07 February 2011 ~ 5 Comments

Daily Science Fiction: October Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

As I said in my last months review, an editor for a respectable review publication explained that the reason why he wasn’t reviewing Daily Science Fiction was because they had too much to cover. He may have been right, but every problem has a solution. With the help of four great and wonderful writers from my favorite writers workshop, Hatrack, a complete review of October is done. So thank you Todd Rathke, Louis Doggett, Ismail Rodriquez, and Ian Synder for your help.

Now onto another month of great speculative fiction.

The Stories

Joan tries her hand at spelunking. When she emerges out of the cave, she enters a dead world in “Finding Joan” (debut 10/01/10) by David D. Levine. A gamma ray blast from an exploded star has sterilized North America and the depleted ozone is now killing the rest of the planet. A weekend to help find herself has now turned into a lifetime experience.

So what would you do if you found out you were one of the last people left on Earth? When Joan and her three companions exit the cave, they see a sky with brown clouds and death all around them. The quartet discover there are others who have survived, a fortunate few like them that were shielded from the deadly blast. Her friends want to find them but Joan cannot leave her life behind, empty as it is.

“Finding Joan” is great science fiction. The plot is well thought out and the science is sound. The readers are thrown into a world were the worst has happened. Joan is drawn wonderfully as a woman who has lost everything but refuses to restart her life with her companions. A lot of people like Joan would have ended it all, unable to grasp the tragedy around them. Joan instead decides to become Portland’s last resident. Her issue is with closure and it helped carry the reader through the last half of the story. I enjoyed the ending Mr. Levine wrote – very heartwarming and full of hope.

My only issue is the story takes too long to fill in the characters what the readers have realized. We already knew the what but had to wait to find out the why. About a thousand words in the middle of the piece dragged. The rest I found brilliant. Great story by a great story teller.

“Gamed” (debut 10/04/10) by Stephen Gaskell is the story of Zhen, a young Bejing girl working as a gaming assistant for players. The factory she works in is strict. The gamers work without ever seeing the outside. A wooden door leads to the outside and Zhen only wishes to see the sky. A rare chance gives her an opportunity to open the door.

“Gamed” is a “Gotcha!” story.  The author does dot the story with plenty of clues so if you’re caught off guard it’s your fault. The story is short (too short) but complete. I had to read it twice to make sure I was getting the correct point it was making. I liked it.

“Losses: A Game” (debut 10/05/10) by M. O. Walsh is about an odd game set in the clouds. The playing field is attached to a rope that a man holds. You pay him and climb. Once on the field, things you lost (big and small, important and insignificant) appear. The object is to stay on as long as you can before regret gets the best of you.

I took “Losses: A Game” to be a philosophical fiction piece. The game is supposed to be popular but I can’t understand how it could be. The idea of reliving everything you lost in your life doesn’t sound likes it’s worth climbing a rope into the sky, or the two bucks for the privilege of doing so. The story was just too odd for my tastes.

Ricky just wants some time to himself in “Solitude” (debut 10/06/10) by Michael Guillebeau. But alone on the All-Party Planet is impossible. There, “â€everybody has to be everybody’s friend.” Lucy has a simple plan to change it. Perhaps talking about it might be better.

An All-Party planet doesn’t sound as fun as it should be. It sounded like Time’s Square at New Years Eve all the time. I wouldn’t want to spend more there ten minutes there myself. This one was too silly for me.

“Fashion Statement” by Peter Roberts (debut 10/07/11) is a conversation between two people. They share opinions on the latest in clothing design and discuss the latest trends in getting sick.

“Fashion Statement” is all dialog. The readers are treated as if they’re trapped in an elevator with two cackling hens gossiping, oblivious to anyone listening. The first part of this short piece sounds just like two privileged busybodies yaking it up, then their conversation twists into something surreal. That twist turned a boring story into an unbelievable one.

A “Fashion Statement” clashed with my tastes.

Jeffery Godfrey sees his dead mother hanging in his closet in “Migrating Bears” (debut 10/08/10) by Helena Leigh Bell. Odd things happen to young Godfrey. Termites like to swarm on him. Small gargoyle statues multiply in his dresser draw. His friend Caroline believes everything he says while his father thinks he is having an issue letting go of his deceased mother.

Jeff is a kid with issues. He is failing fifth grade, again, his father is distant, and his only friend is the one person that is stranger than he is. Then there is all the weird stuff. He rationalizes the unexplained incidents in his life with simple explanations. His world is a supernatural three-ringed circus but he is unfazed by it all.

I didn’t like how the story was told. The reader watches all the odd things happening to Godfrey from a distance. The story is almost devoid of dialog. What little there is comes across like punch lines to an inside joke. I don’t know where Ms. Bell was headed with this story but I jumped off way before the end. It just wasn’t for me.

“Grinpa” by Brian K. Lowe (debut 10/11/10) is a little boy’s telling of the day his grandfather died and when the aliens landed on Earth. The young lad is pulled out of his school to join his mother at the hospital. A world-shaking event is happening simultaneously in the rest of the world. While the aliens are landing outside the UN building, Grinpa is breathing his last breaths.

The two events, an elderly loved one succumbing to old age, and the coming of visitors from beyond the stars, is like comparing apples and oranges in the grand scheme of things. The very ideas seem to clash, but telling them from a perspective of a very young boy gave “Grinpa” an emotional depth that I don’t believe could be accomplished with only one of the events happening.

It may be easy to miss the message in this piece but if you caught it, you wouldn’t be able to escape its emotional impact. The protagonist chooses to miss the first look at the aliens as they step out of the vessel so his Grinpa isn’t left alone. Ironically, his father provides the reason while waiting for the aliens to appear on the TV.

I may be a sucker for Science Fiction with an emotional impact told by children.  RECOMMENDED

In “Bless this House” by Beth Cato (debut 10/12/10 and reviewed by Todd Rathke) Emma’s life has hit a rough patch, her husband is bed-ridden, recovery looking grim, and her new born daughter is wailing with colic.  Only more sleepless nights are on the horizon. Then a unicorn comes blessing the house.

Every word seemed artfully and perfectly written but when the sentences were put together, it lacked flow, and I found myself lost.  Still the story succeeds on some parts.  As a reader I feel Emma’s pain, her hopelessness, so much so that I wanted to put a gun to my head to end it all.  So I applaud the writer here.  But the story doesn’t end there.  There are two struggles here, the one for surviving the depression, which leads her to taking the horn, and I assume killing the unicorn in the process.  And it is that struggle that I found lacking and feel cheated on.  It was hidden, throughout the piece, until the end and shouldn’t have been as it was told in her point of view.

The clocks have all gone crazy in “Zero Hour” by Sue Burke (debut 10/13/10), and the protagonist’s wife is responsible for the change. The world is perfect. Refrigerators tell you what to eat and careers are offered according to your skills. The network does what is best for you, which is why it has to go.

Big Brother is alive in Aunt Becky, the name given for the computer overseer in  “Zero Hour.” Aunt Becky has everyone shaking in their boots. Saboteurs tried to disable her but only managed to disrupt the clocks. The protagonist in the story fears for his wife and believes he may have seen the last of her when he leaves for work.

The concept to “Zero Hour” is intriguing but the route the author took robbed it of its intrigue. The story is told with the protagonist spending what he believes is the last morning with his wife. An over lying fear is present, as if eyes on everyone at every second. We never really experience Aunt Becky so the fear feels like an illusion. As a result, the story is flat and the characters failed to entice me.

“Susan 3342 A.D.” (debut 10/14/10 and reviewed by Ismail Rodriquez) by Marge Simon is about a hermaphrodite couple experiencing their long awaited chance at having a State authorized baby.  One partner has obvious nurturing instincts while the other, not so much. They then must deal with the devastating news that their healthy newborn is – only female, considered a throwback. This story is a poignant reminder that no matter how much things change, some things never do.

“Susan 3342 A.D.” is a short work of speculative fiction near 600 words. Set in a so-called advanced culture, this couple struggles with personality traits that can’t simply be bred out even by State mandated advanced hermaphroditic techniques. There are also issues with handling difficulties in life that are as apropos today as they might be in a far-flung future. Susan 3342 A.D. is as thought provoking as it is chilling to contemplate the grasp of government in such a fashion as set here. A must read.

“Addendum to the Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo” by Edoardo Albert (debut 10/15/10) is a tale set in the final days of the Roman Empire. Bishop Augustine of Hippo confesses his greatest regret and speaks of discovering a way to time travel while the city is on the verge of collapse.

“Addendum” has a long title, which is fitting because the story read a lot longer than its 4000 words. The story is set with an urgency of a city about to collapse and a hopelessness of not being able to prevent it. The bishop confesses to his scribe with a detachment to the reality outside. His tale is unbelievable, spoken like a man convinced his delusions are real; delusions a man on the verge of a mental breakdown would dream up. As a result, his tale sounds like a ramble. I had to resist the urge to tune out. The ending had a twist that came off as one big cheat to me. It cemented the ill feelings I had to the piece.

As an avid fan of Alternate History (which is the category this story falls under) I was disappointed with “Addendum.” As a time travel story, a better explanation on how it was possible would have helped.

“Longevity, Inc.” by Geoffery C Porter (debut  10/16/10) is a corporation that uses mice to determine your future health. Jill prods her husband into buying a pair of mice. The company finds a genetic match and puts them on the same diet, exercise regiment and habits of their owners. When the mice die, an evaluation of your future health and what will kill you can be determined.

“Longevity, Inc.” is a novel idea. On the surface, it sounds like a scam someone will eventually dream up in the near future. But the idea has merit, which makes the story intriguing. The first half of the story follows the protagonist and his wife, Jill, when they first apply for the mice. This part seemed needlessly long. I was intrigued with what would happen to the mice but the excitement devolved into something close to the level of waiting to hear lab results on blood work.  I did find the ending cute.

In short, “Longevity, Inc.” is solid science fiction. I liked the premise but the characters weren’t all that interesting.

“Chick Lit” (debut 10/19/10 and reviewed by Ismael Rodriquez) by Keyan Bowes is about two co-workers with an unusual problem; Nelli’s new boyfriend has feathers – all over, and her friend doesn’t believe her. They may be good co-workers but they definitely have different values when it comes to acceptance of others. Nelli finds out late about the saying that it’s better to fly with eagles than group with turkeys.

“Chick Lit” is a fictional piece of just over 500 words. It’s about a girl with a problem and a friend/co-worker who could care less. Later, the girl doesn’t have the problem and the friend is more concerned than ever about it. I had to read it several, SEVERAL times over to even come up with anything noteworthy about it. I failed to see what the editors saw in it.

“Group Session” by Terry Bramlet (debut 10/20/11) involves a meeting between the three main computer systems and their human caretaker. Highway, Financial, and Internet have only one problem, there lives would operate perfectly if it wasn’t for all the humans they were designed to service.

“Group Session” is a corporate meeting between civilization-running programs that turns into a therapy session. The three virtual reality simulations act like overstressed people all dealing with the same problem, which they are. I found the story fun, with a few humorous lines throw in. The story wasn’t all that deep but was entertaining.

Memories are stored in finely crafted wooden boxes in “Memory Boxes” by Pam L. Wallace (debut 10/21/10). Sara surrounds her dying husband with their most treasured memories. She opens them one at a time to comfort Darrell as he takes his last breaths.

If only cherished memories could be stored in the lovely boxes in Ms. Wallace’s story and be shared so readily. “Memory Boxes” is heart-warming but thin. Perhaps the story could have been expanded but I believe it would have lost some of its luster if it were lengthened. Nice piece.

“A Theory of  Sixth-Sense Aesthetics” by Ciro Fainza (debut 10/22/10) is an introduction into psi-phy, a form of art where the viewer is subjected to a psychic revelation while absorbing an artists sculpture or painting (I wasn’t sure how to describe them). William is accompanying his girlfriend, Simone, at the museum for the latest unveiling. Simone is an artist while William is doing his best to understand the baffling exhibit.

“Theory” takes the tact of following William, a confused patron who is there to support Simone, as he tries to grasp a futuristic pseudo-art crowd fawning over what sounds like garbage they call art. William is lost as he does his best to fit in for the benefit of his girl. He is failing and it is obvious to all in the gallery and to Simone. The story is meant to show how uncomfortable and out of place William is. The author succeeds because I felt as out of place as he did trying to comprehend what he was viewing.

The science fiction of this futuristic art gallery is first class. I can see such a gallery and the snobbish enthusiast it would attract. Part of the problem for me is the author did too good of a job writing snooty characters to make the gallery convincing. Simone just didn’t sound worth it for William to go through all of that work. It would be like dragging a grease monkey to the ballet and expect him to mingle with the dancers afterward.

Ciro Fainza achieved his goal in “A Theory of  Sixth-Sense Aesthetics”, but the characters where just too unlikable for me to recommended it. The writing was superior but, like the art, the story failed to draw me in.

“High Mileage” by J G Faherty is set in a future where families are as interchangeable as cars. Sid is jealous of his neighbors improved model. Bob convinces Sid that the investment is worth it considering how much trouble his older model was giving him.

Cloning and behavioral modifications have made fixing marriages and problem children as easy as trading in a rusting Cadillac. The first half of the story is written so as if Bob is talking about a car (not hard to see through). This short piece is cute but predictable. I still enjoyed it.

“A Game of Horse and Dragon” by Sarah L. Edwards, (debut Oct 26, 2010 and reviewed by Ian Synder), tells the story of a small child playing with his toy horse and dragon. The little boy feels bad for the horse because he knows it will always lose, but the horse keeps trying.

It’s strange, at 300-ish words the story feels overdeveloped and underdeveloped at the same time. She speaks of the child being ill and his father brought something from the mountains to help him and leaves that at that, and then speaks of the child’s pity for the horse, saying it was once something else, possibly a man. Some of the unanswered questions could have been left out, or she could have answered them with more words and I would feel better about the story.

Brenda Cannon Kalt has an intriguing and sad tale. The story “Cradle Song” (debut 10/27/10 and reviewed by Louis Doggett) by Brenda Cannon Kalt, takes place on another planet, Pallarus. The story consists of a conversation between two people. One a blue collar woman making sure a ballroom is ready for a going away party that evening, while the other is the planet’s governor, who the party is for.

The conversation is both entertaining and informative. Brenda tells what needs to be explained in a well managed way. Even though he story is sad, I enjoyed it for it is, what I call sad in a good way. I recommend it for anyone who likes short, short stories with a solid story line with no violence but yet an interesting story line.

In “Flipping the Switch” by Michael Vella, (debut on Oct 28, 2010 and reviewed by Ian Snyder) Vella tells the tale of a pair of men who are working on time travel. The protagonist speaks of deja vu after his partner flips the switch on their machine with no apparent results.

He looks at a picture of his family and regrets the amount of time he has lost with them while working on the project. After he works on the settings for the machine he goes back into the shop and inputs the settings, then tells his partner that he wants to wait till the next day to test the machine, wanting to get home to his family. His partner insists on flipping the switch, bringing you back to the start of the story.

It’s an interesting little story Ala Star Trek: TNG episode Time Squared and Groundhog’s Day.

In “Moonlight and Bleach” by Sandra McDonald {debuted on Oct 29, 2010 and reviewed by Ian Snyder), McDonald spins the yarn of a woman with a very strange affliction, she is a were-maid. Her mother was a werewolf and her father had a cleaning fetish. So now when the full moon comes out she transforms into a maid, black dress, white apron and all.

To help keep questions down about her strange affliction she has her cousin get her cleaning jobs at the full moon from people that don’t ask too many questions. One job he sends her to ends up having a fireman for a next door neighbor, the fireman calls her up after the job and asks if she could clean his place for him. After she declines (Its not a full moon) he asks her out to dinner. She ends up making a fool of herself when the young man starts to ask too many questions.

The young woman tells her cousin she can’t go back to that job again, and he sends her elsewhere on the next full moon. The new client and her dog scare the young woman and send her running. She goes back to the fireman’s building, only to find her previous client is in the hospital with a broken hip. She turns to the fireman in desperation and he takes her to the laundry room of a homeless shelter where he works on the side.

In exchange for the work, the fireman wants to know her story. She tells him of her curse as she cleans and when the night is over he escorts her home, not caring if she is cursed or not.

I personally am not a big fan of romances, but McDonald spins a nice tale here. If you’re looking for a quick romantic jaunt with a side of were-weird then this tale should be what you’re looking for.

The Can’t Miss Listâ€

As my only recommended story, “Grinpa” by Brian K. Lowe tops this months list, but “Finding Joan” by David D. Levine I found to be a delight, the best of the Friday stories (the lengthy ones). My fellow reviewer, Ismail Rodriquez, particularly liked “Susan 3342 A.D.” by Marge Simon but fell short of giving it my high standard recommendation qualification. I should point out a recommended qualification is a story that makes me go ‘Wow!’ after I read it. ‘Wonderful’ won’t get you a recommendation (sorry).

I found October’s DSF still a high standard publication, better than any pro-publication you’ll find out there. However, compared to last month’s, October’s comes in second.

I recommend all of you to subscribe to DSF’s daily email (if you haven’t already).

Frank hasn’t made many friends since he started doing reviews so he went and found a new chum. Bob is his new best bud but word is they had a recent falling out. Frank was overheard calling Bob a ‘Windbag’ while mutual friends claim Bob refers to Frank as a ‘Blowhard’ behind his back.

“Chick Lit” is a fictional piece of just over 500 words. It’s about a girl with a problem and a friend/co-worker who could care less. Later, the girl doesn’t have the problem and the friend is more concerned than ever about it. I had to read it several, SEVERAL times over to even come up with anything noteworthy about it. I failed to see what the editors saw in it.

5 Responses to “Daily Science Fiction: October Review”

  1. Frank Dutkiewicz 8 February 2011 at 11:20 pm Permalink

    It is my goal to make sure this outstanding publication is not ignored. I plan on reviewing all there stories but I am way behind. I figured once I get 6 months behind I would cry uncle. So I could use the help.

    Anyone who would like to review a story or two of DSF’s november issue please give me a ring.

    snapperfjd@yahoo.com

    I will make sure you receive credit for your review and offer a link to your blog in the review as well.

  2. Terry Martin 11 February 2011 at 9:22 am Permalink

    So you’ve seen Murky Depths to make a comparison?

  3. Frank Dutkiewicz 13 February 2011 at 12:15 pm Permalink

    I’m sorry Terry, but I’m not getting the nature of your question. Is ‘Murky Depths’ a publication?

  4. ozone therapy 16 August 2011 at 10:53 am Permalink

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