SPSFC Book Review: “The Nothing Within” by Andy Giesler

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and while the semi-finalists are out, I’ve been circling back and reading through books from other groups that looked intriguing.

The Nothing Within by Andy Giesler

A plague knocked out most of the human population centuries ago. Now, Root lives in a society with rigid traditions and structures that they believe is the only way to survive. Meanwhile, readers dive into journal entries and a few other tastes of the past to help outline what’s happening in the novel’s present.

I wouldn’t call The Nothing Within kaleidoscopic in its storytelling, though it borrows some from that style. Instead, Root’s story grounds the other writings that are contained in the novel. And Root’s story is just phenomenally told. The narrative voice that Giesler gives Root makes everything feel not just interesting but also utterly believable and real. It’s a totally convincing narrative voice that makes reading the book feel like stepping into someone else’s head at times.

The world Giesler created is interesting, but a bit more generic than the narrative voice. It’s got some of the hallmarks of dystopia/post-apocalyptic to it, but Giesler gives enough twists to keep it engaging all the way through. The most important thing is that it’s understandable how society developed as it did once you read more of the story.

The real draw here, though, is following Root’s story as she comes of age and gets old, letting readers into the mind of someone whose life mattered in a society that needed some change. And Giesler absolutely nails that, making this a must-read for fans of the subgenre.

The Nothing Within is a great read for those who enjoy different takes on post-apocalyptic fiction. Recommended.

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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.

SPSFC2 First Impressions: “Mercury’s Shadow,” “Ever the Hero,” and “A Hardness of Minds”

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (“SPACEFIC”) is underway, and my group is going through one of my favorite parts of the contest: sorting through a slush pile. Basically, we get a stack of books and need to sample them all to narrow down our selections for quarter- and semi-finalists. Here, I’ll be going over my first impressions of some of these books. Please note my “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe” vote is only indicative of my opinion and may not reflect the opinion of our whole group. Since we advance books as a group, it’s possible a “Yes” from me may end up a “No” overall and vice versa. Let me know what you think of the books in the comments!

Mercury’s Shadow by PJ Garcin

Humanity struggles as the ultra-rich determine the future, and the way it happens here is when one corporate autocrat decides to basically dyson sphere the sun with micro-robots. The twists so far have been somewhat predictable, and the contrast between the down-on-her-luck MC and the others is an expected trope. But tropes are tropes for a reason, and here the characters are done quite well with the drama building steadily through the first 20%. It has a fun YA feel to it that I find extremely endearing. It’s a “yes” because I want to read more.

Ever the Hero by Darby Harn

I read this one from another group’s slush pile last year because I love superhero stories. 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. The plot has the “wrong side of the tracks” vibe with Kit, while also taking into account race, economic disparity, and more, wrapping all of it up into a compelling superhero story.

This one’s a yes. It’s a great read, which I recommend!

A Hardness of Minds by Eric Kay

I have feelings about this one. The first chapter of the book didn’t really grab me. It felt kind of like a generic near-future in which a character is trying to get a space expedition going. But then I discovered the chapters alternate (so far) between that perspective and that of aliens living under the ice of Europa. The second, alien perspective is fascinating, as characters struggle with the theological questions of what would happen if the ice were breached (would null space take over!?) and fighting against supposed scientific progress. It was a fascinating perspective even if the aliens didn’t quite feel alien enough. When I sit back and think about whether to mark books as “yes” or “no” (or hedge with “maybe”) the question I ask is mostly do I personally want to read more of this book? For me, the alien perspective made A Hardness of Minds a Yes.

Conclusion

Yeah… apparently I’m loving our slush pile yet again. Very few “no’s” showing up so far, and even they have some good qualities to them. I’m gonna either have to rely on my fellow group members to have their votes decide or we’re going to have a lot of reorganizing/ranked choice voting to figure out our quarterfinalists! But this is a great problem to have. It shows the breadth and depth of the indie sci-fi field, which is exactly what we want!

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Links

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

SPSFC2 First Impressions: “Tracker220,” “Qubit,” and “Along the Perimeter”

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (“SPACEFIC”) is underway, and my group is going through one of my favorite parts of the contest: sorting through a slush pile. Basically, we get a stack of books and need to sample them all to narrow down our selections for quarter- and semi-finalists. Here, I’ll be going over my first impressions of some of these books. Please note my “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe” vote is only indicative of my opinion and may not reflect the opinion of our whole group. Since we advance books as a group, it’s possible a “Yes” from me may end up a “No” overall and vice versa. Let me know what you think of the books in the comments!

Tracker220 by Jamie Krakover

People have implanted devices that let them basically be walking repositories of information and neural networks connected with others. But Kaya questions the validity of the system as it prevents her family from Shabbat observance in the way they’d prefer. Moreover, her Tracker seems to have a glitch that lets her access anyone and anything. This sets her on the run from the authorities and throws her in with some members of a budding resistance community. The novel reads as a YA-aimed dystopia, and since that’s right in my alley, I had a blast reading and sampling this one. It’s a “yes” from me.

Qubit by Finn Mack

Quantum computers are the goal in this tightly paced (so far) techno-thriller by Finn Mack. A few different viewpoints offer ratcheting tension throughout the early stages of the book, and I was easily sold on the hard sci-fi/techno-thriller mashup. Some mathematics and made up science accompany some real science and mafia-esque action behind the scenes. I’m enjoying my time with Qubit and plan to finish it even if it doesn’t advance from our group. “Yes” from me, now excuse me while I keep reading.

Along the Perimeter by Steven Healt

A young man lives “along the perimeter” of a shield that keeps out a malevolent gas and raiders that threaten the last vestiges of humanity. An alien race paints itself as benevolent saviors of humanity–but are they, really? This atmospheric first entry in what’s to be a lengthy science fantasy epic had me thinking of some of my favorite epic fantasy novels for its world-building. The world really is the star of the novel, as layers are peeled back in interesting ways throughout. I actually read this book last SPSFC on a whim from another group’s slush pile, so I have a full review and even an author interview! As one might guess, this is a “Yes.”

Conclusion

One might notice I have 3 “yes” votes in this batch, and going with my previous two batches, I’m already at 6 “yes” votes. Maybe I say “yes” too easily, but the good news (or bad news) is that if we have too many “yes” votes we just do a ranked choice and the top votes move on! As always, I’d love to read your thoughts on these books. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Links

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

“ARvekt” by Craig Lea Gordon – 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.

ARvekt by Craig Lea Gordon

Tannis Ord was an assassin fighting against brain hackers, but her mind suffered major damage. Malevolent AIs, corporate espionage, and hacking threaten Ord as she tries to figure out what’s happening.

As we open ARvekt, it’s unclear what’s reality and what is artificial. This is especially clear as we watch one character’s head get blown apart–only to discover it was Artificial Reality imposing on the real world. The lines between reality and non-reality are blurred intentionally throughout the book. Gordon does well using this to hide some plot twists longer than might otherwise have been possible.

The increasing threat of AI and brain hackers is interspersed with scenes about politicking about the same, and I admit the latter scenes began to feel sluggish especially in comparison to other action packed setups. Ord’s mind added another layer of unreality to events as readers have to try to figure out if it’s her own psychosis leading to observations or what she’s really–or not really?–seeing.

All these layers at times make the book a bit hard to follow. Seasoned Cyberpunk fans, though, I suspect will love strapping and and jumping down this rabbit hole to figure out where it might come out. What makes the book especially interesting, though, is the fusion of AR/AI/and our reality in ways that seem impossible now but aren’t implausible. What would and will happen as VR/AR becomes stronger and more people are integrated into it?

ARvekt is a stylish cyberpunk thriller that is perhaps too twisty. Recommended for fans of the subgenre and those with an interest in AI and/or Artificial Reality.

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.

SPSFC2 First Impressions: “Ghosts of Tomorrow,” “All is Silence,” and “Unplugged”

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (“SPACEFIC”) is underway, and my group is going through one of my favorite parts of the contest: sorting through a slush pile. Basically, we get a stack of books and need to sample them all to narrow down our selections for quarter- and semi-finalists. Here, I’ll be going over my first impressions of some of these books. Please note my “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe” vote is only indicative of my opinion and may not reflect the opinion of our whole group. Since we advance books as a group, it’s possible a “Yes” from me may end up a “No” overall and vice versa. Let me know what you think of the books in the comments!

Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher

Okay, fair warning, this one’s graphically violent. That tends to be off-putting for me, especially when it involves children, as it does at times in this novel. But the violence fits the narrative and doesn’t ever seem pointless. And that narrative is fascinating, bouncing between a few viewpoints between a corporate bureaucrat trying to extend life no matter the cost and other, more action-packed viewpoints that center around the consequences of unfettered capital and the lust for endless life. I’m not really into grimdark/huge amounts of violence, but the characters in this one sucked me in. The plot moves quickly, too, making each scene read as a pivotal piece. The intricate, well-paced plot has me slotting this as a “yes.”

All is Silence by Robert L. Slater

A near-future post-apocalypse after a worldwide plague wipes out a huge percentage of the population. When Lizzie connects with a few people from her life who remain alive, some embark on a quest to survive. As I sampled this, I kept thinking I wanted something more from it to push it over the edge to be of more interest. It is well-written and interesting, but feels somewhat generic to me. The budding love interest plot has some moments that I didn’t enjoy, such as when one character specifically instructs the other not to touch/kiss/etc. and then that character still kisses the other on the cheek when they’re asleep. I know it’s a little thing, but if the plot is going in the direction of a love interest–as it potentially seems to be–I don’t like the notion of it starting off that way. The world is interesting–feeling just like our own sans billions of people–and I was enjoying seeing where Lizzie might take herself. The story hits a bit close to home, of course, with a global pandemic. But shades of more going on (like zombies… maybe?) show up in the background. It’s well written, but reads somewhat generically to me. At this stage I’m leaning “no” on this one.

Unplugged by J.B. Taylor

A dystopic surveillance state with shades of religious exploitation and a detective trying to avoid it all and break out? There are shades of “The Matrix” and “Equilibrium” here, and within the first few percent I was sold on the premise. I am interested to see where the plot goes, and I love the shades of religious language found for the dystopic world as well. It’s got the hallmarks of a great dystopia, and I’m very engaged in finding out what’s happening next. It’s a “yes.”

Conclusion

What did you think of these books? Which sound interesting to you? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to follow the blog for more SPSFC content!

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!

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.

SPSFC2 First Impressions: “Pink Apocalypse,” “Broken Angel,” and “Mother Savant”

With the second Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (“SPACEFIC”) well underway, my group is going through one of my favorite parts of the contest: sorting through a slush pile. Basically, we get a stack of books and need to sample them all to narrow down our selections for quarter- and semi-finalists. Here, I’ll be going over my first impressions of some of these books. Please note my “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe” vote is only indicative of my opinion and may not reflect the opinion of our whole group. Since we advance books as a group, it’s possible a “Yes” from me may end up a “No” overall and vice versa. Let me know what you think of the books in the comments!

Pink Apocalypse by Carpenter B. Gibson

A cop-type drama in a zombie (with a twist) post-apocalyptic setting. There are some hard boiled cop drama, several comments about cleavage, and decent action scenes early on. I noticed several editorial misses early on, such as saying “everyone once” instead of “every once…” and a few awkwardly worded sentences. I am kind of curious as to where this keeps going, and the anime-esque feel of the cover and contents makes me want to say yes. The focus on “fan service”-y [read: boob comments] moments and editorial things make me more cautious. This is going to the maybe stack.

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

The book starts with a strange premise about a near mafia-esque family going through a battle for control within the family. To solve the battle, the matriarch decides the two brothers must each raise the other’s son. [One group member pointed out there’s some confusion here about how this is set up.] Anyway, skip forward and the plan has, inevitably, collapsed, but it’s yielded a main character who’s controlled by some code phrases and needs to go on the run as he’s testifying against his powerful family. Then, after the first 4-5% of the book focuses on that part of the story, the next portion (up to the 20% or so I’m at) turns into a kind of rodeo/ranch love story. No, really! It’s like the book just turned on a dime, decided, “Nope, I’m actually a rancher romance, now” with the sub-plot of the witness protection program being a thin veneer to keep the main plot waiting in the wings. And somehow, for me, it really is working. While the science-fiction-y aspects are super light so far, I’m curious to know where it goes, and I’m loving the characters.

It’s a yes, mostly because I’m confused and intrigued and that combination has me want to keep going.

Mother Savant by A.L. Hawke

In a futuristic matriarchal society, someone is protecting a male child, despite men being basically unneeded for the continuation of humanity. Content warnings should be plastered all over this one. The first scene is a somewhat inept torture and interrogation of a leader in the society, ending in some violence. Sexual violence and attempted power-rape are found in the first few chapters, as well. I thought the prose was strong, but the dialogue is cringe-inducing. Lines like “let me melt her fucking dollface” [kudos to another judge for pointing that one out] feel totally off-feel from the way the book itself is written. It’s like a Jekyll and Hyde scenario of the plot being interesting but the dialogue and content putting me off. This one is a “No” from me, but fans of dystopian fiction with stomach for violence may want to check it out.

Conclusion

What did you think of these books? Which sound interesting to you? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to follow the blog for more SPSFC content!

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Links

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

“Ironshield” by Edward Nile- A dieselpunk epic (SPSFC)

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

Ironshield by Edward Nile

I saw this book in another group’s slush pile and thought it looked intriguing because, well, there’s a giant mech on the cover. I’m a simple man; I love fiction with tanks and mechs.

The draw of Ironshield is that it is a large-scale world with warfare and mechs. The staying power of this chunky book is found, though, in the characters, the politics, and the world. The core plot centers around a civil war between North and South Arkenia. Initially, I thought it might be an analogue for the United States Civil War. It’s not, really. The war is over whether or not to disarm at the demands of an outside force, the Xangese. The South wants to disarm to assure peace with Xang, the Northern industrialists refuse to do so, as they’re worried it could empower a different empire to attack and take them back over.

These plot points and political machinations get revealed in satisfying chunks in between character vignettes and action scenes. The moves between characters come at a good clip, so readers get to see both sides of the conflict as more and more of the world and background plot is also revealed. And trust me, there’s a lot going on here. Of course, the big hitters are the mechs, and I enjoyed how Nile made them make sense in-world while also making some of the restrictions using them to fight played out. It’s a tightly done world, and while there are a few quibbles one could bring up about how neatly some of the plot ties up, I found it all enjoyable.

The elevator pitch for this novel would be something like: WWI combined with Old West US meets mechs and a splash of Indiana Jones with implications of a bigger conflict coming.

I have a few small qualms. The Xangese people and the Native inhabitants of the region each seem a bit flat. It would be great to see them get more dynamic development and not ride the line of stereotyping. I think it’s supposed to contribute to the feel of the novel as a kind of Old West-esque setting, but I wasn’t a fan of the simplistic way these characters were written. Let them be people, and have deeper reasons to work–against colonialism or what have you! It made me feel a little iffy how they were portrayed. The final qualm is just that the book could use a little cutting of the corners here and there. It doesn’t feel bloated, per se, but there are parts where the flow could move a little better.

Overall, though, Ironshield a great read with some superb world-building. The ending feels like a huge setup for more, and I was excited to see the next book is coming soon. I recommend this for fans of dieselpunk/steampunk, and fantasy with warfare.

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.