We’ve made it to the finals of the Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC), and six of the seven finalists are new reads for my judging team. The farther we get into the competition, the more highly recommended each book comes–each of the seven has been hand-picked out of a 30-book slush pile by one of the ten judging teams, and each fell in the top quarter of a semifinal round consisting entirely of the books that had been hand-picked by those first-round judging teams. Every book we read from here out has multiple other bloggers singing its praises. But, as we saw with the previous two rounds, we still bring a variety of interests, likes, and dislikes to the table, and a book hitting with one reader doesn’t always mean it will hit with everyone. Along with our scores–which will be averaged with the nine other judging teams to determine the winner–we’ve done our best to explain what we like or dislike about any given book, but it’s up to the readers to try to extrapolate from our tastes to their own tastes.
Today, we’ll be looking at the opening book to what promises to be an action-packed space opera adventure: Captain Wu by Patrice Fitzgerald and Jack Lyster.
Jay’s Review and Rating
Captain Wu feels like a TV pilot. It delivers enough plot progress to serve as the end of an episode (at least before the cliffhanger ending that amplifies the sequel hook), but it hardly makes a dent in the main plot. By the end of book one, we know a little bit more about who is pursuing the heroes, but still next-to-nothing about why. And delivering some fun action scenes while introducing the cast and gesturing at shadowy danger would make a totally satisfying first episode of a TV series. But in a novel, I expect some payoff for the investment in the book, not just a pitch for the series.
This makes it hard to put a numerical score on the book. If I’m grading against my expectations for novels, the score is Incomplete. Because I had fun with it, but then it stopped. On the other hand, it is a very short novel (listed under 300 pages, and it honestly reads faster than that), and if this is just the first episode of a serial, then it seems like a pretty successful one! But SPSFC demands scores, and I went somewhere in the middle, letting the fun factor bring it into the four-star range but the feeling of incompleteness keep it at the low end of that range.
Jay has rated Captain Wu 7/10. For more detail, check out his full review.
Esme’s Review and Rating
I found this to be an enjoyable fast read that I would have gotten through much quicker had life not gotten in the way. I found Wu to be a relatable-ish character. She was doing her best to keep her crew together (and paid) despite unhappy circumstances. She’s a “delivery girl” of sorts but not your normal deliveries. The delivery she was carrying out when the book opened ended in a bloodbath, and her package was undelivered since the guys ended up dead. I guess you could liken them more to pirates, or….privateers? There are a lot of aliens in this one, a lot of spaceships flying around the galaxy. I assume due to this it will appeal to those who like space adventuring. I love the fact that we have an older female protagonist at the head of this crew. It’s almost always a male lead in more stereotypical captain roles like this. I believe she’s like 60-something which sets this one apart from other things I’ve read this year. I really wanted more from the world, though, I found it kind of vague and undefined. The characters are probably the highlight here. I’d say if you enjoy rag-tag crews, a lot of action, and adventure in a space opera, this one might be for you.
Esme has rated Captain Wu 7/10.
Lilyn’s Review and Rating
I really liked the characters, their relationships, and the action. The government big bad was very typical, but that’s just how it goes for this type of book. Serious Firefly vibes but it never really felt to me like it was trying to be Firefly, which made me appreciate it all the more. But with no resolution at all, I have to dock major points. I will not be reading more because I expect full stories if I’m paying for a book.
Lilyn has rated Captain Wu 6/10.
Bill’s Review and Rating
I’m going to make a comparison to The Expanse series. Very different, but also a very similar base of characters and tools. I liked the book, and it is currently my second favorite of the finalists that were new to my team. The plotting and dialog are crisp and move along at a good pace.
There are, however, a few issues that I have to comment on. Another editing pass might have helped clean up some of the info-dumps that occur too frequently. Still, I can imagine many readers not noticing that at all, so it’s hardly a significant problem. More troubling to me was the ending. There was no cliffhanger, which many people hate, though I don’t necessarily. But literally none of the open questions get resolved. They are still searching for answers, not in any immediate danger, and I still don’t know a thing about what is up with the book. That was all very dissatisfying.
Bill has rated Captain Wu 7/10. For more detail, check out his full review.
Tracy’s Review and Rating
I’m big on characters; that goes a long way towards helping me really enjoy a book. Much like Esme predicted, I DO like “rag-tag crews, a lot of action, and an adventure in a space opera.” I think the author balanced the character work with the action well. As others have mentioned, the ending lost points with me–I needed a bit more resolution before leaving it that way.
Tracy has rated Captain Wu 6.5/10.