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 our second hand-picked semifinalist, G.S. Jennsen’s cyberpunk thriller Exin Ex Machina.
Jay’s Review and Rating
Uncovering secrets tends to hook me pretty quickly, and the ones here were teased just enough to keep me turning the pages, before closing with a reveal that simultaneously satisfies and opens up more questions that it answers. Asterion Noir is very much a trilogy, and the story doesn’t end here, but the first book gives enough to make it worth your while. It’s a quick, fun plot with likable characters and enough layers to feel like its own book while also setting up the story left to come.
Jay has rated Exin Ex Machina 7.5/10. For more detail, check out his full review.
Josh’s Review and Rating
The dialogue and plotting move at a really nice pace, the prose is written in a way that it reads really quickly and fits my reading style, and the major characters are very excellently done, ranging from Nika in her quest to lead her resistance ovement and to get answers, to Dashiel who has for five years felt like he can’t trust anyone due to his loved one’s disappearance and who gets caught up in the conspiracy to the minor POV characters like Joaquim and others who get small bit parts to shine. The book bounces around POVs enough that you practically always know what side a given character is really on, but even with the lack of surprise or the massive foreshadowing of events it tends to work really well thanks to its likable characters and intriguing plot. You may not be surprised by the specific twists when they occur, but the book does do a good job at doling out its reveals to the characters in such a way to keep things moving in a way that never seems too abrupt or too slow and winds up being very satisfying in the end.
Josh has rated Exin Ex Machina 7/10. For more detail, check out his full review.
Matt’s Review and Rating
Exin Ex Machina is a stylish, suspenseful tech thriller. With an initial “amnesia” hook, Jennsen deftly layers new questions with every answer she gives the reader. Wielding a key sense of the raciness intrinsic to espionage plots, it’s the characters and relationships that power the story through multiple points of view and stakes ultimately growing from intimate to grand in scope.
Matt has rated Exin Ex Machina 7/10.
Sarah’s Review and Rating
The story includes multiple povs, which add to the world-building and nuance while simultaneously closing the loop on several tension-building questions that could have lingered a bit longer. Regardless, I remained intrigued until the last page. It ended in a way that satisfied the arc of the book, while also setting up the next leg of the series. Exin Ex Machina is the first in a newer series within this world and I definitely plan to continue with book two.
Sarah has rated Exin Ex Machina 7.5/10. For more detail, check out her full review.
* indicates judge’s top score of the competition to date