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 Empire Reborn by A. K. DuBoff. 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.
Everyone has their weaknesses. Their ‘guilty pleasures’ if you will. For example, I am a sucker for maverick detective TV shows (currently, I am five seasons deep into The Mentalist. We all have that place we go to have fun, and switch our brains off for a while. Some people will watch romcoms, others might listen to synth music. One university lecturer even confided that he enjoyed reading ‘trashy science fiction novels’ in his spare time. Shocking, I know, but it shows that even stuffy professors can have good literary taste. Myself, I read almost exclusively science fiction. If I want a break from military SF, I’ll read some time travel. If I’ve been deep in the classics, I’ll read something more recent. But the one part of the genre I keep coming back to is space opera.
I’m a rather forgiving reader when it comes to space opera. I’m not looking for any intellectual stimulation. I’m not seeking any great high. I just want a solid story with some explosions and a sense of adventure. If I get that, I walk away a happy man. As a result, I’m largely happy to have read Empire Reborn. It’s got all the things I look for in a space opera. Fun characters, action, and adventure. The holy trifecta of the genre, if you will. As an added bonus, it’s also very well put together. If it hadn’t been for the fact I was reading it on my phone, I probably would have assumed it was traditionally published from the presentation.
But, as I’ve said so many times, I’ve read a lot of space opera. I have read some absolute rubbish in my time, and I’ve also read books that I consider among the best written, all under that one umbrella. That’s some pretty stiff competition. Empire Reborn doesn’t reach the heights of some other books in the genre. Not because it is poorly written or badly paced, but because it takes the safe path. The well-worn path, straight through the centre of traditional space opera. I don’t need innovation in every book I read, but I do notice when it is lacking. Again, Empire Reborn is comfortably above average, but it never hooked or thrilled me. I enjoyed it, yes, but I was never lost in its pages.
As an aside here, Empire Reborn is, as mandated by SPSFC requirements, the first in a series. But it’s also part of a much larger universe. I can’t help but wonder if my enjoyment would have been higher had I been more familiar with that universe, as is sometimes the case.
For space opera fans and lovers of adventure, Empire Reborn is worth a look. For the SPSFC, I’m giving it a rating of 6/10.
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