Cora Buhlert: Self-Published Science Fiction Competition Round 1

[In the Self-Published Science Fiction Competition, created by Hugh Howey and Duncan Swan, ten teams of book bloggers – including Team File 770 – will soon finish winnowing through their share of the 300 entries to decide which ones should make it to the next stage. Team members are reading the first 20% of each of their 30 books, and recommending the 10 they think the team should read in full. The 10 books that collectively get the most “yes” votes advance to a second stage where they will be read in full by the team and scored.  Here, Cora Buhlert shares her notes about the books she picked to advance.]

By Cora Buhlert:

A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden
  • A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden

This one starts out strong with a graphically described prison whipping of a new prisoner, who later turns out to be the protagonist Nate. The prison scene, told from the POV of a guard, is well written, but then I have a soft spot for prison stories. Then the story jumps ahead in time with protagonists Nate (who’s now out of prison, even though he barely escaped execution) and Catherine escaping dystopia to the outlands. This part is not quite as good and Catherine is sadly afflicted by the Doctor Who companion tendency to sprain her ankle.

This feels like a typical dystopian YA novel, but it was promising and I wanted to read on.

Yes, please, give me more.

  • Alterlife by Matt Moss
Alterlife by Matt Moss

John is about to rob a bank to support his family, when he just happens to hear someone mentioning that they made five thousand dollars playing a virtual reality game called Alterlife – quell coincidence. Of course, both game and videogame system cost five hundred dollars each and John already didn’t have money. Never mind that the game is sold out. So John lies to his wife and talks his boss into giving him a loan to buy the bloody game and console. Then he holes up in a friend’s apartment and starts playing a faux medieval virtual RPG.

I found this one dull, to be honest. The first few chapters are just John and his crappy life. Only by the end does he actually enter the game and it’s still not very exciting. Also, I feel sorry for John’s wife who’s married to a lying loser. This one also has technical issues, jumping between first and third person POV and present and past tense.

No thanks, not for me.

Aurora Ascending by Dennis Ideue
  • Aurora Ascending by Dennis Ideue

Starts off with an infodump prologue, which is thankfully short. But even when the novel proper starts, it just goes on and on infodumping. It takes until chapter 2 until the shuttle with the Aetherian crown princess Ember even lands on Earth and then another chapter for her to descend the ramp and promptly get shot, before we witness the landing yet again through the eyes of a random spectator. It takes several more chapters until we finally learn that Ember’s own father wanted her killed.

The attempt to tell the story from different POVs (Ember’s bodyguard, Ember, a random spectator) in the first person is a nice idea, but it doesn’t work, because the narrators all sound the same. The attempt to build up a romance between Ember and her earthly body guard Commander Elliott Greyjoy (her Aetherian bodyguard has been shot after randomly changing his surname) fails completely, because there is no chemistry, just Ember recounting their interactions. When they finally have sex, it’s a handled in a single line. The next day, a new assassin gets lucky and Ember dies. And then the Aetherian Empire goes to war with Earth. The rest is infodumpy war stuff

I’m not the target audience for overly technical military SF and I found this one a chore to get through, to be honest. The only interesting thing is the budding relationship between Ember and Greyjoy and that’s glossed over and then she dies.

No thanks, not for me.

Condition Evolution by Kevin Sinclair
  • Condition Evolution by Kevin Sinclair

This one opens with protagonist Shaun at the doctor, because he’s obese and steadily gaining weight since he had an accident, which cost him his job as a roofer. The doctor sends him to an experimental therapy using another immersive VR game. All expenses are paid, but the therapy takes year. The game turns out to be yet another pseudo-medieval fantasy world. However, Shaun is still overweight and has little stamina and gets captured by lizardmen almost immediately. He becomes a mining slave.

Again, I’m not the target audience for this one, because I find LitRPG with its focus on stats irritating. Though this one is more interesting than Alterlife.

No thanks, not for me.

Cranax Outbreak by Candice Lim
  • The Cranax Outbreak by Candice Lim

The prologue is a boardroom scene of several scientists at a research lab discussing whether to release a virus in order to ensure continued funding for their research. Lots of talking heads and I also found this plot highly problematic in the light of the conspiracy theories surrounding covid (though the book was released in April 2020, early in the pandemic, so it might be a coincidence). Naming a villain Cash and the company she works for MAD is also pretty on the nose. Later, there is a character named Vaxine. Really.

Once the novel proper starts, we get a POV shift (third to first) and an infodump about the history of STEM-focussed Asia Nova, courtesy of narrator Roxy, who also has a bad case of imposter syndrome. The story picks up once Roxy finds her mentor Dr. Jane Hershey in a suspended animation tank and stumbles upon two professors stealing a deadly virus, while helpfully blabbing out the plot again. Roxy can’t help Hershey, but manages to copy her data. However, the bad guys are on to her, as is the mysterious Vaxine.

There’s a potentially interesting story in here, but it’s buried in infodumps and stilted dialogue. Besides, a pandemic novel is not what I want to read right now.

No thanks, not for me.

Don’t Speak by Vanessa Heath
  • Don’t Speak by Vanessa Heath

The novel opens with the narrator addressing the reader and promising a story/warning about the dystopian world of this novel. Then, we get a flashback to the narrator’s childhood plus yet another infodump about the history of this dystopian world where speaking and illegal writing is forbidden and punishable by death. However, the writing is much better and more atmospheric. I also like the use of different fonts to designate different “speakers”.

The dystopia doesn’t make a lot of sense and the plot – teenager gets in trouble with school bullies, until school bullies get in trouble with dystopian regime – is nothing to write home about, but this one is quite intriguing and well written.

Yes, please, give me more.

Dusk by Ashanti Luke
  • Dusk by Ashanti Luke

The novel opens with a prologue that plunges us right in medias res with someone named Dr. Cyrus Chamberlain assaulting a hangar full of enemy soldiers to get to a spaceship. It’s supposed to be action-packed, but unfortunately we’re not given any reason to care about Cyrus or his mission. The fight scenes are confusingly described, too, e.g. does the bullet pass through the air or through Cyrus’ ear?

Next we get an epigraph by poet Elaine Goodale Eastman and then we get a kid clamouring for a bedtime story and the kid’s Dad (probably Cyrus) telling a story about an abused unicorn.

Then we get Cyrus again, about to leave the overpopulated and polluted Earth for the newly discovered planet Asha, a mission that is supposed to save humanity. Cyrus says goodbye to his family and leaves. The novel now alternates between Cyrus and his son Darius talking and infodumping and the adventures of Cyrus en route to Asha, which involve such thrilling fare as a debate about religion.

I found this one dull, to be honest, and the action-packed prologue doesn’t make it any more exciting. Maybe there is an interesting story in here somewhere, but so far I’m not seeing it. The plot is a little reminiscent of “Far Centaurus” by A.E. Van Vogt, but “Far Centaurus” is much better (and shorter). And I don’t even like Van Vogt.

No thanks, not for me.

Fanatic’s Bane by Edmund de Wight
  • Fanatic’s Bane by Edmund de Wight

The novel opens in a place called Barbo Transfer Station, where an alien Narath is chased through the nighttime streets and finally assaulted and killed by a xenophobic street gang. All this is witnessed by a ninja monk named Brother Cassius, who does not interfere.

Next we get an infodump about the Interstellar Trade Commonwealth and its enforcers, the so-called Free Agents. Then we are introduced to Free Agent Emma Malbane and get a scene from Emma’s POV comparing herself to an unnamed receptionist which is very male gazey and a typical example of men writing women.

Emma is sent to Barbo Transfer Station to investigate the hate crime against aliens, because those might destabilise the Commonwealth and civilisation itself.

The opening is atmospheric, though Brother Cassius’ refusal to help the beleaguered alien makes him rather unlikeable, but maybe he’s supposed to be. The Emma Malbane sequences are very infodumpy, though. There may be an interesting story here, but it never comes together.

No thanks, not for me.

Godeena by Stjepan Varesevac Cobets
  • Godeena by Stjepan Varesevac Corbets

The novel opens with cybernetic soldier Henry Broncon and his squad on a mission on the planet Morad, where Earth is at war with the alien Ansker. Surprise, they are ambushed, and everybody dies except Henry.

Next the scene switches to a space prison imaginatively called Hades. Of course, no one has ever escaped alive. Henry comes to Hades to put together a Dirty Dozen/Suicide Squad team of criminals for a mission. One of them is a female cyber soldier, who murdered her lover after he tried to kill her while pregnant and managed to kill the foetus.

The ambush opening didn’t do much for me, because I had no reason to care about the characters and what happened to them. The space prison recruitment part is stronger, but then I have weakness for prison stories.

There are some writing weaknesses here like tense shifts and head hopping. Nonetheless, I wanted to read on.

Yes, please, give me more.

Gods of the Black Gate by Joseph Sale
  • Gods of the Black Gate by Joseph Sale

The novel starts with Craig Smiley, a disturbed serial killer who hears the voices of the seven true gods and his father, en route to the solar system’s worst prison on Mars (another space prison story).

Then the scene switches to police officer Caleb Rogers who arrested Smiley and is informed that Smiley has escaped. Caleb and his partner Tom are sent to Mars to recapture him.

We also get transcripts of Rogers’ interviews with Smiley as well as Smiley’s visions/dreams while in prison and his escape.

Nice science fiction noir. Recommended.

Yes, please, give me more.

  • Grandfather Anonymous by Anthony W. Eichenlaub
Grandfather Anonymous by Anthony W. Eichenlaub

Ajay Andersen is an elderly Indian-Norwegian-American living in Minnesota in a dystopian surveillance state in 2045. We first meet him dealing with a social officer, a social worker/police officer hybrid supposedly making wellness checks on elderly people, but in truth looking for illegal tech, which ex-hacker Ajay happens to own. Luckily, Ajay can hack into the police files.

The officer also mentions they are looking for a fugitive, a woman with two young daughters. This fugitive is Ajay’s estranged daughter Sashi. The girls are the granddaughters he didn’t know he had. Sashi soon shows up at Ajay’s doorstep, daughters Kylie and Isabelle in tow, and asks Ajay to watch them. When she doesn’t return, Ajay has to go on the run with the girls.

A Cyberpunk thriller with a protagonist in his 70s. Recommended.

Yes, please, give me more.

Harvested by Anthony O’Brien
  • Harvested by Anthony O’Brien

A man called Jon Stone witnesses the supposed suicide of his mentor Joseph Swartz. Only that it’s not suicide but murder, committed by people wearing shades. Surprise, everybody is living in the Matrix and Joseph was about to reveal this to the world.

Jon Stone delivers Joseph’s last paper, which asks if the world is real or just a holographic simulation. Soon, he is contacted by good and bad holograms, both of which turn out to be attractive women described in a male-gazey way. Brunette Tori is the good hologram, blonde Alyssa is the bad hologram. Tori extracts Jon from Alyssa’s clutches and the Matrix.

This one is too close to The Matrix for my taste. The descriptions of New York City are very evocative, but the descriptions of the two holographic women are very male-gazey. There’s a lot head-hopping, too.

No thanks, not for me.

Homecoming by R. D. Meyer
  • Homecoming by R.D. Meyer

The novel is told as a series of journal entries by a historian named Shallisto Kai, who then proceeds to infodump about the history of humanity after they had to flee Earth as well as share their CV. Shallisto Kai is an expert in Earth history and therefore accompanies a military fleet on an expedition to reconquer Earth after 6000 years to chronicle the events of the expedition.

The early parts of this novel are basically one big infodump. We get information about the history of humanity and their expulsion from Earth, a primer on the political system, the calendar system, a tour of the flagship, her bridge and her crew, how the SLS drive works and so on. The premise – humanity has been driven from Earth and they want it back – is potentially interesting, but the execution is dull.  

Also, the humans are not very likable in this novel. They are xenophobic, exterminated an alien race a thousand years ago (okay, they were genocidal, but still) and they attack a random fleet of the alien Traygar, simply because they need to pass through their territory to get to Earth. Maybe the point is that the humans are jerks, but so far I’m not seeing it.

Finally, as someone who took Latin in school, the name Novam Terra is grating, because the adjective is in the wrong case.

No thanks, not for me.

In My Memory Locked by Jim Nelson
  • In My Memory Locked by Jim Nelson

The novel opens with a security expert named C.F. Naroy arriving at a crime scene in San Francisco in the year 2038. His former mentor and associate Michael Aggaroy has been brutally murdered, shortly after he asked Naroy to meet him. The police want to know what Aggaroy wanted of Naroy. Naroy isn’t sure, but suspects it has something to do with the “Old Internet” (i.e. ours).

A bit later, Naroy visits the only remaining copy of the “Old Internet”, which is kept on Alcatraz Island whose caretakers want to hire him. Turns out someone has been deleting parts of the old internet and the caretakers want Naroy to retrieve the stolen/deleted data. They won’t even press charges, they just want their data back.

This one starts out strong with some atmospheric descriptions of the rainy San Francisco of the near future, but then stalls out with a lot of infodumping, once Naroy gets to Alcatraz.

No thank, not for me.

Into Neon: A Cyberpunk Saga by Matthew A. Goodwin
  • Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin

Protagonist Moss works for ThutoCo as a bot controller and lives in a fully controlled company town. He’s in love with his childhood friend Issy, but doesn’t do anything about it. One day a woman named Ynna in full punk get-up knocks on his door. She works for a group that wants to expose ThutoCo‘s machinations and they want Moss’ help to do so. Ynna also gives Moss a data chip from his dead parents and hacks his implant. Then, she escapes as a security alert is triggered, but asks Moss to meet her in a bar in the megacity he has never visited.

This one may eventually become interesting, but it starts very slowly.

No thanks, not for me.

  • Lost Solace by Karl Drinkwater
Lost Solace by Karl Drinkwater

Opal has stolen an AI-controlled spaceship named Clarissa from the military to go on a quest for a lost spaceship. The novel opens with Opal waking from cryo-sleep, as Clarissa has arrived at their destination, a neutron star surrounded by a dust cloud. The lost spaceship Opal is searching – the passenger liner Solace, which disappeared 13 years ago – is hidden inside that dust cloud.

Spaceships get lost in hyperspace (here called “nullspace”) on occasion and suddenly reappear after decades or centuries. Often, these ships have been altered and there is something else on board. Something that can predict the future.

Since Opal can’t hail the drifting ship and her drones don’t work, because the ship has been altered, Opal puts on a cool armoured and armed spacesuit and boards the drifting lost ship.

I liked this one. The relationship between Opal and Clarissa is fun and the mystery of the lost ship is intriguing enough. Some nice worldbuilding hints as well.

Yes, please, give me more.

Mantivore Dreams by S. J. Higbee
  • Mantivore Dreams by S.J. Higbee  

The novel starts with Kyrillia, a teenager on a hot colony planet, at the Node, the planet’s internet equivalent, listening to music and discovering Bach. There also is Vrox, an alien familiar whom only Kyrillia can hear (and who also liked Bach). Kyrillia thinks he’s her imaginary friend, though he obviously isn’t .

The music session is cut shot when Kyrillia’s abusive mother arrives to beat her. We gradually learn that Kyrillia’s mother has always been abusive and hates her daughter for reasons unknown and that Kyrillia is also taking care of her disabled uncle, whom the mother also hates and resents. The uncle also abuses Kyrillia and her life is just shit. Kyrillia hopes to work at the Node like her mother someday, but her mother won’t let her. Even though Kyrillia is better at the job than her flake mother.

We also get some worldbuilding details. The colony is on a downswing. Most people can barely read and there was something called “the turbulence”.

One night, Kyrillia receives a holographic visit from a teenager named Kestor Brarian, who’s an apprentice Node keeper, who asks questions about the music site, which is apparently forbidden, and who tells her that Kyrillia’s mom is looking for an apprentice who’s not Kyrillia. There’s the usual teenage awkwardness between the sexes.

Kyrillia gets abused by her mother and uncle some more, the villagers drop cryptic hints that her mother has reasons for hating her and she has more clandestine conversations with Kestor. There’s also Seth, the kid of a disgraced family, who works as a day labourer and is Kyrillia’s friend.

This feels very YA-like with the abused protagonist, almost comically evil mother (who seems to be making a play for the Darth Vader Parenthood Award) and the two boys vying for her. Still, the story is entertaining enough and the worldbuilding is intriguing.

Yes, please, give me more.

No Easy Road by Greg Camp
  • No Easy Road by Greg Camp

Lieutenant Tom Cochrane is in the Centauri space navy and has constant issues with his aristocratic superiors, who are ordering him about and blaming him for the messes they caused. When Tom is ordered to fix substandard equipment his superior Commander Shelley had installed, the faulty equipment causes a shipwide failure and a fire, which gets the captain – who always supported Tom – killed. Tom gets blamed for this, which kills his Navy career.

The Tom segments are interspersed with segments featuring a man called Bertrand Lile, who appears to be some kind of spy or secret agent. He’s summoned to a meeting in a dingy hotel with an agent he recruited. Turns out the agent met someone at the hotel for sex, only for those someones to be murdered. Bertrand deduces that someone is on to his agent.

The Tom segments are pretty dull. Even the fire and explosion that kills the captain happened off-screen. The Bertrand segments are somewhat more exciting, but we get no information regarding who Bertrand is, what his mission is or why we should care. I guess I’m not the target audience for this one.

No thanks, not for me.

Numanity by Alexander Lucas
  • Numanity by Alexander Lucas  

The novel starts in medias res with two teenagers named Neeto and Ada, a cyborg, engaged in hacking operation to illegally watch a game called Alphaball in an abandoned sports bar, while exchanging banter. The scene is set in some kind of post-apocalyptic flooded world. They get caught and have to make a run for it. Neeto escapes, Ada doesn’t. We later see her getting interrogated.

The scene now shifts to the company behind Alphaball. The vice president is furious, because one of the cyborg players went off script, displayed too many abilities and ruined the game. He asks random talking heads for solutions and finally fires all but two of them.

The scene shifts again to Tiber Achilles, the Alphaball player who went off script and showed off too many abilities. His CEO mother is furious that he upset the delicated balance between the Darwin and Achilles companies.

There’s another scene featuring a biographer named Janajreh seeing Emin Lator, head of the Darwin company. Apparently, Emin had an affair with Rain Achilles, husband of the CEO of the rival company.

This one never really comes together and I have no reason to care about any of the characters. The endless talking head scenes with almost no dialogue attribution don’t help either. After twenty percent, I can’t even see what sort of story this is supposed to be.

No thanks, not for me.

Piercing The Celestial Ocean by Kip Koelsch
  • Piercing the Celestial Ocean by Kip Koelsch

The novel opens with a prologue where a spaceship named Endeavour (wasn’t the ship in No Easy Road also named that?) intercepts a cylindrical object coming out of a wormhole. The cylinder contains a humanoid woman in stasis.

Captain Ekels of the Endeavour is the usual washed out troublemaker captain that is standard for the military SF genre. He’s even done a stint in prison. Ekels hopes the discovery of the cylinder and its occupants will get him back in the good graces of the scientific community.

Ekels is ordered to put the crew of the Endeavour into stasis and wait until a fleet can arrive from Earth to build a research station to examine the capsule and its occupant. This will take fifteen years.

Once the Endeavour’s crew is in stasis, Ekels orders the ship AI to open the capsule and revive the occupant. We have no idea why he does this.

After the prologue, the story jumps to events on the other side of the wormhole 655 years earlier, where everybody and everything has apostrophe laden names and an astronomer named G’lea is about to observe the wormhole. This is a periodic event and is viewed as the coming of heavenly visitors by the clerics of this world. But G’lea knows it’s a natural phenomenon and wants to convince the clerics. This goes about as well as you can imagine.

The basic idea of two human/humanoid civilisations from opposite sides of a wormhole meeting each other is solid. However, the execution is lacking. The Ekels section is cliched and Ekels himself is neither likeable nor do his motivations make much sense. It’s also irritating that every single crewmember of the Endeavour seems to be male. The G’lea section is stronger, but the story just doesn’t gel.

No thanks, not for me.

Retrieval by Regina Clarke
  • Retrieval by Regina Clarke

Gillian runs a diner in the Mojave desert. One day, she’s late to open up and finds her new employee Gabriel missing. Shortly thereafter, Gillian and the patrons witness seven streaks of light in the sky and hear a loud boom. They assume that a nearby airbase is testing some kind of new weapons systems. Shortly thereafter, Gabriel reappears. Supposedly, he overslept. Gillian knows she should fire him, but doesn’t.

Gabriel promptly disappears again on a walk and generally acts strange, but Gillian is too busy to care, especially Gabriel reappears around lunchtime and is otherwise really good at his job.

Gillian’s ex, Birdy, drops by and wants to show her something he found in the desert. This something turns out to be a strange glowing disc. When pressed, the disc and a rusty trailer disappear.

The fire streaks was an alien crash and the disc is an alien artefact. The Roswell crash involved the same aliens. They are worried that the military might find their lost tech, so they try to retrieve it. This is the job of an alien commander called Malakai. His brother Inac is none other than Gabriel, Gillian’s new employee. For reasons best known to himself, Malakai is interested in Gillian and wants her retrieved along with the lost tech.

This is well written and the chapters from Gillian’s POV are very evocative. I also liked the descriptions of the desert. The Malakai chapters are less interesting so far. Nonetheless, I’m intrigued enough to want more.

Yes, please, give me more.

Shakedowners by Justin Woolley
  • Shakedowners by Justin Woolley

Captain Iridius B. Franklin is an inept commander, who is given equally idiotic assignments. He’s captain of the freighter Diesel Coast (named for a 21st century ecological disaster), which is delivering artificially intelligent toy dogs to a disaster stricken space colony at the opening of the novel.

Franklin also has a reputation for breaking starships. Things tend to go wrong around him, a phenomenon that is dubbed Franklinisms.

When the Diesel Coast reaches its destination, no one is answering their hails. They investigate and find no life signs, so they enter the mining colony and find the crew reduced to pink goo and all logs and data erased. Franklin is attacked by a swarm of insectoid nano-machines. He and his away team barely escape with their lives.

However, despite all precautions, some of the nano-machines manage to get aboard and take over one of the artificially intelligent robot dogs…

This is a fun work of humorous science fiction, reminiscent of the TV show The Orville and Joe Zieja’s books.

Yes, please, give me more.

Sidnye by Scott Fitzgerald Gray
  • Sidnye: Queen of the Universe by Scott Fitzgerald Gray

Sidnye is a teenaged orphan at a boarding school in Saskatchewan, Canada. She is messy and has recurring dreams about shooting stars. She’s friends with Emmet, who’s into astronomy. Her favourite teacher is McCune, who’s also her legal guardian.

I do like the descriptions of the Canadian winter, but the novel itself is not for me, I’m afraid. I’m no longer the target audience for YA-ish boarding school stories and there’s little in the early chapters that makes this story feel different from umpteen similar ones.

No thank you, not for me.

  • Sped-Bot by Billy DeCarlo
Sped-Bot: DroidMesh Trilogy Book 1 by Billy DeCarlo

The novel opens with fifteen-year-old Isaac, his father Harley and Isaac’s android (or gynoid) companion Carrie watching a soccer match on Novae Terrae (another case of using the wrong Latin case endings), a breakaway Earth colony. Isaac’s foster brother Liam is one of the players and wins the match for his team. This is not a good thing, because competition is discouraged on this world. Isaac apparently has some kind of intellectual disability (maybe somewhere on the autism spectrum), which is supposed to have been eradicated on this brave new world.

Isaac has problem with classmate Ralph Sampson who keeps humiliating him. However, Ralph’s father is Harley’s boss and a big deal in this brave new world. As we learn from one of Isaac’s lessons, Novae Terrae has a strict meritocratic caste system, disallows competition and violence, has abolished money and religion and dampened down the sex drive. Androids are omnipresent, but have no rights.

There may well be an interesting story here eventually, but the beginning never really progresses beyond Isaac’s bullying woes. And as I said above, I’m no longer the target audience for school stories.

No thank you, not for me.

The Dark Realm by Anthea Sharp
  • The Dark Realm by Anthea Sharp

Jennet Carter’s father is a game developer for the most immersive VR game system ever. Mr. Carter takes the prototype home and Jennet sneaks into his office to give it a try and play the new game Feyland. Unfortunately, the queen of the dark fae who rules the land has detected Jennet’s arrival and orders her captured.

After arriving in the game, Jennet meets a brownie and fights the Black Knight, who is one of the Dark Queen’s goons. Lucky for Jennet, the game glitches and throws her back into the real world, where her father has just come home, accompanied by his friend Thomas Rimer (!). Thomas gives Jennet a book about fairy tales, whose illustrations match the game.

The Dark Queen, annoyed that the Black Knight has failed to capture Jennet, sends the Wild Hunt after her, but they fail, too. Meanwhile, Jennet is dealing with the typical teen school woes. During her holidays, she keeps returning to Feyland and does quests. When Jennet’s father announces that they’re moving to a small town, she is heartbroken.

This is certainly well written, but I’m not the target audience for either LitRPG or YA school drama. Nonetheless, I was intrigued enough that I wanted to read on.

Yes please, give me more.

The Hammond Conjecture by M. B. Reed
  • The Hammond Conjecture by M.B. Reed

The novel starts with a preface by the author, claiming that what we are about to read is a biography of one Hugh Hammond, based on his papers and requested by his daughter Eve. Clever framing device, which Reed also uses to urge us to sign up for their newsletter.

The novel proper opens with Hugh Hammond coming to in a hospital in World’s End, London, in 1982 with amnesia. No one will answer his questions and he believes he died and is in purgatory and this body is not his own.  The doctors of course think he’s crazy, but let him write a diary and prescribe a drug that will jolt his memories. This diary is what the novel is constructed from.

The first memory to return is of Hammond returning home from an assignment in 1971. We quickly realise that this is an alternate world, since there are airships landing at the Croydon aerodrome (long gone in our world). WWII ended with a peace treaty signed between the British Empire and Germany in 1941. The British Empire never died and neither did the Third Reich. Germany got to the moon, George V is still king and the 1968 riots were a lot more violent than in our world. In order to apply for Civil Service jobs, you have to prove Anglo-Saxon heritage.

We get another flashback to 1969 and Hammond arriving back in England after a lot of time spent in South Africa and India with the military. He joins the Secret Intelligence Service.

In hospital, Hammond befriends a nurse and chances to see a news program on TV. He realises that he has landed in an alternate world.

For once the blurb comparing this novel to early Michael Moorcock is correct, because it does remind me of the Jerry Cornelius stories. Philip K. Dick would also be a good comparison. This one is definitely intriguing.

Yes please, give me more.

The Prometheus Effect by David Fleming
  • The Prometheus Effect by David Fleming

The novel opens in the fall of 1945. Nineteen-year-old genius Jack is on the verge of developing fusion power and he is being questioned by the US President about a paper he has written, outlining challenges that humanity will face and the way to solve them. He is promptly recruited to head the secret organisation the City, which will be located in the Nevada desert.

The novel skips ahead to 2039 and a four-year-old boy named Mykl. Mykl appears to be a sort of genius, too. His single Mom works in Vegas and is murdered one night. Mykl ends up in a children’s home.

The scene shifts again to 2040 and CIA agent Sebastian Falstano aboard a submarine. Falstano is supposed to investigate extraterrestrial technology. The submarine crew is not pleased about this. Falstano is taken to a secret location, where he is met by an attractive blonde woman and taken to examine a billion year old alien artefact found on the moon. Then the woman shoots and drugs him.

The scene shifts to Jessica who is taking an entrance exam to join the military. Jessica is waist-deep in student loans and laments about the quality of education. Jessica wants to develop Cold Fusion, while the professors want her to study non-western cultures. The author can’t help getting on his soap box here. Eventually, Jessica joins the military and winds up at the City, only to be fire almost immediately for allegedly falsifying data. However, it’s just a test to figure out if Jessica is moral enough to join the City.

Jessica and Sebastian meet while chained to the seats of a bus. Sebastian wants to go public with the classified information. Jessica is horrified.

Once again, there’s probably an interesting story in here somewhere, but it never comes together. The fact that the author can’t resist getting on his soap box to hold forth about the value of higher education doesn’t help either.

No thanks, not for me.

The StarMaster’s Son by Gibson Morales
  • The StarMaster’s Son by Gibson Morales

The prologue begins with the StarMaster, ruler of the universe, about to “die” (his body is artificial, but his memory has been corrupted) after ruling for fifty years.

The scene shifts to a young man called Felik, who is debating the apparent demise of the StarMaster on a next generation social network. Felik suffers from a neural virus. He also happens to be the StarMaster’s clone son, one of many. His brother StarKeeper Oberon is the favoured successor, but another brother Megas is also in the running. Felik doesn’t care, he hopes to become Chief Philosopher. Meanwhile, he lives in a savanna projection, where he has sex and fights. By day, he works as an ambassador to technologically less developed species. One of these, the wraiths, capture him.

The scene shifts to Kai, an inquisitor (a.k.a. bounty hunter) who can project her consciousness into different artificial bodies. Kai and her ship Euphrates are attacked. The ship is destroyed and Kai has to flee aboard an escape pod. She comes to again thirty-nine years later and learns that she has been infected by a neural virus.

This one tries to cram way too much information and too many side stories into one novel and the result never really comes together.

No thanks, not for me.

  • The Voyage of the White Cloud by M. Darusha Wehm
The Voyage of the White Cloud by M. Darusha Wehm

The White Cloud is a generation ship and the novel consists of individual stories about the people living and dying aboard this ship.

The first one up is Susanne, a teacher. Susanne is religious and her experiences at a service are intermingled with her memories of struggling to become a teacher and falling for a boy who turns out to be gay. Susanne finds answers to all her questions in her religion

Next up are Janey, another teacher, and Tamar who are getting drunk and talk about aliens. The White Cloud has never encountered aliens, but Tamar believes they are writing messages in the stars. Tamar has proof and shows it to Janey. She wants Janey to tell the story of humanity and the White Cloud and encode it in the stars.

Then we get Lauren Ibarra, who has just turned sixty-seven years old and is dreading the party.

I love the idea of this one, but unfortunately, I don’t love the execution. The slice of life stories feel very inconsequential. Maybe it all comes together later, but not so far.

No thanks, not for me.

Where Weavers Daire by R. K. Bentley
  • Where Weavers Daire by R.K. Bentley

Melinda Scott is eighteen and works as a salvage specialist as part of a family crew. One day, during what’s supposed to be a test mission, she comes across a giant derelict spaceship of the Daires. She finds a spellbook and mysterious suit and realises that the ship belongs to a necromancer. Unfortunately, that necromancer or weaver, Spence MacGregor is still in his suit and regaining consciousness. He goes after Melinda, as she tries to escape and grabs hold of her. Her Mother Jainey and a relative named Tommy gives chase, but have to break off, when Tommy’s anti-magic weapons fail due to tampering.

Melinda makes her way aboard the ship again and finally meets Spence, who is struggling to bring his ship, which has been hacked, back under control. The hacker is one Wallace Stukari, an enemy of Spence’s. He tries to blow up the ship, but Spence and Melinda escape in an escape pod and land on the planet Stuk’s Hollow.

Jainey’s and Tommy’s ship is boarded by supposed tax collectors, who turn out to be Stukari agents. Tommy is working for them and Melinda was used as bait to draw out Spence, only everything went wrong. Wallace Stukari also appears and demands to know where Melinda and Spence are. He and Tommy land on Stuk’s Hollow to go after them.

This one is a tad confusing, explaining too little rather than too much. But the characters are likeable and I wouldn’t mind reading more about them.

Yes please, give me more.


SPSFC art by Tithi LuadthongLogos designed by Scott (@book_invasion)

3 thoughts on “Cora Buhlert: Self-Published Science Fiction Competition Round 1

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