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We are so happy to be a part of this year's competition!

“The Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship (SFINCS, pronounced “sphinx”) is a yearly competition to recognize, honor, and celebrate the talent and creativity present in the indie community. We are a sister competition to both SPFBO and SPSFC, and we highlight greatness in the novella format in all areas of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc.).”

It is with great sadness that we have to cut the next 10 books from our collection. But please go out and support these authors and give these great novellas a chance.

The Stars Within

by Alex Arch

Life finds a way, they say. Well, maybe life went too far. A dying star always shines brightest.

Thomas fights to beat cancer. Colette fights to save the human race.

A colonial miner crippled with debt, Thomas must flee his home to cure his recurring cancer. With his health declining at an alarming rate, his options are limited. Spend his last days surrounded by his loved ones or leave them behind for a slim chance to live. The choice is impossible, the prospect grim, and not for him alone.

A pragmatic military hero, Colette enrolls in a mission to thwart an alien invasion. She always gets the job done… unless Mia’s involved. She must then put her feelings aside as always or risk jeopardizing her assignment for the woman she once loved.

Two battles. Two realities. For one to succeed, the other must fail.

Reviews

Catherine Catcho

This reads like tv script pitched for the syfy channel.
Sure, there’s some oh-that’s-convenient moments & I’m not 100% I understood the ending, but I think Alex Arch had some great bursts of creativity.

Beth Tabler

I loved this. The book is the swirling lives of two protagonists. The first is a miner named Tyler. Tyler is working in the mines, which sounded very much like a company town. His wife was pregnant with their first child, and his cancer just came back. He is going to die if does not do something crazy. I enjoyed how fleshed out Tyler and his predicament was for such a short story.

The second character is Colette and she is given the small task of saving the universe. Again Arch does a great job delving into the interpersonal relationships between characters and leaves them fleshed. The chapters switch back and forth between their points of view, and Arch does a good job in giving each character a very solid voice.

I am going to agree with Catherine on this reading like a TV script from the SYFY channel. It has all my favorite things on board and I would be binge watching for sure.

Hot Button Issue

by Catrina Bell

After a surprising, new law passes restricting reproductive rights, a roller derby witch and the shifter she has a crush on must work together to plan a last minute protest.

~~~~
Good Blanca is a high-profile lawyer with a brilliant legal mind. She's everything her parents hoped she would be - impressive and successful. Bad Blanca is a beautiful mess. She dresses in fishnet tights, flirts with sexy werewolves, and just made the Hel Stars roller derby team. Oh, and she’s secretly a witch.

Thorin is her opposite in every way. The happy-go-lucky flirt struggles with supernatural aggression he can’t quite control. His attraction to Blanca makes things even more complicated.

When Blanca’s powerful client, a state senator, proposes new legislation restricting reproductive rights, the line separating the good and bad in her life becomes blurry. Derby is chaos, and soon everything goes off the rails. How far will she go to defend her values and the people she loves?

~~~~
This steamy, cozy, paranormal romance has a strong pro-choice (bodily autonomy) theme. Please be aware and read accordingly.

Reviews

Beth Tabler

This book! This Book made me too happy. I have been on a smut kick, and this was so fun, a bit steamy, and fun. II also love roller derby and I always wanted to be one of the cool girls roller skating, even though odds are I would bust my ass. This book will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone enjoys romance, or a bit of spice. But for the type of book this is, it nailed it. So much so I got pissed that there were no books in the series already written! Bring me the hot werewolf roller derby mascot/baker/stripper please.

Laura from OWWR Pod

An incredibly fun romance that follows a Latina lawyer navigating a witch roller derby team she recently joined, a relationship with a shifter named Thorin, and struggling to fight for what she knows is right politically. I appreciated the way the main character’s relationships (romantic and platonic) were depicted, loved the representation, and was all for the spice. A quick read, with a touch of fantasy and a lot of romance, but still packs a punch.

The Collector

by Stjepan Varesevac Cobets

Victoria wakes up to find herself trapped in a mysterious vault, naked and covered in transparent tubes. The pipes retract, and instructions appear on a wall – get dressed and follow the path to your destination. After a typically human first reaction, resistance she met with pain, Victoria complies.
Victoria will soon realize that she is not the only one kidnapped and no longer on Earth.
Who abducted her and other people? Victoria will need to find out when she reaches the dome on the horizon. But the question is whether she will like the answer.

Reviews

Zack Rosenberg

“The Collector is a highly imaginative novella full of suspense and thrills. The writing keeps a sense of palpable dread and desperation throughout, though the dialogue is occasionally too flippant and clever to maintain the tension. But overall, this is a novella that succeeds in its ambition.”

The Collector of Lost Things

by Jessica A. McMinn

Blind Those Who See…

Rei-Hai Shaw is a Collector, and he is very good.

At just thirteen years old, Rei became the youngest recruit ever to join the ranks of the Tower, the shadowy organisation that oversees the fulfilment of Whyt’hallen’s darkest requests.

Favoured by the masters but distrusted by his peers, Rei comes to learn the price of his accolades when the Tower demands more than the simple procurement of trinkets.

They want him to steal lives, too.

When his latest missions thrusts him back into the world of his childhood, Rei is painfully reminded of all he left behind—and what he can’t bear to lose again.

Includes additional short story, The King & His Shadow.

Reviews

Catherine Catcho

I love when novellas can surprise and delight you.
Really interesting character build- while hinting at pretty interesting world building.
There are a handful of trigger warnings, but overall- McMinn has a solid voice.

Laura from OWWR Pod

Emotion flows through the characters and the writing in this wonderful novella. I found the pacing to be perfect and enjoyed how the author built the morally-gray characters, history, and setting. The inclusion of queer relationships/characters was also greatly appreciated. This is a story I would highly recommend.

Merchant Magician

by John Champaign

Exiled from his family of traders in mystical goods and services on his 23rd birthday, the merchant magician must make his way in the world: meeting mermaids in San Francisco, Midwestern leprechauns, Icelandic dwarves and the girl of his dreams, who happens to be a cultist devoted to the rise of the great old ones who will consume the world in ash and fire when they awaken.

Blending real-world negotiation theory with a coming of age story in an urban fantasy setting, this book will appeal to fans of Jim Butcher, Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman.

Reviews

Catherine Catcho

I feel like if you liked Masters of Death, you may enjoy this novella… but maybe more in March?

Though the pacing/transistions were a little clunky, I found this storyline easy to consume. I enjoyed the MC’s rational POV.
I feel like it would have felt stronger written in 3rd person.

Overall, I liked the weird but smirk worthy vibe to this.

Zach Rosenberg

“Merchant Magician is well-written and clever. Tight and lean, with fine plotting, entertaining narration and a neat twist on urban fantasy wizards that does not quite escape the lengthy shadow of famous contemporaries”

Balfair’s Confinement

by Phil Williams

Isolated in the derelict estate of the engineer Balfair, with only a miserable fellow slave for company, Deni dreams of changing her arduous life. When her master drags something new from the swamp and excludes her from his secretive project, she finally sees her chance. Deni will do whatever it takes to break free - even if it means bringing the full weight of the war-mongering Guard down on Balfair.

The results may be devastating, but they will notice her at last - and she will be free.

Balfair’s Confinement is a return to the cloud-covered post-apocalyptic land of Estalia, where the fossils of an ancient civilisation are revived in new and terrifying technologies. Loosely connected to the novel Wixon’s Day, this novella is a full, standalone story of an isolated household in a changing world.

Reviews

Beth Tabler

While the blurb says that this is a “post apocalyptic atmosphere” the story feels very much in an undefined time. It is claustrophobic in a way, a small slice of a wider and probably deader world. The main protagonist is Dani, a young slave girl held in the home of Balfair the engineer. Her world is narrow, and the language is sparse. We do not know much more about what is going on then what she personally knows. Although at the beginning of the story Williams gives some very interesting backstory on how thought travels and ideas spread outward into a main consciousness to be picked liked berries floating by in a stream. It sounds like part hive mind and part epigenetic inheritance. Although this is a slower paced novel, it is not a slog. Williams is a great writer, his Ordshaw books will tell you that, and it takes a great writer to take this format, novella, and tell a slow story that shows you a world where you are viewing it through what amounts to a keyhole and still make it engaging.  I am also judging this purely on the strength of the writing, I have not read the book that came before it and explained more of the world. But, after having had read this I certainly am going to.

The Bayou

by Arden Powell

"Eugene didn’t know if he believed in the devil beyond the wicked things people did of their own accord, but if the devil had a face, it would look like Johnny Walker’s."

Small-town Louisiana, 1935.

When Eugene was twelve, a girl from town disappeared. Everyone said the gators must have got her when she strayed too near the bayou. No foul play, just a terrible accident. But Eugene can't shake the conviction that Mary Beth's death had something to do with the man who used to haunt her—the man no one else could see.

Now, nearly two decades later, there are more dangerous things than gators in Chanlarivyè. People are disappearing again, and this time, no one can find the bodies. As the town's unease grows, charismatic fugitive Johnny Walker arrives on the scene, shedding bullet casings and stolen bank notes in his wake.

He tangles himself up in Eugene's life and awakens memories Eugene thought he had laid to rest years ago. Memories of the mysterious man who followed Eugene into his dreams, and memories of the bayou—

And of the horrifying entity that lurks beneath the water's surface, slowly seeping into the town like a stain.

Reviews

Beth Tabler

There is a luscious, lurid quality to The Bayou by Arden Powell. It is as if the reader is peeping into the characters’ private moments, mainly those of the photographer protagonist, Eugene. Powell’s descriptions are dark and sweltering. I felt a little dirty and careworn after reading some passages, as if the words on the page transferred themselves to my skin. It is quite a talent to show readers this version of the 1950s small town of Louisiana.

My only issue with this gothic story is that sometimes the language is incredible; you feel like you are there staring down gators or sweat is running down the middle of your back. But sometimes, it seems like it switches to very “tell” heavy descriptions. These are pretty jolting and in sharp contrast to other heavy “show” descriptions in the story. Because of the contrast, it feels uneven.

However, sticklers aside, this is beautifully written and would be a perfect Halloween read to get you in the spirit. Check it out

The Re-Emergence

by Allen K. Dell

A strange probe from a long-forgotten satellite network appears in the P’hori star system. Its message: a dire warning signalling the return of an ancient mythological evil. Imperator Da’kora Corasar and the crew of the Qesh’kal are sent to determine the probe’s origin, and find that the satellite is not as they had expected. Corasar trusts the satellite’s data, but not everyone aboard agrees. Tensions rise and loyalties are tested as they track down the source of the signal. Thrust into conflict, the crew of the Qesh’kal must chase their foe across the galactic arm and save their home from certain destruction.

Reviews

Zach Rosenberg

“Alan K. Dell takes an epic space opera and makes it shine within the pages of the Re-Emergence. Dell makes the reader delight in his unique and powerful setting. A standalone that feels part of a greater whole.”

The Horror at Camp New Woods

JUNE 2004

For Elliot Roth, having to go to summer camp means spending one less month with his less-than-emotionally-invested father, so really--he's all for it. And at first, camp seems fine. He likes the guys in his cabin, he likes his counselor, and being outside for four weeks shouldn't be bad.

But then he finds an abandoned cabin in the woods, and a kid nearly drowns in the lake. Elliot initially brushes off his suspicions as a result of listening too much to Nick, the resident horror movie expert at Camp New Woods, but when someone shows up dead, he has to admit--something's going on here.

The only question is whether he and his cabinmates can make it out alive.

Reviews

Beth Tabler

I loved this. According to the author, it is “a shitty teen horror novel.” I cut my teeth on Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger and loved the schmaltz. The final girl trope is a favorite, and Dimitre put a fun spin on that. The violence is outlandish. The writing is also reminiscent of Grady Hendrix, which is also a favorite for me. My only complaint, and please don’t come for me, is that this is rife with spelling and grammatical errors. It needs a good once-over. In a competition like this, I have to comment on things that do not bother me but are important nonetheless. But all in all, Yaaaas!

Of a Strange World Made

Scientist Ash Morgan doesn't mind breaking rules, but this is ridiculous.

The colony of Edge is a bastion on the frontier of space and science, governed only by laws designed to bring humanity to the stars. Successful laws. Outdated laws, if Ash has anything to say about it.

But when a child is born strange, Ash must decide which of the colony's rules must be followed, which ones can be broken, and which ones will inevitably lead to Edge's ultimate destruction.

Reviews

Laura from OWWR Pod

Of a Strange World Made by Anthony W. Eichenlaub
A fast paced sci-fi novella that looks to be that start of an interesting series. I found the book to be fun, but think that it tackled questions of humanity and colonization that are present in many other sci-fi stories.

From the Ashes

The civil war ends now.

Igtheos and his rebels have fought tirelessly against a would-be dictator and his army for almost two years. The city they’ve holed up in has become a prison, soon to be a tomb if they cannot arrange a means of escape.

When the enemy leader offers an armistice that’s too good to be true, Igtheos reluctantly accepts, thinking it will buy him enough time to smuggle those loyal to him out of the city. But he quickly learns the cost of choosing hope over caution as he finds himself caught in his enemy’s sinister plan, fighting a final unexpected battle. Failure means death, or worse, the loss of his loved ones.

And he only has one night to determine everyone’s fate.

From the Ashes is a prequel novelette that takes place over two thousand years prior to the events in Of Thieves and Shadows—volume one in the epic fantasy series, The Heart of Quinaria.

Reviews

Laura from OWWR Pod

From the Ashes combines excellent world building and beautiful prose in a concise story. I found myself connecting with the characters early on and was impressed by the amount of detail included. This novella was greatly enjoyed and I am excited to continue the series.

Catherine Catcho

I really thought this was a solid win- I was easily hooked because the world building has so much potential.
I am more than happy to dive into book 1, Of Thieves & Shadows.

The Annals of Skorne

The civil war ends now.

Igtheos and his rebels have fought tirelessly against a would-be dictator and his army for almost two years. The city they’ve holed up in has become a prison, soon to be a tomb if they cannot arrange a means of escape.

When the enemy leader offers an armistice that’s too good to be true, Igtheos reluctantly accepts, thinking it will buy him enough time to smuggle those loyal to him out of the city. But he quickly learns the cost of choosing hope over caution as he finds himself caught in his enemy’s sinister plan, fighting a final unexpected battle. Failure means death, or worse, the loss of his loved ones.

And he only has one night to determine everyone’s fate.

From the Ashes is a prequel novelette that takes place over two thousand years prior to the events in Of Thieves and Shadows—volume one in the epic fantasy series, The Heart of Quinaria.

Reviews

Zack Rosenberg

“A strong concept carries Joshua Killingsworth’s ‘Annals of Skorne.’ Effective character work helps keep interest, though the plot does not always match the author’s ambition.”

Promise of Fire

A HOPELESS FIGHT. A HORROR WORSE THAN DEATH.

WERE-DRAGONS BORN FROM THE PROMISE OF FIRE.

The last stand of the Dragonrider-mages is over. The people they fought to protect have been slain and enslaved, and their own numbers have been culled in accident and battle. Every death has added to the power of the Wizard-King, and their doom seems inevitable.

But a glimmer of hope has fanned the gloom into a flame, and despair is fuel for the fire. All seems lost, but the human Laisly and the dragon Caldera have slain a death-bound dragon, and suddenly their way is clear.

They may all be slain and enslaved, but they must journey into the heart of Eltaes, homeland of the Wizard-King, and give all they have to kill him. It is their last chance.

And is the triumph over fear victory enough?

Reviews

Beth Tabler

I had a difficult time connecting with this Promise of Fire. Although it says that Promise of Fire can be read before the other books in the Dragon-Mage series, I was confused. It felt like being dropped into the middle of a television series with no context. As I read through the first few chapters and got a general sense of what was happening, I connected with it more and could follow everything. But to appreciate this novella, it might be best first to read the other books in the series or be familiar with the worldbuilding. As it stands, though, this was an entertaining read reminiscent of Anne Mccafreys’s “Dragon Riders of Pern” with bonded Dragonriders, but with the addition of magic and different races.

The Wasp Child

Kesh is afraid-of his classmates, his abilities, and his prospects for the future.

Born into Meridian Colony, where corporate values dictate human worth, Kesh longs to escape. Then, his classmates kidnap and dump him in the middle of the alien rainforest. Alone.

Faced with certain death, Kesh locates the sansik, giant bugs native to the planet. Though the sansik seem to care for him at first, they set off a horrific metamorphosis in Kesh, and when they trade him back to Meridian, he becomes a living scientific curiosity. A bleak future of analysis without autonomy awaits him.

Trapped between the grasp of Meridian's laboratories and a harsh alien world, Kesh must escape to have any chance of finding his purpose-and place-in the world.

Reviews

Zach Rosenberg

“Rhiannon Rasmussen’s skill with body horror shines within the pages of Wasp Child. Their panache for the bizarre and frightening makes this a tense page-turner, helped along by Rasmussen’s fine character work.”

Sunset at Maior Pales – A Sci-Fi Western Novella

CYN-4329-2316-ACBS-092134853a--known to itself as Cletus and assigned a male gender in one of its first acts as an AI consciousness--has a bug in its programming. Against all logic, the ghost of a young man has muddled its circuits and promised to give it a soul...provided one small thing that only a self-aware robot with a yearning to self-actualize can do.

After centuries of exploration, humans are finally on the move to settle new worlds. To better facilitate settlement, advance teams of sentient robots have been sent ahead to build new towns and roll out the red carpet for the arrival of their masters. Now, just one month before the big event known as Arrival, Cletus is about to mess it all up.

The ghost of Boone Richards claims his family was murdered hundreds of years ago, and on board the shuttle that will deliver the humans to the western-themed town of Free Point, the direct descendant of that murderer has put together a gang of other outlaws to wreak havoc on the newly dubbed planet Maior Pales. When the ghost of Boone’s sister, Delphine, speaks up, Cletus finds himself faced with a dilemma for which its programming is incapable of processing.

How do you follow orders when doing so would break one law but not doing so would break another? And just how does a robot gain a soul?

Reviews

Beth Tabler

I am new to Benjamin Wretlind’s work; however, this style of book is right up my alley. I love the mix of science fiction and western genres, I was always a massive fan of things like Firefly. All of this is why I chose this as one of my reads. I was generally satisfied and connected with what I read.

My only quibble with the story is that, on the one hand, Wretlind nailed the robotic dialog perfectly. Cletus, the robotic protagonist of the story, is very much in character. There is also a curiosity in him that is interesting to read. The way he filtered ideas and logic was very interesting. On the other hand, the dialogue took a lot of work for me to grasp. At times, it reads like instructions, which is in character with Cletus being a robot but is challenging to form an attachment to.

The worldbuilding is also well done.

From reading this novella, I know that I want to read more of Wretlind’s work.

Our Semifinalists Are!

Our Semifinalists Are!

Thank you to my wonderful team: Zack, Rebecca, Catherine, and Laura for putting in the work! This is no small task.

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