SPSFC Round 1, Battle Royale Part 2

There were 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).

The Shepherd Protocol by Fowler Brown

I love stories about robots, AIs, and “sleeves.” I especially love mechs, but there aren’t enough mech stories. Anyway, The Shepherd Protocol is about robots who live in a world in which Asimov’s Laws aren’t a thing. Synths–the robot stand ins–are starting to die/go idle due to the Decay and our protagonist is right in the middle of trying to figure out why things are happening. What follows is a mystery that weaves around a vaguely cyberpunk cityscape. More revelations hit at satisfying intervals. The main characters, whether synths or not, feel realistic and human. But it’s this very humanity of the robots that makes the book seem less intriguing for me. There’s no sense of “other” with the synths here, and it’s never entirely certain if that’s part of the reason why. There is occasional exploration of how humans might treat the synth “other,” but the discussion never delves deeply and the ground is well-trod when it comes to science fiction. The Shepherd Protocol is a fine story, but one that reads as if most of its punch is taken away by having been done before, if differently.

Refraction by Wick Welker

There are three storylines here, each taking place about 80-100 years apart between circa 1980 and circa 2150. The first of these follows a scientist, Timothy Straus, as he works on a groundbreaking discovery. The second, set in the middle time period, follows Caleb (aka “Cal”) as he learns some of the darker secrets behind his cloistered dream life. The third is centered around Custos, a sentient robot who has become the President of Mars. While these stories initially seem unconnected apart from the link of the first two characters hearing voices, they eventually become entangled within each other in deeply connected ways. What’s remarkable about this is that at no point did the entanglement of these narratives seem contrived or forced. Welker does a simply phenomenal job of weaving a cohesive narrative across three timelines while keeping readers on the edge of their seat the whole time. Each society and time period felt fleshed out and full of side characters who mattered. The science-y aspects were detailed enough to survive the suspension of disbelief, and the big reveals, when they started to hit, were fun even if occasionally predictable. The book is almost 450 pages but I sat down on my day off and marathoned through the last third or so of it over a morning (cat on my lap, the best way to read!) because I couldn’t get enough of it. This is a true compelling science fiction yarn, folks.

This Blue Ball by Wayne V. Miller

When I sampled this kaleidoscopic novel by Miller, I was struck by the conspiratorial tone and the way the story was told. I put it on the “maybe” list and was intrigued enough to circle back to it. Now that I’ve finished the novel, I am… confused. “Straightforward” is not a word I’d use for the beginning, but compared to where the story goes, the early parts are pretty simple. You’ve got the story told through a found manuscript that tells of a strange light burned into a computer display that might signify something other or out there in existence. It’s conspiratorial in tone, with a kind of “they [government/illuminati/something] don’t want you to know that we [storyteller(s)] know that they’re [aliens… maybe?] out there.”

And then it just kinda… gets weird. Like the plot doesn’t actually go anywhere. It turns into a series of vignettes with no apparent connection. Like there’s a whole lengthy scene of a Minister Brown introducing a number of people to a group of people and how they represent aspects of an idealized [Thomas] Jeffersonian government but then there’s someone else who talks about the way that the same ideals have led to massive inequities regarding arrests, imprisonment, representation, and more and then Minister Brown is just kinda like “Well that guy’s kinda angry but I don’t necessarily disagree” and then the scene is over. Yes that was a run on sentence but I had to get it all out there. I don’t… get it. I genuinely don’t know where the early plot even went. And then the ending shifts back to the conspiratorial tone talking to the reader and talks about a cacophony and sensation and none of that makes sense either. And interspersed with all of this is a weird obsession with prostitution and masturbation but it gets called “onanism” in reference to the Biblical Onan and I’m not sure where that’s from or why the obsession is even there.

The book doesn’t make sense. At all. And honestly? I’m kind of annoyed by that. Early on, I was sold on the conspiratorial weirdness but then it just keeps spiraling and seems to turn into a rambling commentary on like, life, man, as if you’re reading dialogue from “The Big Lebowski” overlaid with some debates about political philosophy and race. I’m left thinking, “What?”

Battle Royale Round 1 Result

Refraction is moving on to the yes pile! I’ll have a full review of it coming when my group moves on with this round. It’s got a pretty firm standing among my favorites, now that I’ve finished it. I recommend it pretty highly to my readers here. This is exactly the reason it’s worth diving into indie titles, because you find gems like this book that you’d never have known about otherwise.

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Links

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

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

SDG.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 2: Self-Published Science Fiction Contest Reading

I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the first-ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! What is that? Check out the write up over at Red Star Reviews for an explanation. The first round of the contest for we judges is to whittle down the pile of books we’ve been given from the 30 (31 for our group!) to 10 that we’re going to read in their entirety. How do we do that? Well, we read 10-20% of all 30 of the books and then vote on whether we’d like to continue them. I’m going to blog about these as I go, and I want to know what you think! How do you like the covers? Have you read the book? Did my write-up make you want to read it? Let me know!

Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot

Ever read a book that is well-written and even engrossing but also turns you off based on the world? That’s kind of how I felt through the first 20% of this one. The world is honestly depressing. I enjoy my share of grimdark–I’m a huge fan of Warhammer 40K, for example–but this just felt relentless in a feeling of hopelessness and even anger. The main character is like wandering around in a future Earth that was literally turned upside down by apocalyptic war. He’s traveling with his mom, who hates him and they talk about how they want him dead a bunch. It’s relentlessly dark almost to the level of being a caricature. I honestly am guessing some of the other reviewers may vote for this one to be one we finish because it reads as some quality writing, and I’ll read it if it comes to that. For now my vote is against it. It’s too sad.

Dragon’s Baby by Miranda Martin

I’ll be honest up front: romance is just not my genre. Don’t get me long, I enjoy romantic connections between characters and enjoy many classics that might be called “romance,” in a sense, but the genre that is largely considered “romance” now is just not my cup of tea. I decided to give Dragon’s Baby a fair go, and read 30% of it instead of the 10-20% we’re committed to for each book before moving on. I was surprised because it didn’t really seem like anything happened… at all. Like, there’s some space dragon guy with multiple man-parts who is sad or something, and there’s some women over in this other part of the universe who are joking about guys and that’s… really about it. I almost want to keep going just to see if anything at all happens, but this just isn’t my style.

This Blue Ball by Wayne V. Miller

The award for the most minimalistic cover goes to… this book! I don’t dislike minimalism, though. As of my look at this book, it has no reviews on either Amazon or Goodreads. That certainly makes it feel like among the most indie of the indie titles we have in this contest. The story is told through a series of “weblog” entries as a kind of found story. The main character of these weblogs is… not a very good person as far as I can tell. There’s some subtle racist and sexist tones here, but I can’t tell if the author is critiquing them or not. The guy writing the weblog isn’t the most likable, but the story is intriguing to me. I can’t decide if it’s a yes or no yet so I’m putting it on my maybe stack.

Round 1 Status

I’ve now dipped my toes into 6 out of 31 books, with tons more to go. I need to eliminate 2/3 books every time, and this part of round 1 has me with one maybe out of 3. So far, that means I have 2 yes, 3 no, and a maybe! Want to know what other books are on the list? Check out Red Star Reviews’ post on my team’s list to see the covers!

Links

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.