Team Tar Vol On has one more batch of eliminations in the first stage of the third annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC3). We’ve already made two sets of unanimous cuts, and now it’s time to visit the split decisions. Every book eliminated today, like every quarterfinalist, had a full read and recommendation from at least one team member. But with eleven books receiving at least one recommendation, we felt we had too many to send through to the quarterfinals for full reads by the full team. And so we’ve invoked third readers and made one more set of cuts.
In the last two cuts posts, I’ve shared anecdotes demonstrating how idiosyncratic tastes can be. Here, it’s not even necessary. We know these books are the right book for some readers, because they have been the right books for some team readers on our team. But with only two semifinal positions available, we knew we’d have to make difficult decisions, and we’re making some now. So let’s say goodbye to an intriguing sci-fi quartet:
Red Sky at Morning by J. Daniel Layfield
Consensus: We liked Red Sky at Morning. All three of our judges—after a tiebreaking third read—were pulled in by the central mystery and found it easy to keep turning the pages to see what happened next. But some of our readers found the frequent perspective shifts to be unnecessarily confusing, and some of the plot hurdles were cleared a bit too easily for belief. So while our readers agreed it’s plenty entertaining, there were enough complaints to keep any of them from putting it atop a competitive group of slush allocations. For more, check out Bowen’s take on the book.
Embargo on Hope by Justin Doyle
Consensus: With plenty of adventure and a chosen one, our judges felt this read a bit like a fantasy novel, though with enough sci-fi elements to justify its place in SPSFC. None of our readers had debilitating criticisms, but they varied in simply how hooked they were, with opinions ranging from “fine but not really gripping” to “entertaining, but with some pacing issues.” It garnered some support for advancement, but ultimately not quite enough. For more, check out Rari’s mini-review.
The Southron Deception by J.L. Birchwood
Consensus: We had real disagreement on the quality of the characterization, with one reader citing it as a strength and another as a weakness. Each agreed that the writing was solid, and one judge found themself engaged from start to finish, but with one reader turned off by the pointed political commentary and another finding the plot too meandering, it couldn’t reach enough consensus to advance to the next stage.
Through Stranger Eyes by Chris Sarantopoulos
Consensus: Again, we had disagreement on characterization, with one reader finding it a strength and another complaining that the reader was told how the lead thought without being made to really understand it. All three found stretches where they were really engaged by the cyberpunk thriller plot, but all three also cited struggles keeping track of the various factions. Ultimately, this was another book with a wide range of opinions and not enough consensus to advance—there was plenty to like, but not enough for any of our readers to put it atop their list.