SPSFC First-Round Cuts and Quarterfinalists, Batch Two

On Thursday, we made the first cuts and introduced the first quarterfinalists for Team Tar Vol On’s first round entries in the Self-Published Science Fiction Competition. Today, it’s time for another batch. If you’ve been following this competition, you know the procedure by now (and if you haven’t, refer back to the linked post), so let’s get right to the books.

All is Silence

Author: Robert L. Slater.

Premise: A suicidal teen sees a pandemic take the lives of nearly everyone around her, but a shocking phone call may give her motivation to live.

Status: CUT.

Consensus: A clean, professional, easy-to-read narrative led to one of the biggest disagreements within our judging team to date. One of our judges found the immersion so seamless that they nearly forgot we were only previewing the first fifth of the book, whereas others were bothered by the slow pace of the plot and some of the more common YA tropes. But we were impressed by the readability, and despite the cut, several of us would happily recommend this to fans of YA apocalypse stories.

Bypass the Stars

Author: Kate Sheeran Swed.

Premise: A teenage science prodigy wants nothing more than involvement in her parents’ interworld exploration business, but they seem unwilling to give her an ounce of responsibility. But when a tour to another world goes wrong, she takes it upon herself to spearhead a rescue.


Consensus: Again, some of us were concerned about this turning into a tropey YA tale, but our group was pleased by the smooth, professional storytelling and a lead that felt truly three-dimensional. Between that and some well-developed early intrigue, we’re ready to read more.

Ever the Hero

Author: Darby Harn.

Premise: Decades ago, an alien spaceship brought strange abilities and split the world into those who are Empowered and those who are not. But when one of the have-nots scavenges a strange alien artifact, it puts her in a position to make her mark on the world.

Status: CUT.

Consensus: Ever the Hero brought some of the best prose of any book in our first round group, and between that and interest in the superhero subgenre, it garnered a fair amount of support. But other judges disliked the similarity to The Boys and found that the fast pace didn’t give the story time to adequately breathe, ultimately leading to a decision to cut—albeit a contested one.


Author: Olga Werby.

Premise: A century after disaster nearly ended life on Earth, an alien artifact is discovered on a moon of Saturn. Dr. Versaad Volhard, an evolutionary socio-historian, is brought in to help understand the alien civilization in hopes of avoiding a devastating conflict.


Consensus: An in media res prologue found some of our judges unpleasantly disoriented, but the shift to the academic main character in chapter one helped us sink into the story. Harvest is a slow-build, but it’s well-written, and bringing in the researchers before the military appealed to our readers, making this one of our favorites through the opening fifth.

The Rax: Out of Darkness

Author: C.G. Harris.

Premise: A vicious alien race has enslaved the Earth, but a blind runaway with mysterious immunity to their biggest weapon may be hope for humanity.

Status: CUT.

Consensus: A quick start generated some interest, but we had questions about the worldbuilding, and the early parts of the narrative painted characters with little depth beyond the special hero and evil alien archetypes. Combined with some inconsistent pacing and prose that didn’t draw us in, it was enough to make a decision to cut.

The River Twice

Author: Brenda W. Clough.

Premise: The granddaughter of an Asian monarch encounters a time-traveling English clergyman and sees an opportunity to revolutionize 19th-century science.

Status: CUT.

Consensus: Yet another YA entry, The River Twice offers a simple, direct narrative that moves more quickly than feels realistic, but a couple of our judges found it a whole lot of fun and were ready to read on. The others, however, had trouble connecting to a book that they saw as pitched to a younger audience and lacking a real hook for adult readers, ultimately leading to a decision to cut.

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