The Space Girls team banner, made by Katherine

It’s been a really tough choice, but The Space Girls are now ready to announce their semi-finalists for the SPSFC3!

After a lot of reading, discussion and deliberating, The Space Girls team now have two semi-finalists for the Self-Published Sci-Fi Competition!

It’s been a really tough contest so far. We were initially allocated 25 books in our ‘slush pile’, which we managed to cut down to 10 quarter-finalists. We then read each of these 10 books in full, rating them out of 10. (Please note that quarter-finalists is not an ‘official’ category, and not all teams will be selecting quarter-finalists.)

We chose one of these to be our semi-finalist, and we then chose to read some of the Senlin picks. The Senlin list are books that other teams had given a third place position to, giving these books a second chance to go through to the next stage of the competition.

All of our quarterfinalists were enjoyable reads — well done to all the authors for getting this far!

Special mention: A God of Small Affairs and Pallas Lost

We’d like to give special mention to both A God of Small Affairs by Olga Werby and Pallas Lost by Jake Morrison. The whole team really enjoyed both of these. It was really tough to pick our second choice and we spent several days deliberating on who our semi-finalists should be.

Nancy: I read Senlin-safety net runner-up Pallas Lost and loved it, loved it, loved it and loved it so, so much. I was laughing non stop reading that book. I found the mole scene to be utterly hilarious because as a Mexican, that would be the LAST dish I would ever eat as a first timer when I had a super duper mega important top secret dangerous heist mission. (News flash: Mole can cause bouts of diarrhoea, which is why I found the choice to feature it before an important heist made me laugh endlessly during that chapter).

I also take off my hat for God of Small Affairs by Olga Werby. I LOVED that book and had endless fun reading it. The decision for the cut despite being the runner-up was not because there is anything wrong with the book. It’s a fabulous read, but the team agreed the book is more Slice of life fantasy than a Sci-Fi story.

For our original team’s quarterfinalists, all the books were fun to read and I will keep my eyes out for potential sequels whenever they come out. Congrats and thank you for signing up for this competition!

Kerry: Like the other judges I’d like to send my appreciation to both Olga Werby in our original ‘slush pile’ — your book had strong prose, was well polished and I enjoyed it immensely; personally I felt there wasn’t enough SF to move it forward.

To Jake Morrison, Pallas Lost from the Senlins — It was an utter joy to read; great characters that kept me entertained throughout and an intriguing storyline (I loved the political intrigue). Our second semi-finalist just inched ahead as it stood out a bit more.

To the both of you I will certainly have no qualms about recommending your books to other readers.

So, without further ado, here are our semi-finalists!

The cover of A Slice of MarsA Slice of Mars, by Guerric Haché

Mars is a strange place these days. Corporate overlords, capitalism, and even aging are things of the past on a planet increasingly brimming with biodiversity — yet pizzerias are in short supply!

Siblings Hett and San set out to change that. But a roboticist and a bureaucrat can’t run a restaurant alone, so they bring on some help — a bioengineer, a communications scientist, and an unlikely grad student from Earth. Together, this gang of geeks will brave the fires of small business.

But work is just a small part of life. People are complicated. Different brains, different wounds, different values, and one questionably tame wildcat will all collide as they try to grow and succeed together. What comes out of the oven, in the end, is anyone’s guess.

Amazon / Goodreads

Katherine: A Slice of Mars felt like a breath of fresh air between books with heavier topics or shakier editing. Incredibly well written and with a great diversity of fleshed-out characters, I have been recommending it to pretty much everyone I know ever since, and possibly plugged it more than my own books at a recent convention. Whoops. Read Katherine’s full review here.

Kerry: The Martian worldbuilding was excellent and top marks for that — Haché’s “slice” of life in starting up a Martian pizza shop was great. Overall I enjoyed this though there were times where I personally thought some parts were annoyingly overlong. There was lots of information that seemed to be irrelevant to the plot — I would have liked to have less “telling” as it were. Some of the character’s were also not compelling and this is where my investment in the book slipped.

Claire: I really liked that when new concepts were mentioned, such as ‘red fever’ or ‘web work’, that the chapter was followed by an extract from Diego’s research explaining more. I thought this was a really fun way to explain information, especially as he is learning about Mars and its different customs at the same time as we are.

I also really liked that Martians are different enough to Earthers that it was interesting and unique, and made the wars in the past much more believable. For example, Martians are reincarnated (I guess that’s the best way to explain it?) and reborn, while Earthers just have one life. (I also love pizza, so I’m sure that helped.)

A brilliant ‘slice of life’ (excuse the pun) story, with a diverse cast of characters and a great concept.

Our average rating: 8/10

The cover of Tasmanian GothicTasmanian Gothic, by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

A modern gothic thriller set in a decaying urban environment and lush mutant wilderness.

Solari wasn’t alive when the ozone layer split like a gutted fish above Tasmania and spilled radiation over the edge of the stratosphere, but she’s living with the consequences—the mutations, the gangland war, and the border wall that divides the affluent North from the contaminated South. Orphaned and alone in the southern reaches, Solari survives the chaos the only way she knows how: cooking the wildly addictive snowrock for local crime lord, Worcsulakz, and avoiding the mutants that skulk in the lush, untamed wilderness of the Fringes.

But, when her junkie ex-boyfriend puts Solari more firmly in Worcsulakz’s debt, she runs—escaping the promise of violent retribution with a stolen van and a pair of giant wings cleaved from a mutant moth. Grafting the wings to her body disguises Solari as one of Tasmania’s most reviled and hunted, but grants her refuge in the one place Worcsulakz won’t look for her — a mutant enclave.

There, Solari will form an unlikely alliance with another mutant and commence the dangerous journey through gangland strongholds and carnival towns to get to the Border Wall in the north. Hunted by Worcsulakz, the hidden terrors of the Fringes, the secrets in her family’s past, and the deception at the core of her fragile alliance, Solari will need to confront them all or stay condemned to a life of loneliness and brutality.

Amazon / Goodreads

Claire: Tasmanian Gothic is incredibly dark and very shocking in places, with lots of violence and drug use. It’s certainly not a book that I thought I would like at the start — if someone had told me I’d read and enjoy a book that’s filled with drugs, gang wars, prostitution and slavery, I wouldn’t have believed them. But I took a real liking to Solari right from the start. She is a really strong character who does anything she can to survive, and I found her really relatable. It was an interesting world, too, with an almost Mad Max dystopian quality to Tasmania, yet it seems like the rest of Australia is almost ‘normal’. I liked the mutants and the way they were portrayed. Within Tasmania, mutants are shunned and attacked, living in hiding or in their own slum towns. In the rest of the country, they are seen as ‘exotic’ and sold into slavery. 

The only part I didn’t like was that Solari faints a few times throughout the story, waking up to find that she has been rescued by someone — it got a little repetitive and it seemed out of character when she is a strong character but a loner who is scared of affection and intimacy, who doesn’t need anyone’s help.

However, despite this, Tasmanian Gothic is really unlike anything I’ve ever read. I really struggled to find anything else to compare it to, which is what just swung it over the edge as our second semi-finalist.

Nancy: This was a mindblowing read! It’s like you stuff in a blender X-Men (but the mutants don’t have any superpowers, they are just a mixture between human and animal), a spread of the wild jungles of the Avatar movies (just a whole lot more dangerous), Breaking Bad, Mad Max, throw several buckets of Grimdark, include an Aeon Flux style impenetrable border wall and spill the goo all over Tasmania. Cook it up in the oven with some post-apocalyptic dystopia, and boom! You’ve got a gritty (and very dark) Sci-Fi survival story known as Tasmanian Gothic.

The cover intrigued me quite a lot at first (doesn’t look Sci-Fi at all! I know!), but trust me that the cover is 100% spot-on with the neon lights gritty vibe of the book and our troubled protagonist Solari alongside a very important side character in the story (I won’t spoil who!).

Some people might think Solari’s decisions during the book are reactionary, but she never knew what really happened to her mom. She’s paying off the debt her father incurred to a mobster for trying to save her brother’s life by cooking drugs made with psychedelic mosses she collects in the jungle. Solari is just trying to lay it low until she finishes paying off her debt and finds the way to escape the endless gang violence of Hobart, Tasmania. Of course, things are not as easy as it seems, and Solari has to take an insanely huge risk. If the place where she plans to hide discovers the truth, she’s dead meat.

If I had been told this was going to be a book about a drug-making biochemist trapped in a world where women (and children) are sold as sex slaves like cattle, I would have never given this book a chance because that is way too dark for me. But I really enjoyed the writing style, the weirdness of the jungle and its toxic creatures, along with Solari’s grit. We also get disability representation in this book from unexpected amputations and body mutilation. The book handles these themes very well.

I loved how the book ends because it feels fulfilling as a solid standalone. Also has tons of story potential for a possible sequel. Despite the darkness of this world, I was far too immersed by this enjoyable story. It’s just one of those books you really want to know what happens in the end. 😉

We all loved Pallas Lost and Tasmanian Gothic. I even gave Pallas Lost a slightly higher score than Tasmanian Gothic. But we all agreed that while Pallas Lost is a really fabulous book, none of us has ever read a book quite like Tasmanian Gothic before. I have read a few books in Spanish with some things in common, but it really stood out and it will be a book that I will heartily recommend to readers for years to come.

Kerry: This book epitomises why I love being a judge in these self-published competitions — a rare diamond that pushes the boundaries and where many traditional publishers often fear to tread. 

I didn’t read the blurb but from the first chapter I knew this was the type of book I would enjoy as I am a fan of dark and gritty books, especially dystopian novels. Having the story set in Tasmania, Australia was an extra delight; as someone from Aotearoa NZ, there’s always friendly animosity between our two countries but I always get a thrill with a setting in a country or place I know reasonably well or been to. 

Solari was a character I could well relate to in some ways. Not in her xenophobia against mutants but in the way she makes some rash decisions, rushing into unknown situations — in which she needed saving from a LOT. This was completely understandable as she’s had to make choices on the fly from an early age, from childhood trauma, working for crime lords, and being a drug addict. 

When she hears “word of an enclave established near Miena” and “there was talk of a secret community that would keep them in hiding during the day, transport them at night. Moving them along until they reached the enclave.” She takes on a highly devious and dangerous risk to get there. 

On her way she gets to meet Mutants who make her question everything she has ever thought about them. They prove to be more caring, honest and genuine than most humans she’s known. The author themselves has written a book about mutants that I honestly can’t compare to anything else I’ve ever read before.

Whilst in the enclave Solari discovers there is a way to escape the apocalyptic south. “What’s the third alternative?” “The Northern Zone. The Fixer couriers mutants beyond the Border Wall.” To Solari, the North means the sex trade, but she discovers that Mutants are treated differently, reminding me of those old freak shows/circuses. “They are intrigued by us,” “To them, we are… exotic. And the fact they fear us makes us all the more interesting.” Could Solari finally find the answers and the freedom she’s been looking for? If so there are going to be a lot of secrets to divulge and even after all body and mental trauma, the truth may be the one thing that finally breaks her. 

I can honestly say in the 50+ years I’ve been reading SFF and in the 70+ books I’ve read (or attempted to read) in this year’s competition, Tasmanian Gothic has to be one of the most original books I’ve come across.

Average rating: 8.5 out of 10

A huge congratulations to both Guerric and Mikhaeyla for getting through to the semi-finals!

So, what’s next for The Space Girls?

In the semi-finals round, each team reads the semi-finalists from two other teams in full and scores them out of 10. The Space Girls will read the books from Team Red Stars and from the hybrid team Space Stars.

Other semi-finalist announcements

Incase you missed any, here’s all of the semi-finalist announcements: