March 7th, 2023 by Jane Turner
As you know (or you should!) I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Competition – the SPSFC!
Now the Semi Finalists have been announced and reading is well underway (WHOOHOO!) I thought I’d share some thoughts on the Team GSV Galactic Beards slush pile.
These are the ones that didn’t make it through, and there are many reasons why – it’s not always down to bad idea or bad writing (though sometimes…)
So – read on for a review of some books from the Team GSV Galactic Beards Slush Pile! These are the ones that didn’t make it through. For some, it was a close thing. For others…
As I’ve been buried in ‘life’ and reading, this review of some of the Slush Pile comes from my fellow judge on Team GSV Galactic Beards – Tigra!
The first 20% or so of this book focuses on the teams populating Moon Base Verity, each team/bubble made up from one country of origin and on a small group of super-smart orphans who were raised/groomed to be leaders in industry and government. The super-smart orphans are the “Pan Nationals” referred to in the book’s blurb. They all have food names, i.e. Tamarind, Kohlrabi, Flax, Mace, Almond, which was a bit off-putting at first, but at least it had an explanation. I did find it funny when one of the characters said, “Sounds like a veritable stir-fry of Pan-Nationals,” joked Kohlrabi.
I found the first part of the story, focusing on the moon base and trying help the denizens of the moon base when disaster strikes to be pretty engaging. I did find the stereotypes by country of origin a little rough – especially the start with the North Korean pilot (it’s near the start of the book if you want to check it out yourself without spoilers from me!)
The initial story arc seemed complete at about the 20% mark and then it seemed to take a sharp left turn with one of the protagonists going off to climb a mountain. He starts reviewing/reminiscing about the events that immediately preceded it which made me wonder if this was a series of short stories sort of patched together? It had that feel like you’d get in early sci-fi where they combined short stories and fleshed them out to novel length.
The writing was overall clean and easy to read – the prose didn’t get in the way of the story. Overall ok (with the earlier note about the stereotypes by country of origin), but it seemed complete already without another 80% of the story to go.
This was action turned up to 11 from the word go, or at least it felt that way to me. The first 10% of the novel felt like one really amped up action sequence – which for a fan of high-voltage action would have been great. Unfortunately, I’m not that reader, so this didn’t really work that well for me.
I did like the premise quite a bit. We have some generation ships that have the remnants of Earth’s population (the back story of which is not gone into at the start, I would have liked to have had more back story developed). The generation ships receive an SOS signal which gives them hope they’re not alone. A team is dispatched to find the source of the SOS signal, but it leads them into disaster on a very volcanically active planet with pyroclastic storms raging.
Some of the science and situations came across as very iffy to me – and this may have been on my side. The science might be totally solid, it’s not an area of expertise from me, but it came across as a bit sketchy. Several things seemed like they should have killed people but didn’t – and this was all before we reach the part of the book where the monsters promised in the blurb and the cover are!
Going into this book, I thought it was going to be a bit derivative of Murderbot as our protagonist is a self-aware/conscious robot named Hubcap. Hubcap started out as a rescue bot, designed and programmed to rescue humans from all the types of danger we choose to put ourselves into.
Now Hubcap is a reality TV star, but he still can’t resist the urge to save humans when and where he can. The show Hubcap stars in is sort of Dirty Jobs on different planets. It’s a great way to set up the exploration of different ecologies and creative life forms, both plant and animal.
The humor is cute in this, but not on the same level of snark as Murderbot. The humor is more silly than sarcastic or snarky, at least in my reading. The blurb and the cover didn’t really win me over initially, but I really enjoyed Hubcap and the other cast members. I may continue on with this one in the future.
This is the second book in the Terrafide series, but it does seem that you can jump in at book 2 without a problem. I have not read the first book and I didn’t feel that I was missing out on a tremendous amount of background by starting with this book, which is pretty unusual in the second book in a series. (I felt like I was missing references…)
The protagonists of the story seem to be a bit of an odd couple cop duo, Ted Kaza, kind of a bad-boy cop on his last chance and his partner, Lydia Jackson, the more cool-headed partner. Lydia is a lesbian in a relationship, so there’s no romantic tension between these two. The pair of cops is trying to locate a missing teen psychic who had successfully predicted a huge earthquake.
The setting is in the San Fernando Valley, California, specifically the Chatsworth area (fairly well known for the big earthquake there in 1994). The setting is the near future, in 2026, but it’s a few steps more dystopian than our current reality. Ted and Lydia are supposed to be about 35 in the year 2026, making them born around the early 1990s, however in a lot of their chitchat and the world-building, it’s as if they’re from the Valley of the 1960s and 70s instead. It really kept pulling me out of the story. One other side note, the author self-inserted his first book and himself on the cover in the setting in a relatively minor way, but that really pulled me out of the narrative as well. Some readers might find it a cute nod to the prior book, but for me it was a distraction.
There were some minor typos and missed punctuation that could be cleaned up, but nothing terribly egregious or that interfered with the story. I just had a hard time getting into this one.
This seemed to be straight up Militiary SF/Space Opera with no twists or curve balls coming. I read to about 20%, so if there was a setup for a big change by then, I missed it. We had a far future space setting with squid-like alien enemies to fight and a crew and ship that are about to become obsolete, though they don’t all know it yet.
There was a dog on board the space craft we’re following complete with her own K-9 spacesuit and helmet. Seemed like an odd but fun choice, I just hope the dog doesn’t die.
There were a few grammar and formatting issues such as an excess of italics and inconsistent capitalization but nothing terrible. It was extremely readable and if you want a straight forward adventure story, this is likely going to be your ticket, but I’m not sure if we were going to find any deeper waters to explore here.