Team Tar Vol On continues to work through our first-round batch of Self-Published Science Fiction Competition entries, and we’ve passed the halfway point. If you haven’t been following along, you can check out batch one and batch two; otherwise, read on for another set of cuts and quarterfinalists.
Author: K. B. Shaw.
Premise: In an extraterrestrial dystopia that has achieved peace at the cost of freedom—banning even the study of history—an adolescent with a photographic memory falls in with a subversive group seeking to discover their homeland’s true story.
Consensus: Neworld Papers is split into two sections—The Historian’s Tale and The Warrior’s Tale—following different protagonists. Only the former was part of our preview, and it was told in a matter-of-fact style rich in detail but low in context. One judge found the style appropriate to the character and was intrigued by both the mystery behind the world and how the story would change at the perspective switch. But one reader’s stylized is another’s stilted, and other judges had trouble connecting emotionally, especially to the narrator’s romantic exploits, ultimately leading to a decision to cut.
No Lack of Sunshine
Author: Eric Kay.
Premise: The first human children to be born on another planet and raised by AIs must take their future into their own hands when one of the AIs begins to fail.
Consensus: No Lack of Sunshine delivers a major crisis in the first few chapters, providing plenty of hook for further reading. But the narrative gets bogged down detailing the intricacies of the world and the available avenues for problem-solving, losing the momentum from that early hook. This may work well for a reader who loves nitty-gritty detail work, but our judges wanted to see better established emotional connection to the characters before diving into the technical weeds. And we admit, naming a character Skyfa’ther did break our immersion.
Author: Anne Attias.
Premise: The world’s first genetically engineered person goes into graphic design and finds himself at the center of a thriller about the secrets behind the virtual and the genuine.
Consensus: Prototype opens with a matter-of-fact, first-person narration of the origins of the central character, in a style that reads like a prologue and had a little too much infodump for our tastes. But the matter-of-fact, first-person narration doesn’t end, with no chapter breaks or stylistic variance in the first 20% of the novel. Ultimately, our judges failed to connect to the style and didn’t immerse in the story.
Author: Cleland Smith.
Premise: The height of fashion is exclusive, engineered sexually transmitted viruses, but brilliant STV-designer Dr. Kester Lowe is making plenty of enemies in his ascent to stardom.
Consensus: It’s a book about STVs, so there’s a good bit of sex and disease. Sequela doesn’t seem to be going all-in for shock value, but there will be readers who bounce hard off the premise, including one of our judges. On the other hand, exquisite writing craft and a unique premise had others immersed from the beginning and ready for more. If the purpose of our previewing was to see which books generated curiosity as to how the last 80% would go, Sequela was easily answered in the affirmative.
Author: Tripp Ainsworth.
Premise: A war story about an enlisted Marine promises supernatural and science fiction twists.
Consensus: The opening portion of Smokepit Fairytales follows a Marine and his fellows having returned from Afghanistan and consists of a lot of strip clubs and crude humor before we see hints of another conflict ahead. The book bills itself as an accurate depiction of enlisted life, and it may be, but the promised sci-fi elements did not appear in the early-going, and our judges didn’t appreciate the barrage of crass jokes. This may have an audience, but it isn’t us.
What a Piece of Work is Man
Author: David F. Clark.
Premise: In a world where the elites have become cybernetically-enhanced “grafters,” the death of the only know alien life in grafter hands could spark a major conflict between grafters and the remaining unmodified humans.
Consensus: Conflict between adopters of mind-altering tech and its opponents provides plenty of groundwork for a rich story. However, What a Piece of Work is Man was undercut by a dense prose style that seemed to choose five-dollar words at every opportunity, even when simpler words would serve. Between that a couple early infodumps, the judges had a hard time immersing in the narrative.