SPSFC Quarterfinalist Review: The Automaton by Ian Young

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 generational AI novel with more than a whiff of classic sci-fi, The Automaton by Ian Young.

Azrah’s Review and Rating

I really enjoyed following the socio-political commentary around AI and humanity and how it was shifting and changing through time. I do feel like sometimes the story dragged a little and this often came down to when the narrator was monologuing fragments of history. These parts provided really interesting context but felt slightly info dumpy. That being said the need to know all of the details and how the events linked up kept me reading just as much as the suspense of the chase from XR’s adversaries and this mysterious Anomaly.

Azrah has rated The Automaton 6.5/10. For more, check out her full review.

Bowen’s Review and Rating

This is an elaborately imagined future history telling the tale of the decline and fall and rise and fall (and rise again?) of humanity. It starts off with a good hook and a mystery begging to be solved.

It slows down in the middle, and the majority of the book is flashbacks. That structure, in which an MC in the narrative’s “present” is reviewing records of what happened in the narrative’s “past” robs most of the flashbacks of suspense.

The ending is heartwarming and hopeful.

Bowen has rated The Automaton 5.5/10.

Dave’s Review and Rating

I liked the scope, scale, and expansive ambition of the Foundation-like story spanning the downfall of humanity. The world-building was detailed, the writing good, but the story wandered without a consistent thread driving this reader forward.

Dave has rated The Automaton 5.5/10.

Jay’s Review and Rating

The Automaton is an ambitious, generational sci-fi tale meditating on humanity, AI, and the tendency to fall into the same cycles over and over. It’s not, however, a story with a strong central thread weaving every story together. So ultimately it stands and falls on the individual vignettes that make up the whole. And while each is professionally written and drives toward its own independently satisfying conclusion, the constituent stories tend to build a little too quickly to deliver full emotional force.

Jay has rated The Automaton 6/10. For more, check out his full review.

Mark’s Review and Rating

The prose is fine and all the details and world building are very well done. But, there’s nothing at all to engage the reader’s emotions. The main characters are a robot and a hologram. Neither one is likable or unlikable. Just like the story, they are both emotionless and difficult-to-relate-to characters. On a mission. Because there’s an anomaly. And the hologram has to teach the robot the history of how we got here by showing him holographic recordings.

Mark has rated The Automaton 4/10.

Paromita’s Review and Rating

While this is primarily about very interesting (for me) “what if” ideas, the other elements such as the writing and some character moments were also done really well. I liked the handling of “human vs machine” and found it to be very topical. I do wish this novel was longer and some of the character interactions felt a bit rushed and too exposition-heavy.

Paromita has rated The Automaton 7/10.

Rari’s Review and Rating

I found this an engaging and entertaining read. There were issues but despite all that, it remains an entertaining read. It did get a bit boring at times, but to me the ending was really unsatisfactory. It feels like the author set things up to fool the reader.

Rari has rated The Automaton 6/10. For more, check out her full review.

Official Scores

Azrah 6.5
Bowen 5.5
Dave 5.5
Jay 6
Mark 4
Paromita 7
Rari 6
Team 5.79


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