Welcome back to the SPSFC. As you may be aware, we are now in the semifinals, meaning a mere 30 books remain in the competition.
Having selected three semifinalists of our own, At Boundary’s Edge will now be reading six more books selected by other teams. In this stage of the contest, each team’s chosen three are passed along to two other teams. At Boundary’s Edge will be reading the books chosen by Team Read Stars and Team Science Fiction News.
As before, our team of judges will read each book to completion (or give it a dreaded DNF rating, and score it somewhere between 0 and 10. These scores will be added together to create a team average. The team average will then be combined with the average score given by the other two teams to have read that book. Spaces in the final are limited, and only the highest scoring books from across the competition will be granted one of the coveted spaces. And remember, if a book has made it this far, it’s because a few people really liked it. Even if it doesn’t go any further in the contest, it must be doing something right.
Today’s review is of Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days, by Drew Melbourne. As always, all thoughts below are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my fellow judges.
Like most people, I buy books with the general idea that I will like them. I pick up books that have tropes and settings I enjoy. That tends to mean a lot of space opera and military SF, but I space things out with other genres, be it social SF, hard SF, or even fantasy. I have a pretty good track record of enjoying the books I read, because I am selective about what I buy.
The SPSFC is different. I don’t choose any of it. I am given a list of books and told to read them. The order I decide to read them in is up to me, but for simplicity I tend to do either alphabetical order by author surname, or in order of length. It depends how much time I have on my hands. What this means for the books in question is that I don’t have a whole lot of control over the context in which I read them. One of last year’s semifinalists, I gave a very positive review for, but in hindsight I was more pleased by the change in pace from then recent books than I was impressed by the book in question. This freefalling context is always worth bearing in mind, but I don’t think it impacts reviews and scores in a negative way, as each book stands the same chance of hitting me at the right time.
Having come straight off the back of two less-than-stellar semifinalists, I was in a pretty grouchy mood. When I saw that the next book was a comedy, I was conflicted. On the one hand, comedy SF novels are among my least favourite genres, and I was ready for the grouchiness to continue. But on the other hand, this one sounded like a refreshing change of pace from the slow and pondering book I’d just finished. And really, this light-hearted romp could surely only be an easier read than the others. Right?
Well, right indeed. Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days feels like a real and polished book. It’s well written, well paced, and has all the sense of fun and adventure you’d expect from the blurb. It’s light and easy reading that won’t tax your brain too much. Sometimes, that’s all you want from a book. I also have to give special credit for the news headlines that crop up throughout the book. I’m a big fan of in-universe texts, and these really added to the sense of a world existing beyond the pages of this one story. Honestly, more books should do this.
Where the book falls down a little is in it’s comedic stylings. Of course, your mileage may vary because humour is highly subjective, but I found most of the comedy to me more annoying than amusing. You can also tell that the world exists to serve the jokes, rather than the other way around, which leads to a setting that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I also felt there was a cultural barrier between myself and some of the jokes, but that’s hardly the book’s fault. I think Walmart is a bit like Poundland, but even so their prevalence is nowhere near as funny to me as the book wants them to be. It is what is it is, but after a while it grates.
Even though the comedy didn’t work for me, Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days is still a fun and professionally put together piece of fiction, so it gets an SPSFC score of 6/10 from me.
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