Welcome back to the SPSFC. In this second year of the competition, we are currently at stage one, affectionately known as the slushpile. In this phase, each team has been given a selection of books to sort through in search of a handful of quarterfinalists. At Boundary’s Edge has 28 of these books (you can find a full list of them by clicking on this link). Our team of four will be reading our way through these books for the next couple of months.
For those who need a refresher, at this early stage we don’t read the whole book. We read the opening 20% of every entry and vote either YES or NO on continuing. The books that receive the most YES votes will become quarterfinalists and be read in full. Those that receive more NO votes than YES votes will be cut from the competition.
Last year, At Boundary’s Edge only brought you the end result of these cuts. This year, we’re playing it a little looser, with each judge able to reveal their personal votes prior to the final announcements. You can find my previous slushpile comments by clicking HERE, HERE and HERE.
Now it’s time for that old disclaimer. These are my opinions. Not necessarily those of my team, or any other judge, or anyone else in particular. Once again, my opinions. Though others are more than welcome to share them. With that out of the way, here we go.
The Cult Shadow, by Peter Lamb
Structure, structure, structure. It’s the bugbear that keeps on coming back as I read through the slushpile. This book has a fantastic cover, an interesting premise, and a good plot. But it’s difficult for me to get into because paragraph after paragraph just spreads across the page. Given a structural edit, this one could be so much better, because everything else it needs is already there.
The Elitist Supremacy, by Niranjan
I think this must be one of the shorter books in our slushpile, but there’s still a lot going on. Which proved to be a bit of a problem for me. There are some interesting ideas in here, but there’s simply too much packed into too few pages.
The Emerald Princess, by J. D. Richards
Sometimes its hard to put a finger on exactly why a book doesn’t work. Plot holes, bad editing, drab characters – these are all easy spots that this book avoids. In this case, it’s just that the voice of the book doesn’t grab me. And if I’m not grabbed, even a professionally put-together book doesn’t make the grade.
The Empyrean, by Katherine Franklin
Sometimes a book doesn’t work for you, and sometimes a book does. This one is thankfully a resident of the latter category. Right from the outset the writing is confident, and deservedly so, with a story that I’m already keen to read more of, and some interesting ideas at play.
Trials on the Hard Way Home, by Lilith Frost
The setting and underlying ideas behind this one immediately had my attention, but ultimately I found the book to have more flaws than merits. Character interaction isn’t usually a big deal for me, but I found the dialogue in this book far too clunky, which kept pulling me out of an otherwise interesting narrative.
Webley and the World Machine, by Zachary Chopchinksi
Despite the name, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this one is not a children’s book that snuck in under the radar. Nevertheless, it is one more book that suffered from clumsy prose, as evidenced by a very early scene in which a character admires their reflection in order to describe themselves to the reader.
Unknown Horizons, by Casey White
During the slushpile phase, we only judge a book based on the opening section, so we don’t always get the full picture of a book. Unfortunately for this entrant, the opening chapters suffer from incredibly languid pacing during what should, from a narrative perspective, be a much more tense handful of scenes. For that reason, I’m voting to drop it.
That brings me to the end of this year’s slushpile. While we still have to gather and compare notes as a team, you can expect a Quarterfinalists announcement in the very near future. To those I’ve voted YES on, I hope my co-judges agree and that we see you in the next round. To those I’ve voted NO on, thank you for entering the competition, and I hope you find your readers out there somewhere.