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, with our last review of the round, we are proud to announce our second semifinalist, a dark cyberpunk thriller: Thrill Switch by Tim Hawken.
Azrah’s Review and Rating
I really enjoyed this one and literally couldn’t put it down! From the beginning the story and characters hook you right in. The murder mystery keeps you guessing and aligns really well with the wider political turmoil surrounding laws and regulations within the VR/Holos world and some of the commentary there reflects our world today too.
Azrah has rated Thrill Switch 8.5/10. For more, check out her full review.
Bowen’s Review and Rating
This book is extremely well-written, suspenseful and entertaining. I couldn’t stop turning pages. I really enjoyed the read. This is going to be a book that I score differently for the contest than I would anywhere else. For SPSFC, I will score it high. The writing skill displayed here is very very good. Rising action, plot structure, obstacles for the MC to overcome… the author is obviously good at his craft, and I don’t think the book should suffer just because it happened to come across a squeamish judge.
Bowen has rated Thrill Switch 7.5/10. For more, check out his full review.
Dave’s Review and Rating
The narrative unfolds through creative twists and turns as the main characters move in and out of the virtual world to solve a murder mystery. A nice character for Ada, who must overcome PTSD to enter the devil’s playground. Make no mistake, the virtual world is horrific. This isn’t the fun hangout of Ready Player One, but a playground for the worst excesses of humanity. Content warning, this book isn’t for the faint of heart.
Dave has rated Thrill Switch 6.6/10. For more, check out his full review.
Jay’s Review and Rating
Ultimately, Thrill Switch took a subgenre I found uninspiring and pulled me in anyways, with a gut-punch of an opener and cracker of an ending. It’s a true thrill ride, with a well-wrought social backdrop that gives the whole thing a ring of truth. This is not a book for readers who are even a little bit squeamish, but for those with stronger stomachs and a taste for cyberpunk mysteries, it’s an excellent read.
Jay has rated Thrill Switch 7.5/10. For more, check out his full review.
Mark’s Review and Rating
Thrill Switch was a well-executed thriller. The premise and the world-building were well done and consistent. The characters were drawn very well — not once did I have to ask, “Now, who is this guy again?” The story’s pacing wasn’t overwhelming, neither did it drag. The storytelling, while very graphic at some points, was tense and tightly written. The set ups and payoff all worked well, and the surprise at the end made sense. IOW, it didn’t cause a “gimme a break” reaction. My favorite book of the quarter-finalists.
Mark has rated Thrill Switch 8/10.
Paromita’s Review and Rating
This was a very good thriller with science fiction – specifically virtual reality (VR) – elements woven in deftly that had me turning the page from beginning to end. I found it unputdownable. The writing and characters were really good, excellent storytelling, breakneck pacing without ever feeling rushed and the plot resolution was very satisfying.
Paromita has rated Thrill Switch 8/10.
Rari’s Review and Rating
You may note that much of our team emphasized the content warnings in their reviews. In light of these warnings, Rari declined to attempt this book and will not be providing a score.
*indicates judge’s top score of the round