Introducing Team Tar Vol On’s SPSFC2 Quarterfinalists

My team has been given 28 books to evaluate in the first round of the second annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC2), with the ultimate task of whittling them to three by the end of January. Those semifinalists will be passed to other judging teams for another round of evaluation before the finalists are chosen next spring. But as other judges well know, going straight from 28 to three is a daunting challenge. For this reason, most judging teams have implemented some method of sampling and narrowing the initial field. In particular, we have decided to assign each book to two of our five readers, have them read as long as their interest lasts, and return with a recommendation. The books recommended by our initial readers will be named quarterfinalists and passed to the remainder of the team for full reads, and the others will be eliminated.

After three stages of eliminations, we are finally ready to announce our quarterfinalists. These eight books have been recommended by at least one of our initial readers, and they’ll now be sent to the rest of the team for reading and scoring. While a few reviews are already live, keep an eye out for more over the next two months as we evaluate these eight books for our three coveted semifinalist positions.

Title: Exin Ex Machina

Author: G.S. Jennsen


Consensus: A quick hook and a fast pace helped our readers immerse immediately into this cyberpunk thriller. It was easy to cheer for the revolutionary lead trying to uncover the secret behind seemingly random disappearances, while also piecing together her own stolen memories. And, while this is a series-starter, it provides enough closure to be worth the read in its own right. While we may have our small complaints, this offered more than enough to justify a quarterfinals place. For more details, see Jay’s review and Sarah’s review.

Score: Exin Ex Machina advances with a score of 8/10 from Sarah and 7.5/10 from Jay. The rest of the team will now read and contribute to the official team score.

Title: The Left Hand of Dog

Author: SI Clarke


Consensus: Cozy, silly, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, this space romp is less about the sometimes-implausible mechanisms of escaping from things that shouldn’t be escaped from and more about inclusion and humor. But that was plenty to delight our initial readers and send it through to the quarterfinals. For more details, see Sarah’s full review.

Score: The Left Hand of Dog advances with a score of 7.5/10 from Sarah. The rest of the team will now read and contribute to the overall team score.

Title: The Audacity

Author: Carmen Loup


Consensus: A zany space opera in the mold of Douglas Adams—but without quite so many one-liners—involving an alien abduction, a chaos goddess, rocket ship racing, and…well, saving the world. For us, it struck just the right balance between plot, characters, and general wackiness to be a whole lot of fun and earn a quarterfinal berth. For more details, see Josh’s full review and Sarah’s full review.

Score: The Audacity advances with a score of 8/10 from Josh and 8/10 from Sarah. The rest of the team will now read and contribute to the overall team score.

Title: Syn City: Reality Bytes

Author: Lewis Knight


Consensus: A cyberpunk novel featuring various human/machine combinations, corporate overlords, and a whole bunch of virtual reality, this drew our readers quickly with engaging writing, solid characterization, and intriguing exploration of VR addiction. It’s not a book that wraps up the loose ends, and our initial readers disagreed on how much that mattered, with one happy to get some emotional closure, even with further plot left to the imagination, and the other frustrated to be left on a cliffhanger. But ultimately, it did just enough to advance to our other readers to break the tie. For more detail, see Sarah’s full review and Josh’s review.

Score: Syn City: Reality Bytes advances with a score of 7.5/10 from Sarah and 6/10 from Josh. The rest of the team will now read and contribute to overall team scores.

Title: The View From Infinity Beach

Author: R.P.L. Johnson


Consensus: Not many books caught our readers’ attention like this one—some of the YA tropes concerned our adult judges, but the concerns were quickly wiped away with exemplary execution. It hits a lot of the expected posts along the hero’s journey, but it’s told well enough to feel fresh again, and to easily find its way into the quarterfinals.

Score: The View From Infinity Beach advances with a score of 8.5/10 from Matt. The rest of the team will now read and contribute to the overall team score.

Title: Fear

Author: James McLellan


Consensus: A short, atmospheric novel that whirlwinds through the solar system as it follows the director through the making of one of the most notorious flops in 24th-century cinema, this one produced a split decision from our initial readers. Both generally saw the book the same way—as a well-written but plot-light tale that tries to be the train wreck you can’t look away from. But one was won over by the setting and the absurdity, catching the whiff of a cult classic, while the other found the tale to spin through characters and failures so quickly as to inhibit real investment. But we’ve decided that the tie goes to the proponent, and we’ll send it to the quarterfinals to be evaluated by the rest of the team.

Score: Fear advances with a score of 7/10 from Matt and 5.5/10 from Jay. The rest of the team will now read and contribute to the overall team score.

Title: The Sphere: A Journey in Time

Author: Michelle McBeth


Consensus: Though another split decision, this initially won both readers with bingeable prose, likable characters, and plenty of time travel intrigue. But like any time travel novel, as the story progresses, the plot gets increasingly tangled, and the prose here lost some of that fluidity. The ultimate plot resolution was enough for one of our readers to maintain their initial excitement, while the other lost much of it. But with one strong vote in favor, we’ll send it to the rest of the team.

Score: The Sphere: A Journey in Time advances with a score of 7.5/10 from Matt and 5.5/10 from Jay. The rest of the team will now read and contribute to the overall team score.

Title: Things They Buried

Author: Amanda K. King and Michael R. Swanson


Consensus: One of the longest books in our batch, this takes place in a secondary world full of sentient non-humans—two of which must excavate the horrors of the place they were enslaved as children to ensure that no more suffer their fate. Though perhaps overlong at times, with no shortage of monsters, the quality of the storytelling and the depth of the main cast was enough to send this ahead to the next round. For more detail, check out Jay’s full review.

Score: Things They Buried advances with a score of 7/10 from Jay. The rest of the team will now read and contribute to the overall team score.


2 thoughts on “Introducing Team Tar Vol On’s SPSFC2 Quarterfinalists

  1. Hey, just wanted to say thanks for letting my book advance, and best of luck to the other semi-finalists! Syn City is a personal fave of mine, but it’s been a struggle finding readers, which is why I had to put the series on the back burner while working on other projects. I’m hoping the contest gives it some much-needed exposure because I have a three-book arc in mind for the story and look forward to getting back to it!

  2. Oh wow, it is an honor to be the general wackiness amongst all these fantastic sounding novels!! I am honestly gobsmacked that The Audacity made it here (especially the first book, we all know how debut books can be 😂) and I am so grateful to y’all for taking the time and energy to not only read but also write an entire review for it! Time to get some eyes on that competition… even the title Left Hand of Dog made me laugh out loud.

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