31 May 2011 ~ 1 Comment

Daily Science Fiction: February Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Onward! Still plugging away. It feels as if I am finally making ground reviewing this very ambitious project.

This month we have the return of Cat Rambo and the debut of the very successful Jay Lake, but it is also the month that has the most unfamiliar authors to me yet. I believe it is because this is when Daily Science Fiction had reached its stride in the industry. Because of the its pay scale, ease of its submission process, volume of material needed, and friendly availability to its readers; the amount of fresh material and authors , both pro and amateur , likely surpassed or equaled any other publication about the time Jon and Michele received the stories that ended up in this month’s email out. It is a testament of the success of this innovative project. The readers and authors have realized how good of a publication Daily Science Fiction has become. When is the rest of the industry going to acknowledge it?

I will continue to beat the drum, but I’m having trouble turning up the noise.

 

The Stories

“The Elephant Man’s Love Child” by Leslie What (debut 2/1) is the story of a girl imprisoned in a hospital. The girl is the discarded offspring of the Elephant Man, abandoned for unknown reasons by her mother. She gazes at a photo of her father every night, wishing she could be a part of his life.

I can’t really see the point of this story. The protagonist’s plight is sad but nothing much happened in it. This is a tale where the author’s comments would have been useful.

 

The protagonist is an imprisoned fairy in “E is for Excrement” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 2/2). The fairy has been caged by the MacAllister family for generations and now is the property of a college boy. The first rule on caring for the magical being is to never let him out of the cage. The lad lives in a dorm, a place filled with mischievous young men influenced by peer pressure. A chance for freedom is available thanks to the boys’ desire to try the outrageous.

This brief lettered tale was neat. Gross when you really think about it but done cleverly from the perspective of a clever protagonist. A very nice work of flash.

 

“The Uncharted Isle” by James Hutchings (debut 2/3 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) asks if you ever sat and pondered where that old flame is today? Is she married, with kids? Does she ever sit and ponder where you are? Well here’s the answer.

Nice little thought exercise, sort of Ulysses for the modern man. This little ditty touches on the deepest desires of us all, the desire to be loved, in a short little story.

 

In “Imaginary Enemies” by Colum Paget (debut 2/4 and reviewed by James Hanzelka), Sandra Barclay is in a contest of wills, with herself. Her personality has been split by a radical medical procedure and now she is tormented by her alternate personality, Ingrid. A new procedure can restore her personality, but can she live with herself afterward?

Reminiscent of a common theme of P.K. Dick, what is reality, this story looks at it from the standpoint of the individual. The question of who we are and what we are is deftly handled and leads to an interesting conclusion.

 

“Gathering Glory” by Steve Stanton (debut 2/7 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). Nigel Harris meets his publisher for the first time at a conference. He soon discovered the meeting was more than just about his first story. He was to discover more about himself than he thought.

This story covers some familiar ground with a different perspective. It was interesting to see how the author pulled together the threads of the story. In the end, however, it still seemed a little too familiar.

 

Reliving cherished memories can have many benefits in “Memory Bugs” by Alter S. Reiss (debut 2/8). The protagonist has a memory hive in his home, bugs that record events in your life. He uses the bugs to remember fine details of his date with Susan, beneficial when you wish to impress, debilitating when memories become more important than new experiences.

The memory hive is a tool the protagonist needs for his job. The bugs in them imprint fine details and pass them along into mites (in which you ingest) so you can re-experience them later. The story focuses on the protagonists evolving relationship with his girl, covering several years in a few paragraphs, and takes the shape of an addiction tale. How they work was glossed over. The protagonist’s inability to grasp the downsides of overusing the hive made him unlikable.

Interesting concept pasted onto a plotline that has been told in variety of ways. Not a grand story but okay.

 

“F is Forever” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 2/9) is about one hell of a resort and spa! Hell has become kinder and gentler. The damned are now treated to a heavenly vacation. Each customer has the ultimate pleasure just a fingertip away, and it won’t get any closer.

“F” is hell with a makeover. Eternal damnation has changed with the times, as has its choice of fitting torture. Entertaining work of flash. I liked it.

 

In “Swallowing Ghosts” by Cat Rambo (debut 2/10 and reviewed by Anonymous), a boy, never named, fails to cover his mouth with his hand when he yawns and his dead Grandma’s warning comes to pass; he swallows a ghost (see title). Said unnamed boy troops over to his Grandpa and, despite his ghost-acquired handicap of involuntary verbal gobbledy-gook, is able to recruit the eccentric old man to his ghost bustin’ cause.

But can Grandpa exorcise the ectoplasmic visitor?

I have read quite a few Cat Rambo stories, and although this isn’t my favourite story–it’s pretty short and fairly simplistic–I still like it. It doesn’t showcase her talents in quite the way I have seen in some of her more complex and darker stories. That said, this story is simply a bit of fun.

 

“The Birdcage Heart” by Peter M Ball (debut 2/11 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) begins with a hint of sadness and a touch of cruelty and degrades from there. It also began with such a foreign concept that it was initially hard to imagine and grasp. Yet, the human mind adapts and soon I had accepted that a man literally has a bird cage in his chest in which various species of birds are kept.

The man’s affections for a woman whose motivation reeked of fetishism was sympathetic. Most of us have been in poisonous relationships where we’ve done the bulk of the changing. The man in this story is no different, only, he’s got a bird cage in his chest cavity.

The story circles around to where it began, and the man learns to trust himself. After taking so much external emotional damage, he’s able to risk some internal for the sake of allowing himself to feel an attachment to the birds he keeps within himself.

I appreciated the metaphor at the end of the story, but found the journey to get there a bit cumbersome.

 

“Boy Seeds” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (debut 2/14 and reviewed by Dustin Adams), suffers from one major and devastating problem: it is too short. It’s a novella or novel crammed into short form, and while the story itself was interesting enough, I found I couldn’t latch on to any one aspect of it because of the speed in which it moved. One does not visit a fine art gallery then run full tilt through it.

Noma lives in a Big Brother like society in which she’s expected to conform to certain normalities. However, she’s always had her own mind and has gotten into trouble for this in the past. So, when it’s time for her to grow her own boy, she dives in and invents one who is sure to touch her heart. However, with an expiration date of six months, this is not a wise idea.

The story ends sort of abruptly and if there’s a moral, I didn’t discover it, however I do believe this is merely a fault of the story’s length. If it were say a hundred pages, or two or three, I would read every word because that is what this idea needs. It needs to grow, and live – for more than six months.

 

A sick mother, approaching army, and a ribbon-happy shaman shape “A Ribbon For A Shaman” by S. J. Hirons (debut 2/15). The protagonist is a young man. His father cares for his ill mother while the silent shaman ties a ribbon around everything of value, a sign that it should be left alone. The village worries for the sanity of their shaman and consider replacing him. The protagonist is not ready to give up on his mother, or the shaman, and learns the old man has plans for him.

“Ribbon” is a complicated tale. The author wrote the shaman as a man losing it. The rules of the ribbon seemed silly to me though. I saw no reason why the ribbon law had to be obeyed. A hint of a consequence would have made the story more convincing for me. Not a bad piece but sticking with the story took a bit effort.

 

Mal’llandri, God of a Thousand Tongues, has come to Earth in “G is for Graven” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 2/16). The god destroys Las Vegas as demonstration of his power. He rewards worshippers with supernatural gifts. The sculpturist protagonist wishes for the power of psychometry to help her improve as an artist. She should be wary of all-powerful gifts from all-powerful beings.

“G” is the tale of misguided faith. The new god proves to be more devious than his mortal cohort’s envision. The protagonist unwittingly discovers how a gift she thought would help her create would destroy her humanity. A well-done letter.

 

In “Tonight with Words Unspoken” by Jeff Samson (debut 2/17) a couple is off to make a new home on a distant world. They have developed a habit of falling asleep and waking separately as a couple and decide they should enter their deep-sleep chambers the same way. Habits can be difficult to break, and some can break the habit makers when broken.

“Tonight” is a dark tale of grief. The ending, although sad, became an unnecessary travesty compounded. The enormous expense of traveling to another star is erased by the protagonist’s inability to adjust to loss. I’d hope any psychological examine would weed out individuals like him.

 

“Rinse or Repeat” by Sylvia Hiven (debut 2/18) is the tale of an unfaithful man hoping to fix the mistakes of his past. In a modern day Manhattan populated with immigrating mythical beings, Gabriel braves Chinatown in hopes of finding a displacer. The middle-aged husband of an understanding wife fell hard for a fairy and now wants to return to the moment when he first pumped into the Merridy Redwing to prevent the events that ruined his marriage and eventually broke his heart. It is regret that leads Gabriel to take this fateful step, but desire can prove to be an equally powerful of an emotion.

“Rinse or Repeat” is a short but full tale. The story is under 5000 words but had more detail, setting, and intrigue than most novelette size tales. Ms. Hiven wrote a very convincing love-struck Gabriel a year removed from a steaming affair. She set him in a New York with dragons lurking in the shadows and fairies intermingling as temptress vixens run amok. We view a society in which fairies take advantage of men and get a brief insight of their non-human motivations. Ms. Hiven also introduces us to a method of time travel with clear and strict rules, an important element for me (can’t make time travel too easy).

Gabriel is resolute in his decision to change his past. His earlier risk-taking confirms his commitment to the reader. But as the story evolves, and the more we learn of affair, his resolution starts to waver. The ending serves as the pinnacle of the tale, Gabriel standing at a fateful, irreversible moment between desire and healing.

I was very satisfied when I reached the end of this story, but it wasn’t until I wrote this review that I learned how much I really enjoyed it. I didn’t think I would be praising it so much but I am impressed with the impression it has left on me. This is the first work of Sylvia Hiven I have read. I will be looking forward to her next. Recommended

 

In “Vestigial Organs” by Katie H. Camp (debut 2/21 and reviewed by Anonymous), a couple is worried about their child who appears to be special. She laughs at things the parents don’t understand, steals toys from other children without them realising; the parents consult a physician who quickly diagnoses the problem–her eyes function perfectly. She lives in a society of blind people who don’t like the advantage it confers on the odd person born with eyes, but they have a solution for this problem…

I thought the story was well written, but felt the premise was weak. I am no expert, but seeing confers a major survival advantage, which was the major complaint the parents seemed to be making, they couldn’t control the young child (ergo, an advantage). What about the poor or those who can’t afford physicians? No society is without its critics andÂI wondered how this society could defend itself against a single determined sighted man.

In the Country of the Blind, the One-Eyed man is king.

A story isn’t merely its prose, characters, or dialogue, it is also the premise.ÂFor me the premise seemed flawed, which sapped the pleasure from this well-written tale.

 

A gun is the main protagonist in “Hello, said the Gun” by Jay Lake (debut 2/22). The story is of an artificially intelligent handgun who was left in an oak tree a century and a half before. He encounters a girl who happens to be walking by. Lonely and neglected, the gun seeks to be held once again.

“Hello, said the Gun” is a tale with twin perspectives. We learn of a character known as only ‘Girl’, a loner left to fend for herself in a harsh world. She is wary of Men and her solitude has left her suspicious of everything. Gun only wants to talk to someone. It’s AI programming has allowed it to learn, adapt, and improve on itself. Being left in a tree for so long runs counter to what its designers intended for it. Of the two characters, the weapon comes off as the one most human.

Jay Lake’s accomplishments speak for itself. So impressive they are that the editor’s joked that their publication “â€set a record for being the longest to publish a Jay Lake” tale. Well I think it may have been wise to wait a bit longer. As always, Mr. Lake has a way with words that makes his stories easy to follow, but switching perspectives in a tight narrative rarely works, and it certainly didn’t work in this one. I had a problem with a premise that had a character who experienced so little human interaction in her life (talking about the human one here) and yet was able to converse fluently. The ending also came off as non-eventful to me.

I have read plenty Jay Lake stories and found them fabulous. The praise for most of his work is well deserved but with this one instance, I am left disappointed.

 

An old racing mare is the subject of “H is for Horse” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 2/23). She has lived a long life, birthing many champion horses. She longs not for her youth when she could run like the wind but of a majestic prince she knew long ago. Fine horses like herself are often treated like princesses. This princess awaits her prince.

“H” is a story with a unique twist, one you won’t suspect. The authors did well using the perspective of a horse without turning into a Disney-cartoonish narrative. The ending of this flash piece is done really well. I rather liked this letter of the quartets.

 

Paolo wants to forget in “Trick of Memory” by D. A. D’Amico (debut 2/24). He wishes to erase the memory of his time with his abusive wife, Lisa, and has purchased a pill called Vive. The drug has the capability to erase recent pain, in moderation, but Paolo just swallowed an entire dose just as Lisa walks in. The couple duel as Paolo waits for her to be a stranger to him once again. Lisa can’t just let him off that easy. Being a tormentor can require some craftiness.

“Trick of Memory” is an odd tale. Although it isn’t really one, I liken it to a couple’s final moments, as one is about to commit suicide in front of the other. Paolo has suffered some wicked abuse over the months and erasing his memory of her comes across as his way of giving her the finger rather than an escape from pain. Lisa seems to delight in giving him hell, and reacts as if letting him off the hook would be like allowing him to escape the fiery underworld while she was left to burn in its flames.

The story I found very interesting but following a dysfunctional couple, not bright enough to part ways, made it tough for me to care what happened to them.

 

An old family harpsichord returns in “The Mysterious Barricades” by Lyn C.A. Gardner (debut 2/25). The musical instrument has been in Lucy’s family for years. Believed to be lost in a fire that killed her mother years ago, it has been returned to her, partially restored. The harpsichord has a history of dividing her family, and now it has ended up with her just as the love of her life, Adrienne, is leaving for a job in Paris. Now old memories are reborn to mingle with a present that is crumbling around her.

“The Mysterious Barricades” is a weird ghost story. Lucy is a woman who is suffers from separation anxiety. She can’t handle Adrienne out of her life. The harpsichord is anchor to her past. Family ghosts haunt it. They replay old events in her life and help her reassemble the old musical machine. The flashbacks that play before her eyes remind her of the effect it had as its very presence drove a wedge between her parents and grandparents. The strange events all lead to an odd climax, and strange ending.

It was a weird trip following this story. Lucy story may be more of one person’s mental breakdown than it was about ghosts.

 

“Waiting in the Corners” by Brian Dolton (debut 2/28) is more of a confessional than a story. The mysterious narrator is elusive about who and what it is, hinting that is less a thing of substance but an instiller of fear and apprehension.

I really don’t know how to comment on this one. The narrator seems to be warning the reader without implying any kind of threat. It is ominous but harmless at the same time. In short, it becomes a journey into a haunted house that is scarier on the outside than the inside.

 

Analysis

The Alphabet Quartet still delights me, as does the growing variety of fiction and authors. On to March.

Frank Dutkiewicz, Dustin Adams, and Anonymous each contributed to this review and all had their turn in the sun. Time to shine a light on someone else.

James A. Hanzelka graduated from University of Utah with a degree in Chemistry in 1972. After graduation he became the property of the US Army for the next twenty years. He later found work as a Physical Scientist, developing test methods for evaluation chemical defense equipment for the US Forces. He has developed several unique methodologies, which resulted in both National and International awards. He was a member of the international community developing standards for protective equipment used by militaries around the world. He is the author of over 150 different technical documents and papers. Since 1998 he has been involved in private consulting on chemical defense equipment development, and is currently in pursuit of a career in writing. He holds degrees in chemistry and industrial engineering and claims to know nothing of a guardian angel that hovers over his left shoulder.

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