We’ve reached the finals of the second annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC2), and my team will be reading all four of the seven finalists that we had not previously reviewed in the semifinals. After opening with a true epic, I shifted gears to the fast-paced sci-fi thriller Hammer and Crucible by Cameron Cooper.
Hammer and Crucible stars Danny Adela, once a feared soldier in service of the Emperor, now passing her old age on a family ship after her son’s betrayal of the Emperor leaves her in disgrace. Until one day her granddaughter shows up wondering whether his betrayal might not have been quite as advertised, drawing her into a fast-paced, high-stakes search for answers that leads her to the very seat of power.
[Note: if you’re at all spoiler-averse, do not read the Goodreads/Amazon blurb, which bafflingly advertises a somewhat late plot twist.]
While some of the SPSFC books I’ve read have been wildly ambitious—some successfully, some not—Hammer and Crucible has much more modest goals. It knows exactly what it wants to be, and it largely delivers on those expectations. It’s well-written on the scene-level and doesn’t spend much time dwelling on worldbuilding or character deep-dives, leaving little impediment to keeping that hard-charging plot moving. The ubiquity of anti-aging technology does make it somewhat disorienting to gauge how old the characters are, and either the narrative or my brain processing the narrative kept slipping into thinking of one character in her 60s and one her in 20s, even though the latter’s father died 40 years before the main action, and reading her to be in her 20s makes no sense. But apart from that, it’s a straightforward and easy-reading thriller plot.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of connective tissue between the various parts of the thriller plot. The scenes themselves are entertaining, but the story moves from scene to scene so quickly and so easily—easily enough to be suspicious, a point which is adequately addressed by the plot—that it’s hard to really get attached to the characters, or to spend enough time speculating on plot twists for them to feel truly shocking. That’s the difference between a popcorn thriller that has you coming back for more and a relatively enjoyable read that you’ll forget within a week. I think the author nailed many of the popcorn thriller scenes, but I needed something more between them in order to truly invest in the story.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Title with a Title, Self-Published, and it also Features Robots and a Queernorm Setting.
Overall rating: 11 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads
SPSFC score: 5.5/10 for my personal score. The official team score will be determined in concert with my teammates.