SPSFC Round 1, Battle Royale Part 1

There are 5 slots left on my “yes” list for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest but 15 books in the running. That means I need to eliminate 2 out of every 3 books. To do so, I decided to commit to fully reading these 15 books (or, minimally, reading until I decide it’s not for me) and pitting them against each other for the final 5 slots. I had to re-think my reading to do this, because I enthusiastically put too many books on the “yes” stack to start off. So, for the sake of seeding, each former “yes” goes up against two “maybe” books (except for one post where two higher seeds will face off).

Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot

Tons of reviews for this one (147 on Goodreads at 4.5 stars) had me wondering what the buzz was about. My sample dive into it had me worried about how depressing it all felt. There are a couple storylines going on in a truly post apocalyptic setting. But there’s also a strange sense of normalcy, including school bullies. Of course, the bullies get murdered in an insanely violent and magical (???) way. Reading more of it is confirming that it’s just a bit too dark and hopeless for me. I hate to do this on the first book I’m delving deeper into, but it’s a DNF because of all the brutal, senseless violence combined with me struggling to get to empathize with any characters.

The Echo Effect by John McGuire

My first look at The Echo Effect had me interested because of the premise–waking up on a hard reset on time with few others who know about what’s going on, as other variables play out in entirely different ways. I was interested to see where the story went, and whether our protagonist, Aaron Anders, would figure it out. So I dived in to my full read-through of the book with some anticipation, as this was on the “yes” list initially.

As I read the book, around the 50% point, I began to wonder if the premise was going to pay off. Aaron had encountered numerous others who were aware of the same experiences he was having, but so far the only real thing that happened was that one of them tried to sell him on a consequence-free type living like the movie “Groundhog Day” before Bill Murray gets himself turned around. Then, the rest of the book does start to step it up with a far greater conspiracy-type plot in which everyone is trapped, not just those who have realized it. At that point, though, the investment on my end wasn’t there. I was finding it hard to care much about the characters, most of whom had spent the majority of the book wandering around with little impact on anything. So, when people started showing up who wanted to change things permanently, it was hard to get on board with the direction the plot took.

The Jagged Edge by A J Frazer

Dominic Elliston has moved from a war correspondent to a media mogul. He can travel wherever he wants, do whatever he wants, and be with almost whomever he wants. But when he comes into contact with Victor Sagen, an environmental terrorist bent upon vengeance, his life gets much more complicated. My initial sampling of this book was for the first 20% and I genuinely didn’t know what to think. I was lured along more by the premise than by the writing or characters. Elliston isn’t a particularly likable guy, and the early plot doesn’t go far. At 20% it was a “maybe” largely because right on that threshold, Elliston was picked up with news he could interview Sagen and I was intrigued by the eco-terrorist.

I started where I left off and I’m glad I did. Elliston’s first major interaction with Sagen takes the novel to another level. Frazer writes Sagen’s origin story as a near-supervillain in a way that is also utterly enthralling. Is the eco-terrorist in the wrong here? The story gets better from there, too, and takes some twists I did not expect or see coming. I won’t spoil them here.

I don’t have the skillset to analyze the book for its extensive use of hand-waving regarding hacking, computer viruses, and worms, so those who do may have more issues with it than I did. However, hand-waving does occur. Frazer does acknowledge this in-narrative by having Elliston almost literally wave his hands at the finer technicalities of the computer tech. This is not a cyberpunk techno-thriller. It’s a thriller with cyber technology trappings. The other downsides to the novel are its slow start, women being generally absent from the core of the narrative, and heavy suspension of disbelief required for some of the ways people avoid detection.

That said, this was a fascinating character study that forces readers to ask questions about what might be best for humanity and the planet. It takes a while to get going, but it was ultimately a satisfying read.

Battle Royale Round 1 Result

The Jagged Edge is moving on to the yes pile! I’ll have a full review of The Jagged Edge coming in later! Let me know what you think of these books in the comments.

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SDG.