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Space Wizard

Space Wizard

News and Announcements

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

UPDATE! We have our three top picks which will go on to be read by judges of all teams, plus a special honorable mention. Read on below for more!

As promised, here are the ten books for Team Red Stars that will go on to round two of the first SPSFC contest! All of them are deserving of continuing, but we can only pick three. You can see my full list of reviews here, and read Team Red Stars' official final recommendations here!

Our top ten books for the first round are (in no particular order):

#1 - Dog Country

#2 - Extinction Reversed

#3 - Zenith

#4 - Above the Sky

#5 - Refraction

#6 - The Shepherd Protocol

#7 - The Trellis

#8 - Age of Order

#9 - Wherever Seeds May Fall

#10 - Of Cinder and Bone

Out of these, our top picks are:

#1 - Dog Country

This is an amazing book, and a journey you don't want to miss. Told from the view of an engineered hybrid dog/human soldier, this deals with questions of self, identity, gender, and sexuality, to where we fit in the world, to how to those mistreated and cast out by society may reclaim their dignity. Like life, it's not always happy, but it makes you feel.

#2 - Age of Order

This will keep you up and make you turn pages. Come for the class differences and commentary on dystopian society, stay for the jokes and dismantling of oppressive systems. The twists and turns will leave you wondering how far you've come from the beginning of the story. Set in the near future in a divided USA, it's also a scary forewarning of what we can become.

#3 - Of Cinder and Bone

I just keep coming back to the characters on this one. This is one of those stories where the plot could be anything and I would read for the interplay between Jack and Kam, and the other characters. But it doesn't stop there! This is set in an alternative world just like ours, except dragons were real (now extinct) and our heroes are trying to resurrect them. So Jurassic Park with dragons and characters you want to invite to tea. Count me in.

Honorable Mention - Zenith

Oh, how I wish we could have four picks instead of three. I'm alright letting the others of the top ten go, although they were all excellent stories, but this one in particular I would include if at all possible. Once again, the characters are the shining stars in this story, but the space opera element is near and dear to my heart. Added to that the relationships between the characters show a great appreciation of how real relationships work. And then there's that ending! Although this one will not go on to the final judging round, I beg you to pick it up and try it as well.

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

First cuts! I'll list six of the twenty-one total books cut from the first round of SPSFC for Team Red Stars. My team members will be listing their own cuts here, here, and here! All the other cuts will be up on Friday. Check back each day this week for another of my reveals. The final ten which we will read in full for January 2022 can be found here!

Note, there are some books that will be cut this week for which I haven't posted a full review or DNF yet. Never fear! I'll still be reading through all thirty-one books on our list, with a review for each. You can see the full list of reviews here.

My cut books are:

#1 - The Golden Crunk of Cringle

#2 - World of Difference

#3 - Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees

#4 - Turnabout

#5 - Infinite

#6 - Things They Buried

The Golden Crunk of Cringle - Ken Rudisill

I think this book ended up with a "no" from all four members of the team. While there were some interesting concepts involved with a brother/sister team stealing from pirate vessels, using sexual behaviors as a characterization method at the beginning combined with sexual violence and some problems in editing led this one to be cut from our final choices. You can see my review on my SPSFC reviews page.

World of Difference – W.J. Donovan

I know at least one of our team read all the way through this book. I ended up with a DNF, even though I was intrigued by the story. There are some interesting seeds of plot at the beginning dealing with societal inequality, exploration, and synesthesia, so if that's your cup of tea, definitely check this out for yourself! There were some issues with typos and POV, and I personally don't enjoy stream-of-consciousness style writing, so it was a no from me. You can see my review on my SPSFC reviews page.

Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees - Robert Michael Kent

This was a fun read, but unfortunately got caught in some of the first-year growing pains with the contest. It's a Mid-Grade book, which is technically not allowed, but YA is. I think there was some contention which this was originally, and for whatever reason, it got added to the final roster. I read the whole thing, and realized early on this definitely fell on the MG side. In any case, the story itself is a fun diversion, but didn't really hold my interest overall. There was too much of "Here's the next thing that happens!" for me and not quite enough fleshing out the main character, especially as he is overshadowed by an unlikable secondary character. Even for an MG book, I think that aspect could have been expanded on a bit. You can see my full review on my SPSFC reviews page.

Turnabout - Carmen Webster Buxton

Another interesting read, well written, and with an engaging plot. I read this one in full, and you can see my review on my SPSFC reviews page. This was a case where there were other books in the contest that were more ambitious or simply resonated with the judges more. For me, I felt there were two things against this book going to the final ten. First, this straddles the YA and adult category for me, and doesn't sit well in either. There are some fairly explicit and adult descriptions of sex, and the main character is a minor, so I got a strange feeling reading it as an adult. Second, I felt there was a bit too much male gaze and over sexualization of women, even though this is a point related to the plot. The (male) main character didn't really seem to learn a lesson about how to view women, even though he was in a situation where the dynamic was reversed and males were treated as desirable objects. There could have a been a lot more depth of discussion and character growth over this point, though what was there was treated well. Turnabout is an interesting book, and if you're looking for a fish-out-of-water story in an alternate universe, it might be a good fit for you!

Infinite – Jeremy Robinson

Infinite is, overall, a really thought-provoking book. As of now, it's still on my (personal) top ten list, though I'm guessing it will just fall off the bottom by the time I read through all the books. It also happened to be the first book I read in the contest! You can see my review on my SPSFC reviews page. I will say the beginning of the book is a little hard to get through as there is some pretty gory violence and some lowbrow humor, which might have turned off some of the judges. However the book is well-written, and an excellent character piece showing the development of the main character. I had a few quibbles with it, the main one being that there are actually too many twists and turns. Some of them near the end, in my opinion, revert some of the character development with made me frustrated with the story. I almost think this should have been two books, in order to get the triumph of the first half, and then save some of the really twisty plot progressions for the second book. As it is, there is a second book released, Infinite², which from reviews looks to be just as trippy as the first one, if not more so. So if you want a mind-bending, deep space, character focused science fiction with a bunch of unforeseen twists that are hard to predict, give Infinite a try!

Things They Buried – Amanda K. King & Michael R. Swanson

My last cut is a hard one for me. I’d love to see this one go on to the top ten. It will likely stay in my personal top ten list. I really loved the worldbuilding, the character growth, the lowkey scifi and steampunk, the diverse inclusion and the fun romp of the story. The main reason this one got cut (and what I was afraid of when writing up my review on my SPSFC page) is that the story contains a hefty dose of child abuse, and that is certainly not for everyone, especially if you are the parent of a child. It’s treated with respect in the story and helps to drive the narrative, but there is a lot of it, even to the point of reading descriptions of dead children’s bodies, and having adults fight off (what amounts to) zombified children. When I was writing my review, I spent a fair bit of time wondering if the same story could have been told without this aspect. My final conclusion is that it potentially could be cleaned of all instances of child abuse, but the story would be vastly different, as would the main character’s journeys. That tells me this is part of the core of the book and something the authors wanted to explore in the narrative, and so deliberately included. It’s not a subject for everyone, but then neither are romances, or gory violence a la Game of Thrones, or even just sword and sorcery vs. science fiction. In all, I really enjoyed the book, and I’ll be reading next one in the series once I’m finished reading for the contest. If you’re looking for a dark science fantasy with powerful themes and intriguing characters, definitely check this one out.

This was a flash fiction I wrote when fleshing out the original idea for The Biomass Conflux series, back in 2015. If you've read the series, you'll see some differences and similarities in this piece. Differences in how the technology and society is structures, but similarities in the sense of body horror, and the ideas for the biomass.

I hope you enjoy!

Conversations about the Weather

As Chuck fell in beside me, I noticed his new hat. It sat high atop his head of spare, sandy hair; a large fedora, black with a little red slip of material on the rim. We spoke of trivialities as we entered Landing Strip Lane, squelching across wet plascrete and avoiding puddles. He would walk to the Chemical Countermeasures Department, me to the Weather Control Bureau, where I planned to correct our recent spate of rainfall.

Then I noticed Chuck held another hat in his hands; a bowler hat, brown, with a bit of green ribbon tied around it.

"Care for a hat?" he asked. "I'm planning on giving this one to my brother, but you're free to try it out if you wish. It'll keep the weather off." He checked his own hat, for maybe the fifth time, as he spoke. It was not the fashion here, to wear headgear. Not in such usually temperate weather. A bare head was a friendly head.

It had rained every day the last week—a miscalculation in the calibration of the rainsats, I was certain—leaving the streets coated with a sheen of unevaporated water. Yet this hardly called for such a drastic change of fashion.

"No thanks." I waved him away and changed the subject. He began to talk of last night's dinner party as we rode along the slipway on First Construction Boulevard.

"And how long before we can open the new colony radian?" I asked, cutting into his recounting. Chuck had met several new friends at the dinner, gaming at recboards long into the night, and I was sorry I missed the outing, on account of my fiddling with the errant rainsats.

"Hard to push the local biomass back," Chuck said. "It's resisting every chemical. No herbicides kill it. It renders most poisons inert, as if it has a mind of its own." He reached up to adjust his fedora again, sitting higher on his crown than one might think normal, and a flap of something thicker and clammier than skin was exposed. I nearly stumbled. Had it moved? Surely I was mistaken.

"I'm sure this rain doesn't help your job," I said. "Has anyone been out recently with colds or infections? Strange allergies?" I tried to keep my eyes away from his hat as he glanced toward me. We waited for the cross-slip belt to take us across the intersection teeming with personal scooters and morning busses.

"No—what makes you ask?" Chuck waved at a woman stalking toward us. "Morning, Jiune." I did not know her.

She was in a sheer suit and had a large red hat high on her head, its brim jagging up and down every time one of her heels touched the plascrete. Just as she passed us, a crosswind from a speeding scooter raised the brim enough for me to see her hairline, uneven as it was with growth. My eyebrows jerked in surprise, yet I tried to keep the emotion from my friend.

"Is she someone from last night?" I asked, dragging my eyes back from what Jiune attempted to hide. I watched the streets around us, people walking to their places of business with covered heads. Hats were back in fashion, it seemed. I yearned even more to correct my rainsats—to desiccate this rain-soaked landscape with bright sunshine.

"No. Someone else I know."

"Where from?" I was familiar with most of Chuck's friends. We frequented the same recpads and game lounges.

"Just around." Chuck continued to prattle and I strove to keep my answers civil, lest he suspect something amiss. But I let my steps grow shorter, falling behind him a little to observe. My hand rose, almost of its own accord, to tip his hat up just so, to see what the high-seated hat hid. I felt eyes on me, shaded by various states of haberdashery.

At once, I felt a gentle shove behind me, urging me to increase my pace. I found Jiune had returned from the brief errand that had taken her past us. The wind was against us now, and a gust blew the brim up again as I craned my neck. In response, my gaze flicked to the ever-present fields of peculiar flora this world boasted, just visible through the gaps in the buildings.

"It's best not to look," Chuck said, clamping a hand down on his own fedora. "We have a stop to make today, at your weather bureau. Fair weather and sun next week just won't do. My friends and I like it a bit damper and we want your help."

Jiune's digit trailed a single line from the base of my skull to the bottom of my neck, leaving what residue I knew not, though it was damp and cold. I shivered violently, and the spot began to tingle, like little spiders crawling up into my hair. My eyes were drawn back to Chuck's lack of hairline, just visible under his hat. I tried to brush the invasion off, but it stuck, rooting firmly into my body, leaving my movements jerky.

After a few moments, I turned down Reactor Boulevard with my new friends. I felt stronger, more at ease. Chuck handed me the spare bowler hat he held in store for his brother.

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