SPSFC 3 Quarterfinalist: Children of the Black by W. J. Long III

Writers are often told to begin in the middle of the action. The fourth quarterfinalist chosen by Team ScienceFiction.news for the Self-Published Science Fiction Competition begins after one thousand years of action.

Children of the Black by W. J. Long III takes place at the end of an interstellar war fought longer than any current combatants have been alive. A special ops team is sent on one last mission.

He'd seen the broadcast. The truce was signed. The war was over, and all ships had been officially ordered to withdraw from Sabien territory except theirs. Evidently, some dirty deed was left to do before the smoke cleared and the task fell to them. ...

Claude slung his rifle and slammed his locker door shut. "We really don't need another black op."

"You think I don't know that?" Miranda said. "Morale's low as it is. The last thing anyone needs is a glorified band of mercenaries ruining the truce by sticking their noses where they don't belong."

A weapons research platform on Jaiden III has gone dark. A team of six volunteers has three hours before the Sabiens arrive to grab whatever classified tech they can and get out without endangering the fragile, hard-won peace.

As you might expect, it doesn't go to plan. Exactly how it goes wrong becomes a mystery to unravel because Long jumps ahead in time, as judge David Dubois explains in his GoodReads review.

What they find has vast implications for the newly formed peace, and key members of the group break off to protect these secrets.

The bulk of the story is how these characters reconnect years later, no longer allies but with varying degrees of animosity and grudges to resolve. They meet again on Minerva Prime, where one of our main protagonists has been hiding out, barely getting by, protecting the secrets from the mission years earlier.

In a well-crafted space opera setting, the novel does a good job portioning out information so that readers are left hungry for more. Deciding whether to keep reading after the 10- to 15-percent mark was easy for our team of judges.

Cover of W. J. Long III's science fiction novel Children of the Black

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