SciFi / Fantasy / Horror
by Chris Yee
Plot: Chris Yee's plotting in the high-tech crime thriller Serial Cortex is smart and twisted, with every surprise revelation also pleasingly inevitable in hindsight. As his characters attempt to enter the mind of a prostitute accused of being a serial killer, Yee proves adept at introducing fantastical high-tech plot elements, such as the rules for detectives interacting with the suspect's memories, and then dazzles by seizing every opportunity for suspense or shock that those rules offer. Meanwhile, the real-world exploits and betrayals of the novel’s scientists and cops are tense and arresting.
Prose/Style: Yee's prose is crisp, propulsive, and exciting. Crucially for a techno-thriller, Serial Cortex is always clear and persuasive when establishing its rules, in this case the specifics of how "thought-hopping" tech allows the characters to enter the brains of the murder suspect. The dialogue is breezy, chipper, and often funny. Like Yee's description, the prose is trimmed to the bone and polished.
Originality: Neither the brain-insertion company nor the thought of entering a killer's brain is particularly fresh, but Yee's characters, inventive incidents, and surprising revelations mostly make up for that.
Character Development: Yee's tendency not to waste words means the book skips by quite quickly with no extra or unnecessary detail. That can be problematic in a mystery story, as here the few stray character details that Yee offers us about the members of his Serial Crimes Bureau stand out so much that it's little surprise when they come back later in the story as revelations. Readers will likely sense the blatant foreshadowing immediately; yet, while Yee still manages to surprise with how these elements play out, readers will have little trouble keeping track of all these shoes that his story is going to drop. Serial Cortex is more convincing in its depiction of the brain than it is in its depiction of policework or running a startup tech company. His detectives spend too little time considering the ethics or admissibility of sedating a suspect to root around inside her brain to gather evidence, especially considering the fact that this exposes her to risk of brain damage. Meanwhile, readers will likely wonder why a tech company with miraculous technology that can insert a person's consciousness into another's brain is suffering such cashflow problems.
by Earik Beann
Plot: Beann’s alluring sci-fi novel tells the oddball story of a woman who comes into contact with alien intelligence and ends up on an adventure, all the while with the fate of the world as we know it at stake.
Prose/Style: While the pacing and focus here are somewhat inconsistent, Beann’s writing is clean and flows nicely. The exposition is clear and often tinged with a hint of refreshing humor.
Originality: The story of two brothers raised to be different species is decidedly unique. The author introduces a number of strange, distinctive characters and a clever resolution, ingredients that allow the novel to stand apart from more familiar stories of alien encounters.
Character Development: Mustafa is interesting and well-rendered, while Maria is less intriguing, feeling too often like a passive observer without true agency. Supporting characters are sufficiently differentiated and serve the story well.
by Richard G Walker
Plot: Walker’s novel proves a lighthearted apocalyptic romp that plays with established Norse mythology to tell a story of heroism and young love.
Prose/Style: The plot moves at a brisk and satisfying pace to keep readers intrigued and invested. The characters who exist primarily in Adam’s head can feel a bit intrusive on the page as formatted, though the reader will quickly grow accustomed as the characters endear themselves.
Originality: While sci-fi rendering of Norse mythology is not unexplored territory, the plot and characters are fresh and creative, and the book’s unique brand of sardonic humor goes a long way toward establishing originality.
Character Development: The romance between Adam and Evie, both quirky characters, provides a tender charge to the story’s plot, and supporting characters are fun to read and establish the tone and worldbuilding nicely.
by Steven Ramirez
Plot: The plot flows clearly, though the pacing is slow, particularly in the latter half of the book. Details of the primary mystery thread are neatly blended with the book’s supernatural elements. The ending will leave some readers wanting, however, with loose ends and no clear promise of what’s next.
Prose/Style: The prose is clean and accessible, and features some strong descriptive writing as well as some exciting, if spread out, moments of action.
Originality: The book is unique and original in terms of theme and characters, with an atmospheric supernatural setting that will leave readers eager for the next chapter.
Character Development: The characters are nuanced and distinct, and the attention devoted to their relationships adds to the compelling nature of the book’s darkly fantastical setting.
by Tom Kranz
Plot: The plot of this dystopian tale is slightly bifurcated. For much of the novel’s first half, the reader is not aware that Rick’s time travel from 2212 to 2055 is not accidental but rather a calculated effort. Only when Rick is joined by his fellow time traveler Chen Shu does the plot and its pacing kick into high gear, with the revelation that the two are rebels who will stop at nothing to prevent their future from ever happening.
Prose/Style: Kranz’s prose is serviceable for his story. It is clear and direct, and advances his narrative and its ideas satisfactorily.
Originality: This novel’s central theme is one of the oldest in science fiction: the time-travel paradox. Kranz doesn’t bring substantial novelty to the concept, although he does give it a contemporary spin by making his time travelers’ objective the prevention of the planet’s ecological and economic despoiling.
Character Development: Kranz’s characters serve the purpose of his plot, although Rick, the first time traveler from 2212 to make his way back to 2055, seems unsatisfyingly passive and ineffectual, given his role as a ReEarth rebel bent on significantly changing the future he comes from. In part this is because he is a sharp contrast to the much more dynamic Chen Shu, his fellow ReEarth rebel, who is not above acts of hacking, theft, and assassination to fulfill ReEarth’s objectives.