouse steampunk version of The Hound of the Baskervilles!

Initial Thoughts

Welp, that blurb basically says it all. If it can execute, it should be quite the intriguing tale.

Tracker220 by Jamie Krakover

Blurb

When everyone has a brain-interfacing tracking chip, one glitch threatens the entire network.

Kaya Weiss is that glitch.

Through thoughts and blinks, Kaya can access anyone or anything on the tracker network. But the authorities monitor everything—where Kaya goes, who she talks to, and what she searches. And without the ability to turn it off, Kaya and her family can’t observe a tech-free Shabbat. To fix the glitch, the authorities slice into her skull to reset her tracker, leaving Kaya to question more than the system’s invasion into her faith.

Initial Thoughts

I read this one on a whim after the end of the last SPSFC. It’s a kind of YA dystopia with some great twists and turns, and I’ll have fuller thoughts and a review coming up.

Unplugged by J.B. Taylor

Blurb

Zendaya Fernwood carries with her a secret. The world around her is a lie, an ingeniously designed digital prison for the mind. Escape occupies her every thought. Freedom is her goal and nothing will stop her from unplugging. What awaits Zendaya is a fate far worse than she could have imagined. Beyond her prison is a scorched earth where man and machine wage war in a seemingly endless campaign of suffering. There is hope on the horizon, a unique figure with the potential of rising from the shadows of the scorched earth to make a difference. To finally, after so very long, give humans the freedom they deserve.

Initial Thoughts

Sounds like “The Matrix.” Sign me the hell up.

Conclusion

Let me know which books you plan to read/check out! Are there any you’ve read already? Share all your thoughts in the comments.

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.

“Ever the Hero” by Darby Harn- An SPSFC Review

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.

Ever the Hero by Darby Harn

Kit finds an alien artifact as she’s scavenging through the ruins of her city for something to sell. When she goes to swap it, she gets caught up in the tragic story of Valene, a super-powered woman who can hear everything, everywhere, all the time. Her suffering from this power is great, and Kit finds herself trying to manipulate the artifact to help the ailing super.

In Ever the Hero, Harn tells a superhero tale that has several twists on genre tropes. Most of these twists can be found elsewhere (like existing non-powered in a super-powered society; having superheroes be… less than heroic, etc.), but the combination Harn weaves is enough to make it all feel fresh and new.

I was especially taken by the relationship between Kit and Valene, which has enough wrinkles in it to be raw and exciting by turns. Are they going to survive? Do they love each other? Can they? And, of course, what of the aliens and the mysterious artifacts they’ve left behind that seem to grant super powers to some individuals and not others? There are many questions of this type raised throughout the novel, and while some answers are given, others are left for later in the series.

Ever the Hero tells fantastic superhero story. It has enough twists to keep even this comic book fan interested in seeing what’s going to happen next. I highly recommend it.

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.

“Convergence” by Michael Patrick Hicks – An SPSFC Review

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.

Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks

Jonah Everitt is a hired gun who steals memories for others after killing the people who made those memories. After one kill gets him in trouble with the Wrong People, he becomes embroiled in a complex web of politics, narcotics, and international espionage.

The premise should clue readers in to what they’re getting into. This is a cyberpunk mystery along the lines of Altered Carbon though with bigger implications. It has a lot of the same gritty feel, but that grittiness comes along with plenty of content warnings. Sexual violence, extreme violence, mild misogyny, and drug abuse are rampant throughout the novel. It’s not a pretty world, and it’s hard to know where Hicks himself might come down on some of the “yuck factor” content therein. The world is just there, it’s rarely reflected upon or critiqued.

The characters are similarly there. None of them stood out to me in any major ways, but they get the job done as far as the plot goes. The story itself is, again, what one might expect from a cyberpunk thriller: a smattering of future tech-y stuff combines with Forbidden Power and the big political minds want to get their hands on it. It makes for a read that never slows down.

Convergence is a thrilling read. For readers less turned off by some of the content noted above, it will likely be a great read to get into a new series.

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.

“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.

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.

“Broken Ascension” by Dave Walsh- A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Book 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.

Broken Ascension by Dave Walsh

Drake is an artist on a ragtag ship full of strange personalities as they fly through a warzone from the now ended human-Gra’al war. When they discover a package on a Gra’al ship that contains a baby, the crap hits the fan as they have to go on the run for a Gra’al Warlord bent on reigniting war between species.

Reading that summary, many sci-fi readers will immediately think a kind of Firefly or Becky Chambers-esque found family crew with a heart, and they wouldn’t be too far off from the feel of the novel. If that’s your jam, I can almost guarantee you’ll find Broken Ascension a read worth checking out. It’s definitely my kind of novel, with plenty of action to go along with a plot that keeps everything moving along at a good clip.

One typical thing about books in this subgenre is having that ragtag crew of adventurers feel unique and over-the-top without really being too over-the-top (“I don’t know… fly casual!”). One twist in this one is that apart from the found family vibes here, Drake’s dad is also on the ship. The crew is full of personalities, but some of those personalities fade into the background of the adventures of Drake and the Gra’al babe, Bruce (it makes sense as a name in the book). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it keeps the plot tightly focused, but it did make me want more from some of the other characters, a few of whom we only get glimpses here and there of what their personalities might be like or why they’re along for the ride.

The adventure itself is worth taking, with questions about war, justice, and xenophobia abounding. What would it take to heal scars of war, particularly in the immediate aftermath? While these questions never take over the plot, they’re welcome additions to supplement the story’s frenetic pace with some thoughtful moments. Another notable thing I appreciated was the treatment of religious questions. Walsh takes an even-keeled approach, neither heavily favoring nor strongly condemning religion generally but rather presenting it as a fact of life and reality for many people and species. It’s a good approach that makes it feel more realistic.

Broken Ascension is great for readers who enjoy space adventures. It’s got plenty of edge-of-your-seat action, but also has deeper characterization, for some, than might be expected.

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SDG.

“The Dinosaur Four” by Geoff Jones- A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Book 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.

The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones

A café in Denver is suddenly ripped from the pavement and dropped into the Cretaceous period in the same place, along with several diners. The people inside have to figure out what happened, avoid the dangerous dinos, and see if they can get back home.

The action gets going basically immediately, as the characters encounter a small array of dinosaurs and dinosaur-adjacent wildlife. As anyone who is even vaguely aware of how massive dinosaurs are and how deadly even small ones appear to have been, the implications should be quite ominous. What made the book the most fun for me is how it’s a kind of inverted Jurassic Park. Instead of humans bringing dinosaurs to life and dealing with the implications, here it’s humans going back in time (accidentally) and being trapped in a world with dinosaurs. Survival is not guaranteed.

The plot moves on at a good clip, and Jones introduces one element that basically slaps a timer on the events happening. I thought that was a good move because it added a sense of urgency to the story which was already fast paced. This turned up the action to frenetic in the best possible way. I found myself burning through the book quickly because I wanted to know what would happen next.

One of the characters seemed especially gross to me. There was latent and overt misogyny coming through that character’s viewpoint, to the extent that at first I almost wondered if it was narrative voice. Suffice to say that is not the case. The incel vibes are intentional, but they’re part of a building plot throughout the book that came to a satisfying end. I only point this out specifically because it was initially very off-putting for me, personally, and wanted other readers to know to persevere.

The Dinosaur Four is a hugely enjoyable romp. It’s the kind of read that’s excellent while enjoying the weather outside or flying on an airplane. It’s not going to make you think too hard. Instead, there are dinosaurs, there is action, and it’s fun to read. Recommended.

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The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“Iron Truth” by S.A. Tholin- An SPSFC Finalist 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!

Iron Truth by S.A. Tholin

Iron Truth is a doorstopper of a science fiction novel. The plot primarily follows two characters on a far-off planet. One, Joy, was stranded there when her ship crashed while she was in cryogenic sleep; the other, Cassimer, is a soldier searching for a secret on the planet.

The characters are strong, and fully formed. They develop immensely over the course of the novel. Looking back over the expanse of pages, it is awesome how Tholin moves the characters in ways that make sense. I would say Joy and Cassimer both feel fleshed out, with motivations that make sense or don’t, just as those of real people do. Other characters get viewpoint chapters later, and I admit to not enjoying them as much. At that point, my investment Joy and Cassimer was too strong to be set alongside others.

The world-building is also a strong point. The Primaterre organization, in which Cassimer is a soldier, has many things akin to Warhammer 40,000. Its demands of allegiance, purity, and railing against heresy are highlights. The world never felt derivative, though. The similarities are superficial, and indeed some later plot reveals make the whole thing kind of stand on its head. I could get lost in this world, and did get lost (in a good way) at times as I read the book.

The novel’s main problem is, in fact, its length. I don’t mind long books. What makes the lengthiness of the novel problematic is that so much of it is unnecessary. I legitimately think that 50% of this novel could be cut without meaningfully losing any plot, character-building, or world-building. That’s a huge problem for a book of this length. At times, I found myself forcing myself forward because I just wanted something to happen. Tholin does string along multiple high points throughout the story. Some twists hit extremely hard, and others reveal major plot details. These were major highlights of my reading time, often leading to me pausing or a while to mull them over. But these moments are so spread out that it gets difficult at times to forge onward. The world and characters make it worth reading, but only with some frustration at how much it seems should be cut.

Iron Truth is a frustrating read. Its highs are among the highest in the whole contest. But those highs are distributed among lengthy–very lengthy–portions of story in which little-to-nothing happens. With a major round of editing, I believe this could be one of the best reads in the contest. As it stands, it is uneven. I enjoyed my time, but felt I spent too much of it here. Recommended for fans of massive worldbuilding space operas.

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The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“In the Orbit of Sirens” by T.A. Bruno- 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!

In the Orbit of Sirens by T.A. Bruno

Humans are on the run, seeking refuge on a remote planet that holds more threats than it might initially seem. In the Orbit of Sirens is a space opera that features fantastic world-building and plenty of action to keep the story moving.

The major threads in the story are about the human refugees, a mysterious illness spreading among them, the resident lifeforms of the planet they landed upon, and an ancient threat that endangers them all. There’s a lot going on in the book, in other words, and with that comes a broad assortment of characters and settings. Space opera is absolutely the right description for this book. It’s got the drama and depth of an epic.

The story itself builds throughout the book, just as the world humans are exploring is built around them as the reader continues. The world-building is a huge strength of the book, as is Bruno’s penchant for pushing the plot along with punctuated action whenever it seems to be on the verge of getting too slow. As readers learn about the birdlike Auk’nai, the indigenous population of the planet, they discover a grand culture and nature populated in realistic ways. If there’s one area that I personally felt was a weakness, it would be the depth of the characters. There are many of them, and some of them don’t get enough development to make them as interesting as I’d hoped they’d be in such a rich setting. While they aren’t the deepest people brought to print, Bruno makes good use of them, including some surprising moments near the end. I also thought the book nailed the ending, leaving more avenues for exploration without it feeling like a letdown or a clear cliffhanger “gotcha” moment.

There are a surprising number of elements found in this book, too. There’s a helping of first contact, a little cosmic horror, a dose of space opera, and some thriller sprinkled on top for good measure. It makes the book feel fresh all the way through. The stakes are raised throughout the book, but I also struggled to get a full grasp on exactly how urgent the plight of humanity was in the novel. Was this a localized threat or was it truly a cosmic, possibly extinction-level threat that was happening? I do know that this book was enough of setup to get me interested in the next one.

A note about the audiobook, for those who enjoy them: I thought the reader for this one, Michael Reimer, did a fine job. It wasn’t too slow–an issue I often have–and I appreciated his range with voices and small effects here and there. Those looking to supplement their reading with some listening would do well checking this one out on audio.

In the Orbit of Sirens is a great space opera with enough world developed to set up for future installments. I found it an exciting read, and one that I’d recommend to other fans of the genre.

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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.