SPSFC Quarterfinalist Review: Fear by James McLellan

My judging team in the second annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC2) has sampled all 28 books in our first round allotment and narrowed them down to eight quarterfinalists for the entire team to read in full. Our next step is to score those eight quarterfinalists and select three semifinalists to send to two other judging teams for further reading and one more round of cuts before the finals begin in May.

As you read our quarterfinal reviews, keep in mind that all of us have our own idiosyncratic tastes, and a book hitting for one of us doesn’t mean it will hit for all of us. On the other hand, a book missing for one of us doesn’t mean it’s not well worth reading, and every entry that’s made it this far has earned at least one of our recommendations.

Today, we’ll be discussing Fear by James McLellan, telling of the ill-fated production of one of the most infamous cinematic flops of the 24th century.

Jay’s Review and Rating

Quality writing and borderline novella length bringing me past 60% before I’d even noticed. But I never connected with the lead enough—either positively or negatively—to generate emotional investment in the disaster, and with so many things going wrong, it was short on surprises that could generate tension. That slow descent into failure, combined with the atmosphere, was enough for one of my teammates, and will doubtless be enough for some other readers. But for me, I just needed something else to grab my attention.

Jay has rated Fear 5/10. For more detail, check out his full review.

Josh’s Review and Rating

Fear is ostensibly the story of an independent film director in the future who has had some success but is not a household name, with the story following him as he tries to get made his passion project movie Phobos (aka Fear), a remake of an adapation of a famous horror novel on Mars. I believe this story is an attempt at absurd satire, as the filming goes completely awry due to editors, nutjob actors, and more….but the writing of this short novel never really hits home on that note – it’s never a particularly humorous story, the plot beats don’t seem to flow consistently, and there really aren’t any characters of any depth. The result is a story that I can’t recommend and one that will not be high on my rankings for the competition.

Josh has rated Fear 4.5/10. For more detail, check out his full review.

Matt’s Review and Rating

I quite enjoyed this book. It’s an atmospheric and absurdist story—about adapting a cult classic—that feels like a cult classic. The fact that this is strictly a slow burning tale of a movie production that can’t get out of its own way, and it happens to take place in this fully realized Martian setting as almost an afterthought, feels like a bit. A bit that just keeps going. And the tension that built in me as I was reading was hilarious.

I think the story itself sums up the book best:

“I read the script, and I’m not sure what it’s about really, it just seems like it jumps from horror to horror with nothing at all tying it together really.”

“I imagine it’s a sore subject, but I wouldn’t want to not ask: would you like to talk about ‘Phobos’ at all?” “No,” Fyodor answered.

I think many will hate it and a few, like me, will be oddly enamored by it.

Matt has rated Fear 7/10.

Sarah’s Review and Rating

Every once in awhile I’m in the right mood to appreciate a book for its weird, experimental storytelling that doesn’t follow the typical formula. Fear fits the bill in this case.

The elements I’d typically prefer in a book – having well-developed, distinguishable characters and a plot logic that cohesively navigates certain themes – were lacking here but simultaneously felt very intentional. The seemingly random bits were simply toying with me, and mirroring my experience as a reader in a way that felt very meta and somehow meaningful.

This is the kind of story that appears aimless but has a subtle self-awareness that’s quite amusing when you’re down for the ride.

Sarah has rated Fear 6.5/10. For more detail, check out her full review.

Official Scores

Jay 5
Josh 4.5
Matt 7
Sarah 6.5
Team 5.75

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