Announcing the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest 2 Semifinalists

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest exists to elevate interest and readership in indie science fiction. I’m excited to announce this year’s semifinalists to you, dear readers! I hope you’ll find something to read among this diverse array. I’ll end with the semifinalists from my own team, and I’ll be starting with the semifinalists my team was assigned to read to determine finalists. My plan is to read and review every semifinalist, regardless of whether it was assigned to my group or not. I’ll have quotes around sections from blurbs I posted, and my own thoughts, along with links to the books to buy on Amazon.

Aestus: The City by S.Z. Attwell

“When Jossey was ten, the creatures of the aboveground took her brother and left her for dead, with horrible scars. Now, years later, she’s a successful solar engineer, working to keep her underground city’s power running, but she’s never really recovered. After she saves dozens of people during a second attack, she is offered a top-secret assignment as a field Engineer with Patrol, but fear prevents her from taking it…until Patrol finds bones near where her brother disappeared.”

Initial Thoughts

Aestus is the chonkiest book our group received, and I’ve already started. The first chapter was gripping, and it appears to be shaping up to an intriguing, mysterious adventure.

Shakedowners by Justin Woolley

“Some starship captains explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilisations. Some lead missions of discovery through wormholes to the other side of the galaxy. Then there’s Captain Iridius B. Franklin, someone who spent too long seeking out strange new bars and new alien cocktails. After graduating bottom of his class at Space Command Academy Iridius Franklin hasn’t had the glamorous career he envisioned, instead he hauls cargo ships full of mining waste, alien land whale dung, and artificially intelligent toy dogs across the stars.”

Initial Thoughts

Okay, I could get into this. I don’t know why but I’m reminded a bit of the scenes in Titan A.E. where the main character is down-on-his luck and not doing much near the beginning. This one clearly is more humor bent and less save the universe bent… maybe? We’ll find out when I review it! This is another book our group was assigned.

Hammer and Crucible by Cameron Cooper

“The Fourth Carinad Empire stretches across hundreds of settled worlds and stellar cities, and thousands of light years. The Empire’s people and data are linked by a space-folding gates array controlled by the Emperor and his cohorts. When the array evolves into a sentient entity, it recognizes the Emperor as its foe.”

Initial Thoughts

Okay, this sounds like a big, epic space opera starting off, and I just… I’m so here for it. Our group was assigned this semifinalist.

Melody by David Hoffer

“Childhood therapy cured Stephen Fisher of disturbing visions and the delusion of having come from another world. But when his daughter obsesses over a star in the night sky, he fears that his genetic legacy may have burdened her with the same illness. His sanity is then shattered when he loses his child and the military abducts him claiming that she recorded a song broadcast from another world.”

Initial Thoughts

I gotta say, this sounds like it’s going to be a sad read for at least parts of it. I am ready to get hit in the feels by this intriguing premise. Our group has this as an assigned semifinalist.

A Space Girl from Earth by Christina McMullen

“From her six foot four inch height to the uniform white dots that peppered her skin in perfect geometric patterns, Ellie Whitmore was certainly unusual, but an alien from the other side of the galaxy? Of course not. That’s just what the tabloids said to sell papers.”

Initial Thoughts

Oh, she’s definitely an alien. I wonder what’s going to happen with this space girl from Earth. Our group was assigned this book as a semifinalist.

Echoes from Another Earth by J. Daniel Layfield

“A scientist in hiding. An admiral on the brink of treason. A man who has lived hundreds of versions of his life across the same number of dimensions. Three paths converge in one dimension. Their actions will affect them all.”

Initial Thoughts

I’m curious to see how the disparate elements in this blurb will come together. The cover reminds me of another book, but I can’t remember which one. This is the final semifinalist we were assigned.

The Audacity by Carmen Loup

“May’s humdrum life is flung into hyperdrive when she’s abducted, but not all aliens are out to probe her.  She’s inadvertently rescued by Xan, an “I Love Lucy” obsessed alien with the orangest rocket ship in the universe.”

Initial Thoughts

You know who else is obsessed with “I Love Lucy”? Me, as a kid. I have absolutely no idea what to make of this as the driving point in a sci-fi novel, but I’m eager to find out.

Bubbles in Space: Tropical Punch by S.C. Jensen

“Does she like her job? No. Is she good at it? Also no. She can’t afford to be too good. The last time she got curious it cost her a job, a limb, and almost her life. But when a seemingly simple case takes a gruesome turn, and Bubbles discovers a disturbing connection to the cold-case death of an old friend, she is driven to dig deeper.”

Initial Thoughts

Based on the cover and title, I was not expecting the blurb to sound like a murder mystery. But hey, I love the mash-up of mystery and sci-fi. Let’s find out what Bubbles does next!

Debunked by Dito Abbott

“When Alex and Ozzie read their grandfather’s latest “death” letter, they barely blink. Dying six times in two years has to be a record, even for an explorer as incompetent as Sir Quidby Forsythe III.”

Initial Thoughts

Incompetent Explorers, you say? Sounds like a Disney movie waiting to happen! I’m excited to see where this steampunk-looking explorer-drama will take us.

The Diamond Device by M.H. Thaung

“After diamond power promises to replace steam, an unemployed labourer and a thieving noble unite to foil an international plot and avert a war.”

Initial Thoughts

Steampunk is the name of the game this year, it seems. We’ve already got our second book in the subgenre, and I think there is at least one more in the mix–10%! I love steampunk as a concept, but haven’t found many books I love in that type of setting. Here’s hoping The Diamond Device will be one to add to that collection!

Dim Stars by Brian P. Rubin

“Kenzie Washington, fourteen-year-old girl genius, signs up for a two-week tour as a cadet on the spaceship of her idol, Captain Dash Drake. Too bad Dash, who once saved the galaxy from the evil Forgers, is a broke loser and much less than meets the eye.”

Initial Thoughts

Does this mean the cover is Kenzie closing her eyes in exasperation? Maybe! I love the cover here, and I know you shouldn’t judge books by them, but I’m interested in the premise, too. We’ll see.

Earthship by John Triptych with Michel Lamontagne

“In the near future, a stellar collision with a rogue planet destabilizes the sun’s fusion output, turning it into a ticking time bomb. With the ever-increasing heat, earth will become uninhabitable within a decade.”

Initial Thoughts

Hey! A hard sci-fi book in the mix. I have a lot of fun in that subgenre in sci-fi, so consider me ready to tackle this story that looks to mesh science and plot.

The Emissary by Michael J. Edwards

“A troubled young woman is recruited by a race of ancient alien explorers to be their emissary to save the human race from extinction. The problem is that not everyone believes the world is doomed, and not everyone trusts the aliens’ motives. Holly Burton will have to overcome opposition from world leaders, attacks by religious zealots, assassination attempts, intractable bureaucracies, and her own fears and doubts if she is to save the human race, not just from the coming apocalypse, but from itself.”

Initial Thoughts

Well that sounds like an easy enough job, right? I anticipate a lot of flustered conversations between alien and emissary as they try to figure out why humans can’t er… figure it out.

Empire Reborn by A.K. Duboff

“Jason Sietinen lives in the shadow of greatness. He’s worked hard to become a TSS officer in his own right, but having war heroes for parents is hard to top. When Jason is assigned to investigate a mysterious attack, he finds evidence of powerful transdimensional beings never before seen. Or so he thought.”

Initial Thoughts

Space opera with forgotten aliens? Sometimes, I’m a simple man, and I just want that. Hoping we’ll see some awesome twists and galaxy building in this first book in a series.

Exin Ex Machina by G.S. Jennsen

When man and machine are one and the same, there are many crimes but only one sin: psyche-wipe. The secrets it has buried could lead to a civilization’s salvation, or to its doom.

Initial Thoughts

Cyberpunk on a grand scale is often a challenging feat. I will be interested to see where Jennsen takes this one.

Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage by Marcus Alexander Hart

“Leo MacGavin is not the brightest specimen of humanity. But when he inadvertently rescues a flirty alien heiress, he’s promoted from second-rate lounge entertainer to captain of the galaxy’s most sophisticated cruise ship.”

Initial Thoughts

We’ve got another read that seeks to blend comedy and sci-fi, which is a tentative combo for me. We’ll see how it goes, but I do love the cover on this one–and the “your old pal” to introduce the author.

The Last Gifts of the Universe by Rory August

“When the Home worlds finally achieved the technology to venture out into the stars, they found a graveyard of dead civilizations, a sea of lifeless gray planets and their ruins. What befell them is unknown. All Home knows is that they are the last civilization left in the universe, and whatever came for the others will come for them next.”

Initial Thoughts

I love the campy cover combined with the epic description. What kind of book is this going to be? Will it hearken back to 1950s-60s sci-fi? We’ll see!

Lightblade by Zamil Akhtar

One day, Jyosh will climb the heavens and slay a dragon god. Though nothing could seem less likely for a slave, especially one whose body is too broken to cycle sunshine into destructive magical energy. Until he meets a woman who can secretly teach him the lightblade, an energy sword transmuted from sunlight, capable of changing size, shape, and performing incredible magical feats according to the wielder’s skill level.”

Initial Thoughts

The blurb reads a bit like LitRPG or gamelit, and the author appears to write a lot in that subgenre. I haven’t read much of it as a subgenre but basically loved everything I have read therein. Consider me excited to get to this one!

Mouse Cage by Malcolm F. Cross

“Troy carries more secrets with him than most. A test subject for experimental surgery, a clone gengineered from modified lab mice, an addict. He tells himself that his past is behind him, but he’ll never escape his childhood in Lake North’s labs. What was done to him there, what he was made into, what he did.”

Initial Thoughts

Dat cover tho. It’s so beautiful. Malcolm F. Cross was the author of Dog Country, possibly my favorite book from last year’s contest (my review here). It’s safe to say that I am eagerly looking forward to devouring this read. Cross writes haunted characters with deep backstories and realistic motivations. I can’t wait.

Night Music by Tobias Cabral

“The colonization of Mars has begun. Following a rapid expansion of the manned space program due to the discovery of a potentially catastrophic Earth-crossing comet, Zubrin Base has been established on the Red Planet to oversee the capture of the rogue object.”

Initial Thoughts

Possibly terrible comets are a legitimate fear for the long term health of humanity on Earth. Night Music‘s blurb reads like another hard sci-fi novel dealing with that threat, and I want to know where Cabral takes it.

Reap3r by Eliot Peper

“Nothing is what it seems in this speculative thriller about a quantum computer scientist, virologist, podcaster, venture capitalist, and assassin coming together to untangle a twisted enigma that will change the course of future history. Everyone has something to hide, and every transgression is a portal to discovery.”

Initial Thoughts

You had me at “quantum computer scientist” and then just piled on more interesting threads. I am here for it. Let’s see where Reap3r takes us!

The Clarity of Cold Steel by Kevin Wright

“The kid disappeared two days ago. Missing. Abducted. Murdered. What have you… Just another in an endless line of indigent kids wrung from the dregs of the Machine City. And it’s my job to find him.”

Initial Thoughts

Steampunk mystery. Enough said. I’m sold.

The Peacemaker’s Code by Deepak Malhotra

“Professor Kilmer, a renowned historian of war and diplomacy, is collected from his home and whisked off to Washington. Thrust into the highest levels of government as an adviser to the President, the young historian must come to terms with the seemingly impossible, figure out how to navigate a world where not everything is as it appears, and use all the skills and knowledge he has acquired in his life to help save humanity from a conflict of truly epic proportions.”

Initial Thoughts

I like history and therefore am rooting for this historian to do whatever it is he needs to accomplish.

The Pono Way by Kirsten M. Corby

“In 2050, the United States of America finally crumbled. Jake Weintraub’s family fled the burned-out ruins of Chicago for the safety of the artificial island steading of Pono. Now grown, Jake works as an independent journalist, but the horrors of the Chicago River Riots still haunt him. As Pono watches, safe in the Pacific Ocean, the West Coast nation of Cascadia collapses under a further series of catastrophes. Thousands of desperate refugees arrive on Pono’s shores – homeless, stateless, and hungry.”

Initial Thoughts

Okay, this is a great setup for questions of colonialism, empathy, and more. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Those Left Behind by N.C. Scrimgeour

“Time is running out for the people of New Pallas. Nobody knows that better than Alvera Renata, a tenacious captain determined to scout past the stars with nothing but a handpicked crew and a promise: to find a new home for humanity. But when a perilous journey across dark space leads to first contact with a galactic civilisation on the brink of war, Alvera soon realises keeping her word might not be as easy as she thought.”

Initial Thoughts

I love that it’s not just humans running into a totally intact civilization and having to deal with them either rejecting or helping us but rather that it’s a civilization with war breaking out. That adds some wrinkles to what would otherwise be a premise I’d read several times before.

Titan Hoppers by Rob J. Hayes

“Born talentless, Iro has all but resigned himself to a life of drudgery, watching his sister hop across to the massive space titan for supplies. But when the titan explodes and his sister is killed, Iro finds a new determination to take her place. He’s not about to let weakness prevent him.”

Initial Thoughts

Billed as a progression sci-fi, this one also has inspiration from gamelit/etc. written all over it. Basically, the notion behind progression fantasy/sci-fi is that the main character trains hardcore throughout to overcome some challenge. It should be interesting to see where this one goes.

The View from Infinity Beach by R.P.L. Johnson

“They call it the Kera: a secret Eden, far from the overcrowded Earth where the air is clean, and summer comes every afternoon at the touch of a button. A new wilderness, deep in the asteroid belt where Kade Morton, teenaged migrant from Earth, can start over.”

Initial Thoughts

Nothing could possibly go wrong in paradise, right? We’ll find out.

Heritage by S.M. Warlow

The first of my group’s semifinalists, Heritage is space opera on a grand scale. Galaxy-spanning war, massive consequences, and a focus on the crew of a ship make this plot move quickly. Group members loved the scale of it, the characters, and the story. The most obvious comparison to the book would be The Expanse series. I plan to re-read it for the competition later, but for now I hope this has whet your appetite enough to check it out.

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days by Drew Melbourne

I don’t often go for books that lean into comedy, especially when that’s a sci-fi novel. But Drew Melbourne perfectly captured the blend of humor and plot that makes such books work when they do work. And Percival Gynt er… works. That’s what made this our second semifinalist. Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Melbourne throws all kinds of hilarious hijinks at the reader, but the hijinks actually matter on a large scale and are placed within a universe that is, despite being an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink experience, somehow meshes into an intriguing backdrop. I was won over by the tone of the story and stayed to enjoy the characters and evolving plot. An obvious comparison would be Douglas Adams.

Check out my full review for more.

Intelligence Block by Kit Falbo

A computer whiz uses VR and other technology to become a wizard in this strange story that has elements of gamelit and cyberpunk. What surprised me here was the tonal shift from what read initially like a happy YA adventure to a much more serious read within the span of just a few pages. The ride ends up being a wild one, with twists and turns that reveal more to the reader about the world and characters. Is everything as it seems? Read the book to find out with our group’s third semifinalist.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

Announcing Team Red Stars SPSFC2 Semifinalists- Self Published Science Fiction Contest

The second annual Self Published Science Fiction Contest rolls on, and my team now has an exciting announcement! We have determined our three semi-finalists! These books will continue to the broader group, going to two separate groups to be judged for a chance at a coveted finalist spot. Without further adieu, let’s take a look at these three books.

Heritage by S.M. Warlow

Heritage is space opera on a grand scale. Galaxy-spanning war, massive consequences, and a focus on the crew of a ship make this plot move quickly. Group members loved the scale of it, the characters, and the story. The most obvious comparison to the book would be The Expanse series. I plan to re-read it for the competition later, but for now I hope this has whet your appetite enough to check it out.

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days by Drew Melbourne

I don’t often go for books that lean into comedy, especially when that’s a sci-fi novel. But Drew Melbourne perfectly captured the blend of humor and plot that makes such books work when they do work. And Percival Gynt er… works. Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Melbourne throws all kinds of hilarious hijinks at the reader, but the hijinks actually matter on a large scale and are placed within a universe that is, despite being an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink experience, somehow meshes into an intriguing backdrop. I was won over by the tone of the story and stayed to enjoy the characters and evolving plot. An obvious comparison would be Douglas Adams.

Check out my full review for more.

Intelligence Block by Kit Falbo

A computer whiz uses VR and other technology to become a wizard in this strange story that has elements of gamelit and cyberpunk. What surprised me here was the tonal shift from what read initially like a happy YA adventure to a much more serious read within the span of just a few pages. The ride ends up being a wild one, with twists and turns that reveal more to the reader about the world and characters. Is everything as it seems? Read the book to find out.

Conclusion

The next stop on our SPSFC journey is that our group will receive two other groups’ semifinalists and analyze them. As last year, my commitment is to read and review every semifinalist to proved each other with a review. It may take longer than the contest runs to do that, but I had a blast with it last year and intend to do so again. Look forward to more interviews, semifinalist revelations, and more reviews coming up!

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.

“There Are No Countries” by Marshall Smith- An SPSFC Review

I’m reading and reviewing many books from the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest as a judge. Check out my many posts from the SPSFC (scroll down for more).

There Are No Countries by Marshall Smith

It’s difficult to figure out how to begin a review of There Are No Countries. I could start with a plot summary, but that would make it sound too mundane. I could start with some comments about the strangely psychedelic cover, which is alluring and off-putting by turns. Instead, I started as I did here, bemoaning how to begin, as nothing seems quite right to say about it.

There Are No Countries is a story of colonization. Perhaps that’s where to start. There are no sentient species on the planet of Dandros, but there is a castle, from which emanates memories (???) of a traveler named Doug, whose interactions with a being he calls the Goddess are captivatingly strange and sporadically narrated throughout the story. Alongside that, there’s a story of colonization and victory, but only revealed in spurts and half-starts.

The characters are both intimately close and only vaguely present. Reading the story is like wading into a soup of existence and thought, bombarding the reader from multiple perspectives and stories all at once. It doesn’t always make sense, and Smith doesn’t hold the reader’s hand at all. This is one that I feel the strong need and desire to re-read to see if I conceptually am picking up everything there is to find. Indeed, I think this one deserves a slow, peaceful read.

There’s no way to resist comparing this to the New Wave science fiction of the 1960s-70s. The cover is one indicator, but the structure (or structurelessness) of it is another. It reads like a novel stepping into today out of that time, with all the grandeur, splendor, and foibles of the time.

There Are No Countries is science fiction that hearkens back to the zaniest New Wave science fiction. I loved 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.

“Tracker220” by Jamie Krakover – A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Review

I’m reading and reviewing many books from the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest as a judge. Check out my many posts from the SPSFC (scroll down for more).

Tracker220 by Jamie Krakover

“Jewish Cyberpunk” is one of the taglines in the description for this dystopic read and I was already intrigued. Tracker220 takes a somewhat well-worn premise–what if we had some kind of implant that could track us and placed that power in the hands of a Very Trustworthy Government?–and twists it by adding elements of religion into the scheme.

I hope you caught the sarcasm in my phrasing of “Very Trustworthy Government” as the surveillance state isn’t what I’d count on for reliability. Kaya Weiss has a tracker system that is glitching and gives her access to far more than she’s supposed to be involved with. The government finds out and the chase is on as Kaya bounced around, ultimately running into a kind of underground movement.

Krakover does a great job riffing on an established dystopic formula. She introduces a few wrinkles to the formula, including the aforementioned question of religion and dystopia that isn’t explored nearly often enough. She also does a great job pacing the story to make it maintain interest throughout.

Tracker220 is highly recommended for readers interested in dystopias that are more action oriented. If The Hunger Games, Divergent, and the like are your jam, then I think you’d find plenty to love here.

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.

Interview: Darby Harn, Author of “Ever the Hero,” an SPSFC Quarterfinalist

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest.

Darby Harn, Author of Ever the Hero

(Questions in Bold)

What was your gateway into speculative fiction? What lead you to write it?

I very distinctly remember seeing Star Wars at the drive-in and then sitting on the floor at the grocery store reading the Marvel Comics right after. This is 1977 and I’m also reading everything the rack. X-Men. Spider-Man. And I was writing or trying to around five or six. Little comics and stories. I read everything. The thrift store always had older scifi books for like 10 cents and then a quarter. Frankenstein is what really got its claws in me, though I’m not a horror person. It always came back to comics. The Body.

I love that it was Star Wars and comics that got you into speculative fiction. That combination reads like an inspiration for “Ever the Hero.” What other inspirations led you to writing this specific novel and featuring diverse characters?

Ever The Hero started in 2011 with an article I read in the New York Times.

Firefighters in Tennessee let a house burn because the owner didn’t pay a bill for emergency services. At the time, the callousness seemed particular. Now it feels too familiar. Sadly, the book becomes more relevant all the time as states pass bills that outlaw giving bottled water to homeless people among other things.

But right away the idea clicked – what if you had to pay for superheroes? It took a while to get to the right shape. I tried a few different approaches. One was a television pilot. I took that to the Austin Film Festival in 2016 and it made the second round in the Screenplay Competition.

I started writing what became the novel in November of that year. It took some more work before I finally published in 2020.

I wanted the book to reflect the world I live in. I grew up and live in a town in Iowa that has the largest African-American community in the state. I grew up with a lot of girls like Kit. It’s very diverse in general. LGBTQ representation is very important to me as well. I always strive for authenticity and make sure as best I can I’m elevating and honoring. And knowing where my limits are.

Around college I found Kelly Link, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Cunningham. Writers who were writing speculative fiction with literary elements. That really inspired me.

I both love and hate that a real world event inspired the idea behind the story, and it definitely makes for a fascinating premise. I also appreciate your efforts to have broad representation in your novel. What helped you write experiences beyond your own?

I pride myself on being a good listener. A good observer. I’m curious and I think you have to be to appreciate the world you live in. The people in it. So I want to learn. I want to see the world from different perspectives. That’s one reason the Eververse series shifts protagonists from book to book. My interest is in perspective. Voice. Embodying a character.

In the last few years I’ve learned I’m autistic. I think this informs my interest in how other people a great deal. It helps me with Kit certainly, who is also autistic. This becomes more prevalent as the series goes on, since we’re both on a journey of self-discovery.

What (spoiler free!) can you tell us about the rest of the series and the aliens in future reads? Where can our readers find you?

You can find me on my website: www.darbyharn.com

Twitter: @Darbyharn

IG: @darbywritesbooks

Thank you!

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.

“Dead Star” by Simon Kewin- An SPSFC Semifinalist Review

The inaugural Self-Published Science Fiction Contest is over, but I am reading and reviewing every single semifinalist! Follow along to see what I think of the judges choices for the top 30 out of 300 books!

Dead Star by Simon Kewin

A theocratic government dominates known space as Selene, sole survivor of a planet that was completely destroyed seeks a new life. She meets up with Ondo Logan and together they begin an adventure that leads them to seeking out a mythic paradise planet that could be the key to what went right–or wrong–in the universe.

As plot setups go, this one has an epic one. Selene and Ondo experience quite a bit of adventure as the story goes on, too. Selene is doubtful of Ondo’s belief in the lost planet, even when presented of evidence. Over time, more and more events come together to point them in a certain direction and send them on a grand adventure.

The adventure is a good one, too. The characters experience quite a bit of growth, though one sometimes wonders whether Selene shouldn’t be more emotionally distraught by her loss of… basically everything. The worldbuilding is quite well done, too, as the malevolent theocracy that dominates their lives feels genuinely foreboding at times.

The main problem here is that the novel reads very much like the first part of a story rather than a complete adventure on its own. It leaves off almost exactly at the point where readers will most want to know more about what’s going to happen next. That makes it feel a bit of a letdown when it ends, though it certainly whets the appetite for the next book.

Dead Star is an intriguing space opera with good worldbuilding and strong characters. Recommended, so long as you’re willing to dive into more to find out the end.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

I received a copy of the book for review.

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 Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere” by Joyce Reynolds-Ward- An SPSFC Review

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing whichever books in the contest appealed to me! Follow the blog to keep up with more updates from the contest, along with many, many other reviews and topics!

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

Broken Angel is a rarity. It’s a novel that feels unique and unusual even to someone who constantly reads science fiction. It ended up in my group’s reads for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and that’s what clued me into it. Reynolds-Ward starts the story with a kind of strange child-swap as the matriarch of a wealthy family attempts to end an internal feud by artificial means, giving the child of each of two brothers to the other to raise. It’s a strange setup that somehow feels exactly in line with what one might expect in some kind of cozy mystery story with a sci-fi bent.

Things don’t go as planned, however, and one of the children, Gabriel, has to flee the family at a relatively young age. He tries to testify against his vicious uncle, only to discover a kind of nanobot imbued control scheme has been placed upon him to control some of his actions and words. He goes into witness protection and then… the story turns for a while into a kind of rodeo romance. And it is, frankly, a pretty good rodeo romance, though I probably am not the best judge of that. Just as I was settling into this new frontier as a reader, Reynolds-Ward threw more twists into the story. Mind control, nanobots, corporate espionage, and some slight shades of agriculture all make up the rest of the way with a story that spans almost a full generation in length.

The length of time covered by the novel means readers get a big picture view of Gabriel’s life and struggles, but it also means that occasionally the focus moves on quickly in scenes that could have used a little more development. That said, readers won’t ever get too settled into a single idea or even the feeling of a single subgenre as Reynolds-Ward deftly juggles conflict, romance, and the core plot throughout.

Broken Angel is a well-written story that sucked me in based on its characters and then sustained that interest with plenty of twists and turns and “what’s going on?” moments. Recommended for sci-fi readers looking for something very different from what they’ve read.

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.

Author Interview- Clayton Snyder, author of “Blackthorne,” an SPSFC Quarterfinalist

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest.

Clayton Snyder

Here, we’ll be interviewing Clayton Snyder, author of Blackthorne and many other works, including co-authoring the SPFBO Finalist, Norylska Groans.

What was your gateway into speculative fiction? What lead you to write it?

I’d say my gateway at the earliest age was Grimm’s Fairy Tales. My mother bought me the big bound version, and I used to read it on a regular basis. As far as writing it, it wasn’t until I read Zelazny’s Amber series I thought it was possible. He had such a facility for painting a picture in small strokes. For whatever reason, that opened the craft for me. I could see how the sausage was made, so to speak, and loved the idea that writing wasn’t this opaque wall, but a window I could see into and subsequently learn from. It also helped that something about Amber really captured my imagination and made me want to spin out worlds of my own.

Zelazny certainly had an impact on many readers! His “Lord of Light” is among my personal favorites. “Blackthorne” is your entry for the SPSFC2, and one of the first thing I noticed is the theme of some darker magic combined with cyberpunk ideas. What inspired you to bring a kind of necromancy over to science fiction?

Honestly, I’ve always loved that idea of magic mixing with tech. I had my first taste of it through RPGs like Shadowrun and Rifts, and the early Pern novels to Final Fantasy. I’ve always kind of figured if I’m going to write speculative fiction, why not go for broke.

What else did you draw on to inspire “Blackthorne”? Can readers expect a sequel?

Movies. Action flicks, specifically. The Rock, a little bit of Blade Runner, some Conan, etc. I will be working on a sequel next year, as I’ve had more than a couple readers threaten me with unrelenting positivity towards this novel. In the interim, I’m working on a more traditional cyberpunk noir.

Your novel, “Norylska Groans” was co-written with Michael Fletcher, another semifinalist from our group! What’s it been like being in the SPSFC with your coauthor?

Fun. Mike and I get along really well, and in this case it’s less friendly competition and more of us cheering each other on. I figure as long as I stay positive for him, he’ll never see the assassins coming.

Your library of works includes westerns, fantasy, and science fiction. What has led you to incorporate a grimdark flare into the genres you’re writing?

I’m a weird mix of optimist and cynic, and I mostly write about the terrible things we do to each other, but as cautionary tales. The idea that there’s hope, but only if we’re willing to open our eyes and see the things we’re capable of and turn away from those paths.

Awesome! Glad you’re having a good time in the contest! Where can my readers find you?

I’m really only on Twitter at the moment, but I do have a website as well: @claytonsnyder2 claytonwsnyder.com. I can also be found on Amazon.

Thank you for your time! Good luck in the contest!

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.

“Blackthorne” by Clayton Snyder – An SPSFC Review

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest continues with year two, and as a judge, I’m reading all of my group’s quarterfinalists and giving them full reviews!

Blackthorne by Clayton Snyder

Mattias Temple witnesses a horrific crime, then gets framed for another. He’s got the powers of necromancy, but is locked up for some reasons unknown–they seem to want him to stay where he’s at. Then, a military group captures a governor and Temple’s talents are needed again.

Snyder sets up an action-packed premise and mostly keeps the gas pedal firmly depressed to the floor. The action doesn’t let up, whether it’s a heist gone wrong or Mattias’s multiple escape attempts from incarceration. Plenty of the early scenes are revealed as stage-setting for the big conflict to come. When the governor is captured, witchcraft and other dark forces abound and the only way to stop them is to… well, you’ve got to read it to find out! Snyder doesn’t let readers get very far from the edge of their seat as they read this story, and that was definitely the high point.

The book is also deeper than it appears on the surface (my thanks to another group member for pointing this out). There appears to be no small critique of warfare set alongside the sorrowful consequences of the same as a theme running throughout the book. This is especially evident with one character and Mattias’s constant hope to be reunited with them.

I did wish, however, that Mattias’s powers were revealed in a broader way. We learn more about the powers of witches and some related magic users, but while necromancy is constantly lauded as this super powerful skill, we don’t see much of it beyond glimpses. One person in our group of judges pointed out that early on, the necromancy just reads like glorified lock picking. I’d have liked to have seen it unshackled more so that we could know more the workings and powers being discussed.

Blackthorne is an action packed, gory entry that meshes science fiction and fantasy in some intriguing ways. It would be great to see a sequel exploring the magic powers more deeply. Recommended for fans of grimdark and science fantasy.

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.

“Life on Planet Earth” by Andy Gorman – A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Semifinalist 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.

Life on Planet Earth by Andy Gorman

After the Terminal Plague, humanity left Earth behind. Those left behind turned into a devolved species of homo sapiens. Now, those who have been living in orbit have decided to come back, training with simulations to be ready for the challenges back on Earth. Liam Stone is one who is training on the simulations to go back to Earth. Now, after his sister is chosen instead of him, he’ll give anything to get back.

Following Liam’s story gives readers a kind of survivalist story that reminds me of the survival video game subgenre. Liam is thrown together with several other characters on this adventure, dodging hostile pseudo-humans and trying to figure out how to live on an Earth depleted of resources… at least ostensibly. The characters develop quite a bit, though in mostly predictable ways. The survivalist plot is also predictable. Realistically, my biggest complaint is that everything feels kind of bland. Everything about the novel, whether the characters, plot, or world, felt average. It’s all “okay” but doesn’t really rise above that level.

Life on Planet Earth will deliver what one expects: a post-apocalyptic survival story. While it didn’t wow me, fans of the subgenre will likely feel right at home, with many things to enjoy with the plot.

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.