SPSFC Semi-Finalist Reviews

Round two of SPSFC is over, the scores have been turned in, and the finalists have already been announced. Some of the judges have already finished their first book! Not me, I’m slow. That’s why this post is going up today even though I had already finished all the semis last week. I’m still catching up with blog work after being sick and recovering for most of April. Being sick for so long has definitely affected my reading too. I use the CAWPILE system to reach the final score for each book so while my enjoyment of certain books took a hit due to how I was feeling, the other points shouldn’t be affected much. Still, I don’t want to include my scores here since I stopped giving star ratings in reviews since the beginning of the year. I will share my thoughts and I trust you can make the decision yourself if the book is for you or not.


Those Left Behind by N.C. Scrimgeour

Those Left Behind by N.C. Scrimgeour was the second to last book I read. The author was kind enough to provide me with the audiobook and I can highly recommend it. The narrator uses sound and voice effects and it adds another layer to the narration. This was my favourite book out of the six although I didn’t expect it to. The characters were great, the writing smooth, and the intrigue started early. There are so many mysteries and the only gripe I have is that the big mystery is still as much a grey cloud as that it was when it was introduced. I would’ve like it more if there was a little hint at what the answer could possibly be. We get a tiny bit but I’m not even sure if it’s related. It’s definitely a series I’d like to continue. If you like space opera, you won’t go wrong with this one.

Reap3r by Eliot Peper

Reap3r is a techno thriller. I started it at the beginning of the round but I soft DNF’ed it because my brain was rejecting it. I had 150 pages left and pushed myself to give it another go, so I the rest after I finished the other books. I’m glad I did because my final score was higher than my initial score. The thing that tripped me up was the amount of exposition. There was so much of it in the early chapters. Hardly anything happened in real time, and it was mostly characters musing about stuff that had already happened. I get that you need to set a premise, and with different characters, you need to know their circumstances and relationships with the other characters (if they’re present). But I do think there are better ways. I was bored. And I didn’t have to be because the story itself was pretty exciting. The premise is interesting, the intrigue is pretty good, and the characters stand out. If you don’t mind exposition, this might be a book for you.

Lightblade by Zamil Ahktar

I was excited about the Lightblade allocation. The cover is amazing and it would’ve been a cover-buy for me. It also set high expectations. One that were sadly crushed. One thing I loved was the light-based magic system. It’s super interesting and one of the stronger points of the book. The writing is smooth, and the characters are distinct although some felt flat. I had no interest in the main character at all. It didn’t help that a major part of this book is based on dreams and memory loss. It reminded me of Incinception and Vanilla Sky. While I loved both, there was still another layer to it, the real world. Lightblade didn’t. The ending of the book ruined the whole thing for me and I don’t care to read anymore in this series.

Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage by Marcus Alexander Hart

This one was a big surprise. I was one of the few in our team who finished this. Humour and sci-fi go together really well, I’ve noticed throughout this competition. Humour is also very subjective, which isn’t great when you’re in a competition. The Maiden Voyage hammered really hard on the main character being an American. The aliens never call him human and they had all kinds of snarky comments about Americans. It got tiring. But there was a reason why the aliens all said those things and the main character corrects it. After finishing the book, thinking it over a bit more and talking to my team members, I noticed none of them caught on to this: it’s commentary on the americanism of first contact. In a lot of first contact media, it’s the Americans the aliens meet first. Or they are introduced as world leaders. The aliens will think is the default, but humanity is more than the USA, and that’s what this book was partially about. At least, that’s what I gathered.

Debunked by Dito Abbott

Another book with lots of humour, but it wasn’t the kind of humour that meshed with me. It felt too random and didn’t add much to the story or character arc. I see the appeal for others but it just didn’t work for me. Aside from the randomness and jokes, the characters and writing was pretty good, as was the story overall. There was just too much fluff for me.

Night Music by Tobias F. Cabral

Night Music is the only one I DNF’ed. I don’t like science so hard sci-fi books are not my go-to. And while I can understand it (I’ve read academic papers from the math and computer science departments), I don’t care for it. It’s definitely something I pick up for enjoyment. Let me immerse myself in the world and the story without having to worry about nature’s laws, gravity, speed, etc. The writing was so strongly focused on the procedures, my brain rejected the story. I marked it as Not My Style. I’m not the right person to judge this book.


Aestus: The City by S. Z. Attwell


An underground city, built centuries ago to ride out the devastating heat. A society under attack. And a young solar engineer whose skills may be the key to saving her city…if she doesn’t get herself killed first.

When Jossey was ten, the creatures of the aboveground took her brother and left her for dead, with horrible scars. Now, years later, she’s a successful solar engineer, working to keep her underground city’s power running, but she’s never really recovered. After she saves dozens of people during a second attack, she is offered a top-secret assignment as a field Engineer with Patrol, but fear prevents her from taking it…until Patrol finds bones near where her brother disappeared.

She signs on and finds herself catapulted into a world that is far more dangerous, and requires far more of her, than she ever imagined. The creatures and the burning heat aboveground are not the only threats facing the City, and what she learns during her assignment could cost her her life: one of the greatest threats to the City may in fact lie within. With thousands of lives at stake, can she act in time?

Aestus is an adult dystopian science-fiction series set centuries after climate change has ravaged much of Earth. An epic story of vengeance, power, shifting loyalties, and survival that looks at just how far people will go to protect what they love, brought to you by science writer S.Z. Attwell, Aestus paints a picture of a world in which far too little has changed.

Melody by David Hoffer


A melody from the stars can save humanity, but only if Stephen can awaken the alien within….

Childhood therapy cured Stephen Fisher of disturbing visions and the delusion of having come from another world. But when his daughter obsesses over a star in the night sky, he fears that his genetic legacy may have burdened her with the same illness. His sanity is then shattered when he loses his child and the military abducts him claiming that she recorded a song broadcast from another world.

A voice inside Stephen’s head convinces him that he can bring his daughter back to life. What he discovers instead is a stunning truth about himself, his child’s destiny, and fate of the entire human race….

Melody is a riveting and thought-provoking science fiction novel. If you like first contact scenarios and action-filled stories, then you’ll love David Hoffer’s otherworldly adventure.

Hammer and Crucible by Cameron Cooper


The interstellar array which links worlds together wakes to find it has enemies…
The Fourth Carinad Empire stretches across hundreds of settled worlds and stellar cities, and thousands of light years. The Empire’s people and data are linked by a space-folding gates array controlled by the Emperor and his cohorts. When the array evolves into a sentient entity, it recognizes the Emperor as its foe.

Danny Andela, once known as The Imperial Hammer, withdrew from the Imperial Rangers decades ago, her reputation in tatters. She lives on her family’s star barge, waiting to die of a rare old age. She would be the array’s perfect weapon against the Emperor, except she no longer gives a damn–about anything.

Then Danny learns that the military disaster which essentially ended her life might possibly have been arranged by the Emperor himself…

Hammer and Crucible is the first book in the Imperial Hammer space opera science fiction series by award-winning SF author Cameron Cooper.

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days by Drew Melbourne

The year is 20018. The famed magician Illuminari is dead, and his greatest illusion has died with him. Dark forces now seek the Engine of Armageddon, the ancient, sentient doomsday weapon that Illuminari hid amongst the stars.

Enter Percival Gynt, accountant and part-time hero, whose quest to find the Engine before it falls into the wrong hands may be our universe’s last best hope for survival. It is a quest that will take him from the highest reaches of power to the lowest pits of despair and through every manner of horror and absurdity between.

But beware. This accountant has a secret. A secret that may damn us all.

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days is a sci-fi/fantasy adventure novel full of swashbuckling, math, dark secrets, space-faeries, obtrusive product placement, Nazis, beating up those Nazis, unlimited baked beans, zombie cyborg assassins, fate with a capital “F,” love, betrayal, wizards, jokes, paradoxes, a sentient doomsday weapon, eleven-dimensional space, clones, monsters, space-nuns, and at least one rat-chef.

Night Music by Tobias F. Cabral

The colonization of Mars has begun.

Following a rapid expansion of the manned space program due to the discovery of a potentially catastrophic Earth-crossing comet, Zubrin Base has been established on the Red Planet to oversee the capture of the rogue object.

During final preparations for a second expedition, however, contact has been lost with the outpost. Pilot Seth Boaz finds himself re-tasked for a rescue mission, one which will force him to confront his own past, as well as otherworldly forces with profound implications for humanity’s future.

A “Hard” Science Fiction space exploration novella, with affinities to the work of Greg Bear, Michael F. Flynn, and Arthur C. Clarke, NIGHT MUSIC incorporates realistic, near-future space technology and Mars mission and colonization models, as well as elements of Complexity Theory and nanotechnology. The author is a clinical psychologist, who applied that experience to the development of distinct and fleshed-out characters who speak with realistic voices.

Those Left Behind by N.C. Scrimgeour

A dying planet. A desperate mission. A crew facing impossible odds.

Humanity’s last hope lies with them…

Time is running out for the people of New Pallas. Nobody knows that better than Alvera Renata, a tenacious captain determined to scout past the stars with nothing but a handpicked crew and the promise she made: to find a new home for humanity.

But between navigating the dangers of dark space and playing first contact politics with a galactic civilisation already on the brink of war, Alvera soon realises keeping her word might not be as easy as she thought.

Her only hope may be the secrets of the ancient alien waystations scattered across the galaxy. The mysterious technology could be the key to humanity’s survival—or bring the unwanted attention of the long-forgotten beings who built them.

But remaining united in the face of annihilation is a lot to ask from a crew already splintering under the weight of their differences. A jaded pilot wrestling with his family’s blood-stained legacy looks for a place he can start over. A young translator desperate to leave her mark on the galaxy searches for meaning out in its lawless frontier. And Alvera reckons with the aftermath of betrayal as she fights for a way to save them all.

As they break apart to forge their own paths, Alvera and her crew all face the same question: what are they willing to sacrifice to save those left behind?

Those Left Behind is an epic, galaxy-spanning space opera full of exploration, adventure, and ancient alien mysteries. Fans of Mass Effect, The Expanse and Star Wars will love this character-driven science fiction novel—the first instalment in the Waystations Trilogy.

The Last Gifts of the Universe by Rory August


A dying universe.

When the Home worlds finally achieved the technology to venture out into the stars, they found a graveyard of dead civilizations, a sea of lifeless gray planets and their ruins. What befell them is unknown. All Home knows is that they are the last civilization left in the universe, and whatever came for the others will come for them next.

A search for answers.

Scout is an Archivist tasked with scouring the dead worlds of the cosmos for their last gifts: interesting technology, cultural rituals—anything left behind that might be useful to the Home worlds and their survival. During an excavation on a lifeless planet, Scout unearths something unbelievable: a surviving message from an alien who witnessed the world-ending entity thousands of years ago.

A past unraveled.

Blyreena was once a friend, a soul mate, and a respected leader of her people, the Stelhari. At the end of her world, she was the last one left. She survived to give one last message, one final hope to the future: instructions on how to save the universe.

An adventure at the end of a trillion lifetimes.

With the fate of everything at stake, Scout must overcome the dangers of the Stelhari’s ruined civilization while following Blyreena’s leads to collect its artifacts. If Scout can’t deliver these groundbreaking discoveries back to the Archivists, Home might not only be the last civilization to exist, but the last to finally fall.

Read my previous review for The Last Gifts of the Universe here.

Honourable mentions

I would’ve loved if these three books were included in the finals. They definitely deserve it. Don’t forget to check them out. Dim Stars has been on my TBR since I read the excerpt for BBNYA and I’m really looking forward to it. Please, please, please, don’t forget these books when you’re looking for new sci-fi to check out.

Read my review of Tropical Punch

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