The time is finally upon us. The SPSFC has reached the finals, and we have a finalist review here for you today. This one is of S.A. Tholin’s Iron Truth. This book has an SPSFC rating of 5.25 out of 10. Here’s my full review.

I am a solo blogger. Always have been, probably always will be. At Boundary’s Edge is just me screaming my opinions about books into the uncaring void. No team, no discussion, just me. It’s only with the SPSFC that I’ve started discussing books with other people before assigning them a rating. The books, that is. Not the people. Part of the judging process of the SPSFC is having everyone on a team read a book so that genre preferences and stylistic choices are balanced out. If one person doesn’t like romance, but the rest of the team do, then this means the negative reaction of the one has less chance of scuppering an SF romance’s chances early on. Of course, this does mean that you end up reading books that aren’t necessarily the sort you’d go out and buy. Simultaneously, books you think you’d like have fallen by the wayside. Early one, we as a team cut at least one military SF. From the looks of things, so a lot more of that particular genre didn’t make it this far. That’s a shame, because it’s probably my favourite genre, even if the fight with space opera is a close one. But while space opera is well-represented in these finals, Iron Truth is the only book that bears the military SF label. At last, I thought. A genre I like is strong in other areas to be enjoyed by the rest of the judging teams. When one of my fellow judges commented on the military SF aspects, I was even more excited. Unfortunately, those expectations soon came crashing down around me.

On the face of it, this book should be everything I want. Crashed spaceship with a fight for survival? Check. Lost colony that is absolutely hiding a terrible secret? Check. Squad of military personnel outmanned and outgunned? Check. Unfortunately, the premise is not matched by the contents. Well, it is. But not in a way that held my interest. This is easily the longest of the finalists, and has a page count to rival any of the chunky space operas I usually read. That’s not a problem. if you like something, why would you not want more of it? But I became detached from the story quite early on, and so the extra length was something I had to push through, rather than something to be savoured.

Let’s talk about the military aspect for a bit, if for no other reason that it cheers me up. At this point in the competition, I’m deeply appreciative of any military representation that isn’t wholly negative. And nuance is something that Iron Truth does have. There’s no clear-cut good and bad, as even the villains make compelling arguments at times. Now, when I think of military SF, I don’t think of men with guns. I think of administration and the role of the military in society. It’s the latter that comes into play here. The Primaterre’s military is rigidly organised, and absolutely working for a dystopian society. But we soon (in as much as this book is ever in a rush) learn why. And it’s the why that makes the book fall apart in my eyes. Why? Because the answer is demons.

Yes, that’s right. We’ve got demons in our sci-fi. Thankfully, this isn’t a science fantasy setting. These demons come from an alien world and kill people by preying on ‘impure’ thoughts. Somehow, even after all these pages, I’m not entirely sure what constitutes an impure thought. It seems to be any doubt or fear, and that living in the moment keeps you safe. Honestly, I’m just a little confused about it all. As you might imagine, once the demons get involved, we swing from military SF into all out horror. There’s also a bit of romance floating around, but I honestly just ignored it. Yes, this is a long book, but there are just so many competing elements. It’s an ambitious project, sure, and only the first in a series of indeterminate length. But for me, none of these elements hang together in a satisfying manner. There are some interesting pieces to the puzzle, but it doesn’t click together the way it ought to.

5 responses to “SPSFC FINALIST REVIEW: Iron Truth, by S.A. Tholin”

  1. Athena (OneReadingNurse) Avatar
    Athena (OneReadingNurse)

    Despite your Twitter disclaimer, I looked 😂 too bad, sounds like the plot got convoluted when out of world elements were thrown in.


    1. Alex Hormann Avatar

      If it hadn’t been for the demons, I’d have enjoyed the book a lot more. I just struggled to see how they figured into the story. It’s why I don’t read a great deal of science fantasy or horror. I love concrete answers.


      1. Kate Avatar

        I’ve read this book. There are no demons in it and, even imaginary, they are not the cause of anything that happens. This reality is the “iron truth” that has the soldiers all freaked out.


  2. MONTHLY ROUNDUP: July 2022 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] first SPSFC is over, and we crowned a winner in the form of S.A. Tholin’s Iron Truth. I wasn’t personally a fan of it, but it has gained plaudits from just about everyone else in […]


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