SPSFC3 Quarter-Finalists

January 16, 2024

SPSFC3 Team 8 ScienceFictionNews Quarter-Finalist List! Team 8 has identified our 6 quarter-finalists! 

We were allocated 25 books and, after sampling them all, we narrowed it down to 6 quarter-finalists that we read entirely. These 6 quarter-finalists were rated and ranked. 


Children of the Black (W J Long III)

Cydonia Rising (Dave Walsh)

Drones (RJ Haze)

In the Slip (F. D. Lee)

The Widow's Tithe (T. R. Peers)

Woe to the Victor (Nathan H. Green)

The top 2 quarter-finalists move on to the next round as semi-finalists with the other teams' top picks!  They are: 

Woe to the Victor (Nathan H. Green)

Children of the Black (W J Long III)

Separate reviews and ratings for each of our team's quarter-finalists will be posted to my Insta & Goodreads, and they are also included below! Please note that these ratings are my personal ratings and not the final average for the entire team. Our team announced the final averaged score for each contestant at Science Fiction News.

There were some amazing stories in this group, and I've been enjoying expanding my reading horizons. There are some stories that didn't make it out of the slush pile that I will absolutely be returning to. The quality has made it hard to vote yes/no to advancing as a quarter-finalist because there were so many great choices, and it has been even harder to rate/rank the quarter-finalists and pick the 2 semi-finalists. 


Woe to the Victor

Nathan H. Green

⭐ Stars 4.6 (Rounds to 5) 

✨ Rating 9.2 

Action-packed military space opera with moral dilemmas, competing goals, and exciting battle scenes. 

In Woe to the Victor, Captain Lewis Black, Lead Engineer on the failed Reaper missile program Natasha Palmer, and Lt. Allie Perez fight to prevent the end of the world. They know their deaths will buy the colonists fleeing the planet only minutes, and yet they are each determined to make those minutes count. They've accepted their fate, and they won't go down without a fight. Little do the invading Maaravi know, humanity isn't going down without a fight. And then at the end, you question whether humanity even deserves to be saved. Some of the questions reminded me of those explored in "The 100's" final season. 

The choices, struggles, and mentality of those on Earth facing certain death is thought-provoking. There are poignant nods to WWII warfare and other conflicts where only death was certain, and yet, brave warriors cling to ideas and values greater than themselves. There is a determination and strength constantly present in the atmosphere even in the bleak circumstances. I also loved the AI's personalities (which reminded me somewhat of Defiant), the environmental questions, and motivations of the Maaravi. The tech is interesting and believable. The worldbuilding in the conflict sets a completed backdrop for the greater questions of humanity, resolve, and sacrifice. The prose flowed well, and it was enjoyable to read. 

What could have brought this up to 5 stars: Personally, I prefer more expansive worldbuilding that transports you into the new, and the beginning of the book focused on a near-now Earth. I enjoyed learning about the Maaravi in the later chapters, and I would have liked to know even more. It really picked up when we got to start interacting with them. I personally connected quickest with Natasha, but it took a little longer to begin to really root for Captain Black and Lt. Perez. I enjoyed all the characters and their independent struggles, but it took a while to feel as though I really "knew" them. While the action was well-done, it felt like action encompassed the entire book with few chances to "breathe." Nitpicks aside - I thoroughly enjoyed this story and the questions of sacrificing lives to buy time for humanity to continue were interesting, compelling, and profound. I would recommend adding this to any military sci-fi reader's TBR. 

In the Slip

F.D. Lee

⭐ Stars 4.5 (rounds to 4) 

✨ Rating 9 

Grungy, crime-solving dystopian story about policing time travel and corruption with a fresh take on travel using "the slip."

The main character, a cynical and world-weary time cop, has a very strong internal voice with a distinct personality. The blend of hardened detective with sci-fi elements is a well-crafted genre crossover with the best of both worlds. I loved seeing the physical side effects of time travel and how it came with costs and weaknesses, which is always as interesting as the ability/technology itself. The science fiction elements are woven into the main story well, and there are surprising twists that keep the plot racing ahead. It was a really fun read! There were definitely evocative and surprising moments. I don't want to give too much away as the surprises were the best part, but highly suggest reading this! I read it mainly in a single sitting because it was easy-to-read and fast-paced. 

What could bring this up to 5 star: More focus on the slip and how it specifically works. This is a big part of the book, and could have used even more highlighting to show the differences between this and other forms of time travel. Some of the point plots felt repetitive and could have been differentiated more -- like some of the missions and how they went down. Without giving away one of the reveals, I see how repeating experiences is important to the plot and sometimes this was successful, but at times it needed more. Some of the most interesting parts of time travel is seeing the "other times" and there was not enough of a focus on this, leaving us at times in the white room. While the main character had a strong voice, the supporting characters could have used more fleshing out to make them as unique and fully developed. However, this was a really good book and you should pick it up! 

Children of the Black 

W J Long III

⭐ Stars 4.1

✨ Rating 8.3

Military space opera with human genetic testing and alien life form science experiments gone awry. 

Interesting concept and take on the intersection of alien life form and human genetics, along with the psionic mind-reading powers. (Trying to avoid spoilers), in a mission gone awry, no one leaves unscathed, and some of the characters end up entangled with the secret military experiments in ways that they could not have predicted. The Echelon governmental group will stop at nothing to recover its research into the secret testing for weapons development and sends one of the main characters after it. That character hires retired soldier, previously under their command, to recover the dangerous hard drives, which unlocks secrets about that soldier's past and newfound abilities. This character seeks to protect others under their charge as the government (and pirates) want to capture them both to experiment on. While a pirate captain, who also previously served on a mission gone awry with the other two main characters, has their own motivations for obtaining the harddrives. Compounding tension and layers upon layers of conflicting motivations and obstacles made this for an interesting read, and full of action even in such a long book. 

What would have made this better is more time spent developing the prose to show characterization and world building instead of telling. Unfortunately, the "telling" sometimes detracted from the compelling plot. There are significant info dumps at the introduction of each character laying out their backstory, description, and persona rather than incorporating these into the action and organically allowing them to unfold through hints, snippets, dialogue, and the characters' perceptions of one another. An example is when the team of characters on that mission gone awry are introduced, and we get several paragraphs for each team member (which is difficult to keep straight). A similar issue occurs with the omniscient point of view going from close to distant point of view, while hopping from head to head very quickly in what sometimes goes from almost-omniscient POV to close third. It seems like the POV was used as a tool to quickly attempt to characterize by showing everyone's thoughts all at the same time, and it seemed a little convenient. More time spent weaving the world building and characterization in could have pushed this to a 5 star review because the concepts, alien life forms, and the way that the 3 main groups have history with one another were all very well done. 

Cydonia Rising

Dave Walsh

⭐ Stars 4

✨ Rating 8.2

A princess returned from the dead with Cydonian technology races against a princess on the run from her brother, both seeking to claim a crown they're due. 

The world building and various species/factions/aliens/planets were very interesting! The world building was well-done and complex, but avoided any info-dumping. I liked having two princesses with differing but equally legitimate claims to the crown coming to claim what was theirs in different ways. They were very different people with distinct backstories, skill sets, and goals--but both want revenge (which I love!). They gather their allies (sometimes overlapping) as they descend on the capitol planet. There were several characters that I wasn't sure what their true motivations were along the way, and I was surprised by the outcomes! Cydonian technology was very interesting (I want to know more about this), and I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of their schemes. I was rooting for the characters throughout, even when they might not have had the same goal. This has the big-galaxy space opera feel without being too heavy into military tactics. Highly recommend it! 

What could have brought this up to 5 stars: There were great ideas and hints of elements (reluctant allies to lovers, overcoming prejudices into allies, gaining the trust of people you need as allies) but they were rushed. They were introduced and resolved within chapters of each other. For example, when Alva meets the Wild Ones she gets them on her side within a few chapters and not much tension/obstacles. There were some convenient plot events such as all the characters by happenstance ending up on the same planet as one another and meeting one another accidentally to join up. Until the 75% mark, things were generally going "to plan" for the characters, but at that point their plans began to deteriorate and they had to adjust. Having these compounding layers of tension and conflict and obstacles earlier would have strengthened the plot. There was a large cast of characters and while it was easy to keep them distinct (which is not easy to accomplish) I did not get a deep sense of their personalities. More time spent finessing sections to incorporate characterization could have helped this. The romance between Jace and Kat felt a little forced and could have used more tension. The best part of romance is the tension before they get together, and this didn't have it. Finally--for me, the ending felt unfinished, not a cliffhanger, but the goal they had been going for was not resolved. While there were some areas of improvement, this was a quality book that I enjoyed. 

The Widow's Tithe

T. R. Peers

⭐ Stars 4 

✨ Rating 8.1

Dystopian, military science fiction where social media and power-hungry corporations can land you conscripted into private mercenary groups. 

This story had an interesting concept with potential indebtedness to large media corporations that could land you conscripted into private militaries unable to ever pay off the enormous debts. Our main character ends up indebted in such a way, searching for a way to return to her "influencer" lifestyle, but uncovers deadly secrets and truths. It raises questions of technological power, who should control technology, the impact of social media on civilization, and where we are headed as a society. It was packed full of action, developments, and a surprising twist at the end that was satisfying, built up to, and still surprising. The plot came full circle at the end in an exciting way. The Matrix-esque skill packages, and the use of body mods and tech were woven well into the action. 

What could have bumped this to 5 stars would be more worldbuilding. There were times where the background or some of the larger forces at play weren't provided or were skimmed over. The concept isn't so far off of what's been done that it was not that unique spin or take, and it was not until the very last chapters that additional worldbuilding elements were introduced. Without spoiling it, those later reveals were some of the most interesting. Additionally, the rooms, jungles, and locations they were in weren't always described, leaving a feeling of an empty white room. The numerous unexplained acronyms from the beginning felt like attempted immersive worldbuilding that was more jarring than smooth. Between chapters, there were tv announcers, transcripts of emails, chatrooms, and other media that served to provide a larger picture of the story. Some of these were successful and provided additional information in a fun format while others were disorienting and difficult to follow. Finally, Sasha's personality did not always shine through, and I didn't always get a strong sense of who she was. More internalizations, internal dialogue, mannerisms, secrets, emotions, etc. could have brought more depth to her character and made her more realistic from the beginning. While she was an interesting character, I would have liked to have felt like I knew her better. The same goes for some of the supporting characters. They had shining moments where they felt fully fleshed out, while at other times they were a little flat. 

I recommend this for anyone looking for a quick-paced dystopian military sci-fi story. 


RJ Haze

⭐ Stars 4 

✨ Rating 8 

In a world where you can sell your emotions on the blackmarket, what are they worth to you? And what would you do to keep them from being taken? 

In a near-future world, Garrick will do anything to experience and then sell emotions--the stronger the better. Happiness. Pleasure. Trust. Contentment. Surprise. Fear. Terror. They're all available for a price. When Garrick's transference contact is murdered just as laws are passed to make emotional transference legal, he finds himself searching for the darker truths behind it all. It's a short book (only about 200 pages) but it has a rocket-fueled pace from beginning to end. The concept of "Drones" who sell their emotions so they don't have to experience them is intriguing and opens many compelling questions. The main character is well-developed with a haunting backstory, weaknesses, motivations, selfishness, and yet an annoying (to him) sense of hope that just won't go away. It is thrilling, and I read the entire thing in one sitting and was left wanting more! Phenomenal writing. 

What could have upped this to 5 stars: while the premise was interesting, it could have been explored further and deepened. There were so many places to go with this, but the book ended before any of those could be explored. While the action kept moving, sometimes the events felt convenient rather than layer upon layer of obstacles where you have no idea how the heroes will make it out alive. There was not as much worldbuilding, only enough to serve the plot. The prose was fluid and easy to read, and it completely drew me in. I finished the book before I knew what had happened and at no point was "thrown out" of the story. That being said, it almost felt like it was over before it began. Another 150 pages could have deepened these concepts, added more tension, and further explored the ethical questions that were introduced. 

If you're looking for a shorter, quick, easy-to-digest cyberpunk-esque sci-fi story, this is a great read!