SPSFC Finalist Review: Dark Theory by Wick Welker

We’ve made it to the finals of the third annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition. Team Tar Vol On has combined with eight other teams to select six finalists to be read by every judge in the competition. We’ve already read and scored Thrill Switch and Kenai, but we’re reviewing four more as part of the last round of the competition. As always, our team has varied tastes and rarely are univocally in favor of one book. For those where we aren’t recall, that every book that’s made it this far has drawn rave reviews from multiple teams. Even if they’re not for us, they’re for someone, and we hope our reviews will help those someones find the right books. 

Today we’ll be discussing a sprawling post-apocalyptic epic, Dark Theory by Wick Welker.

Azrah’s Review and Rating

The narrative as a whole is for the most part paced well as we join these characters travelling from place to place to get to where they need to be, facing adversaries on the way which also gave us a chance to explore the different places that make up their world and their individual pasts in an interesting way. At times some of the perspectives seemed to be a bit too observant, over explaining what was happening as it was happening but this eventually smoothed out. There was quite a bit of repetition throughout the story though which was the one thing I had an issue with.

I loved the characters enough and was invested in their stories to want to continue on though and I’m glad that I did because the last 100 or so pages ramped everything up again and led to an explosive finale which has set the next book up brilliantly.

It’s a long read but a highly entertaining one and I look forward to seeing how the series continues!

Azrah has rated Dark Theory 7.5/10. For more, check out her full review.

Bowen’s Review and Rating

Pros: Rich, detailed, fully realized world. Beautifully interwoven plots. Excellent characterization. Good voice actor in the audio version.
Cons: Scenes of strong violence and torture. Sometimes it meanders. Just when I was delighted with the way all the various characters and subplots came together into a bang-up conclusion, the conclusion got a little long.

Bowen has rated Dark Theory 7/10.

Dave’s Review and Rating

“Dark Theory” is a wildly imaginative post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure. The story takes place in a unique and captivating world that feels both familiar and utterly alien. The plot is full of surprising twists and turns that kept me engaged and guessing until the very end. The diverse cast of characters, each with their own compelling arcs, is one of the novel’s greatest strengths. I found myself particularly drawn to Ribcage (the goblin-child, love that!), Beetro, and Miree. Somehow, in some way, the book leverages pretty much every cool thing I’ve heard about in cosmology, like “pop-physics,” but in a good way. Highly recommend!

Dave has rated Dark Theory 8.5/10.

Jay’s Review and Rating

Overall, there’s a lot about Dark Theory that feels solid and professional and not very many deal-breakers. The biggest problem is that there just aren’t enough deal-makers either, and in a book of over 800 pages, there really needs to be. Were this book 500 pages, it’d be an easy three stars, with the possibility for four with strategic tightening up of various elements. But an especially long book has a harder job keeping the reader’s attention, and a book that can’t do that will make for an unpleasant read, even if no single element is particularly offensive. Dark Theory offers decent but simple characterization, competent but not gripping prose, and a plot and world that garners initial attention but offers neither the excitement nor intricacy to sustain that attention over the book’s full length. For a popcorn thriller, that may be enough. For a book with the scope and ambition of Dark Theory, it unfortunately is not.

Jay has rated Dark Theory 5/10. For more, check out his full review.

Mark’s Review and Rating

Mark was unable to read Dark Theory and will not be providing a score.

Paromita’s Review and Rating

I think this could have been much better had it been polished more. Reminds me of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, another novel where the “hard SF” aspect didn’t work for me. It is actually mentioned in the Acknowledgements as an inspiration!

I think the writing (especially dialogue) was weak and clunky, character work was weak, pacing was erratic. Worldbuilding could have been interesting but the execution didn’t work, there was too much jargon for me. Theming I didn’t get much, there is some commentary about consciousness, the dangers of power, the pitfalls of scientific progress but it didn’t go far enough. Unfortunately the repetition and exposition got to me.

However, it showed ambition in terms of attempt, tries to to work with the SF ideas. I wish the execution had been better.

Paromita has rated Dark Theory 6/10.

Rari’s Review and Rating

Rari was unable to read Dark Theory and will not be providing a score.

Official Scores

Azrah 7.5
Bowen 7
Dave 8.5*
Jay 5
Mark DNA
Paromita 6
Rari DNA
Team 6.80

*indicates judge’s top score of the competition

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