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 The Diamond Device by M H Thaung. Having read to the twenty percent mark, this was one of five quarterfinalists that I voted YES on continuing. Now, it’s time for me to read the rest.

If you ask someone off the street to list the things they associate with science fiction, then you’re likely to get a few obvious answers. Aliens, space ships, other planets. Laser guns and robots. Science fiction covers a lot of ground, and many fine books combine all of these things, while others feature none at all. One common idea is that science fiction is set in the future, be it five years from now, or five thousand years. After all, science fiction as a whole tends to be a very forwards looking genre. But not always. because lurking at the fringes of mainstream science fiction is a weird little niche that goes by the name of steampunk.

Now, not everyone agrees that steampunk is poart of the science fiction conversation, but I reckon it is. Though some of it veers into more fantastical relams of royal vampiric bloodlines and hidden sorcerous cabals, much of steampunk holds true to one very simple hypothetical: What if the Victorians had futuristic technology, but built using the techniques of the past? This is how we end up with fleets of airships, and automata powered by coal. Steam-driven empires cross the globe, and it is a truly global phenomenon, from George Mann in the UK, to Cherie Priest in the US.

M H Thaung’s SPSFC2 entry is a variety of steampunk, which caused a great deal of debate among the judges over whether or not the book counted as science fiction. True enough, there’s not a whole lot of science going on. Diamond-powered machinery has very little basis in our current understanding of science (although since diamonds are essentially just compressed coal, you could make an argument that it’s coal power after all), and the story is one that is positively Dickensian at times. With the simple swap of a few naarative componenets, The Diamond Device would work just as well as a fantasy novel, or even a straight historical one. For me though, this counts as science fiction for one simple reason: the undercurrent of the world is one that is being overtaken by a new and wondrous technology. You don’t get much more science fiction than that.

Leaving aside any questions of genre relevance, The Diamond Device is the strongest book of the contest so far. It’s compulsively readable, with a decidedly British sensibility to it that few other authors are able to pull of without annoying me. It’s got great dialogue and a rapid-paced sense of adventure that brings to mind the best of traditionally-published steampunk I’ve read. There are a few moments where things fall together perhaps a little too neatly, but that’s part of what I expect from steampunk crime novels, so it never bothered me too much.

For the purposes of the SPSFC, I’m awarding The Diamond Device by M H Thaung a score of 7.5/10.

In case you didn’t know, my fellow judge Athena has also been reviewing the quarterfinalists as she reads them. You can find her thoughts on her blog OneReadingNurse, or by clicking on these handy links:

Black Table
Trials on the Hard Way Home
The Diamond Device

3 responses to “SPSFC2 QUARTERFINALIST REVIEW: The Diamond Device, by M H Thaung”

  1. SPSFC2 AT BOUNDARY’S EDGE: Meet the Semifinalists – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] Diamond Device, by M. H. ThaungFinal Score: 6.25/10 (Highest Solo Score 7.5/10)Status: SemifinalistMy Review/Athena’s ReviewFinal Thoughts: Though it might not fit everyone’s definition of science […]


  2. MONTHLY ROUNDUP: January 2023 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] Review: The Diamond Device, by MH Thaung […]



    […] Diamond Device, by M. H. ThaungFinal Score: 6.25/10 (Highest Solo Score:7.5/10)My Review/Athena’s ReviewFinal Verdict: Despite some quibbles over the SFness of the setting, this book […]


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