Team Tar Vol On’s First-Round Entries for SPSFC2

We’ve introduced the second Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC2) and the judging team I’ll be leading this year. Now it’s time to turn to round one. We’ve been given 28 books, and we have 5.5 months to evaluate them and choose three semifinalists to pass to other teams.

Many teams will be using the same extended preview method that we used last year, but my team will be approaching the first round a little bit differently, with what I call the Two Advanced Scouts method. Rather than having everyone read 10-20% of all 28 books, we’ve split them amongst ourselves, based as much as possible on our own preferences, so that each book has two initial readers. Those readers will evaluate their assigned books and make a decision on whether or not to pass them to the rest of the team. For a book that’s not working for a particular judge, that may mean the same 10-20% read we did last year. For a book that’s working very well, that will probably mean a full read and review.

We hope that this change will allow our readers to spend more time on books they’re likely to enjoy, and by the same token, for the books in our slush pile to spend more time with readers that are likely to enjoy them. We also hope that reading past 20%–even if it isn’t every judge–will give us a more informed picture before we decide on our quarterfinalists.

We’ll spend the next 2.5 months collecting our thoughts on our assigned books, and in early November, we’ll pool our opinions and select the quarterfinalists that will be read by the full team–though you may see some eliminations or quarterfinalists posted before that if both readers finish early and align in their opinions. We hope to cut about 75% of our batch in this first phase, but we reserve the right to adjust if the situation warrants.

So now that we’ve met the team and explained the process, let’s meet our first-round contestants:

A Call to the Sky by Marc B. DeGeorge

In a world with no ground, only flight keeps you alive.

Toume d’Nezuhmy only wanted to be a pilot, just like his mother. As the son of a chieftain, his clan had trained him to fly well, then sent him to bury his head in books. He would have stayed in them, if not for the high priestess of the Drahken clan.

After making a stop on her Island to deliver parts, she offers him a curious mission. Take a mysterious package to the Manuke—the clan of scientists and engineers who will study it to find its secrets. There is no pay, but if he is successful, the high priestess will grant him her daughter’s hand in marriage.

Ever since his mother went missing, Toume has struggled to gain his father’s approval. Could this be the chance he needs to show his father he is ready to be away from his books?

This delivery is not as simple as it seems, however. Rival clans will kill him for the package, and even if he is successful, marriage is no guarantee of happiness.

A serious choice lies before Toume. Should he choose wrong, he could wind up dead, or worse—a failed union between him and the Drahken heir would destroy the only alliance that protects his clan from destruction.

Initial Readers: Jay and Matt.

Alien House

“Resident Alien” meets “Animal House” as Phil heads to college with a full class load: English, History, and How to Conquer the Earth. But when his spaceship is sabotaged, destroying all of his weapons, papers, and clothes, he’s reduced to hiding out in the lowliest frat on campus. Losing his clothes in public, dodging laser-toting assassins, and a dean of students who wants him to hunt UFOs? All minor problems when he discovers that Earth’s greatest weapon wears shorts and halter tops…

Initial Readers: Jay and Matt

Astral Fall by Jessica Mae Stover

A hundred-year interplanetary war receives little attention from the military’s greatest warriors.

Until five of them devise a secret plan to end it.

Initial Readers: Jay and Jeff

Aurora Ascending by Dennis Ideue

Year 2552 A.D. – The United Terran Federation of Earth discovers they are not alone in the universe. Hundreds of prosperous and civilized worlds are members of the Galactic Council dominated by the Canopan Empire, the Rigellian Alliance, and the highly militaristic Aetherian Empire. As a non-starfaring race, the Terrans choose to ally themselves with the Aetherian Empire.

Commander Elliot Greyjoy, a decorated special forces hero and accomplished pilot in the United Terran Federation Navy is assigned as the liaison officer and military attaché to the Aetherian Princess. His unusual humor and charm draw them close until disaster strikes. When he discovers that the Aetherian Empire has ordered the assassination of their own Crown Princess as well as the destruction of Earth, Elliot plans his revenge for his demolished planet and his lost love with a set of most unusual and unique companions.

Initial Readers: Jeff and Matt

Behind Blue Eyes by Anna Mocikat

They are the perfect hybrid between human and machine. They are the next step in the evolution of mankind. And when they come after you, nothing in the world will save you…

Welcome to the year 2095.

Society has overcome everything that made human life miserable. It has become perfect — so perfect that it needs killer cyborgs to hunt down anyone who disagrees with it.

Nephilim isn’t just any elite death squad member, she is the best. Genetically and cybernetically enhanced, she and others like her strike terror wherever they go. Knowing nothing besides this lifestyle, Nephilim believes that she’s part of a righteous cause.

But everything changes for her after a hostile EMP attack. She suffers a severe system glitch. Disconnected from the grid, for the first time in her life, she begins doubting the system. Shortly after the attack, she meets Jake, a 100% biological human, and she falls in love with him. Jake helps her discover that everything she had believed in was a lie.

But there is no walking away from the system. And soon, Nephilim finds herself hunted by members of her own death squad. In an era of deception, who can she trust? And in this brave new world, is there a place for love between a human and a cyborg?

Initial Readers: Jeff and Sarah

Exin Ex Machina by G.S. Jennsen

The Asterion Dominion is at peace with its neighbors and itself. Its citizens enjoy great freedoms and all the luxuries their biosynthetic minds can imagine, design and create. But beneath the idyllic veneer, something is going wrong. People are going wrong, driven to commit inexplicable crimes without motive or purpose. And once imprisoned for those crimes, they simply vanish.

Psyche-wiped and dumped in an alley 5 years ago, awakened into a culture where ancestral memories stretch back for millennia, Nika Tescarav’s past is a blank canvas. But if whoever erased her did so in the hope of silencing her, they should have tried harder.

Someone must speak for the lost.

Someone must uncover how and why they became lost.

Someone must find the lost.

Nika is that someone.

Initial Readers: Jay and Sarah

Fear by James McLellan

Fyodor Braava’s 2332 A.D. adaptation of the book ‘Phobos’ is widely considered to be the worst production ever made. Plagued at its start with bad decisions regarding crew and cast, the besieged director made the fateful decision to conduct principal recording on location in the hinterlands of Mars. This book chronicles Braava’s 2332 production from its early inception and through the infamous recording sessions and beyond.

Initial Readers: Jay and Matt

House of Haddaway by Parker J. Cole

A consortium of worlds align to form the Milky Way Planetary Alliance where the most powerful planet–Earth–rules one third of the galaxy.

In this sci-fi fantasy romantic retelling of a classic fairytale, an arranged marriage, a husband’s secrets, and a wife’s quest to gain power collide to create a tale of a galactic intrigue.

Death Haddaway, ruler of Preyida, will do anything to save his people, even if it means marrying a woman from an alien race.

Lee Glow knows her duty is to uphold her planet’s interests. Despite her doubts, she obeys the command to wed. As time passes, she knows Death is hiding something that will threaten their relationship and affect the treaties between their worlds.

Soon, Death finds himself trapped in a web of his own deceit. Torn between duty and choice Death has to determine whether to continue to lie and save his people. Or, reveal the truth and lose everything he holds dear.

Initial Readers: Josh and Sarah

In Every Clime and Place by Patric LeClerc

Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful. The motto of the United States Marine Corps. Words to live by.

On the ragged edges of civilization, Corporal Michael Collins has lived those words, taking on riots and evacuations, rebels and terrorists. Asteroid belt patrol is just another deployment. Ninety nine percent boredom, one percent terror. But soon the platoon of Marines find themselves entangled in the threads of a conspiracy of corporate greed, government corruption, piracy, and a band of war criminals.

As the fire team leader struggles with tensions in the close knit unit, Collins and his fellow Marines find themselves outnumbered in a pitched battle to stop a corrupt land grab that seems right out of the Old West, but on a new, wider, more unforgiving frontier. And now he must confront the harsh demands of being “always faithful.”

Semper Fi. Words to live by. Words to die by. Time to earn that combat pay, Marines. Welcome to the Suck. And remember, you volunteered for this.

Initial Readers: Jeff and Josh

Kotov Syndrome by Tim Baughman Jr.

Erika Edens is panicking. Behind on her bills and stuck in a crappy job, she’s blindsided when ex-love-of-her-life Abby shows up needing a place to stay. This is the perfect situation for a second chance…

…except that Abby is a computer simulation in the body of an android. Battling the rising hostility of her world and the demons in her head, Erika struggles to come to terms with living in a country increasingly hostile to non-human entities. Can Erika adapt to life with her new roommate? Or will her troubles end any chance at reconciliation before it gets started?

Initial Readers: Jay and Matt

Petra by Matthew S. Rotundo

Welcome to Petra. It is the ultimate prison. Inmates from all of Ported Space are dumped there, forgotten, and left to survive however they can. Hope dies. Escape is impossible.

Disillusioned war hero Kane Pythen comes to Petra on a fact-finding mission, but gets caught in an uprising that threatens to expose a shattering secret. And Rolf Ankledge, Petra’s ruthless warden, will stop at nothing to keep it from reaching Ported Space. If Kane involves himself, he risks losing everything he has. If he does nothing, he betrays the last shreds of his ideals.

The prison break of the millennium is on. Now Kane must race against time and vicious forces from all over Petra if he ever wants to see his wife and daughter again.

Initial Readers: Jeff and Sarah

Rhonda Wray: Raptor Wrangler by Charon Dunn and Sally Smith

Rhonda Wray: Raptor Wrangler is about a teenage girl who was innocently trying to listen to some live music … her favorite boy band happened to be playing a festival on a dinosaur planet … when bad things suddenly happened. Now she and her trusty robot are all alone in the wilderness, picking up survival skills and looking for her favorite singer, Sebastian Rose, just in case he needs to be rescued. There’s hard science, explosions, plenty of dinosaurs (with feathers), diversity, no sex (although there are a few references to it), less violence than many dinosaur stories, cliffhangers galore, and a little bogus science just to honor the fine tradition of speculative fiction (what if raptors had syrinxes and could sing like birds?).

Initial Readers: Josh and Sarah

Samurai Barber Versus Ninja Hairstylist by Zed Dee

Change is in the hair.

Ninjas are wreaking havoc by cutting people’s hair without their permission. Behind this follicular terrorism is a master ninja, the Ninja Hairstylist, whose chaotic hairstyle embodies the anarchy that is about to tear the city apart.

The Samurai Barber must step up and cut down the evil strands on the Ninja Hairstylist’s head. It is not just keratin that is at stake. The Samurai Barber must fight for one of the cornerstones of modern civilization; the freedom and self-determination to choose your own hairstyle

Initial Readers: Josh and Sarah

Scribes’ Descent by Dylan West

People worship technology on Planet Daishon.

With inventions that prolong life and eradicate disease, it’s little wonder. Death seems obsolete until an earthquake kills thousands, including Mallory’s parents. They should have lived for a thousand years, not just fifty. Mallory scrambles for answers. Such a disaster shouldn’t be possible.

Quakes have never happened on this world before.

Suspecting the top research center had triggered it, her best friend’s father investigates. When he turns up missing, Mallory goes on site after him as a geology intern. She can’t bear to lose anyone else.

An old mine sits at the epicenter of the recent quake, and an unbreakable alien barrier seals it off. But a door hidden in its surface opens for Mallory when she translates its engravings. Once inside, she evades underground predators while cut off from the tech that’s always protected her.

Some graves run much deeper than six feet, and this place could be one of them.

Within this self-contained world lie the remnants of a universal war, revealing that Daishoni folklore is more than superstition. To survive, Mallory must trust in something more than science and logic. She must follow the voice of one she can’t see down to the very bottom. Something deadlier than a quake is trapped there, and it is trying to escape.

Initial Readers: Jay and Jeff

Silicon Minds of Mars by Jeremy Reimer

Mike Lee was a writer-for-hire who yearned for excitement. After a strange man invites him to a meeting, Mike is kidnapped and put on a spaceship to Mars. He’s unwillingly become part of the world’s most expensive reality TV show. He meets Kyla Vox, a starry-eyed computer hacker with a passion for finding the truth. When a mysterious set of accidents put all the contestants in danger, Mike and Kyla must band together to protect everyone on board the ship.

But when they arrive at Mars, their struggles are just beginning. Mars is a strange place, where humans and sentient robots walk under giant ice-domed cities, and computers and automation have made some people rich beyond measure. Mike and Kyla find themselves at the center of a deadly conspiracy, putting not only their lives in danger, but the future of all intelligent life– silicon-based and otherwise!

Initial Readers: Matt and Sarah

Syn City: Reality Bytes by Lewis Knight

He’s a mentally-enhanced hacker; she’s a cyborg cop. They’re supposed to work on opposite sides of the law … until a common threat targets them both.

Specter is a thief and hustler addicted to Elysia: a virtual reality world where limits don’t exist, and he can have everything he desires. His illegal activities put him in the crosshairs of Cyber Corp, a lethal government agency specializing in hunting down the most wanted fugitives.

Enigma is a Scyther: a former criminal forced to work for Cyber Corp after being enhanced as a super-soldier. A device implanted in her skull keeps her loyal, even when hunting down members of her old team. And now, she has a new assignment: tracking down and eliminating Specter.

Initial Readers: Josh and Sarah

The Aspirant by Nick Adams

Bache Loftt wants nothing more than to follow in his father’s footsteps and be an engineering officer on one of the galaxy’s most powerful, state of the art starships.

He has the grades, he has the aptitude – and his application for the naval academy is in. All he has to do is wait for the call up.

Then he witnesses a double murder.

Barely escaping with his life, can he evade the unlimited resources of a galactic syndicate hunting for him and uncover a conspiracy that involves the very institution he’s determined to join?

Initial Readers: Jeff and Josh

The Audacity by Carmen Loup

A wild ride stuffed to the cut-lines with humor, heart, and space shenanigans.

May’s humdrum life gets flung into hyperdrive when she’s abducted, but not all aliens are out to probe her. She’s inadvertently rescued by Xan who’s been orbiting Earth in a day-glo orange rocket ship, watching re-runs of “I Love Lucy”.

Seizing the opportunity for a better life, May learns how to race the Audacity and pilots her way into interstellar infamy. Finally, she has a job she likes and a friend to share her winnings with—until the Goddess of Chaos screws the whole thing up, and Xan’s unmentionable past makes a booty call.

If Douglas Adams got punted into a sticky orange pool of feminism and made sweet love to Futurama, you’d have something approximating The Audacity.

Fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will appreciate the style, fans of Futurama will love the blend of laugh out loud humor and feels, fans of Steven Universe will enjoy that Space is Very Gay.

Initial Readers: Josh and Sarah

The Cost of Survival by J.L. Stowers

Survival isn’t who’s right; it’s who’s left.

Earth spirals into chaos, world war ravages every border, and the human race teeters on the edge of extinction. Humanity’s survival hinges on the success of government contractor Walt Marshall, and his ability to restore life to a decimated valley.

Walt’s job is to bring hope to thousands; a difficult assignment for a man who’s lost everything. During the mission, he finds evidence of atrocious acts committed by the very people sworn to protect human life. He sets off down a dangerous path of espionage and treason as he searches for answers. He must overcome his own dark history, and a ruthless dictator hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to ensure the survival of human kind—on his terms.

Initial Readers: Jay and Josh

The Left Hand of Dog by Si Clarke

Escaping intergalactic kidnappers has never been quite so ridiculous.

When Lem and her faithful dog, Spock, retreat from the city for a few days of hiking in Algonquin Park, the last thing they expect is to be kidnapped by aliens. No, scratch that. The last thing they expect is to be kidnapped by a bunch of strangely adorable intergalactic bounty hunters aboard a ship called theTeapot.

After Lem falls in with an unlikely group of allies – including a talking horse, a sarcastic robot, an overly anxious giant parrot, and a cloud of sentient glitter gas – the gang must devise a cunning plan to escape their captors and make it back home safely.

But things won’t be as easy as they first seem. Lost in deep space and running out of fuel, this chaotic crew are faced with the daunting task of navigating an alien planet, breaking into a space station, and discovering the real reason they’re all there…

Initial Readers: Matt and Sarah

The Sphere by Michelle McBeth

Adelaide loves her job, but who wouldn’t enjoy traveling to the past to unravel the great enigmas of human history? The rules and regulations of her mysterious workplace may seem rather severe, but their need becomes apparent when a coworker returns from a mission decades older and unable to remember his life in the future. Adelaide embarks on a desperate journey through time to save her friend before he becomes trapped in the past. When her own timeline takes an unexpected turn, the fates of everyone she knows are at stake, and the secrets she uncovers put her own life at risk.

Initial Readers: Jay and Matt

The View From Infinity Beach by R.P.L. Johnson

There’s something hidden in the asteroid belt. A fresh start for the human race? Or just an oasis for the corrupt rulers of a dying planet? A teenager from Earth may be the key.

Kade Morton is a young man far from home. He’s been told that humanity’s future lies in space, butExcalibur Stationis just as cramped and dirty as the tenements he left behind on Earth. He is unaware that the station holds a secret that could change the course of humanity. A secret Kade together with some new friends are about to uncover at their peril.

As the forces of old Earth tighten their grip on his adopted home, Kade becomes an unlikely hero in the station’s war of independence. Humanity stands on the brink of its next great adventure and Kade has finally found a future worth fighting for. But when his dream is about to be snatched from him, he has to face a terrible dilemma.

Forced to choose between his friends and the fate of a new world, what will he do?

Initial Readers: Jeff and Matt

Things They Buried by Amanda K. King and Michael R. Swanson

Under the dirty streets of Ismae’s greatest port city, an old nightmare waits for Sylandair and Aliara, one that is stealing Dockhaven’s children, one that only they can end.

When the pair escaped their owner and abuser years ago, they left him behind in a ball of blue flame, but as more children disappear near the city’s desalinization plant, they believe he may not be dead. When they embark on an underground search for him with their less-than-reliable puka scout Schmalch, what they find is beyond any expectation. It will lead them into a twisting world of inheritances, experimentation and memories they never wanted to exhume.

Things They Buried is the first full length novel of Ismae, a planet where bodies can be re-crafted at the genetic level while photography remains a luxury available only to the rich. It is a world where science sometimes appears as magic and history as myth, where monsters make themselves and heroes are wholly unintentional.

Initial Readers: Jay and Jeff

To Climates Unknown by Arturo Serrano

On September 11, the United States were destroyed.

That is, September 11 of the Year of Our Lord 1620.

In this alternate history, the Mayflower was lost at sea, and the English Separatists were disheartened from further colonization of North America. The United States were never born. The centuries that follow will see the emergence of rival empires that will split up the world between them. One will become the terror of the seas. One will rampage with carriages of steam. One will take to the skies. And the people caught in the middle will fight against the colonial system to bring an end to all empires.

Initial Readers: Josh and Matt

Utopia PR by Adam Bender

PR extraordinaire Blake Hamner (the n is silent) put off his honeymoon for his big break: joining a major political campaign for president. Now, the “Hammer” struggles to make time for his marriage as Crisis Communications Manager for Our Leader, who since taking power has become increasingly mad and totalitarian.

The Hammer starts to reconsider his career choices when one of Our Leader’s savage steel hounds attacks the Comms team at a press conference. He’d love to talk about his erratic job with his wife, Triple-N news anchor Maria Worthington, but they have a rule: the broadcast journalist doesn’t ask Blake for inside information about his work, and the spin doctor doesn’t use their relationship as leverage on what Maria reports. They say you shouldn’t keep things from each other in a marriage, but it’s OK—the only secrets between Blake and Maria are professional.

When a revolutionary levels grave allegations against Our Leader—and accuses Blake of distributing disinformation and propaganda to cover it up—the PR rep who thought he could talk his way out of any crisis finds himself utterly trapped in a dystopian job.

Initial Readers: Jay and Matt

Warrior Wench by Marie Andreas

Vaslisha Tor Dain is a mercenary starship captain with a few simple rules: A good ship is better than a great man, in case of confusion always err on the side of blowing someone’s head off, and never fall for a telepath or a member of her crew.

All of those are about to bite her in the ass.

Vas’s life takes a turn for the worse when she comes back to her crew after what should have been a two week pleasure trip to find out she’s actually been gone a month and has no memory of missing time. Her beloved ship, The Victorious Dead, has been sold for scrap and its pieces scattered throughout the galaxy. In addition, there are unmarked ships blowing apart entire planets and the Commonwealth government can’t, or won’t, stop them.

And that’s just her first day back.

Vas has to fight her crew, the Commonwealth, and a mysterious cadre of warrior monks to get her ship back and save a universe that may not want to be saved.

Initial Readers: Jeff and Josh

Watson and Holmes by E.B. Dawson


Born into wealth and privilege, Jenny Watson left her parents’ way of life behind when she volunteered to go fight the Shifters. After giving up her commission, she arrives in Linden hoping to make a fresh start and to put her medical degree to good use. But when her friend and fellow passenger is murdered, Jenny finds new purpose working with Detective Sharlotte Holmes.


Sharlotte Holmes has lived in a three mile radius her entire life, content to pursue her varied interests and wholly unconcerned with the burden the outside world would place on her great intellect. But when Jenny’s past comes back to haunt her, Sharlotte may have to choose between staying in her comfort zone and getting answers.


Initial Readers: Jeff and Sarah

Wreck of the Nebula Dream by Veronica Scott

A reimagining of the Titanic disaster set in the far future among the stars… Traveling unexpectedly aboard the luxury liner Nebula Dream on its maiden voyage across the galaxy, Sectors Special Forces Captain Nick Jameson is ready for ten relaxing days, and hoping to forget his last disastrous mission behind enemy lines. He figures he’ll gamble at the casino, take in the shows, maybe even have a shipboard fling with Mara Lyrae, the beautiful but reserved businesswoman he meets. All his plans vaporize when the ship suffers a wreck of Titanic proportions. Captain and crew abandon ship, leaving the 8000 passengers stranded without enough lifeboats and drifting unarmed in enemy territory. Aided by Mara, Nick must find a way off the doomed ship for himself and several other innocent people before deadly enemy forces reach them or the ship’s malfunctioning engines finish ticking down to self destruction. But can Nick conquer the demons from his past that tell him he’ll fail these innocent people just as he failed to save his Special Forces team? Will he outpace his own doubts to win this vital race against time?

Initial Readers: Josh and Sarah


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