SPSFC Quarterfinalist Review: Stargun Messenger by Darby Harn

My judging team in the third annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC3) has made our way through our full 24-book allocation and selected seven quarterfinalists. Since then, we’ve spent a couple months reading these seven quarterfinalists in full in an effort to narrow our allocation down to the two books we’ll be sending forward to the semifinals. While our scores at this stage will determine whether or not a book will advance to the next round, we’ve also included short snippets of each judge’s review in an effort to help our quarterfinalists find their audience. After all, every book we’ve read in this stage comes with a hearty recommendation from at least one of our seven judges. None of them are unanimous favorites, but all of them are books that we can attest will be hits for the right readers.

Today, we’ll be looking at a cinematic science fantasy space opera: Stargun Messenger by Darby Harn.

Azrah’s Review and Rating

Being a space opera this was the book that I was looking forward to the most in my lot but unfortunately I found it to be my hardest read predominantly because I didn’t get on with the writing style.

Now don’t get me wrong Harn’s prose is beautiful. However, I found that it clashed with all the intricacies of the worldbuilding and character work and when the plot progressed onto the wider conflict within the story I found myself more confused than anything else.

There were some good final twists but I’ve got to admit that I ended up skimming a lot towards the end so sadly this one wasn’t for me.

Azrah has rated Stargun Messenger 4/10. For more, check out her full review.

Bowen’s Review and Rating

Its greatest strength is also is greatest weakness. Stargun Messenger never pauses to explain. Before too long, I stopped actually understanding what was happening. Beauty, loss, love, fear… I experienced emotions guided by the author’s amazing ability to draw feelings out of the reader by an elegant turn of phrase or a word in a never-before-imagined context. But I didn’t understand what was going on.

Judged by the beauty of its language alone, this could be the best book I’ve read in this contest. But in the end, beautiful language alone does not make a book. You must tell a story. Harn definitely did this, but I don’t really know what happened in it. The only thing I can say for sure is how it felt.

Bowen has rated Stargun Messenger 7/10. For more, check out his full review.

Dave’s Review and Rating

Liked the Murderbot-like character struggling with her humanity. The writing was good, but very confused as to what was happening.

Dave has rated Stargun Messenger 5/10.

Jay’s Review and Rating

On a sentence level, Stargun Messenger is very well-written, and it uses the android protagonist and limitations of memory to tell a compelling personal story and ask some fascinating questions about identity and personhood. Unfortunately, I found much of the external plot more difficult to grasp, with a whirlwind romance and a plot that careened back and forth between confrontations with the dark forces trying to seize and exploit the star magic. That made for an uneven reading experience, with some quality subplots undercut by a main plot that didn’t sustain my immersion.

Jay has rated Stargun Messenger 5/10. For more, check out his full review.

Mark’s Review and Rating

Very difficult to get into. Somewhat difficult to sympathize or empathize with an android protagonist and sentient stars. Confusing at times. While I am a fan of not doing the big narrative exposition infodump, some explanation of some of past history, technology, and just the world building in general would have been highly beneficial.

Mark has rated Stargun Messenger 5/10.

Paromita’s Review and Rating

I did not connect with the central narrative voice or the ideas proposed in this book. The writing or characters didn’t work for me and some aspects of the worldbuilding were too much for me to suspend my disbelief.

Paromita has rated Stargun Messenger 4/10.

Rari’s Review and Rating

There is nothing about this book I didn’t love. If you love space operas, sci fi adventures, complex philosophical ruminations (which are buried under liquor and snark), and surprises galore which are foreshadowed with the lightest of touches, believable and memorable characters and great world building, this could be the book for you.

Rari has rated Stargun Messenger 8.5/10. For more, check out her full review.

Official Scores

Azrah 4
Bowen 7
Dave 5
Jay 5
Mark 5
Paromita 4
Rari 8.5*
Team 5.5

* indicates judge’s top score of the round

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