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 The Sphere: A Journey in Time by Michelle McBeth, in which the failure of a time machine sets off an adventure that will resonate through the past, present, and future.
Jay’s Review and Rating
Time travel stories always depend on how everything comes together in the end, and I found my interest waning in the final third. There was plenty of running from enemies, along with some intricate working through timelines that may be fascinating to anyone gripped by the tale but didn’t offer so much to those on the fence. And after putting it down and returning, it became strikingly clear that the writing style that had drawn me in early had lost some of its smoothness and bingeability in the latter stages. This didn’t totally undo all the good work from the first half of the book, and it still delivered a satisfying ending. But there was a bit too much roughness–especially near the end–for me to enjoy the whole as much as I enjoyed the start. That said, there were enough flashes of quality that I didn’t object to my teammate sending it to the quarterfinals, and I’m certainly intrigued to see how the author develops over her career.
Jay has rated The Sphere: A Journey in Time 5.5/10. For more detail, check out his full review.
Josh’s Review and Rating
I find my own verdict on The Sphere to be mixed. The book’s time travel setup does work well and its prose and lead character Addy – a woman who works for a mysterious organization that sends people back in time to discover lost historical truths like who was the inspiration for one of Shakespeare’s sonnets – really carries the book well and makes this short book go by quite quickly. And the book’s plot does work somewhat from that character’s perspective, as she tries to figure out how to act and what to do when things go wrong with a fellow time traveler’s mission and things begin to be revealed about the organization for whom she works. At the same time, the book tries to throw in teases to other mysteries which are not paid off here (and which are then setup for a sequel) which prevents this from being fully satisfying and there isn’t quite enough meat on the bone of this story to really impress or make this book stand out too much.
Josh has rated The Sphere: A Journey in Time 7/10. For more detail, check out his full review.
Matt’s Review and Rating
McBeth shines when she’s writing her time traveling leads in the field and indulging their curiosities. In doing so, she plants the seeds for plenty of callbacks, characteristically sound decision making and an eventual “next time on…” epilogue. Where she gets bogged down is in the last act setup. Knowing that this novel was a NanoWriMo project, I can imagine McBeth flourishing in the first weeks and pressing in the finals. That said, the “gang circles up at the hideout” and “lead looks at the ocean, its possibilities” felt fitting to the historical librarian persona. I liked that the plot decisions consistently felt staked in personal interest. There’s a late game plot reveal/genre addition that could have taken away from those personal stakes, but I found it added more complicated context to the decisions made.
Matt has rated The Sphere: A Journey in Time 7.5/10.
Sarah’s Review and Rating
I enjoyed the initial set-up. The time travel elements were clever and appropriately out-there to get dizzy about per usual in the genre. But after the first third, the writing didn’t work for me. There were parts that dragged due to extra attention on minor transitions, and other parts that felt rushed where I wanted more – making it hard to stay immersed. I also wanted more from the characters, who had some interesting relationship dynamics but still felt too one-note for me to be emotionally invested.
Sarah has rated The Sphere: A Journey in Time 6/10.