My judging team in the third annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC3) has been given 24 books to whittle down to two semifinalists. In the first two months of the competition, each book in our allocation was read by at least two of us, and we have cut nearly three-quarters of them. Some of those decisions were easy, some were hard. If you’d like to hear more about the fallen, check out our first, second, or third eliminations posts. But now it’s time to turn an eye to the quarterfinals, where the remaining seven books will be read by every single member of the team as we try to identify those two books that we will send forward to the next round. Each of these books has been read and recommended by at least one team member, and most have been read and recommended by two. So without further ado, let’s meet our quarterfinalists:
The Mimameid Solution by Katherine Kempf
Consensus: Two of our readers thought this post-apocalyptic epic spent too much time in the setup, threatening to lose readers before the plot ever got off the ground. On the other hand, two of our readers took in the epic scope and immersive writing style and saw a book with the potential to go deep in the competition. It won’t be a book for everyone, but it’s a book that’s already hit big with one of our readers, and we’re sending it forward to see whether it will hit big for any more.
Stargun Messenger by Darby Harn
Consensus: This is a tricky one to evaluate, because so much depends on the reader’s reaction to the narrative voice. Two said it wasn’t for them and made it hard for them to sink into the narrative, even if they didn’t necessarily see major objective flaws. The third found it stunning, connecting easily with character and plot and slotting it as the top book of the slush phase. Given that kind of recommendation, we owed it to ourselves to pass it on to the rest of the team. For more, check out Rari’s review!
Red Darkling by L.A. Guettler
Consensus: Our readers were impressed by the storytelling, which managed to draw them into a short, easy, and enjoyable read. The characters were likable, and while the story may not have been pushing the limits of ambition, it’s one that kept both our initial readers engaged for the duration.
Thrill Switch by Tim Hawken
Consensus: With a content warning list of “yes,” some of us were a little apprehensive about what we’d get here, but our initial readers were treated to a fast-paced thriller in a virtual world. With engaging characters and a mystery that keeps the reader guessing, this was an easy choice for the next stage.
The Automaton by Ian Young
Consensus: One reader was immediately turned off by the flat voice of the robot protagonist, but others found the characterization compelling and the reflections on AI fascinating. With a few moments of infodumping, this is a book more about ideas than thrills, but the majority of our scouts found those ideas sufficient to send it forward to the next stage. For more, check out Azrah’s review!
Apocalypse Parenting by Erin Ampersand
Consensus: Somehow this book ended up with two initial readers who had no previous exposure to LitRPG, but this was one heck of an introduction. The main character felt real enough to walk out your neighbor’s front door (at least if you live in suburbia), and her struggles managing three children through a deadly alien game wonderfully mixed the tense and the whimsical. One reader had mixed feelings about the serial pacing, but this was an easy choice to send to the rest of the team. For more, you can check out either my or Bowen’s review!
Tasmanian Gothic by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
Consensus: The science takes a back seat in this post-apocalyptic novel in a crime-ridden Tasmania haunted by mutants, but the writing quality and storytelling make this well worth the read. Even further, the depth of characterization and theming puts it in the running for top book in our slush reading for at least one initial reader.
Over the next 2-3 months, all seven of us will read all of the quarterfinalists that we haven’t previous completed. Look out for individual reviews on our socials, with full team scores to come in January. At the end of January, we’ll officially announce the two semifinals that we’re pushing to the next round. There is the possibility of a third-place book being used as something like a Senlin Net, but this mechanism has never been used in SPSFC. If that changes, we’ll let you know. Until then, we’re setting in for a lot of reading. Don’t be a stranger, as we’ll have plenty of reviews to post.