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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • Semi Finalist

    Identicals

    by William Brennan Knight

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Knight has developed a twisting and turning tale that constantly keeps the reader interested. This book is far from predictable, and Knight does a wonderful job of retaining the feelings of desperation and suspense throughout.

    Prose: The reader will enjoy Knight's effective prose. He is a master at evoking emotions, both joyful and uncomfortable.

    Originality: Time travel and alternate dimension books are difficult, and often can feel cliche, as this is a worn-out trope that has been explored for decades. However, Knight spins his story in a wholly original fashion, with a focus on horror and disgust, rather than on space travel or more sci-fi elements. It works tremendously well and is greatly enjoyable, with a similar feeling for the reader as elicited by classics like The Exorcist or Carrie.

    Character/Execution: All of Knight's characters are believable, and more importantly, they are extremely creepy in their own right. The realness of the sullen alcoholic father coupled with his depressed, exhausted wife, and their young children who are processing countless familial horrors makes the reader feel that they are living in the same home as this hapless family. Knight has a wide range of skill in character execution.

    Blurb: Knight has crafted a disturbing, horrifying, and eloquently written novel that expertly captures the sensations of desperation, fear, and confusion.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Normandy Club

    by Bill Walker

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Walker delivers an exciting and inventive time travel story that features fine plotting, plentiful action, and a brush of romance, while displaying an awareness of WWII history.

    Prose: The prose flows smoothly and evenly, with vibrant dialogue and sharp descriptions.

    Originality: While alternate histories are somewhat familiar territory, Walker provides a highly unique framework, successfully blending elements of true history with the more fantastical and surprising circumstances. 

    Character/Execution: Walker casts an array of distinctive characters that come to life. Readers who value historically rich stories will be transfixed, while the riveting, smart, and high-stakes circumstances keep them guessing. 

  • Semi Finalist

    Pike's Passage

    by John J Spearman

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The story is fast-paced and can be described as a sci-fi thriller. From managing to evade an evil figure to recusing the love of his life, the story of Sandy Pike is action-packed.

    Prose: Since the book is set in a futuristic world, it would have been easy for the author to indulge in the technical aspect of that world. Fortunately, that is not the case. Instead of getting lost in the technical jargon, the reader is immersed in a wholly vibrant realm made tangible through the writing.

    Originality: The blend of fantasy and sci-fi is captivating and is done with nuance. The aspect that most sets the book apart is the triumphant worldbuilding.

    Character/Execution: The protagonist’s narrative arch is well defined. From being lost at the start to overcoming obstacles in his path, the character grows authentically throughout the book.

  • Semi Finalist

    Water Must Fall

    by Nick Wood

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Wood’s tale of corporate greed spans multiple countries. Readers will be drawn in by his complex, all-too-real picture of a future dystopia.

    Prose/Style: Intricate prose and atmospheric writing pull the reader into Wood's believable and exciting tale.

    Originality: Although the idea of water privatization has been tackled before in fiction, Wood gives readers a sense of the global impact of this burgeoning crisis by setting his story both in South Africa and America.

    Character Development/Execution: Wood’s tale is gripping; he creates a believable dystopian universe habited by the beleaguered, realistic characters of Graham, Liz, and Art.

    Blurb: This unflinching look at the Earth's possible future is a hard, but necessary read. 

  • Semi Finalist

    The Bone Elixir

    by Carrie Rubin

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: In the third book of the Benjamin Oris series, Rubin imparts upon the reader a narrative that, while perhaps familiar to genre fans, nonetheless propels forward with earnest magnetism and an engaging mystery. Readers need not have read the other books in the series, but they will certainly want to after finishing this installment. 

    Prose: Accessible prose married to inventive, but never disruptive descriptions work well to establish a confident voice and delivery system for The Bone Elixir.

    Originality: Rubin combines several genre staples together to form an exciting and ever-evolving tapestry of fiction that is sure to enthuse even more storied readers.

    Character/Execution: From the main cast to the supporting actors, the crew of The Bone Elixir exhibits a lived-in quality and mostly rounded-out - and relatable - personalities, that make them feel immediately familiar yet uniquely engaging all the same.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Anchored

    by Bridget E. Baker

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Baker provides just enough detail and an intriguing premise to keep the reader hooked, revealing answers at exactly the right pace.

    Prose/Style: Baker is an extraordinary writer. Her prose engages, seemingly flowing organically, whether descriptive, action-focused, or dialogue. She is clearly in command of her craft and does a superb job of advancing the plot while providing explanations in measured doses.

    Originality: The premise here is not only the right blend of imagination, mystery, and hold-your-breath action but is entirely unique and leaves the reader wanting more.

    Character Development/Execution: Baker has created living, breathing characters who, despite the different world represented here and the unique powers the protagonist possesses, are still authentic and relatable.

    Blurb: A gripping, action-packed novel, Anchored holds readers captive and simply won't let go.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot: This is an engaging and captivating story. There is a perfect blend of innocence and ominousness that draws the reader in and doesn't let go until the final pages.

    Prose/Style: The author demonstrates strong command of language with engaging dialogue, balanced description, and nuanced characterization. This work was truly a pleasure to read.

    Originality: Because this work centers on magic, it will inevitably bring characters like Harry Potter to mind. However, it is a testament to the captivating story line that such beloved books are soon forgotten as the universe presented here commands all attention. The story is distinctive, fresh, and original with a creative plot and entertaining characters.

    Character Development/Execution: The author creates living, breathing characters, especially Harris, who despite his conjuring abilities, is entirely human and completely relatable. He is the most developed of a cast of colorful characters including, most notably, Xop, an adorable imp with a puppy dog nose.

    Blurb: A fun and truly magical experience, this charming book offers just the right blend of fantasy and reality that will leave readers wanting more.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Religion Without A God: A Novel

    by James Evans

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: A biting social commentary is suffused with dramatic mystery and suspense.

    Prose: Evans’s prose sizzles with suspense and wry humour in equal measure. His setting is palpable.

    Originality: Although some metaphors can come across as heavy handed, he gives readers a new world to dive into—a world where politics, sex, and identity merge in surprising ways.

    Character/Execution: The characters leap off of the page. Readers will appreciate the conversational, approachable tone of the book.

    Blurb: This exciting debut brings together the stories of outsiders. In Evans’s brave new world, human colonization has brought about an uneasy peace between the Gaians and the Faders. This is a remarkably timely social commentary bound up in a dramatic space opera. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    Skunk Ape Semester

    by Mike Robinson

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Robinson takes the reader on a road trip defined heartily by wit, wonder, and that ever-elusive but once found, always magnetic, pull of the human experience.

    Prose: Witty and wondrous prose combines to peel back the layers on the very-real human heart beating at the center of Robinson's novel.

    Originality: Robinson brings a refreshing scope and lens to the Bigfoot mythos, infusing the inherent surreality of the endeavor with a charming intellectual, spiritual, and human touch.

    Character/Execution: With an incredible effortlessness does Robinson bring to life his intrepid cast of seekers and finders, offering readers an engaging, relatable suite of characters, from the leads all the way down to the smallest supporting member.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Transcendent

    by Salina B Baker

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: The Transcendent follows 25-year-old Janek Walesa and his friends on their journey across time and space. The piece begins very grounded in reality, but soon builds tension through the sudden bouts of “darkness” Janek experiences. These bouts soon turn into full-on possessions and on-going torment which test not only Janek’s sanity, but his love for his friends and their desire to protect him. While keeping faith in oneself and the goodness in the world is a key theme of this story, equally important themes include friendship, love, loyalty, grief, and humanity. All of these concepts change the characters and challenge them to overcome their worst fears while resisting the darkness that tempts them every day, both past and present.

    Prose/Style: This story is told in third person omniscient and follows the points of view of important characters, which reveal more about the mysterious force attached to Janek as well as his own journey to recovery. The tone is consistent, but changes slightly depending on whose point of view the reader is following. The prose itself is fast-paced and very dialogue-driven with surprising moments of poetic description. Though there are not many detailed descriptions of the surroundings or other sensory details like smell and taste, there is an abundance of scenes that rely on sight, such as where things are and what they are, and feelings, like pain and joy. This story is certainly categorized as literary fiction, with the subgenres of historical fiction, fantasy, and surrealism.

    Originality: This novel is incredibly unique. Most stories about finding faith are works of nonfiction, but this form, coupled with its many themes, provides new insights into the concepts grief and spirituality. Because the text operates in uncharted territory, there are few, if any, cliques for it to follow. Almost everything is brand new.

    Character Development/Execution: The Transcendent showcases a diverse cast of characters, each with detailed personal histories, and many of whose points of view we get to experience. While in Ferndale, Janek meets locals Evan and Lise, who serve to help him overcome his grief and the darkness that threatens to consume him. Every character serves a purpose at some point or another and helps to bring the entire world alive.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Annasland

    by Genevieve Morrissey

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The second book in The Antlands Series, Annasland is set in a futuristic world of speculative evolution reminiscent of H.G Wells's The Time Machine. In this post-apocalyptic world, this adventure novel takes the reader on a seafaring quest to find a lost ship and its crew. Though the goal is a physical destination, the journey is one of self-realization and redemption.

    Prose: Morrissey is masterful in her usage of nuanced dialogue that both reflects the purported time period and helps further characterizations.

    Originality: The Antlands series shines as a unique work of plausible dystopia. The Ants and their interactions with a divided human race examines ideas of the ubiquitous and irrational nature of prejudice in society.

    Character/Execution: River’s character development is an exciting and heart-wrenching journey to watch. He comes to life as the reader sees his demons and regrets shape his interactions with his family and the Muriel crew.

  • Quarter Finalist

    A Simple Thought of Sanity

    by C.E. Huntingdon

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: A slow-burn plot brings the reader into the narrative with a deft hand, steadily peeling back the monochromatic layers of character and worldbuilding to reveal a vibrant and biting commentary on modern society.

    Prose/Style: Huntingdon's prose eschews flowery descriptors for a sterility that marries well to its concept, as well as a sparsity of language that is all the more powerful for being so, as it creates in its negative spaces a surprising amount of depth for which the reader to sink into and engage the work.

    Originality: The union of philosophy with science fiction is far from a novel concept, but A Simple Thought of Sanity breathes a freshness into this coupling. With a powerfully-realized concept, perfectly realized through the writing, the book engages a necessary, full-force commitment to the exploration of the human psyche that will undoubtedly delight readers of high-concept science fiction and keep the pages turning until the very end.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters of Huntingdon's surrealist novel come together in a pastiche of social commentaries, saying more with actions than any words spoken, and hypnotic in how they emerge from their deliberately-crafted shells as the story progresses.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Mummy of Monte Cristo

    by J Trevor Robinson

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The book has plenty of effective twists and turns to keep a reader hooked. From the very first page, the author grips the readers’ attention throughout Edmond Dantes' journey.

    Prose/Style: The style of writing is fast-paced, and even though there are places where the author gives detailed context to the characters and situations, the flow of the story is not broken. The length of the book can be a challenge, but there is enough motivation for one to turn the page.

    Originality: Though the story is adapted from Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, the author manages to bring new and exciting eements to the story.

    Character Development/Execution: The story is packed with well-developed, likable characters. The vampires, zombies, and other creatures are quite memorable. The main character, Edmond Dantes, raises important questions regarding one's humanity.

  • Quarter Finalist

    TARO

    by Blue Spruell

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: This is an exciting, magical coming-of-age adventure that draws from Japanese folklore and history. The episodic structure of the novel lends the story the aura of legend.

    Prose/Style: The writing is strong, building a clear aesthetic though the use of folklore, and featuring some accomplished descriptive writing.

    Originality: The book does an excellent job of creating a unique and original story from a strong cultural and historical well of source material. The book features a robust glossary to support the embedded Japanese language, which lends to the authenticity of the material. The included illustrations are excellent and fit the book very well.

    Character Development/Execution: The many supporting characters who inhabit the story are varied and interesting, lending to the timeless storybook appeal of the novel. The protagonist, Taro, has a satisfying arc that propels the story to a fulfilling conclusion.

    Blurb: An exciting adventure book that draws creatively from Japanese folklore and history.

  • Quarter Finalist

    By the Sea

    by J. Steven Lamperti

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: There is much here to like. The storyline is engaging and unusual, which keeps the reader wanting more and eagerly awaiting a resolution. While word choices fall under the "prose" category for this evaluation, in some cases poor word choices also impact the plot. The author should do a careful edit to tweak little moments that are key to the story line, such as when Annabelle first meets Llyr.

    Prose/Style: The author demonstrates a solid command of language, although there is sometimes a jarring repetition of names or phrases when pronouns or synonyms would flow better. These are minor edits that will greatly aid the reading experience.

    Originality: The author has created an environment that is very distinct and unique. The characters are also original, offering the reader an entertaining tale that is all its own.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a fine job with character development. Annabelle, the heroine, is distinct, likable, and credible. Although her world is very different from reality, Annabelle is relatable and entirely believable.

  • Branches: A Novel

    by Adam Peter Johnson

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Johnson leverages a terrifying alternate vision of reality to secure the reader, then drags them into a maddening journey that is as beautiful and horrifying as only the human experience can be.

    Prose/Style: Effective and powerful prose elaborates on and elevates Johnson's topical world and all-too-relatable character with a confidence that is sure to sweep readers effortlessly into the pages.

    Originality: Johnson delivers a powerful piece of inventive and topical science fiction, a work the likes of which the genre was designed for to begin with.

    Character Development/Execution: The author creates an utterly compelling and relatable main character, whose struggles will undoubtedly resonate with readers in a way that many stories reach for, but few achieve.

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