written by Frank Dutkiewicz
Twenty-four. That’s how many reviews Diabolical Plots has done of Daily SF. Approximately 520 stories Daily SF has published in its first two years of operation and DP has reviewed every one of them. The industry’s leading reviewer of speculative short fiction (and multiple award winner) Locus, has reviewed a total of 5 (that’s f-i-v-e) Daily Science Fiction stories since it has opened. And how many did speculative fictions other leading reviewer – Tangent Online – do in that time? Zero. Disgraceful; the only word that fits for ignoring the publication that has published more Hugo and Nebula nominated author’s stories in last two years than any other SFWA listed outlet.
Perhaps it is time someone nudges Lois Tilton to give Daily SF another look. And maybe someone should inform Dave Truesdale that Daily Science Fiction is still in business. “…the genre’s premiere (reviewer) of SF and Fantasy…” indeed.
An author writes a warning in “Dear Editor, Enclosed Please Find My Story About Your Unfortunate Demise” by Luc Reid (debut 8/1 and reviewed by Frank D). This humorous story is written as an apologetic cover letter. The author has built a machine that will accurately predict a person’s time and matter of death. Cute.
The protagonist erases the scars in her mind in “To Be Undone of Such Small Things” by Damien Walters Grintalis (debut 8/2 and reviewed by Frank D). She undergoes a procedure to wipe clean the painful memories of the past, memories she believes keeps her from becoming the strong and adjusted person she strives to be.
The woman in “To Be Undone” has a traumatic past. The reader views the memories as they are erased, dark and grim as they are. Any person could see the value of the service in this story. Everyone has a memory or two that they could do without, but the protagonist learns a lesson that even when we lose the events of our darkest hour, we lose a piece of ourselves.
“To Be Undone of Such Small Things” is a powerful tale in a small package.
A purchased bride finds her true love in an “Innocence, Rearranged” by Annie Bellet (debut 8/3 and reviewed by Frank D). Mai is the property of a wealthy man. He likes her thin so she runs to stay trim. On one of her runs, she stops at a pond for a swim. The pond holds a water dragon, a serpent with the ability to transform into a human boy. Although they are as different as two individuals can be, they share one trait that draws her closer to him than she ever could be with her husband.
Mai is a young girl of 16. Her husband, Pembroke, has complete control of her. The water dragon does not share her language but the two nevertheless learn to communicate. For the first time in her life Mia feels as if she is doing something for herself. The story takes a twist when Pembroke proves to be a bigger cad than previously revealed. Mai suddenly realizes an absence of choice is no way to live a life.
“Innocence, Rearranged”, is an interesting tale with a satisfying ending. If you find the opening slow developing, stick with it. You’ll be glad you did.
Eddie checks into a resort that is to die for in “The Hotel of the Suicides” by Mike Resnick & Sabina Theo (debut 8/6 and reviewed by Frank D). The Caribbean Delight is a place where people go to end it all. They specialize in making your last moments memorable. If you’re wary about going through it, they’ll even provide the motivation for you.
The service in the “The Hotel” is unique to say the least. They offer a hundred ways to die, from the subtle to the violent. Eddie comes across as a protagonist who isn’t sure if he really wants to go through it. He is depressed and lonely, and the hotel has a plan for him that plays against his will to live.
“The Hotel” is a damn good idea. I found the premise of the resort worthy a Stephen King novel. The problem is I found it rushed. It was too short, compressed as if the authors were bound and determined to make it a flash. This idea deserves to be rewritten as a novella.
The protagonist in “Blue and Blue” by Jennifer Linnaea (debut 8/7 and reviewed by Frank D) is an outsider in a town underwater. He has a magic pendant that allows him to remain in the community under the ocean. The town serves as a market for spells, attracting ships to its submerged streets. The hero in this tale has fallen for a shopkeeper’s daughter, trying in vain to get the lovely girl to join him on the surface. The town is wealthy in magic and protected by spells that ejects visitors who overstay their welcome. The protagonist’s charm may be the most valuable item in this underwater paradise for a greedy soul.
“Blue and Blue” is a very good story. The premise and change in events I found very attractive. The dark twist isn’t for the people who prefer their fantasy to have upbeat endings, but it is a story I am glad the editors published.
A man is lost in a virtual maze in “A Measure of You” by C. Richard Patton (debut 8/8 and reviewed by Frank D). The maze is unsolvable; familiar virtual objects only confuse the prisoner. There is only one solution to the maze.
“A Measure” is told from a 2nd person perspective. The narrator is a previous prisoner of the maze. The story is like watching a panicked rat desperate to escape. Oddly fascinating in a masochistic/voyeuristic way.
The protagonist magically creates happy moments in “Bone and Ash and Butterflies” by Julia Rios (debut 8/9 and reviewed by Frank D). She is a teacher, teaching a magical equivalent of a crafting class. One student stays behind to ask if she can recreate her departed mother. She is sympathetic but hesitant, for good reason.
“Bone and Ash” is a short tale that I wouldn’t have minded to see as a longer work. The student wants her mother back, and is willing to accept the consequences – the teacher knew she would. I found the tale a bit on the slow side at first. However, the ending twist was fabulous. Daily SF has gotten really good at picking at the deceptively dark tales. I like this one.
A researcher reminisces about a socially archaic boy in “We Planted The Sad Child, And Watched” by Rahul Kanakia (debut 8/10 and reviewed by Frank D). In a world where social engineering had reached its goal of an adjusted society, a researcher creates a boy who is allowed to resist the desires to be part of happy world. Through genetics, media manipulation, behavioral observations, and psychological profiling, the world has become a paradise. One child is left to be like his predecessors a century before. His parents are worried to the point of suggesting depressing fitting drugs, a thought unheard of today, but the social engineer will have none of it. A life’s work is at stake. Why alter one life for that?
The premise to this story is meant as a companion to the classic “Brave New World”. The story is told from a researcher watching from a distant as a social misfit tries to fit into a society he was meant to clash with. I found the concept interesting, but like a scientific study, not all that interesting. The tale wasn’t so much about watching a rat in a maze but rather it was watching the handler who is monitoring the rat in the maze. Not nearly as alluring to me.
“Contagion” by Bruce Holland Rogers (debut 8/13 and reviewed by Frank D). The CEOs of the major drug corporations meet with the military on the dangers of the latest epidemic. The Brent virus doesn’t kill but changes a person’s brain chemistry. The general they talk to is all too happy to meet with them.
The premise to “Contagion” hinges on a unique perspective that a disease may not necessarily be bad. I hesitate revealing more so as not to spoil the twist, but the withholding of information felt like a cheat to me.
A dream builder makes a perfect wife for a watchmaker in “The Watchmaker’s Wife” by Lydia S. Gray (debut 8/14 and reviewed by Frank D). Unfortunately, the watchmaker is murdered before the mechanical woman can be delivered. The abandoned bride is without her soul mate but is desired by men she wasn’t built for.
The featured character in this tale is built with gears and dials but is filled with a vision of the perfect wife by a man who is no longer alive. She is a steampunk android, neither fish nor fowl in this odd world of magic. The woman is property, first used as a curiosity piece to draw in customers for the dream builder then stolen to service a darker cliental. She is abused and misused like a machine, and is devoid of emotion, also like a machine. But this machine was never meant to be treated as a tool, but as one man’s loving spouse.
“The Watchmaker’s Wife” is a dark tale. If she were a real woman, the events this character went through would entice sympathy from the readers, but she is never cast that way and I never saw her as such. This good story would have been fabulous if the character could have had a discernible personality to grasp onto, but it didn’t (and ‘it’ fits far better than ‘she’ as a description). I found this intended emotional story lacked the emotion the author was likely after.
The jungle approaches in “Surrounded by the Mutant Rain Forest” by Bruce Boston (debut 8/16 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this tale is one of the defenders of civilization. A mutant rainforest has been assimilating building, brick, and all life into it. He finds a familiar face within its vines, a former love he once knew.
“Surrounded” is a story I found disturbing. The old love he has found is gone. Like a zombie in an apocalypse, she is only a facsimile of what a human used to be. But that doesn’t stop him. The actions the ‘hero’ of this piece performs I found wrong, and the result of his actions, I found just deserved.
This is a tale where I couldn’t root for its protagonists.
A villain’s circus needs heroes in “The Colors” by John M Shade (debut 8/17 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this story is an imprisoned hero. Mother Circus runs a traveling road show. The main event features villains battling heroes. The heroes get the worst of it so new stars are ‘recruited’. Jesse is the newest hero. The thin and trim girl looks nothing like a superhero but she wallops a punch. She is a hit but the show is wearing on her. She wants to escape, but needs a hero of her own.
“The Colors” is odd for a superhero tale. The circus is a no-holds-barred battle. The crowd is a blood thirsty bunch, cheering for the villains. The protagonist’s role is as the hero’s sidekick. For a hero, he comes off as a bit timid. I found this tale a bit difficult to get grounded in. I found myself doubting how the circus could have been viable or how heroes could have been used in such a way. Perhaps a better understanding on Mother Circus’s character would have helped this tale.
“The Colors” has a few flaws in the premise for me but I think I would enjoy a far larger tale involving this idea.
“30 Pounds of Human Tissue” by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks (debut 8/20 and reviewed by Dustin Adams). A bot, traveling to Earth, performs a standard internal scan and discovers 30 lbs of human tissue aboard. The tissue talks and cries and wants its mommy. The bot runs through various probability scenarios and discovers the survival rate of the young girl to be .0174. The bot’s priority 1 directive is to protect human life, but it doesn’t have the capability. Perhaps it can improvise?
A great story that doesn’t delve into the mind of the bot, but manages to show its humanity through its need to save the girl’s life, while continuing its mission – which it needs to do to save the girl’s life.
“A Wizard At War” by A. M. Roelke (debut 8/21 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist huddles in the trenches of the western front in WWI. He has a gift that will relieve the pain of others, physically and mentally. His actions are noticed by a comrade. Weary from his recent healing attempts, he acquiesces to his greedy fellow soldier.
The hero in “A Wizard” has a limited ability in this story. At first, I thought he was a medic but appears that wasn’t the case (too bad, it would have helped him to disguise his gift). The tale is quick with an antagonist that seemed to be there more as a convenience for the plot. I did not find the story unpleasant, however. It had a nice resolution and I found the ending satisfying.
An all too human android is denied humane treatment in “Bedtime Story” by Kevin Pickett (debut 8/22 and reviewed by Frank D). GS371 has been sentenced. His creator has been ordered to destroy him. But as a condemned humanoid, GS371 wishes for one last request.
The crime GS371 has committed is unknown and the author leads the reader to believe it is only guilty of being more human than most humans. The request the android makes is a heart wrencher. A superior ending to this brief tale made it something special.
The protagonist has lofty goals in “Watching Rockets” by John Philip Johnson (debut 8/23 and reviewed by Frank D). He has a desire to go into space but his genes keep him rooted firmly to the ground.
I confess, a basic problem of not knowing what the featured character of this tale was kept me from enjoying it. Was it a tree, a man, or both? Two readings and I’m still not sure of the answer.
Age is affecting a map makers work “Cartographer’s Ink” by Beth Cato (debut 8/24 and reviewed by Frank D). Oren has been the Royal Cartographer for decades. He can alter borders and decide the fate of kingdoms with a steady hand, priceless ink, and finely crafted spells. But arthritis has set in the proud map makers hands. An accident had befallen his apprentice so a replacement is still a half year away. His daughter has been secretly covering for him but an opposing kingdom’s cartographer has raised the stakes for his king. An immediate response is needed, and must be done in the audience of the king.
“Cartographer’s Ink” is a simple tale set in a complicated world. The magic of the map maker’s pen was difficult for me to understand. A better understanding of how his actions affected the lives of others would have helped me to understand his importance. King Atsu is a hard and unforgiving ruler. To show weakness in his presence would be suicidal. Circumstances brought on by a competing kingdom have forced Oren’s trembling hand.
“Cartographer’s Ink” brings forth a loyal servant in the twilight of his career. Pride has put him in a humbling position. Oren is a man biding his time. This tale is of a once reliable man now forced to preform when he is no longer at his best. I feel as if this story was once a more in depth idea that was trimmed down in hopes of making it more economical and marketable. I can’t help thinking it would have been far better, and much deeper, if the story were allowed to flow and lengthened to double its current size.
The Twaddle retrovirus wreaks havoc in “Let’s All Sing Like The Birdies Sing” by Paul G Di Filippo (debut 8/27 and reviewed by Frank D). An unknown biohacker unleashes a debilitating disease. The Twaddle virus is a nanotech invader. Easily spread, it infects the neurochemistry of a host’s brain to force the infected to babble endless non-sequiturs while leaving the signature in the form of a moving cartoon inscribed on a victims brow. The virus infects millions and changes Earth’s culture in the process.
“Let’s All Sing” is written as historical chronicle observing the effects of the Twaddle virus. The illness is like watching a joke unfold that has gone horribly wrong. The victims suffer a Tourette like syndrome – blurting out disconnected phrases without control. The narration as a retrospective of a previous point in our history is flawless. The author writes it as if he has experience in the field. The telling of the story from an extreme distance leant to a disconnection for the reader, however I like reading historical accounts so this one had an appeal for me. The circumstances of our advancing bio-tech technology, and to a certain anarchistic element in our society, made the premise to this piece a possibility.
Mr Filippo successfully wrote a future historical account and made it entertaining. Well done.
Aina prepares the last meal of a condemned man in “The Taste of Salt” by Rachel Halpern (debut 8/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Evan will be a town’s sacrifice for a demon. The demon is controlled by the Tyrants that rule over the town. Aina shares a kinship with Evan; outsiders with little in common with the people of the town.
“The Taste” revolves around Aina. The brief tale reads longer than its actual length. The author focused much of the story on Aina’s history and for motivations for the twist at the end. I rather liked the twist but wavered with the story while I slugged through the plot to get to it.
“Overheard at the Platonic Ideal Bar and Grill” by Aimee Vanessa Blume (debut 8/29 and reviewed by Anonymous) is set in a bar where a bunch of people are talking about the benefits of fibrelobotics–a kind precision brain surgery that is capable of altering your behaviour. Most of the people at the bar have had their desire for the opposite sex removed–hence the title–so that they don’t constantly fantasise about, and mentally undress, the opposite sex.
One of the customers reveals that she is almost doing the opposite and is planning to get married. She apparently likes the ‘social construct’ and her and her husband-to-be are going so far as to have some implants to help them feel attracted to one another. There is a small twist at the end that is nicely handled when she talks further about her husband.
I liked this story although I think the science is a little implausible, especially regarding the precision with which specific ideas/emotions are altered. I thought it was well written, and the twist was quite nice–like a twist of lemon of lemon at the end. Five rocket dragons.
“The Mobius Garden” by James Bambury (debut 8/30 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).
Suriak began painting when she was very young, Brandon had never painted. One day Brandon stumbles on a beautiful garden in the middle of the city, a garden populated by the paintings of Suriak. Throughout his life Brandon remains rooted in reality, Suriak in her paintings. The two, however, remain entwined throughout their lives by her painting.
This is a wistful tale of love and paths not taken. The whimsy is clear and anyone who loves a good tale of fantasy and unrequited love will enjoy this story. I liked it, but would stop short of a whole hearted recommendation because it is a little too familiar. But all in all a nice little diversion from the day.
“My People, My People” by Stacey Danielle Lepper (debut 8/31 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).
Amua is imprisoned by the native race on Te Ao, his only contact with one of the unahi, Edouard. Outside a civil war rages as the unahi try to reclaim their world from the intrusive humans. Amua is paying the price for his race’s ignorance and callousness. His only thread to hope is the letters he has written to his people and his family on an old tablet that he erases each day. Amua’s dream is that the two races can live together, but has too much history been placed between his peaceful goals.
This is a story of redemption and cruelty. The cruelty of oppression leads to more cruelty against those in power. It’s also the story of how one man can transcend even imprisonment to redeem his race, as well as soften the hearts of others. It is well written and plays out well, but I think loses some of the impact in the telling. This may be either the style of the author or the familiarity of the subject matter its dealing with.
Some have come, and some have gone…
I attempted to see how many professional paying publications rose and fell in the time Daily SF has been in business. The task proved greater than my patience. There have been plenty of magazines that have opened and closed in the last two years. Some of them were welcomed with open arms, and with all the fanfare of a major magazine. Others, made lofty promises yet failed to publish a single issue. The odds are against you if you want to bring to the world a magazine that prints science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror.
The reasons why most publications go belly up can vary – lack of interest, unreliable slush readers, uninspired editors, inconsistent publishing schedule, lack of funds, poorly planned business model… no shortage of explanations. The problems of running a successful speculative magazine are so great that even the most ambitious endeavor surviving this long are likely to fail. The number of professional-paying publications that have ceased operation over the past two years is greater than the current number that are still in business today. So it isn’t easy, to say the least. A few do well while others are wrought with problems. Which makes what Daily Science Fiction has accomplished that much more impressive.
With only two people to do all the reading and editing, an absence of advertisement, no fund raising campaigns, and an expansion model that relies mostly by a word-to-mouth; Daily SF has managed to present an original story five days a week to its readers – for free – by the friendliest distribution model in history. They have expanded their subscriber base twelve fold since they’ve been open (how often has that happened in history?). The readers have accepted, and embraced, Daily SF for good.
The two ambitious editors have had plenty of support from its writers as well. It has topped – by a wide margin – the most prestigious list on Duotrope for over a year. DSF receives more submissions than any other publication out there according to Duotrope’s members. Its pay rate exceeds most of its competitors. It accepts – and publishes – a greater variety of sub-genre classifications than its sister publications. It rivals its competitors on attracting talent. You won’t have to look far to find award winners like Ken Liu, Cat Rambo, Robert Reed, Tim Pratt, Eric James Stone, Eugie Foster, and above all, Mike Resnick, in its monthly table of contents. But DSF doesn’t just limit their publication to big names alone. More writers have made their first professional sale to Daily Science Fiction than any other publication, save maybe the Writer’s of the Future anthology – a contest that prohibits professional writers from participating.
So has Daily Science Fiction earned the right to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Asimov’s, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and the rest? To its readers and contributing writers it has. But what about the men and women behind the curtain? Will we see a Daily SF story in the pages of a Best in (Fantasy or Science Fiction) collection in the very near future? Will those editors who make those choices dare to even read a few Daily SF jewels for consideration? They should.
The biggest reason I heard why Daily SF wasn’t given even a glance by the leading reviewers when it first appeared was because it had an ‘unsustainable business model’. It was believed to be doomed for failure from the start because the editors weren’t willing to share their model with the outside world. How they chose to fund Daily Science Fiction has been their own business and no one else’s. Whether that sounds crazy to you or not, know this. At the time of this reviews publication, Daily SF will have passed their 26 month of operation, published approximately 600 stories, and is getting close to putting their one millionth word into print – all at 8 cents a word. I call that business model a successful one.
A special thanks to my crew. Jim Hanzelka, Dustin Adams, and the elusive, Mr Anonymous, have been there to help me out almost from the beginning. Without their help, it is likely I would have had to throw in the towel on reviewing Daily SF by now. Thanks to them, I am getting close to reviewing DSF as it gets sent to my email box.
Thanks guys. You’re the best.