Fantasy Novel Review: Any Minor World by Craig Schaefer

My judging team in the third annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC3) has turned in our two semifinalists, and in return, we’ve received two semifinalists each from a pair of other teams. Our task over the months of February and March is to read these four new semifinalists, and together with the other two teams, select two finalists from our set of six. Last but certainly not least on my reading schedule was Any Minor World by Craig Schaefer, an author I’d seen highly recommended but hadn’t yet pulled off my TBR. 

Any Minor World is a real genre-blender, but it pulls most heavily from noir and superhero fiction. It opens with a private investigator with a checkered past being paid way too much for what appears a too-easy job of finding an unpublished novel draft among the effects of a writer who had died suddenly in a car accident. As the story progresses, the mystery takes on more and more layers, featuring shadowy organizations and a hidden world of superheroes and supervillains. 

Neither noir nor superhero fiction are exactly in my wheelhouse as a reader, but I do love a character trying to piece together the story behind a scenario that just doesn’t make any sense, and as such, I found it very easy to immerse in the story. It’s fast-paced, with the lead hopping back and forth across the country and finding himself in more and more danger with every clue he pieces together. It has the pacing of a thriller, which I usually see as a negative, but a compelling central mystery and an engaging writing style go a long way, with disorienting hints of future weirdness just the icing on the cake. 

As those hints of weirdness turn into a full-blown main plot, however, the initial mystery drops out of focus to be replaced by a superhero thriller with plenty of metafictional elements and intensely noir stylings. And the quality of the writing here stays high, enough to keep me turning the pages to see how things would turn out. I was personally much more invested in unraveling the mystery than in the action-packed back half, but a lot of that is personal preference and not necessarily a matter of a change in storytelling quality. 

Apart from personal preference, my biggest complaint was the wholesale trade of main stories from the first half to the second half of the story. I have no problem with the transition, as the ultimate main plot is heavily foreshadowed in the opening half, and the dispensed initial story gets enough closure to justify dropping out of focus. But I was left with quite a few questions that were never addressed again, and so even though the main plot culminated in a satisfying conclusion—albeit one that leaves room for further stories—I was still left wanting a bit more closure than I got. 

The characterization is about what I would expect from something in the noir or superhero subgenres–it’s neither the selling point nor a drawback in a book that’s driven mostly by a propulsive plot with a strong “what happens next” factor. It’s pretty far from traditional sci-fi, and the metafictional elements may be polarizing, but as a reader open to all corners of speculative fiction, I found Any Minor World a fast-paced and highly enjoyable tale.  

Recommended if you like: superhero thrillers, metafiction. 

Can I use it for Bingo? Shame finding a Bingo MVP the week before the year’s Bingo ends, but it’s hard mode for Superheroes,  Multiverses, and Mythic Beasts and is Self-Published and features Mundane Jobs and Robots.. 

Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads. 


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