My Thoughts and Summary of SPSFC Phase One

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I’ve been involved in SPFBO competition for a number of years now, so anyone who reads my blog regularly should probably be aware of it — but in case you don’t know, it’s a self published contest for fantasy books run by Mark Lawrence and you can find it here:

This year a new contest was started under the same premise, but with science fiction and run by Hugh Howey. A sci-fi version of SPFBO was something that’s been requested for years now and I was so excited to hear it was going to be a thing. Finally!!

The Similarities:

  • 300 self published books entered
  • 10 blogs judging
  • Multiple Phases and takes approximately 1 year

The Differences:

  • No solo blogs, all blogs have to have multiple judges on the team
  • All of those judges on each team should read each of the 30 books assigned to the group. In SPFBO a group of 5 may split the books giving each person 6 to judge on their own. In SPSFC each judge reads 15-20% of each book and votes yes or no if they want to continue.
  • The ten books with the most yes votes move onto an official semi-finalist type phase. In this phase, each of the 10 books is read by each judge with the hope that each judge will try and finish the book and give it a rating 0-10.
  • Instead of picking just one finalist to move on for other blogs to read, each team picks 3… so instead of reading 9 books like I do in SPFBO finals phase… I’ll be reading 27.

There are other differences, but these are the main structural highlights that make it a very different experience.

My Thoughts on Sampling

I took a while to adjust to only reading up to 20%, I often felt compelled to keep reading after that. But there are time constraints, and in order to get through all 30 entries in time to give yes/no votes for my group; reading to completion each time I enjoyed something really wasn’t an option. I was frustrated at first because I felt like I was just getting into the story and all the sudden I had to stop. I will need to go back and re-read the first 20% for each of the 10 books that get voted to move forward out of the slush pile stage because I have difficulty retaining partial stories in my head, especially if I’m reading a bunch of them in quick succession. Taking notes was key for this process. Without them, the books would become blurry and I couldn’t remember enough specifics to vote yes or no with confidence.

I did find that there were a handful of books where I didn’t quite make it to 20% (and that’s okay and allowed in the rules). There were a few that I bounced off very hard and I just knew there wasn’t any point to me continuing on. Sometimes it was because of content, and other times it was the writing style, but over the years as a judge I’ve learned to trust strong reactions to things. So, although it could be jarring to stop at 20% if I’m enjoying something, I don’t feel like I was short changing the books I said no to, I know I wouldn’t have liked them anymore at 30% than I did at 20%.

When it was all said and done I said YES to 10/30 books – it wasn’t intentional to try and line it up with exactly 10 since we can only send 10 through to the next phase, it just happened to be that way.

I gave a ‘hard’ no to 9 books, these no’s are a hard “I don’t want to read any more of this”, while I have 11 maybes. These maybes are books I may not have continued on if it were up to me, but I have no strong negative feelings, and it’s possible in the latter half of the book I’ll really come to enjoy it — or not, lol.

My Favorite Five

  • Dusk Mountain Blues
  • Day 115 on an Alien Planet
  • Bloodlines
  • Dark Nebula
  • Ever the Hero

I have five more that I’ve voted yes on, but these are as it stands now, at 20%. A lot can happen in 80% of a book, so these feelings may change. These are also the books that I will go back and read to completion even if they aren’t voted through to the next round. I am just one of many judges on Team Tar Vol On, and my vote is just one of six. Maybe all five of these go through, maybe none of them do — but they’ll get a full review on my blog regardless.

Dusk Mountain Blues by Deston J Munden

This is a western meets sci fi in a world where humans are colonizing other planets. It just so happens these inhabitants of this world are being pushed out and are considered “less than” since they are mutants. I found this to be an engaging mix of genres with a gritty and nuanced cast of grey characters. The writing was fluid and sped me along, and although there was a deep sense of the South and there were heavy accents, the dialogue didn’t get bogged down in dialect. A little dab will do for me when it comes to writing out a dialect, and southern accents can get burdensome if overworked. This was one of the first ones I picked up and it was before I adjusted to stopping at 20% if I was engaged with the book… so I actually finished this one, lol.

Day 115 on an Alien World by Jeannette Bedard

This is another book focusing on human colonization but much earlier in the process, when things were still new and untested/dangerous. It turns into a murder mystery, where it tells you from the start who dies and then builds those characters back stories and inter-relationships. Absolutely fascinating and kind of a Stephen King way to do things, it can go wrong quickly and lose all sorts of tension if not done properly. I really loved the writing and the plotline and again, this was one of the first ones I picked up and I forced myself to stop at 40%.

Bloodlines by Peter Hartog

This has a classic detective feel to it with sarcasm laced into narrative as well as the dialogue. It caught my attention on page one just with the writing style. I don’t personally read many detective stories, so I don’t feel like this was a stale premise for me, but others in the group who read much more of it may feel differently. The MC is able to have Insight helping him solve crimes, but it’s not always on queue. I am a sucker for scifi fantasy mash ups, so when the blurb said bio-engineered vampires I was super stoked. I read this about halfway through my slush pile and at this point I was able to convince myself to read to 20% and put things down to move on.

Dark Nebula by Sean Willson

This focuses on two siblings who have held a family secret for generations — they know about alien tech that no one else is privy to. They were warned by the aliens not to fuck around with their tech, but they fucked around and now they’re about to find out, there are six alien ships on the horizon of human territory and it’s unlikely it’s anything good. This will likely appeal to those who enjoy alien vs human military fantasy. I read to about 20%.

Ever the Hero by Darby Harn

This has an “us vs them” theme with the Empowered vs the normal people. Empowered people have classic super hero type abilities like telekinesis and telepathy. However, the MC does not have any powers to speak of and honestly I love that kind of thing where someone without powers has to struggle against a society focused around those who do. I found her to be a very relatable character and one that’s already the underdog just given her lack of powers. Aliens had attacked earth in 1968, so this is an alternate Earth comic book sci-fi kind of feel and I really was digging it — I read it to about 20%.

I’ll post another update when the team comes to its final ten decision, and I may post more full reviews as we work our way through phase one 😀