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 Inquisitor by Mitchell Hogan. Having read to the twenty percent mark, this was one of two quarterfinalists that I voted YES on continuing. Now, it’s time for me to read the rest.
Science Fiction has the same problem as the rest of the literary world. People will talk endlessly about the classics, and are always on the lookout for a modern classic. This is especially true in omline circles, where it sometimes seems as if everything must be either a masterpiece, or utter garbage. This false binary has done a lot of harm in reviewing circles, to the extent that some people consider anything less than a 50% approval rate to be a failure. I’m of the opinion that if you’ve pleased half your readers, you’re probably doing something right. I don’t give out 0/5 ratings, so for me a 3/5 is bang on average. Obviuolsy, I would love for every book i read to blow me away and thrill me like no other, but reality doesn’t allow for that. It is absolutely fine for a book to be decent, and fine, and neither more nor less than that.
This is where Inquisitor falls in my rankings. It’s a genuinely good book, and the simple fact that it does nothing I personally find specatacular is nothing for it to be ashamed of. What it does deliver is solid action, a sense of adventure, and fun characters. It’s pure and adrenaline-fulled from start to finish, with just enough hints of something more at work than guns and punches to keep the pages turning. It may be a story I’ve seen dozens of times over but Hogan tells it well.
Space Opera fare like this book also brings another little paradox to mind. If you buy your sci-fi on Amazon, you will be bombarded by recommenadtaions just like this one. Seemingly endless series of spaceships and daring heroes, sprawling out from books that are themselves quite short. These are the books I expected to come across in the SPSFC. But in two years of judging and over sixty books sampled, they’ve actually been few and far between. A lot of what I’ve read these past two years has been much more niche. Some of it for the better, but a lot of it for the worse. A book like Inquisitor feels very safe. It doesn’t take unnecessary risks. It doesn’t push the boat out into deep water. It tells a really good story in a very accessible way. It’s a kind of everyman’s science fiction, and it’s hard to take offence to that. Because even if I’ve had the contents before, this time they’re delivered with an extra helping of charm.
For SPSFC rating purposes, I’m giving Inquisitor a score of 6/10, which the mathematically minded among you will note marks it as being above average quality.