SPSFC Quarterfinalist Review: The Left Hand of Dog by Si Clarke

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 Left Hand of Dog by Si Clarke, a queer, comic space opera in the mold of Douglas Adams and Becky Chambers.

Jay’s Review and Rating

The sentence-level writing makes for an easy read, enough of the jokes landed to earn a couple chuckles, and there are the makings of a solid found family tale in the back half of the book. But the poignant, found family moments don’t have enough room to breathe amidst the squeeze of comic relief. And between the intermittent translation issues and one character whose mode of dialogue made her impossible to take seriously, the heartfelt passages feel more like odd interludes than the true core of the story. Overall, many of the pieces are there for a quality tale, but they don’t quite come together for a satisfying whole.

Jay has rated The Left Hand of Dog 5/10. For more detail, check out his full review.

Josh’s Review and Rating

It’s a self-acknowledged Geeky Book, which bears the subtitle “An Extremely Silly Tale of Alien Abduction”, so you can guess pretty well that this book is aiming for a light and somewhat humorous tone right from the start.

What you might not guess is that this is also a found family type novel, featuring one human (and her dog) and a bunch of different types of aliens (and a robot), dealing heavily with accepting who you and others around you are in the end. And while the book takes a bit to really develop its characters to really hit those themes and character moments, particularly with regards to its non-binary ace heroine and the other aliens she encounters, it really works to become a satisfying, cozy and enjoyable found family story in the end, silly or no (think a sillier Becky Chambers novel).

Josh has rated The Left Hand of Dog 7.5/10. For more detail, check out his full review.

Matt’s Review and Rating

Explain yourself to me like I’m not from this planet. This is the heart of Si Clarke’s, The Left Hand of Dog—a delightfully zany story for those that feel alienated to find extraspection amongst actual aliens. Lem’s abduction serves to hilariously shine a plot-light on our everyday fears and anxieties. Our captors? Cartoonishly impotent. Our miscommunications? Figurative, at best. Our purpose? Banding together to make it out alive. Along the way? Red Dwarf meets Inside Out, as Clarke has us laughing our way to being ‘ok’.

Matt has rated The Left Hand of Dog 7.5/10.

Sarah’s Review and Rating

The dose of sweet + silly sci-fi you probably need right now…

The Left Hand of Dog by Si Clarke is a character-driven space adventure that is both refreshingly light and compelling in its exploration of social issues (i.e. gender, belonging, communication, and the utter ridiculousness of humans through the lens of other species).

Sarah has rated The Left Hand of Dog 7.5/10. For more detail, check out her full review.

Official Scores

Jay 5
Josh 7.5
Matt 7.5
Sarah 7.5
Team 6.88

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