27 June 2011 ~ 1 Comment

Daily Science Fiction: March Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Oh, oh. Falling behind once again. Not Daily’s fault. The quality of stories is still first class. See for yourself.

 

The Stories

The cold is creeping in, in “Snowfall” by Jennifer Mason Black (debut 3/1). Cassandra and Tosh have thrown the last log of an enormous pile of firewood into the wood-burning stove. As they watch the embers die and feel the stove go cold, the siblings reminisce about happier days.

“Snowfall” is a tale of two people that have come to grips with the inevitable. The exhausted pile of wood is a symbol of evaporated hope. The two have made peace with what is about to happen – panic and sorrow long gone for them both – as they become the only attendees of their own wake, choosing to remember the life they shared.

I liked this story. I found it accurate for how two people would react in this situation. The disaster that has happened is unknown but it doesn’t matter to these two at this point. Well done.

 

Millie waits for her bus in “I is for Inertia” by The Alphabet Quartet (debut 3/2). The protagonist sees her everyday, knitting away, at the bus stop. She is there when she boards and there when she departs. Millie is eager to board but she isn’t just waiting for any bus.

Millie may be crazy but the protagonist can see her reasons as philosophical ones. The bus she is waiting for has a destination that we all are eager to get to. This letter, like some of the other Alphabet stories, has an open ending that left me unsatisfied.

 

“Surface” by Thomas J. Folly (debut 3/3 and reviewed by Anonymous).

A society lives for thousands of years under the crust and a pair of intrepid young adventurers defy the warnings of the elders and set off to climb to the surface to get a look at the Eden that waited for them above.

As usual, things don’t work out the way they plan (of course!). I must say I didn’t like beginning of the story where a lot of background information was dumped, but the ending was good. A good twist, well delivered.

 

The use of large, multisyllabic words can, at times, be off-putting, meant solely to disseminate the intellectual acuity of the author. In the case of “Epinikion” by Desmond Warzel (debut 3/4 and reviewed by Dustin Adams), a mouthful in itself, the use of complex words and language was fused so expertly within the narrative that they enhanced the very tale itself. I am reminded of M.T. Anderson.

The story tells of the man who is responsible for cleaning a post victory (or post defeat) battlefield of its Anglo-American corpses. Also in his job description is to retrieve salvageable weapons, and collect dog-tags. He does this with grim determination, and a singing of old battle tunes – to block the sounds of the not-quite-dead-yet fallen.

The details I leave you to discover, and I do recommend you discover them, for this story takes an interesting twist when, due to mechanical difficulties, the Cleaner’s enemy counterpart is forced to land and perform his similar duties simultaneously.

Their meeting is the plot of the story, the character is the heart, and the language is the song. Definitely read this one. Recommended

 

“God’s Gift to Women” by Barbara A. Barnett (debut 3/7 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Omnipotence: All, or unlimited power
Omniscience: The capacity to know everything
Precognizance: Knowledge of events before they occur

There seemed to me to be some confusion about the definitions of the three above words in this story, which for me, ruined the punchline a bit. Which is what I felt this story read like — a long joke one might tell another.

So God walks into a bar… Whether or not the man is truly God isn’t clear as the main character states to us that she believes he is. The truth is unclear, although some may say the action taken at the end of the story removes all doubt.

Sadly, there wasn’t a sci-fi or mystical element to this story. So, while short, and harmless, I didn’t feel like it truly belonged on the pages of DSF.

This isn’t necessarily a story to be avoided, I mean, it was humorous enough in its brevity and content, however I’m sure there are other, more thought provoking stories to read this month.

 

“The Song of the Laughing Hyena” by David G. Blake (debut 3/8 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a delightfully dark take on The Gift of the Magi, with a little Romeo and Juliet thrown in for good measure.

Kalvin, lord of the manor, has taken full advantage of a servant girl and is, rightfully so, a hated man. Kalvin’s solution is to seek a witch to create a love spell thus solving the problem, and creating a deep, powerful bond.

However, such wounds can not be covered by a salve. The servant girl too finds a method to deal with the atrocity and her pain.

Fatefully, love and hatred combine in an ending that must be read in its entirety. I suggest checking this one out.

 

The quartet proves waste isn’t the only thing recyclable in “J is for Junk” by The Alphabet Quartet (debut 3/9). A Discovery Channel film team is off to investigate the Pacific Trash Vortex. Instead of finding a floating pile of garbage the size of Texas, they discover an island formed of discarded material. The expedition goes from odd to weird when their sexy on-camera star turns up missing.

If you ever watched old monster epics, you’ll recognize this plot really quick. Like most recycled material, this tale is really bland when compared to the original. This tongue-in-cheek recreation was just plain silly.

 

“Tuna Fish” by Andrew Kaye (debut 3/10 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) is an interesting take on protein substitutes. Jonathan has a pregnant wife that is very picky on what she can eat without experiencing nausea. When the source is suspect, he proceeds to gather his own, of course when you do that you sometimes get more than you bargained for.

This one was a little over the top for me, but still fun. It did cause me to think about our sources of food and how little we seem to care about the consequences of our actions.

 

“Shark’s Teeth” by T.A. Pratt (debut 3/11 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Nice setting, I love Hawai’i. When a Sorceress is banished to Hawai’i she must find a new line of work. Her friend wants her to open an agency, but she is resisting. That is until she has a chance encounter with a god in human form.

This is a nice use of local Hawaiian customs and folklore blended with a bit of Harry Dresden. I liked the mix, but someone not as familiar with Hawaiian lore might be put off. It is still a good read, and if you are interesting in learning about Hawai’i or just like a bit of fun, dive in.

 

A forgotten mythical beast yearns to feed in “The Cloud Dragon Ate Red Balloons” by Tom Cardamone (debut 3/14). A cloud dragon hungers for the young boys he sees playing in the soccer fields and playgrounds. He is the last of his kind that still roams the Earth, mistaken for a cloud, as other dragons wait for the day to re-emerge.

“The Cloud Dragon” is more of a tale of what dragons used to be than a story of one monster on the prowl. I learned much of Mr. Cardamone’s mythical world, which is what this tale seemed to be, an introduction to his fantasy universe. The story never evolved and therefore sputtered like the spent drops of a depleted rain cloud.

 

Feels conflict with programming in “Skin of Steel” by Siobhan Shier (debut 3/15). The protagonist is a robot who serves as a guard and servant for a spoiled heir of a wealthy corporation. Elaine is the Paris Hilton of her day – beautiful, extravagant, self-absorbed , just as she was designed, perfect in everyway. Not all creations follow all their protocols, while others perform them too well. Public perception is everything so therefore events must be closely managed, especially when disaster is involved.

“Skin of Steel” plays on a conspiratorial notion that nothing is done by accident. Elaine has a flaw in her design, a flaw that most would consider a virtue. Virtues run counter for a company mascot whose unknown job is to stay in the limelight. The protagonist is a robot so is therefore easier to control, but feelings run deep for a machine that has been awarded a measure of free will. New programming forces him to recognize his feelings, feelings held in check by duty.

Ms. Shier portrayal of a spoiled woman, used as a reverse promotional mascot, was brilliant. I found this premise surprisingly plausible. A very inventive work of art.

 

“K is for Kinky” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 3/16) is an advertisement for the latest sex-ploitation. The narrator entices the reader to try sex in a cover; people used to be born with skin. Sex in your epidermal layer is like nothing you can imagine, just be wary of the aroma.

“K” is one of those far future parodies meant to show how much we are attached to the parts of us that can be so gross, when described in detail.

 

Twin sisters resist an alien invasion in “Self and Self” by Jacob A. Boyd (debut 3/17). Jane and Kim take turns watching each other while the other one sleeps. Earth is in the throws of an alien invasion. Squid-like creatures from light-years away will switch places with you while you dream. The girls make sure to wake the other before the switch can be made. The sisters vow to look after each other even when the people they know have gone. Family must always stick together, even if it is from light years away.

“Self and Self” is a new take on the “Body Snatcher” theme. Many in the world have succumbed to the inevitable. Radio broadcasts have announced it is everyone’s patriotic duty to ignore the switches. Jane and Kim are two who have no intentions of giving in to the inevitable. The story tracks their progress as two girls on the run but with nowhere to go. The whole time you get the feeling you are watching a spider in a tub that is battling from going down the drain. An intriguing and well thought out story.

 

Advancing technology in a world of magic is the theme of “Newfangled” by K. G. Jewell (debut 3/18). The protagonist is left irritated at his son, Mark, after a repair bill to fix his fridge leaves his wallet $1535 lighter. The garage ghoul had a case of the munchies after finding Mark’s stash of pot. Dad is out to discipline his son but discovers Mark is in deep with a tutoring demon. Now Dad feels out of the loop and old in a world that is leaving him behind.

“Newfangled” is a story of changing times. The technology of fridge elves and cactus nymphs has gone way past him. Magic has become too advanced for him to understand but isn’t beyond Mark’s, but the boy has gotten over his head with a debt to his demon. Fortunately, not everything new is beyond the reach of people stuck in the past.

I found this story clever. Mr. Jewell wrote a fantasy that anybody a generation removed from high school can identify with. I like his style and imagination. I will be looking forward to more of his work.

 

A director is having trouble getting his actor to cooperate in “That’s Show Business” by Bruce Boston (debut 3/21). He could just turn the actor off but it would take the Hologram Department a week to make another, an expensive decision for a film already over budget. A decision that would be best suited for a producer.

“That’s Show Business” shows us a Hollywood where the entertainment has taken complete control of entertainment. The story was nice but predictable. The ending I found fabulous. High marks for that.

 

A painter discovers his veins holds the vibrant colors in “Iron Oxide Red” by Gwendolyn Clare (debut 3/22). By accident, the protagonist cut his finger while painting a scene in kitchen. His finger bleeds the color he needs. The painting is a hit, so much so his fellow students salivate for the painted fruit within. The painter discovers he will bleed other colors at different parts of his body, bringing a whole new meaning to putting everything you have into your work.

“Iron Oxide Red” is the type of story only Van Gogh could identify with. The painter becomes a cutter for his art. He slices into different parts of himself to see what colors bleed. The story goes from a painter’s self-sacrifice for his art to a self-deprecating man who can’t comprehend the danger he is to himself.

 

In “L is for Luminous” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 3/23), a successful husband and wife burglar team runs into trouble when they come upon a wild angel during a heist. The angel bites the Mrs and curses her with the power of illumination. Now she is as bright as a fluorescent moments before it overloads. A glowing burglar is a retired burglar, unless the con duo can rework a new con.

“L” is an inventive flash; a very detailed plot for a story under a thousand words. This tale had a lot going on and had a clever solution to a brilliant problem. It left me very impressed.

 

“Girl Who Asks Too Much” by Eric James Stone (debut 3/24) is a story of an inquisitive child and an irritated adult. The girl can’t stop asking questions of the Great Egg and why some animals and plants came from it and why others do not. Instead of accepting things as the way they are, she must know why. Unable to silence the girl’s questions, the protagonist takes the girl to the Great Egg. She is eager to get to the truth, and the truth she shall find.

The title of this story, “Girl Who Asks Too Much,” is the name the protagonist gives the young lady. She is like most children who can’t stop asking why, and he is like the adult who tires of the endless why’s that follow each answer. Mr. Stone amazes me on how in depth he can make a story with a thousand words. The reveal may be predictable to a few but it doesn’t damper the appeal of this piece.

 

Trust by David D. Levine (debut 3/25). Michele and her family live in a refuge camp subsiding on a cup and half of rice a day. The rising ocean had forced them away from their California home. So little food, so little hope, she forms a plan that will spare her teenage daughter from a dim a future.

“Trust” is a story of misguided faith and greed. Michele takes advantage of her overprotective husband’s prejudice and despair, using her daughter as a pawn. Michele comes off a despicable person. You gradually learn how demented she is as you follow along and view her convoluted logic in a despaired world.

Some of the best stories I have read were done form the perspective of an unlikable protagonist. However, it is difficult to pull off and Mr. Levine didn’t pull it off in this one. Michele is remarkably shallow, and shallow people are difficult to root for.

 

A writer performs body art that leaves her subject speechless in “Words on a Page” by Allison Starkweather (debut 3/28). A man allows his girl to writing something on him, she continues , writing feelings in different languages , and he can feel the words begin to leave him as she does.

“Words” describes what the man is going through as the woman writes. He tries to imagine what she is writing in the areas he can’t see and the words in the places he can. You get a glimpse of his growing paralysis as she writes on every square inch of his being.

The story is of one character playing at the expense of the other. A first I thought it was a tattoo artist gone wild. The ending sentence came off as contrived.

 

A writer performs body art that leaves her subject speechless in “Written Out” by Terra LeMay (debut 3/29). A girl asks if she can write a word on her boyfriend’s back, then goes hog wild. Her writing takes a life of her own as her subject’s words are taken from him and are exposed to the world on the canvas of his own body.

“Written Out” is a companion story for “Words on a Page”. While Ms. Starkweather’s story done mostly from the man’s point of view, Ms. LeMay’s is done exclusively from the artist’s. The two authors critique each other’s works and submitted their stories together. The decision was wise because, although the pieces worked individually, they are brighter when compared side-by-side.

 

We walk a pattern in “M is for Mall” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 3/30), and if it is disrupted, run for the hills. The protagonist is a security guard at the local mall. Every morning the retired residents of the town arrive to walk their complicated patterns. Then mall management decides to erect a new stand in the way of their routine route. Big mistake.

I found this story to be amusing. Not much to it, and I’m not sure why the results at the end came about, but I still found it fun to read.

 

Victor Frankenstein monster is in search of friends, again, in The Modern Prometheus by Ed Wyrd (debut 3/31).

This is a mini modern retelling of an old classic. The reveal is a ‘when’ the story occurs. Amusing and very short.

 

Analysis

What else can I say? I’m still enjoying DSF. For those of you who have yet to read it, for heaven sakes, subscribe already. Can’t beat the price, that is for sure.

Anonymous is currently on a research project for his next book, The Collective Story about Everyone and Everything. He is 234,764,431 pages into it and has contracted a large section of Washington State for the paper to print it.

Special thanks to Dustin Adams and James Hanzelka for their continuing help.

One Response to “Daily Science Fiction: March Review”

  1. Desmond Warzel 27 June 2011 at 11:39 am Permalink

    Thanks very much for the kind words about “Epinikion.” I appreciate them more than you know.

    Cheers,

    Desmond

    PS: I would point out, purely in the interest of accuracy, that it is the shipboard culture of the soldiers that’s Anglo-American, not the soldiers themselves (who are of all nationalities). It doesn’t really bear on the plot, only the setting, but it’s kind of important to me…


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