Daily Science Fiction: February 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Whew. A lot going on in our little Diabolical world. So much David Steffen has left the substitute in charge. David assures me that Anthony Sullivan is more than capable for the job, and said he has yet to miss an edit.

On to this month’s review!

 

A little girl has a gift the alien overseers need in “Substitutes” by Colin P. Davies (debut 2/1 and reviewed by Frank D). Melinda has been blessed with the ‘gift’, the ability to navigate the stars. Aliens have come to Earth and spread a condition among its youth. Melinda’s father calls it a disease, but for the few who have been affected, they are prized by the aliens. They offer compensation to Melinda’s father, and a substitute that is in every way a perfect copy of Melinda. It isn’t enough for Melinda’s dad, but the aliens are relentless. The pair have been playing a cat and mouse game as they try to stay a step ahead of the aliens, but the creatures who have managed to travel the stars are far too clever to shake.

“Substitutes” is an eerie tale. Whatever the affliction Melinda is under, it has affected her mental capacities. Her father reacts how I’d imagine most people would react, angrily and fearfully. The brief tales plays out like a Stephen King premise, clones stalk the pair as they run to new homes. An increasingly desperate father gets more violent with every encounter.

I really liked this story. Liked it so much I was disappointed that it ended so quickly. Add 80,000 words as good as these 2000 and it would make a great novel.

Recommended.

 

An abandoned and hungry girl stumbles upon an edible house with her brother. “Hungry” by Robert E. Stutts (debut 2/4 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a captive in a cannibalistic witches’ home. The witch has imprisoned her brother in a cage and is fattening him up while impressing the little girl to be her apprentice. The little girl knows this will not end well for her and her brother, no matter how much the outcome changes.

Mr Stutts R rated version of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ is dark, even for this very grim Grimm tale. I found myself glued to it, as if I had fallen under a spell. Daily SF has published many disturbing tales. There may be a creepier tale than “Hungry” in its archives but if there is, it isn’t coming to mind.

 

The need to belong compete with its consequences in “Wildness and Wet” by Lee Hallison (debut 2/5 and reviewed by Frank D). Leah watches a flash dance performance from the safety of her bedroom window. The dancers are teenagers her age, connected via implants to the web. They share a clique like no other in history. Leah wants to be a part of it, and the boy who climbs to her open window may be too alluring to resist.

“Wildness and Wet” is a tale of temptation. The kids joined in this futuristic web have a shared physic ability thanks to the enhance technology. They garner all the substance they need through the implant and share a closeness ordinary human contact can never achieve, but their candle burns twice as quick and they die very young , burned out expending the extra flare they have enjoyed. Leah is like an imprisoned princess , unable to be a part of the exciting world she sees but she is very aware of the price she would have to pay to be a part of it.

I have one major complaint about this story , way too brief. This is just a taste of a far larger idea. I hope Ms Hallison explores this world further and shares her findings with us in the future.

 

A scientist and his greedy sister fight over their departed father’s possessions in “Mirror Image” by Peter M. Wood (debut 2/6 and reviewed by Frank D). Sam is a physicist but even he can’t piece together what his extrinsic father’s basement lab is all about. Doris, his sister, wants to sell it all and split the sale 50/50. She had already bilked Dad of the rest of his assets but it is never enough for her. Sam wants to see if there is anything to his late father’s claims of alternate realities, but Doris’s greed may make it all a moot point.

This tale explores the insanity of adults who fight over their departed parents belongings and adds a convenient twist to it. Amusing, in this world and in the one next door, I’m sure.

 

The Time Travel Device” by James Van Pelt (debut 2/7 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist has created a means to travel through time. He isn’t able to control where he goes, his own desires choses his destination for him. Where you go can say much about the person you are.

This short tale has a morbid tone to it. Fascinating destinations, but I’d be worried if I were the protag.

 

A socially awkward girl makes her pitch for a date in “A Phone, My Heart, and Maybe My Last Shred of Dignity” by Luc Reid (debut 2/8 and reviewed by Frank D). Iowa is a loner in a society where no one is alone. Her life is a series of disasters. Today has been an unusually brutal day even for her, but reflection can help heal her self-inflicted wounds.

“A Phone” is a comedy of errors with a love story buried within. The story is told in a string of flashbacks , unusual but effective when written by someone as skilled as Mr Reid. Iowa has fallen for a woman giving a demonstration at 20th century fair. Iowa hatches a very crazy plan in hopes of impressing her.

I simply loved this tale. The ending of it was the beginning; watching Iowa’s crazy plan unravel in reverse made it that much more entertaining. You may need to jump back to the opening to notice the sweet conclusion to the story.

Recommended.

 

Charles Milford speaks for the President in “For The People” by Ronald D. Ferguson (debut 2/11 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). He has no official title, no position, but he sees him every day; which makes him the perfect vessel for the explosives planted in his abdomen. The resistance movement plans on using the drugged Milford to kill both the President and the Vice President. But will the plan succeed or do the rebels have it all wrong?

This story was set in the not too distant future, maybe one we can even see from here. I thought it was a little uneven at the beginning; but as I read on, I was rewarded with a pretty good story. It had a nice little twist at the end, and I’m a sucker for those, so maybe I’m prejudiced, but I thought it worked well. I think if you keep an open mind at the start of the story, it’s worth it in the end.

 

Kane is an empathy in “The Needs Of Hollow Men” by K.A. Rundell (debut 2/12 and reviewed by James Hanzelka), one that works for the police to solve crimes from the emotions left behind at the scene. A “hollow man”, someone empty of his own emotion. His lack of personal emotions facilitates his work, of course the meds help. But Kane is a man in trouble; the emptiness has been filled by everyone else’s emotion, squeezing him from inside. Who can help ease the pain he feels? Who will help the needs of a hollow man?

This story is well laid out and does a good job of ushering us into Kane’s world. We also get to see how he is starting to unravel. I think the author did a nice job of striking the right balance of information about Kane and the emotion he is dealing with. Nice story.

Recommended.

 

Two fairy tales intertwine in “A Hairy Predicament” by Melissa Mead (debut 2/13 and reviewed by Frank D). Mother Gothel has taken Rapunzel of her overwhelmed parent’s hands. Disposing her abundant hair has proven problematic but Rapunzel has an idea. Mother Gothel knows a Fae spell has its consequences, and a grieving widowed giant has come to complain.

This dark fairy tale is written with a tongue in cheek. Cute.

 

A little girl draws maps of the future in “Maps” by Beth Cato (debut 2/14 and reviewed by Frank D). Christina is cursed with the ability to predict the tragic future. Her left hand independently pinpoints the place where future events will happen. It is a gift she does not want and she is willing to maim herself to rid herself of the curse.

“Maps” may be the most tragic story I have ever read on DSF (quite a claim for this publication). The story was like watching an accident on the side of the freeway, I couldn’t tear my eyes away. High marks to Ms Cato for her accomplishment.

 

A creepy guy offers to buy a woman a drink in “Five Minutes” by Conor Powers-Smith (debut 2/15 and reviewed by Frank D). Sasha is a hard working single mother; stopping at a local pub for a quick drink when a man takes the stool next to her. She needs to get home to her sleeping children but the man is insistent that she wait and listen to him. The strange man claims he has a limited gift of foresight. He only can see five minutes into the future, an ability that hasn’t been all that beneficial for him. Sasha can’t get away from him quick enough but he only wishes for two minutes of her time, offering to sit with her on the deck and watch as the cars pass through the nearby intersection.

“Five Minutes” is told from the perspective from an exhausted woman. That last thing she needs is to placate a disturbed man. It is written as if you are sure this man is up to something sinister; expecting a dark turn of events to spring into action as you read. Well done.

If you were to take the title and the strange man’s backstory into account alone, you would likely be sure how this tale would conclude. It takes a skilled writer to lead the reader into a different direction. Mr Smith’s use of characters and a careful crafting of the tone of the story will make you doubt the obvious.

Recommended.

 

The world is ending and there is only one place you can go to be saved in “The Mountain” by Andrew Kozma (debut 2/18 and reviewed by Frank D). Salvation from annihilation can be found on a series of hills with very descriptive (and bland) names. The people count their numbers (only a few can be saved) and watch as the universe dissolves.

“The Mountain” is told from a distance and with little emotional flare. The faceless characters of the story are rescued but have nothing left. I failed to see the point of any of it.

 

A fatigued man frightens an imprisoned woman in “Coffee Pot” by Jez Patterson (debut 2/19 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is huddled in a bed, watching a man who sips coffee. She just wants him to fall asleep so she can escape. Escape has its permanent drawbacks, in her case.

I hesitate revealing anymore to this tale. Suffice to say it has an effective twist. Unfortunately, the storyline didn’t capture my interest that much.

 

“I Heard You Got a Cat, I Heard You Named Him Charles” by M. Bennardo (debut 2/20 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist has heard his old girl friend has gotten a new pet. It was unnecessary, because he could have taken the position of a cat for her. He could be anything she wanted, and had never left her side.

This story is told from the perspective of a shape changing stalker. He is willing to do anything for her just so he can stay by her side. He is the ultimate in creepy behavior. I really felt for his girl.

 

Fulfilling a need can get very expensive in “Coin Op” by David Steffen (debut 2/21 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist of this short work of humor is woman who is experiencing a bit of a losing streak. Her girlfriends have pooled their money together so she can spend an evening with an android gigolo. Not sure how far she is willing to go, she opts for the ‘pay as you go’ method. Unfortunately, passion and frugality make incompatible companions.

“Coin Op” opens as a strip tease. The android takes bits of clothing off for a nominal fee that is pennies at first. The less he wears the stiffer the price. The fact the protagonist is female makes me suspect the viability of the premise, especially when the android is completely devoid of any passion at all. However, the questionable premise does lend to the absurdity of the scene. Particularly amusing is how the android’s member is treated as ‘medical waste’ when he is finished, making me feel shameful in the protagonist’s behalf.

I imagined this brief and amusing piece brightened a few people’s morning when they read it in their inbox.

 

A young man searches for love, in real life, his dreams, and through cyberspace in “Crabapple” by Lavie Tidhar (debut 2/22 and reviewed by Frank D). Youssou dreams of flying in the arms of an off-world lover. He lives in a house grown from a plant on an old highway in Tel Aviv and mingles with neighbors as he shares drugs and food. Youssou has left his lover and replaced him with a fictional one. The boy down the street knows all about it, because he can experience others dreams.

“Crabapple”, like so many other Tidhar tales I have read, is a difficult story to understand. The backdrop in this surreal premise are references to popular subplots borrowed from classics of the past. Concepts Niven, Pohl, Simak – and several others whose work I recognize but I can’t attach their name to them – appear throughout this tale. They serve as bright neon signs that drown out the sights around them, brilliant to the point of distraction. The story (I think) is about Youssou’s inability to commit. His subconscious attempts to fill this void (total guess), and as a viewer, we are granted a glimpse into his backstory to piece it together. A tangent to this tale is Kranki’s gift of seeing Youssou’s dreams. I would expand on this subplot more but I failed to see any meaningful relevance to the rest of the tale.

I’ve read more short works written by Lavie Tidhar than any other author save my favorites whose collections I have bought in mass in the past. I really want to like his work. He has a poetic flare to his prose. His stories have the feeling of a greater message we all could benefit from. But alas, I have yet to decipher any great message from his stories.

I can sum up all of Lavie Tidhar’s work with my experience of reading “Crabapple.” I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

 

“Living With Trees” by Geetanjali Dighe (debut 2/25 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist of this tale is an explorer. He lands on a beautiful green world full of trees like the kind Earth once possessed. The trees are one with the planet, and with their spores and psychic ability, the protagonist becomes one with them.

The author draws upon her association with Far Eastern mysticism to bring this tale to life. The story has an unspoken feel of dread for an ending.

 

“The Small Print” by Amy McLane (debut 2/26 and reviewed by Dustin Adams), contains one of the singularly most intriguing lines I’ve ever read. Some might suggest it doesn’t carry weight out of contest, but even in context, it was out of context, and hooked me, firmly, into the story.

“The Druskies call you Padre Smallprint, because you’re always hunting for the catch.”

The story is about a man who removes memories, cleans them of their owner, and sells them to others. (We know nothing of his general clientele, and only learn of one customer of seemingly very ill repute, which adds to the story’s sullen mood.)

When the memory is gone, what is left in its place is a piece of himself. “She’ll come back. She’ll come and come until there is nothing left of her…” the Padre thinks after the initial visit/sale of a woman who’d sold an average summer day.

There are some complex ideas here, and some I feel could be interpreted differently by different readers. What exactly did he do inside her memory? Author Amy McLane doesn’t spell everything out for us, which in my opinion, enhances the tale.
Melissa Mead has written several humorous and interesting twisted fairy tales and to my delight I keep getting tapped to read them.

 

“Hazel Tree” by Melissa Mead (debut 2/27 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) I feel is weaker than the others, but it is nevertheless fun and, well, twisted.

Here, the put-upon stepdaughter has a magic hazelnut tree at her disposal. What she does with it is what any business minded, industrious individual would do… She profits!

 

A surrogate android experiences all the joy and pain of child birth in “Hope, Shattered” by Brian R. McDowell (debut 2/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Damara has been designed for the specific purpose of carrying a child to term. Most mothers who use her do so to maintain their physique, but the current mother whose child Damara is carrying is not one of those shallow women. Damara experiences all the discomforts of child birth, as well as all of the emotional peaks and valleys a mother goes through during the event as well. She is just what modern day parents need, if only it were possible for them to tend to her needsâ€

“Hope, Shattered” is an emotional tale. Damara was built for a purpose. The original birthing-bots were built without emotions, but that made them to eerie and machine-like for parents. So her updated model has been equipped to act more like a mother living through the experience. It has left her with a flaw that is heart-wrenching. A neat story, most striking about it is that the author is male.

Recommended.


Welcomed competition…

For months, Diabolical Plots has been beating the drum that Daily Science Fiction has failed to receive the attention we here believe they have earned. It is our opinion that it is a disgrace DSF receives for its first two years, with the exception of this lone website, only passing and brief reviews for selected stories, but that is no longer the case.

Songs of Eretz is a blog written by Dr Steven Gordon. He is a prolific author and poet, and reviews Daily SF the day each story appears (where in the hell does he find the time?). He writes a brief synopsis, what he thought of the piece, and shares his rocket rating. He even goes through the trouble of adding an appropriate photo for each story. I’m impressed.

Aside from the reviews he does of Daily SF, Dr Gordon writes a book report for the latest classic he has completed. Well thought out and well done. The good doctor is very good and very committed to his blog. Give it a look. As a reviewer, I give it 7 out 7 rockets.

As much as I have chastised the publication in the past for their snub of DSF, I would like to congratulate Tangent Online for including several Daily Science Fiction stories in their year end Recommended Reading List. Despite the fact that Tangent doesn’t review Daily SF, Bob Blough was moved enough by a handful of stories to include them for Tangent‘s list. I applaud Dave Truesdale for including them in this year.

Perhaps this would be a good time for Tangent to reconsider if Daily SF is worth their time. I know most of their offerings are shorter than majority of the stories Tangent chooses to review, but DSF does publish a showcase, longer tale every Friday. That makes 4 , 5 tales a month, comparable to what Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and so many other vaunted publications the reviewing site never fails to miss. Surely the quality of the writing at Daily SF is equal to what those celebrated magazines publish, but don’t take my word for it , my illustrious reviewing superiors , take your own recommendations to heart.


stork carrying baby

David Steffen has a very important matter that he needs to attend to. For that reason, he has left DP in the very capable hands of Anthony. The matter is a secret, very secret. You couldn’t get it out of me no matter how hard you tried.

See David? Told you could trust me!

 

Canny Valley Comics Report Card

For those of you who don’t know, Canny Valley is my (Anthony) web comic project. Today marks the six month anniversary since launch and I thought I’d share some of my lessons learned.

Not surprisingly, creating comics is much like any other creative endeavor. I’ll be posting an article soon detailing the basic work flow I use so I won’t go into that here. But suffice it to say that I frequently face some of the same challenges I face with my writing. A blank comic template is just as imposing as a blank page.

I launched the comic with a good friend of mine, Scott Wolf. Scott and I had very a similar sense of humor as well as almost parallel interests. The comic was going to be about gaming and internet culture which was something we both know a lot about. But even as wide a net as those two generic subjects cast, we soon found that our audience was too small. Early comics would reel in only a handful of visitors.

Traffic

As an artist, I create art for personal enjoyment but like most creators I really wanted other people to enjoy it as well. What fun is it to work so hard on something and no one see it? So I set about learning how to market the site. I wasn’t completely ignorant about this but even with the knowledge I had, I learned a lot from the process.

Initially I posted the comic to the major content driven sites like Reddit and 9gag. We immediately saw a bump in traffic. At the low low price of free, you just could beat this form of advertising. This also allowed me to specifically target groups of people who had interest in the topic of the comic. Still, this method didn’t produce the sort of numbers I wanted and I began to look at other options.

I joined the Project Wonderful network after we published our 30th comic. They require a lively stream of content to participate in their network which really keeps the quality of publishers high. I recommend it to anyone who wants to drive traffic to their site.

At this point I began to see that not all visitors are created equally. When the comic first launched we really had very little archived content so a visitor typically meant only a handful of pageviews if not just one. However, as we built up more and more content I began to see an interesting trend. Visitors from websites like Reddit or 9gag came to view the specific comic they were linked to and then left. On the other hand, visitors that came from other comic sites by clicking an ad would stick around. Often viewing the entire catalog!

This pattern has persisted today. The quality of visitors (measured by pageviews per visit) is much higher with these targeted ads. Advertising on other comics reaps visitors who are interested in consuming comics and that is very valuable.

The comic is averaging about a thousand pageviews a day with some days spiking into the tens of thousands. I think I’m making progress on that front.

Creation

As mentioned in Monday’s blog post on the comic site, Scott has departed from Canny Valley. This was a result of the unflinching challenge to constantly create content. This comic, or rather comic creation in general, is my passion. I’m enjoying it more than any creative endeavor I’ve ever been a part of. For Scott, the comic was a fun thing to do and the need for constant creation was eating him alive. My point here is that taking on a task that is simply one deadline after another is not for the faint of heart.

I have yet to miss a comic deadline; though a couple have pushed late into the night. I have to credit Scott’s early involvement for that but the reason that success has persisted is because I was able to internalize the creative process into my daily life.

I’m constantly aware of the need for comics ideas so they frequently come to me when I’m not really trying to think of one at all. In fact, the best ideas typically are inspired this way. Additionally, the actual drawing of the comic is built into my schedule in such a way that it’s automatic. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve gotten to the point where I can knock out a comic in two hours if I stay focused.

I think this internalization is key to keeping something like this going. It’s the same for writers. If writing is part of who you are then you’ll never suffer from lack of writing time. It becomes what you do when you are idle.

That is half the key to success in my mind. Do this, and you’re half-way there.

As I mentioned above. A post specifically about the creative process I use is in the works. So keep your eye out for that and thanks for reading.

Announcement: Canny Valley Comics

Hey folks! Remember me? Anthony Sullivan? You know… the other guy who supposedly contributes to this site?

Ahh well, I can understand if you don’t remember me. I’ve been AWOL for quite some time working on my visual art. Well that work has finally borne a little fruit in a new comic project that myself and the very funny Scott Wolf have started.

Canny Valley is a thrice weekly web comic with a focus on gaming and internet culture. with my art and Scott’s cleverness we hope you’ll give us a chance to entertain you.

Please take a moment to jump over to the site and check us out. Then come back here an let us know what you think! Also, I’d like to see if there is interest in seeing a making of post that walks through our process from inception to final comic.

Thanks to everyone for your time and support. This has been a long time in the works and I’m so excited to see it finally released.

Review: Tweedlioop by Stanley Schmidt

Tweedlioop,Review written by Frank Dutkiewicz,

The state of our economy has forced many to make hard choices when it comes to spending money on entertainment. If you are one that likes to plow through a new book in a day or two (I generally prefer to take my time), 7.95 for a paperback novel can start to get pricey after awhile. Let me introduce you to the world of the used book.

You can find a good book if you search. Although many can be dated, you might get lucky and find a jewel within the dusty piles of worn covers. The latest, I found on rack inside a truck stop in Indiana, caught my eye because of the name of the author. If you are one that writes you should be familiar with the editor of Analog, Stanley Schmidt. While I know of him, and read plenty stories that he found worthy of the iconic magazine (none of which were mine, Dave’s, or Anthony’s, BTW), I have never had a chance to sample one of his writings. So I put down my two dollars and a bit and dove in.

Tweedlioop begins with a vacationing Bill Nordstrom, camping alone in Alaska while he is trying to get over the loss of his wife and son in a tragic house fire when he is approached by a strange looking squirrel. It refuses his offerings of nuts and chocolates and instead chooses to eat the plastic bag. The odd looking squirrel returns the next day, says the word ‘Tweedlioop’ and prods Bill to follow him further into the forest and leads him to a crashed spaceship. Inside are three small bodies but all larger than Tweedlioop. Bill pieces together that the small critter is just a kid and is asking for his help. After thinking that would mean for him and Tweedlioop, Bill concludes the young alien would be better off left in the wild.

The next morning Bill packs his tent and finds Tweedlioop lying listlessly inside his camp. He doesn’t bat an eye as he leaves him there on the forest floor. His guilty conscience gets the best of him and he returns to see three wolves surrounding Tweedlioop. Bill manages to scoop Tweedlioop away from the indecisive wolves. The wolves follow them and finally attack Bill at a road when a tour bus stops for him.

It is the first instance in many where Bill wonders if he has made the right choice. Along the way he enlists the help of a lawyer named Danni and her nine-year old daughter Laurie. A long trip on the bus and a journey in a pet carrier aboard a plane back to Florida is rough on Tweedlioop and by the time Bill finally gets home the young alien has taken a turn for the worst, forcing Bill to take actions he hasn’t completely thought out and consequences he and Tweedlioop aren’t prepared for.

Tweedlioop is a story written in a time when the Cold War appeared to have no end and the ET craze was at its zenith. I found it curious that in that time space flight was still considered to be a top priority for our country (in reflection it could have been wishful thinking on Mr. Schmidt’s part). Reading this story set in our pasts present brought back a few nostalgic memories for me. Cell phones was a Star Trek fictional pipe dream, the personal computer was in its infancy, and playing a video game meant scooping up your quarters and hanging out at the local arcade. What I also remember was an underlying fear of the government but a bright hope in the future. Today the hope ain’t that bright and the fear of the government isn’t underlying anymore.

The storyline to Tweedlioop is pretty straight forward; lost alien wants to go home and seeks the help of an Earthling (does sound familiar now that you mention it). Despite the similarities with that Steven Spielberg project, Tweedlioop does take a more precarious path than what ET was subjected to. One glaring difference is the characters (with the exception of young Laurie) who are nothing like the ones in the early 80’s screenplay.

The story is seen through Bill Nordstrom’s eyes, an engineer working in the space industry (just a coincidence). Bill has issues with the death of his wife and daughter. Whispers (real and imagined) that he didn’t try to save them the night of the fire haunt him. When he first decides to leave the abandon alien to the hostile wilderness you cannot help but to feel disdain for him. That scene is the first in many that centers on mankind’s selfish desires and a reluctance of sticking our neck out for another. As callous as it seems to us today “not getting involved” was an accepted course of action in that period of our history.

Danni, the widowed lawyer, and her nine-year old daughter, Laurie, are the bright bulbs in this box of low-wattage characters. Danni comes off as the only competent lawyer in America. She easily spots the legal loopholes that spare Tweedlioop from the probing hands of scientists. Young Laurie develops a connection with the juvenile alien. Their friendship becomes a special bond any girl that age would dream of, a pet that can talk in a language only she can understand.

The last major character, President Wilbur Giannelli (would an Italian father really name his son Wilbur?), is a politician that was elected largely on his vision of a future in space. He sees Tweedlioop as a bargaining chip to help further America, and his political futures, best interest.

Tweedlioop, the small marooned alien, is the true draw of the novel. The squirrel like creature is a lot cuter and more convincing as a scared abandoned child on a strange world than the wrinkly, giraffe-neck ET. I never bought into the circumstances on how ET was left behind (come on, would they have really just taken off without him?), but with Tweedlioop I found the eventual revealed reason believable.

While most of the characters in this novel come off as dry, Tweedlioop (the character) is convincing as a scared child left alone on a hostile planet. The main character, Bill, however is difficult to like. He is at times selfish and wimpish. Mostly I would classify him as dense. Fortunately he had Danni’s brilliance to lean on for most of the novel. Laurie’s character is really an extension of the young alien. The two become a pair halfway in and are portrayed as inseparable chums. Giannelli comes off as a lout. He is a poor diplomat, a narrow-minded thinker, and a very bad president. I believe his character was miscast as the Commander-In-Chief. A chief aide to the Pres would have served the role just fine.

It is easy to punch holes into Tweedlioop‘s premise. I can buy that wolves would be curious about the strange smelling creature, and could see them either wanting to keep their distance or attack it out of fear but not both. How the local law enforcement went about seizing Tweedlioop is less convincing to me. It was as if all the lawyers in Naples forgot how to practice law. If a local man had a strange creature of unknown origin in his home wouldn’t an ‘importation of an exotic species’ be the proper charge?

The biggest problem I had with the novel was President Giannelli’s behavior. I would find it hard to believe that the leader of the Free World would be so demanding, unyielding, and adversarial to a people in whom he is unsure of their capabilities and clueless of the consequences in which his rash action may wrought. I would have at least if it wasn’t for the last eight years of the Bush administration. Now I would think it prudent that our government would deserve an answer from the aliens on why they were here. I could also see them asking for an exchange in technological know-how (doesn’t hurt to ask). But once those question were exhausted what’s wrong with asking for diplomatic recognition and perhaps a trade agreement (plastic industry would like that, give a whole new meaning to the snack-size baggy) between the two species? Instead of taking these logical steps, Giannelli turns all Somalian pirate, promising to back down if things get too hot. The UN diplomats act even less juvenile when they learn of events. The entire political world treats Tweedlioop as if he were a diamond ring found on the street and then discovered it belongs to the Queen of England. No ordinary reward will satisfy them at this point for his return.

Ironically, Tweedlioop is not the type of story you would find in Analog. It is hardly the ‘hard sci-fi’ that I am used to reading in their pages. It was clearly written to capitalize on the ET craze (as the review byline from Publisher’s Weekly suggested on the cover). There are two questions on whether this would make a good book to find today. Does it stand up after 23 years? And, is it an enjoyable read?

To the answer the second question, it must have been for me. I plowed right through its pages. I was genuinely curious to know what was going to happen to the little squirrel. The beginning grabbed me and I read entire story in a third of the time I would usually take for a book its size. As far as if it would be relevant in today’s market? Hmmm, I would suggest a few changes if Mr. Schmidt wanted to pitch a reprint. Mostly changing Giannelli’s character as an opportunistic aide with the president’s ear. Another suggestion would be to change that disco-ball cover (yuck). I could point Mr. Schmidt to a few artists that would do something grand for it.

Tweedlioop was a Tor book publication. Its original listed price was 3.95. I paid 2.25. I found it worth the price.

New Diabolical Art from Joey Jordan!

Diabolical Art
Our resident artist, Joey Jordan, has graced us with some new artwork to share with you. Joey’s art captured my eye after some brief interaction with her on the Writers/Illustrators of the Future contest forum and this artistic little devil has yet to release me! I think her pencil work really captures what speculative fiction is about and I’m happy for the opportunity to share her work with you.

Joey was a finalist in the 3rd quarter of 2009 of the IotF contest. Look for her name soon in the winner circle!

You can find the new art here.

Be sure to check out her website under Diabolical Friends to the right.

The Absent Willow Review 2009 Anthology is Here!

Absent Willow Review 2009 AnthologyThe first annual Absent Willow Review Anthology is now available here.

You can learn more about The Absent Willow Review at their website.

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, you will be able to read my story, Normal, in their January 16th, 2010 issue. Be sure and check it out!
 
 

I Only Paint Dead Cowboys: Nick Rose

Nick RoseNick Rose is a talented horror illustrator with publications in several Horror publications including Horror Bound Magazine, Necrotic Tissue and Tales of the Talisman. In addition to his art, he also has a number of other projects going on but I’ll let him tell you about that. Let’s get started.

Thank you for taking the time to sit with us Nick.

Anthony Sullivan: There are a lot of exciting things going on for you right now. Tell us a little about your current projects.

Nick Rose: First let me say Thank you Very much for the interest that the folks at Horror UK has taken in me and my work. It is much appreciated. As far as work goes, I have a lot going on right now. One of the biggest projects I have going on is for a company called The Evil Nerd Empire.

I am painting 16 paintings for the interior of a book called Darc Karnivale. It is a collection of horror short stories written by the best horror writers in the business. I’ve also done the cover for it as well. The book will be released before Christmas, so it will make a great gift for any horror fan, and/or a fan of my work.

Beside the works for “The Evil Nerd Empire”, between now and Christmas I have to do some movie work, A Movie Poster and DVD cover. I also have an oil painting commission to do as well as several portraits, (They are always very popular around the holidays.) And that doesn’t include the work I have to do for my own company, Wicked Kitty Productions.

For next year, I am already booking up, plus I have a very secret project that I am doing for WKP as well. It is something I have wanted to do for a very long time, but just haven’t had the proper outlet for. Now with our production company I have that opportunity. This is something really big, and I promise every Horror and Fantasy fan out there will love it and it will be a work in progress for years to come.

AS: Wow, that is a lot. At what age did you first take an interest in art?

Demon nurseNR: That is an interesting question. Unlike most artists, I didn’t really take an interest in drawing until I was in the Army. Most artist are drawing while their still in diapers. I would say I was 19 years old before I showed a real interest in drawing.

When I was around 10, my older brother’s wife was an artist and she lived with us while he was in Vietnam. I used to love to sit and watch her draw. I don’t know if anyone will remember, but way back when, they used to run ads in magazines, like “Draw Sparky” to see if you have any artistic talent. “Sparky” was either a turtle head or a mouse head, and I honestly think that anyone could have drawn him without much effort. Any ways you mailed the drawing into the address on the magazine and they would send you back a “test” to take to see if you could be in “Art School” I passed with flying colors (as probably everyone did) and they would send me lessons for some small token of money. Since I was 10 and I didn’t have much money (The story of my Life) that ideal didn’t go any further.

At that point, my creativity took a turn, and I decided I wanted to be a writer. So until I joined the Army, I would type away in my spare time. Thinking back on it, I probably wasn’t very good. But as a teen-ager I was convinced that I would be the next Edgar A. Poe. I hadn’t discovered Lovecraft at this point. I grew up in the Bible belt and Lovecraft books where hard to come by. But once someone turned me on to Lovecraft, I was hooked, and never looked back.

But I didn’t return to art again until my days of serving my country. In the Army, I was a Medic. I didn’t want to shoot people, so I decided to learn how to save their lives instead. But this meant that unless a conflict was going on, I wound up setting out in training areas with nothing to do all day. So, one day I took a few comic books and some drawing paper with me and off I went to the middle of nowhere drawing Spider-man. I know the drawings where probably awful, but they were good enough to keep me interested in drawing. So it became a daily thing. After the Army, I attended a local community college and studied commercial art. That was way back in 1979, and I’ve been drawing ever since. I had my first piece published in 1980 and got paid a whole 10 dollars, but back then 10 bucks was a night on the town.

AS: Your work certainly has a twisted bent to it. What originally inspired you to produce this sort of artwork?

NR: [Laughing] Anthony, it would probably take years of therapy to find out the answer to that one. Seriously though, that has to be answered in two different ways, one pleasant, and the other not. The pleasant version would be the way I grew up, which back in the day when you where lucky to have 3 whole TV channels to choose from. But one thing you could always count on was that every Saturday afternoon, and either late Saturday night or Friday night, there would always be a horror movie on, and you could count on the fact that my little face was glued to the tube!

Also back in the 60’s, it was safe for Parents to drop their kids off at the local Movie Theater to see a double feature while they went shopping or whatever Parents did back in those days. The double feature was always either Horror or Science Fiction. I got to see most of the Hammer films while they were being shown at the movie theaters still, as well as all the wonderful American International films and all the Godzilla movies. Man, that was a magical time! I can say a lot of bad things about my childhood, but all those Saturday afternoons at the double feature watching all the movies that would mold me into the artist that I became, for the most part.

The Dark and Twisted part comes from very deep scars inflected on me by “Family” members, some of them where family by blood and the others by marriage. At 52 years old, I still have horrible nightmares of things those people did to me when I was just a child. It took years for me to learn the difference between love and abuse, good from evil. I could look at these people and see their true faces. The ones that are just below the surface of their skin. Because of this I learned to see things in a twisted way. Now when I watch the news, I see the true faces of murderers, child molesters, and all the monsters out there. Drawing Monsters comes easy to me.

AS: How hard is it to separate yourself from the wicked themes you create?

anewfalsehopefiniwebNR: That’s another really great question and the answer doesn’t come easy, but I will do my best to answer it honestly. Like the question before, this one has two types of answers, the first is what you see on the surface and the second is what is buried down deep in the dark hidden places of my mind.

As an Illustrator my main job is to read a writer’s story and create an image for it that will help sell it to the masses. Sometimes that is a challenge but I just let my imagination take over after I read the story. So, to me, I am not really creating the Illustration, the writer is. I am just a tool that is taken their idea and given it an image to identify with. Sometimes that is very easy and sometimes I pull out my hair trying to come up with an image. Now, after that point, a little of me does come into the picture. The expressions on the character faces, the things in the background, the dark strange looking shapes that there is no name for. But those are just surface things.

On the rare occasion when I do get to paint something from the Dark Recesses of my mind, I normally don’t leave the house or talk to friends in person or the phone. I stay to myself, mostly because I worry that the “Dark Side” of me will ‘scare’ them. Someone once told me “Be careful when you look into the darkness, that the darkness does not look back” or something close to that. I believe that to be true. There has been times I felt like the “Darkness” was watching me.

As far as putting these things down on paper, well, that is coming very soon and the story that goes with them. I am not trying to be dramatic, but I really believe that some folks out there will not be able to handle what I am going to show them and the world as I see it every day. In answer to your question, I cannot separate myself from the wicked things, because I am those wicked things.

AS: Who are some of your major artistic influences?

NR: To be honest Anthony, I can’t think of a single artist that isn’t an influence on me. Every single artist has something unique about their work that inspires me. But some artists stand out a little more to me. Howard Pyle is one of the big ones since I have been trained with his teachings by Master Daniel Horne who is another major influence and dear friend. Todd Lockwood is another. He trained me for a year and became a huge influence to me. Some others that influence me because there styles are so unique are Frazetta, Jeff Jones, Barry Windsor Smith, H.R. Giger to name a very few. Some of the classic Masters that influence me are DaVinci, Monet, Picasso, N.C. Wyeth to name a very few.

AS: Horror has been defined many ways over the years. How would you define it?

NR: Before the age of Movies and Television, horror was a thing of your imagination. It was something you would rarely see in person, such as death. So in that timeframe, War was truly a thing of horror. After Movies and Television are created, death becomes an everyday thing to the average person, including children. Monsters from space and from our imagination become an everyday thing to a point and after a while we become immune to such things. Now War is romantic as well as horrible. The age of film moved horror from our imagination to a stage for celebration and dress up. The things that use to scare us are now the things that amuse us. We spend countless dollars on costumes so we can dress up like our favorite monsters and “Scare” our friends.

The face of “Horror” has changed. It takes more and more to scare us. For a while Hollywood thought, “Gore” was the answer, but it wasn’t. It just cut into the profit made from snacks at the Theater. Hollywood has run out of options. They have remade the movies of past that scared audiences 50 years ago, but now make them yawn. They have spent countless millions on special effects that do not scare the audience any more than the old ones did.

So what is the answer? The answer is in your imagination. Last year I was surfing around the internet and ran across a site that offered up old horror radio shows that you could listen too. I immediately feel in love with the site. I could listen to these classic old horror radio shows while I worked and my imagination came alive! I was seeing visions of horror I had never seen in my mind. I was truly inspired, and I realized that to truly be frighten once again, you had to go back to ones imagination, stir it up and breath life back into it.

This task will fall back into the hands of writers and artist once again. It will be up to us to bring back the imaginations of the people out there that love to be scared. It will be up to us to bring new idea’s to Hollywood and Television that will make watching a new movie something to be excited about once again.

AS: Nick, what is the best advice you’ve been given with regard to your artwork.

NR: “Why don’t you paint some Barns, or Cowboys? Something people want to see!” This was the advice my Mother gave me. Good thing I never listened to her, huh? I think the best advice I ever got was from Daniel Horne. He told me to “Throw your heart into the painting and then dive in after it!”

AS: What tips can you give to aspiring artists to help them get started?

bloodlinesfiniwebNR: If you can’t afford to go to a good art school, go here and read the book Creative Illustration. This is the bible of the illustration market. Even though the book is 70 years old, everything except for the advertising chapters still apply today. Read and study this book until you have it memorized. Work on learning and applying values to your work every day. Build a portfolio that is very strong in the use of values. Learn to draw anything and everything. Sketch at least 30 minutes every day. I do first thing in the morning just to loosen up, before I start work on the money jobs.

And last, but not least by any means, is to learn good work ethics. Learn and Practice good manners. This is something that people will remember about you and they will respect it and like it. Ask yourself, would you rather work with someone who uses bad language, doesn’t meet deadlines, and puts down other people or would you rather work with the person that always has the assignment in ahead of time and is polite and pleasant to deal with?

There are 100’s of very talented artist out there, and I don’t care how good you are. There is always someone better. The person that is pleasant to work with is going to get the job in the end. Remember this, and you will always have work to do.

AS: What is the best compliment you have received about your art?

NR: “Man, that’s freaking me out.”

AS: Nick, I want to thank you again for taking the time to sit with us. It has been enlightening.

NR: Peace and Blessings.

If you would like to know more about Nick and his many, many projects, check out his website at http://www.wickedkittystudio.com.

Support our ‘Zines Day

It may come as a surprise that such a day even exists (it did to me) but today, October 1st, is Support out ‘Zines Day.

The short fiction market has been in a state of decline for years, if not decades. I could go on and on as to what might be to blame for this but there is really only one solution. People like yourself, like me, need to bite the bullet and subscribe to that magazine or online magazine that we read every day. Maybe you love the fantastic fiction that you find over at Fantasy Magazine. Go make a donation! Perhaps you wait on baited breath for the latest Fantasy and Science Fiction but still haven’t made the commitment of a subscription. Maybe it’s time.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Realms of Fantasy, Clarkesworld… the list goes on and on. Each and every one of these magazines exists because someone like you loves robot prostitutes and dystopian governments and angry leprechauns and bug eyed aliens so much that they are willing to work for peanuts to bring imaginative fiction to you every day, week or month. But they have operating costs. They have to pay for art and stories and web hosting.

Next time you read a story that makes you forget about the problems in your life. Makes the sluggish economy and your boss and your screaming kids and your snippy spouse all disappear for just a few minutes. Think about giving back.

The point is that you are here on this site because you love fiction, specifically speculative fiction. If you don’t support these wonderful publications, who will?

Fashionably Late to the Party: Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress, best known for her novel Beggars in Spain, recently released her latest novel, Stealing Across the Sky from Tor Books. Those are just two of her 26 novels and you can find her short fiction in seemingly dozens of anthologies and print publications. From the looks of her bibliography, she must have her own parking space as Asimov’s.

You can learn more about Nancy at her official blog, http://nancykress.blogspot.com/.

Nancy, thank you for taking the time to sit with us today. Let’s get started.

Anthony Sullivan: What is your opinion on revisions, re-writes, etc? Is there such a thing as re-writing too much?

Nancy Kress: Yes, one can rewrite too much, and when that happens it’s usually to a writer who is reluctant to send anything out and thus risk failure. I’ve seen students bring the same story to workshops for because “it’s not quite right yet.” But the more prevalent problem is not re-writing enough, either because one doesn’t know how to revise or because the writer can’t see the story flaws. That comes with practice.

Anthony: In your opinion, what are the five most common problems aspirants have?

Nancy: Not writing enough. This is by far the biggest problem. You learn by doing.

Not reading enough.

The ending that does not fulfill what the story promised to deliver.

The long expository opening not in story-time: background or flashback or whatever.

Lack of specific sharp images in the prose, which usually goes along with excess wordiness.

Anthony: What conventions or conferences would you recommend that aspirants attend, as part of their professional development?

Nancy: If it can be managed, an aspiring writer will learn a lot at the six-week conferences: Clarion, Clarion West, or Odyssey. If not, attending a few regional cons big enough to attract a variety of writers is good for hearing various points of view on craft. And some of them run advance-enrollment workshops.

Anthony: Is short story writing essential to breaking in, or can someone work exclusively on novels and still break in?

Nancy: There are natural short story writers, natural novelists, and people who can do both. If you can publish a few short stories, it certainly helps in getting your novel looked at by agents and editors. Also, you learn faster since a short story is much less investment of time while you make all the usual mistakes. But if not, you can still work exclusively on novels, yes.

Anthony: Do you believe in the million words theory; that all aspirants must write roughly a million words before they’re generally competent enough to sell?

Nancy: No. It varies. Robert Silverberg sold his first story. There are a lot of other variables to breaking in besides word count. I didn’t write a million words before my stories started to sell, no where near that.

Anthony: Why do you feel agents have increasingly been made ‘keepers of the slush pile’?

Nancy: Because editors are overworked and harassed by publishers, accountants, and market departments. It’s easier to let agents pre-screen books than to read everything that comes in over the transom. Agents only make money if a book sells, so it’s in their interest to back ones that they think have a higher chance of doing so.

Anthony: Can you offer some suggestions for making the first scene or first chapter in your story leap out at an editor?

Nancy: Get characters , preferably more than one , on stage immediately, doing something, preferably something in which the outcome is uncertain. This means not starting with one character waking up, going through his or her daily routine, or ruminating about the past or future. Use a lot of dialogue, if you possibly can. Make the prose sharp and specific. Hint at larger conflicts or issues to come.

Anthony: You’ve been doing this for so long; is there anything remarkable or significant you personally have learned about writing in the last year?

Nancy: It never gets routine. In the last year I’ve had a novel rejected, won a Hugo, sold a trilogy, written a story I disliked that sold, written a story I liked that did not (so far, anyway), had good reviews and mediocre reviews for the same book. This job never becomes stale.

Anthony: Do you think the industry is easier or harder to break into now, compared to when you broke in?

Nancy: Much harder. There are fewer short-story venues and publishers are more reluctant to take on novels that are not obviously commercial. I don’t think I could have sold my first two novels in today’s market. And I see student work which I think is wonderful but which somehow cannot find a market.

Anthony: Are there any new, significant barriers standing between aspirants and pro status, now, compared to when you broke in?

Nancy: I’m not sure what you mean by “new barriers.” A poor economy always means dropping workers , including writers , viewed as “less productive” of profit.

Anthony: Your novel Stealing Across the Sky is about an alien race that comes to Earth seeking to atone for some wrong they committed long ago. How did you come up with this idea?

Nancy: I never know how I come up with any of my ideas. They just sort of appear one day, and my great fear is that one day, they won’t. I’m not one of those writers who say, “Oh, ideas are cheap, I have a million of them.” I don’t.

Anthony: The novel is written as more of a discovery/milieu story. What sort of obstacles did you encounter while writing this sort of piece?

Nancy: Just the usual obstacles: the beginning, middle, and end. I don’t outline, and I don’t know the ending of anything when I start writing, so no matter the structure, I’m always groping my way blindly through it. This is not an efficient working method, but it seems to be the only way I can write.

Anthony: At what point, growing up, did you know that you wanted to become a writer?

Nancy: Not until I was nearly thirty. I was late coming to the party.

Anthony: What creative influences do you feel impacted your writing style most?

Nancy: Probably everything I ever read. Since my favorite writers are Ursula LeGuin, Jane Austen and Somerset Maugham, and since they seem to have nothing in common, I can’t really give a more precise answer to this question.

Anthony: As an aspiring writer, I go through lulls and manic periods in my writing. What motivates you when slogging through those less than exciting passages?

Nancy: Discipline, plus economic necessity. I’ve been a full-time writer for nearly twenty years, so I’m accustomed to getting up, having coffee, and getting right to the computer. Working at the same time on work days tends to produce more reliable cooperation from the subconscious, that vital collaborator. Also, if I don’t write, I can’t pay the bills. This tends to keep one slogging.

Anthony: The internet has changed the industry for writers, readers and publishers. What has been the biggest change for you?

Nancy: I think the transition to digital from print is only in its infancy. I’ve published on-line at venues like Jim Baen’s Universe, but they tend to fold because no one has really yet figured out how to make much money in Internet fiction. I have work available for the Kindle, including STEAL ACROSS THE SKY and BEGGARS IN SPAIN, but Kindle sales account for less than 1% of fiction sales in the U.S. So at this point, the impact on me has been minimal, but that may change. The real difference so far is that now much of the business side of writing is handled on-line instead of by phone or letter.

Anthony: What changes for the publishing industry do you see on the horizon?

Nancy: Haven’t a clue.

Anthony: I recently read Images of Anna, a story of yours published in Fantasy Magazine. I found Anna to be a very vivid character. How much time do you spend working on a character like her?

Nancy: I can usually do a short story in a week or two. The character, including Anna, almost always occurs to me bundled with the story’s original idea. The details of character come to me during the process of writing.

Anthony: Do you feel you spend more time on a novel character than a short story character?

Nancy: I don’t understand that question. Of course a novel takes longer to write, so I’m spending more time with/on the character. But there is no difference in any pre-writing character study (which I seldom do).

Anthony: What can you tell us about your upcoming projects? I think I heard you had some short fiction coming up in Fantasy Magazine?

Nancy: I usually publish short fiction in ASIMOV’S, and in the last two years I’ve published eight stories there, including “The Erdmann Nexus” that won a Hugo this year. I go in spurts of short-story writing, and that one is played out. Now I’m working on novels.

Anthony: Thanks again for your time, Nancy.

Also, a special thanks to Brad Torgersen and Jennifer Wendorf for your help with questions for Nancy.