30 April 2012 ~ 3 Comments

Daily Science Fiction: January 2012 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

One of my reviewers called me out the other dayâ€

“â€It creates a credibility problem for you when you take Tangent and Locus to task for not covering Daily Science Fiction, then fall four months behind on your reviews.”

Guilty as charged. As I said to him, I could give plenty of valid excuses for falling behind but excuses is all they would be. I made a pledge that I would continue to review Daily Science Fiction as long as I stayed at least six months current. Complacency, and nothing else, allowed me to get lax in my duties. It is my new pledge to be as current as possible. One reason why I have taken on this task to review this much-ignored, but strong in quality, SFWA-qualified magazine is because authors like to see that their hard work has been read, and appreciated.

So to live up to my part of the bargain, here are this month’s storiesâ€

 

“Happy Birthday” by Sara Thursta (debut 1/2 and reviewed by Frank D). A family puts on a show for their father, an astronaut in deep space. It is his birthday, once again.

“Happy Birthday” examines a hazard of space travel, time differential. The astronaut’s dutiful family does their part to keep his spirits up. Cute, but the premise has a huge hole in it. How could any conversation be conducted if the difference in which time travels is as glaring the story suggested?

 

A man misses his wife but believes he’s found a replacement in “Still Life Through Water Droplets” by D. Thomas Minton (debut 1/3 and reviewed by Frank D). Brandon lost his wife to cancer but saved her personality. All he needs is a suitable ‘volunteer’ to download all she was into a fresh body. The local pick-up joint is a good place to find one.

Odette seems to be the perfect woman. Lovely, out of town, and eager to spend some time with him, Brandon finally has the opportunity he has been waiting for, all he needs now is the courage to go through with it.

“Still Life” is a theft, theft of a body for a new soul. The story is clever but predictable once it gets rolling. Mr Minton shows his writing skills off with this brief tale.

 

A Christian spy seeks to discover the secrets ofÂÏ€ (pi) in “The Mind of Allah” by Stephen Gaskell (debut 1/4 and reviewed by Frank D). Emiliano has penetrated the home of a famed Moslem mathematician. Faisal al-Khalsi has calculated pi to a ninth place. Emiliano is eager to find out how he calculates the strange equation and suspects the answers lie in the basement of Faisal’s home.

This historical story reminds me of Harry Turtledove’s alternative history short story collection Agent of Byzantium, both in style and premise. I found it to be well thought-out and clever, although barely speculative. As a lover of AH, I thoroughly enjoy it.

 

Two brothers return to Earth to cash in on a get rich quick scheme in “Saviors” by James Beamon (debut 1/5 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist endures MEAT and VEGETABLE rations to join his brother on his hair-brained idea, unaware that mankind’s abandoned home world is their destination. The planet is off limits and empty of useful raw material. What could this locked-in-an-ice age-world possibly hold? It’s been picked clean of everything except thousands of cryogenically frozen people left behind.

This tale was about as appetizing as the ration packs the two characters held. Strong writing but the plot left much to be desired. Points added for the author using himself as a prop though. The only real problem for me was the reveal. Really? That’s what’s going to make them rich? Minor issues with the premise (no one’s enforcing the Heritage Laws?) but as a humor piece, it kind of works.

 

“Calling Down the Moon” by Diana Sherman (debut 1/6 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) Jason Marsten has just lost his mother and now his father is sending him to live with his aunt. The boy wants to stay with his father, in the mountains, by the observatory he loves. Daniel realizes his son needs more. While the father is making arrangements the son goes outside and falls from a tree into a cold dark lake. He is saved by a woman named Cynthia, the embodiment of the moon goddess Diana. The story is about the relationship between father and son, as well as the love they both share for the lure of the moon.

I liked this story a lot. The embodiment of the moon in a woman who serves as nurse, friend, mother and confidant is nice. I thought the opening could have been handled a little more smoothly to bring you into the story better, but that is a small quibble. I found myself drawn in anyway, and I was drawn to the characters. Their feeling for each other and Jason’s son really comes through. In the end this is a story about fathers and sons.

 

“Look Who Came to Dinner” by Susan Franceschina (debut 1/9 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). Marcia’s just had her first close encounter. An alien just walked in on her taking a bath. She calls Randy for sympathy, but he calmly explains that the visitors are just curious and goes over some things she can do next time. Marcia’s still mad and even more taken aback when she discovers the alien is still there.

This was a nice little story. It had some witty, dry comedy and a pretty nice twist at the end that most will appreciate. I was a little put off at the start because the wording was a little like the audience was younger, but after the first few paragraphs it grew up. Nice premise and nicely handled otherwise.

 

“Electric Company” by Melissa Mead (debut 1/10 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). Emily Marcia Stewart’s faithful TV has died. In an effort to replace the loneliness in her house she visits the adoption center looking for a new set. She’s put off by the brash new models, so she journeys to Schenectady, NY., the home of the wild appliance park. After many adventures with wild residents she comes to find a human partner, and a few electrical ones as well.

This is a nice anthropomorphic story, similar to “The Bicycle Rebellion” story of last year. The humor in this piece is front and center and the author has some nice puns included, like the stream of flowing electrical current. The opening was a little too generic for me because it took until she gets to Schenectady for me to realize the main character is female. That small quibble aside, this story was nicely written and the sense of humor came through quite well.

 

“Things Exist by Imitation of Numbers” by Benjamin Rosenbaum (debut 1/11 and reviewed by Dustin Adams). This story is smarter than me. Which is fine, I can accept that. Reading along I tried to find a common ground with a story clearly outside my intelligence. Poetic, yes. But what… else?

In the end, the author comments are the only words that made sense to me. In the end, I didn’t get it, but apparently, it’s there.

What this story is about, is how it goes about doing it. Normally, that’s a huge plus for me, but this time, I was just lost. Hopelessly lost.

 

“Into the Forest” by Dana Dupont (debut 1/12 and reviewed by Dustin Adams). Upon a second reading, I appreciated/liked this story more. I think because I knew the surprise, I could better watch for the set up.

To tell any of the plot, is to give away the plot, but with a story this short, I’d suggest giving it a read. It’s complete in its brevity, and not the worse for it.

Although I rated the story 3 of 7 rocket dragons, due to it’s use of a common trope, I appreciated the writing, and the skill behind it, as I’ve come to expect from DSF stories.

 

“Sixty-one by Seventy” by K. G. Jewell (debut 1/13 and reviewed by Dustin Adams). After Ted Winstead retired, he looked forward into the mundane, boring emptiness and made a decision. He’d visit each of Saturn’s 61 moons, taking a chunk of rock as a souvenir from each, and getting his name in the record books as the first to do so.

No rush. That is, until a bouncy, young student named Elise sets out to beat him to the punch. (Her motivation is classic.)

With two moons to go, there’s a showdown. Whose got what it takes to be the first to all 61 moons?

You’ll have to read for yourself.

 

“Do I Tell Her” by Steven Peck (debut 1/16 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter) is the agonizing thoughts of a husband who is trying to decide whether to tell his wife she’s a clone, copied when the original died in an accident. Classic surprise ending. The author teaches bioethics: “I started wondering what ethical issues might come into play if you could actually make a copy of someone (including their neurology). The technology may be here soon. Already people are making micro-scans of brains and cloning is making progress. It may not be long before the elements of this story could actually take place.”

 

“Dumb as Dirt” by Garth Upshaw (debut 1/17 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter). Two boys play a prank on some zombies. The mother of one boy severely scolds him and punishes him. He doesn’t understand why she takes the situation so seriously. In a surprise ending, she reveals why. The storytelling style is folksy, first person narrative.

 

You might remember Nancy Fulda from her recent Nebula stories “Flashback” and “Movement.” After reading these two stories, I wrote to her to say, “I’ve read only two of your stories, but they both have something in common and I’ve guessing your other stories do too. A lot of writers have talent and experience, so when they get an idea, they can whip out a story. But it’s all formula and no passion. Your stories are loaded with passion.” Well, it’s too early to say, but I might have been wrong. “All or Nothing “by Nancy Fulda (debut 1/18 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter) is cleaver and vivid, but there’s not much passion.

Tommy and Edna are childhood friends. In the opening sequence, she pronounces him a zero. He lets the words affect him and never amounts to anything as a child. He even scores zero on his exams. In the second half for the story, his efforts to romance her lead to inventions and discoveries involving the number zero - frictionless, perpetual motion machine; research paper defining a new mathematical system based on division by zero; architectural diagram for a zero-energy house; industrial method for burning fossil fuels without carbon emissions; existence of the zeroth element on the periodic table; zero-point energy.

“Edna Peterson stood with her hands on her skirt and her feet planted in the dark, rumpled soil of the rutabaga patch. Her eyes scrunched into an expression of righteous fury exclusively reserved for seven-year-old girls.” “Tommy Jenkins borrowed his Dad’s beat-up saw and cut scrap wood into building blocks. He built towers so high he had to stand on a chair to reach the top, with arches and buttresses and entire platforms spanning the length of the kitchen. â€˜It won’t fall down unless you push on it,’ he told Edna when her mother sent her over to borrow a cup of sugar. â€˜All the forces are in equilibrium’. Edna scratched her elbow and didn’t want to admit that she didn’t know what ‘equilibrium’ meant. She edged out the doorway without saying anything.”

These scenes are so well written, I can picture them in my mind almost as well as if they were on a movie screen. It reminds me of the stories in my middle school reading textbook: impressively descriptive, but not terribly meaningful. “All or Nothing” is cute and enjoyable, but I’ll take passionate any day.

This story is part of a series by four established authors who refer to themselves as the Numbers Quartet. Every story is based on a dozen physical and mathematical constants - pi, infinity, speed of light, etc. In this case, the number zero. The other three authors are Aliette de Bodard, Stephen Gaskell, and Benjamin Rosenbaum. All the stories are short pieces and were published in Daily Science Fiction between January 12 and March 28, 2012. The stories appeared in chronological sequence, with the oldest developed concept, pi, being first.

While I would prefer Fulda keep her stories in the passion vein, I applaud her versatility and will continue to follow her career.

 

“The Professor’s Boy” by Erik Goranson (debut 1/19 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter). A knowledge “vampire,” referred to as a “collector,” targets a dying professor. The extraction process - nanomites injected through his IV - involves the death of the “host.” After a surprise encounter with the professor’s boy, the collector realizes he got a bit more than he bargained for.

 

“The Stoker Memorandum” by Lavie Tidhar (debut 1/20 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter) is part alternate history, part horror, part alien, part conspiracy. The prose is tedious and full of 19th century names and the writing style seems like it deliberately imitates 19th century literature, so the story is hard to follow. It has something to do with reptile royalty on the throne in Europe, monsters created by a Jekyll-Frankenstein serum, other monsters that are half machine, and an impending extra-terrestrial invasion. However you define this genre, you have to be hard core to relish this story.

 

Johnny has failed his drug test and may get kicked out of school in “Midnight at River’s Edge” by Ron Collins (debut 1/23 and reviewed by Frank D). His father has given him an ultimatum. John now must make a choice. What he really wants to do is be an artist but drugs and art do not mix.

“Midnight” is so much like a thousand tales in everyday kids these days except it has a speculative twist that was way too obvious considering where it debuted. Mr Collins talents adds a bit of flavor to this vanilla-ish tale.

 

Evolution adapts to pollution in “Inconstant Nature” by Colum Paget (debut 1/24 and reviewed by Frank D). Earth’s species are changing and thriving in the cesspool man has created. Plants and animals are now adding to the toxic environment, making the air unbreathable to man. So many species have died but a few of the lower life forms have adapted. Olisa has created a mixture of tailored species to combat the evolved toxic species and reclaim the Earth, but the new species have adapted to the new environment, and may not give in without a fight.

“Inconstant Nature” centers on two observers, Olisa and Zina. Zina is more at home in this new and dangerous world while Olisa may be homo-sapiens’ last best chance to survive. I found the plot inventive but the storyline began to wander. I did see the twist coming (one hint too many) but I won’t claim it was obvious. I did like the tale but wasn’t overwhelmed with it.

 

“i: the imaginary quantity equal to the square root of minus one–symbol i, first quantified through the work of Rafael Bombelli in 1572 AD.” So begins “The Death and Rebirth of Anne Bonny” by Nancy Fulda (debut 1/25 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter). Neither Anne Bonny nor any of the 3 main characters actually die in this story. Anne Bonny was an 18th century female Irish pirate who operated in the Caribbean . The main character and her father pretend she’s Anne Bonny as they roam the beach in search of pretend buried treasure, pretending they are guided by fake maps. They are accompanied by a pretend parrot appropriately named Aye, as in aye matey, who figures significantly in the story. The catch is, the girl doesn’t know its all make believe. When she realizes her father made the maps and that the real Anne Bonny was just a thief rather than a noble person, her life and her relationship with her father take a tragic turn and the fantasy magic is gone. But in the end, everything is restored. No, not pretend restored, really restored. Thus the title. “The Death and Rebirth of Anne Bonny” is one of three stories Fulda wrote for the Numbers Quartet series. Whereas the other 2 stories rely heavily on math and the drama is skeletal, this includes no numbers at all and relies completely on literary quality. A well told story with a classic theme. Very satisfying.

 

“+1” by James Luke Worrad (debut 1/26 and reviewed by Frank D). Walter greets a man from NASA at the site of a crashed capsule. Walter is taken aback at the man’s indifference, appalled that a dead astronaut would be considered a mere “setback”.

“+1” is very brief with a twist I hadn’t seen coming and with implications I still do not fully comprehend. Nice story and I liked the open-ended question left unasked.

 

“Good Taste” by Derek Ivan Webster (debut 1/27 and reviewed by Frank D) is a tale of uninhibited greed. The elites of the galaxy have gathered for a sol-eating event. The very rich have taken the essence of a star, and made it a drink. It is a symbol of excess, for tasting the center of a star requires wealth entire planets cannot afford. Baneford is neither privileged nor rich, but Earth’s poor inhabitants have scraped their pennies together for him to masquerade as one. For this particular event, the wealthy will be tasting the rarest of treats, the center of a black hole.

I found “Good Taste” intriguing. The premise was unique and with a message the author must have wanted to share. The tale had a political take whose moral could fit into our present day’s issues. Message aside, I found the preachy final commentary to be unnecessary. It turned the narrative into a tale of vengeance instead of work of poetic justice, which was unfortunate.

 

“Visiting Planet Earth” by Eric Brown (debut 1/30 and reviewed by Frank D). An alien returns to Earth, solemn for its mortal inhabitants. The young are pleasing to deal with but the old have trailers that creep out our visitor from the stars.

A very interesting work of flash fiction. The story is told from the perspective of a being who may have been more corporeal than alien. The short tale has a line of withheld information the author gradually reveals. Normally, such a tactic I would frown upon but the author does a good job of making the premise appealing. Not my favorite tale of the month but I did like it.

 

Patience is the key to a well-laid trap in “The Long Con” by Megan R Engelhardt (debut 1/31 and reviewed by Frank D). Rumpelstiltskin has been foiled to take the princess’s child, or has he?

This tale is done from the perspective of the antagonist of the fabled Grimm fairy tale. Its outcome is easily predictable and I can foresee many readers having an indifferent opinion of it. I, however, do not feel that way at all.

Ms Engelhardt tackled the task of retelling a familiar tale using my favorite tactic, exposing the real story from behind the scenes. She successfully showed Rumplestiltskin as a clever con-man. Revealing a carefully laid plan and the inner workings of his mind in the process. Knowing the outcome matter little when we are granted a viewing of the mechanics of a sophisticated trap. Excellent writing, delightfully executed.

Recommended.

Unclear Criteria

ÂAn email correspondence with one of the two leading reviewers of speculative fiction was shared with me by a fan of Daily SF. The email asks why they (the reviewer) have chosen to not review DSF.

“â€But this comes down to the question – what are reviews for? (We) don’t review to promote publications or authors. (We) do it to inform and please readers,

Well, from Diabolical Plots perspective, I can safely assume that the promotional value between us and Daily SF is at best, a two-way street with DP getting the far better end of the deal. In fact, Locus and Tangent Online would both be hard pressed to claim they steer any meaningful readership to any of the venues they cover. I would be willing to bet that the publication with the smallest audience that Tangent and Locus covers beats either reviewing outlet in readership. If there is any promotional value gained from being reviewed by the two big boys, it is for recognition in the awards categories. Way too many stories to read (even without DSF‘s vast library) for the judges to pick the best in class on their own.

But hasn’t Daily SF proved they are worthy of the benefit of pleasing and informing the readers? If awards are an indication of what makes a publication and its authors worthy of informing and pleasing readers, than allow me to promote a few nominated authors.

Mary Robinette Kowal , Nebula and Hugo; novella

Ken Liu , Nebula and Hugo; novella, short story

Ferret Steinmetz , Nebula; novelette

Nancy Fulda , Nebula and Hugo; short story

Aliette de Bodard , Nebula; short story

Mike Resnick , Hugo; short story

Congrats to these 2012 Hugo and Nebula nominees, all of who have appeared in Daily SF. News I finding informing, and pleasing.

We have received numerous complaints and queries, so we would like to make it absolutely clear that our own Anonymous is not synonymous with He Who Must Not Be Named. The former has chosen to reveal no name. The latter has a name that even children somehow know, even though no one says it. The former has reviewed stories for Diabolical Plots. The latter is an evil wizard who wishes to rule over the world. Capice? A notice to Death Eaters in particular: please stop attempting to send messages to him through us. Has it ever occurred to you that he just doesn’t want to talk to you? Thank you.

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