Welcome back to the second incarnation of the Self Published Science Fiction Competition. If you’ve been keeping up with us (and I do hope you have been), then you’ll be aware that we have finished our slushpile reading and ended up with seven books that the majority of the team agreed were worth reading to completion. Over the course of the next few weeks these seven quarterfinalists will be whittled down to three semifinalists, who will then be handed over to other judging teams for further analysis and discussion. How we turn seven into three is quite simple. Each member of our judging team will attempt to read the entire book. Upon completion, we will individually score it on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being one of the worst books we’ve ever read, and 10 being one of the best. We then take the average of these scores and turn that into the team’s overall score. If a judge decides to DNF a book for reasons other than time constraints or stylistic disagreement, their vote is counted as 0, but through the magic of mathematics, they are counted as half a judge for the purposes of working out the average. Though a little complicated, this in theory stops a book being removed from the contest simply because one judge has a visceral reaction to it. If a book impresses the other judges enough, a DNF needn’t be the end of the story.
What you’re about to read is my own personal review of one of the quarterfinalists. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of my fellow judges, and as always I encourage readers to give the book a go and make their own judgements.
Today I’m taking a look at Black Table, by Anttimatti Pennanen. Having read to the twenty percent mark, this was one of two quarterfinalists that I voted NO on continuing. The other judges were unanimous in their support, however, and so I have read on.
My issues with Black Table begin early in the book, which opens with two science fiction fans heading to a convention. Now, obvious self-insert aside, I’m not all that interested in reading about science fiction nerds. I have spent a lot of time around these people. I am one of these people. There’s a slight The Big Bang Theory energy to these opening scenes, but whereas I find those characters endearing (largely due to the performances) Jon and Gus are absolutely insufferable. It’s not that they’re bad people. It’s that they’re annoying. They’re a stereotype of the male nerd that doesn’t become any more appealing on account of how tragically accurate the stereotype can be.
And then there’s the writing itself. There are no glaring grammatical errors. No standout typos. No long and meandering, pretentious sentences leading the road to self indulgence. Yet, I can’t for the life of me say this was a well-written book. At least not for an adult audience. The prose is incredibly simple. Sentences contain a single clause, the paragraphs are short and choppy. There’s precious little variation in tone. It’s all very, very immature. If the protagonists were only a little younger, I’d think had been written as a children’s novel.
I will put one disclaimer here, which is that I haven’t looked into the author at all (a policy I stick to for all SPSFC reading in the name of neutrality). However, the note about Finnish vernacular at the beginning gives me reason to think that this is either written in translation, or perhaps not in the author’s first language. If either of these is the case, then the author deserves praise for putting together such a coherent story. But taken as one book from a slate of more advanced competitors, the prose is a sticking point for me.
There is some fun to be had in the Bill & Ted style location-hopping and fist-bumping, but the execution of that idea renders this book a hard pass from me. I initially voted NO on continuing, and reading the remainder of the book has only cemented my opinions.
My personal SPSFC score of Black Table is 4/10.