Best of Strange Horizons Podcast

written by David Steffen

Strange Horizons is a freely available online speculative fiction zine that also publishes nonfiction and poetry.  They publish a variety of styles of stories and have regularly attracted award nominations in recent years.

All of the stories and poetry in the zine are published in the podcast.

History

When Mary Anne Mohanraj founded Strange Horizons in the year 2000, online publications were often looked down upon in many circles as inferior to print magazines–not getting much attention come award season and that sort of thing.  Since then the attitude has shifted greatly and many of the award honors every year go to online publications.  I believe Strange Horizons is the oldest of those online publications that regularly draws that kind of honor, and Strange Horizons has done a lot to turn around fandom’s opinion about online publications.

Mary Anne Mohanraj was Editor-in-Chief of Strange Horizons until 2003.  Susan Marie Groppi was Editor-in-Chief from 2004 through 2010.  The current Editor-in-Chief is Niall Harrison and the current fiction editors are Julia Rios, An Owomoyela, Catherine Krahe, and Lila Garrott.  There have been other fiction editors in the past, but I’m honestly not sure where to find a full list.

Strange Horizons is a nonprofit organization in the US and is run entirely run by volunteers so that all the money goes toward licensing the publication rights for the content.  Most of their funding comes from their annual fundraising drive, which ended a few days ago.

One of the rewards for reaching goals in their 2012 fund drive was to start producing a fiction podcast, which began publishing in January 2013.  Anaea Lay is the host and also narrates most of the stories.  There is also a poetry podcast if that suits your fancy–I am focusing on the fiction podcast here because I don’t understand poetry well enough for my opinion to be of much value.  Since then, all of Strange Horizons stories also appear on the fiction podcast.

Best Episodes

1. “The Game of Smash and Recovery” by Kelly Link
Wonderfully weird story of two siblings waiting on a strange planet for their parents.

2.  “Broken-Winged Love” by Naru Dames Sandar
Story of a dragon parenting a child with a damaged wing.

3.  “The Suitcase Aria” by Marissa Lingen
A castrato magician hunts an opera house murderer.

4.  “Why Don’t You Ask the Doomsday Machine?” by Elliot Essex
From the POV of a machine that outlasts civilization after civilization.

5.  “Din Ba Din” by Kate McLeod
Living days completely out of order, often years apart.

6.  “Such Lovely Teeth, Such Big Teeth” (part 1 and part 2) by Carlie St. George
A modern story of Big Bad Wolves.

7.  “What We’re Having” by Nathaniel Lee
A skillet serves the food that we’re having tomorrow.

8.  “ARIECC 1.0” by Lillian Wheeler
POV of AI meant to help people with traffic and weather issues.

9.  “Among the Sighs of the Violencellos” by Daniel Ausema
A very interesting and evocative mix of fun elements, including fantasy hero tropes.

10.  “Significant Figures” by Rachael Acks
Alien masquerading as human tries to protect Earth from other aliens. My favorite character is a waffle iron.

 

Honorable Mentions

“The Innocence of a Place” by Margaret Ronald
Cool epistolary tale trying to piece together evidence of a mysterious series of events that happened in the early 20th century, with a historian’s notes on the subject.

“Dysphonia in D Minor” by Damien Walters Grintalis
A world where music is used to build things, and a story about the people who do this as an occupation.

“20/20” by Arie Coleman
Time travel is used to change the result of medical treatment plans that turned out to be incorrect.

“The Visitor”  by Karen Myers
Very cool alien POV and its first contact with humans.

“Never the Same” by Polenth Blake
A sociopath who has learned to function even in a society that scans for sociopaths and treats them differently tries to make a positive difference in an SFnal world.

 

Daily Science Fiction November 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

The Wrong Foot by Stephanie Burgis (debut 11/1 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a fun and lively twist on the Cinderella tale. The initial premise exploring why the prince would need a shoe to fit instead of looking into the eyes of the woman he danced with, is quite clever (and true!)

Initially, “The Wrong Foot” follows Cinderella somewhat closely with too much humor, but as the tale continues this story begins to distinguish itself as its own tale – which is to be expected given where Cinderella ends. But what if the prince found the wrong girl (based solely on the slipper)? Would she even want to get married? Read for yourself to find out.

 

Wolf, or Faith in the Future by Michelle Ann King (debut 11/4 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) reminds me of a condensed version of The Bicentennial Man by Asimov. This story isn’t a typical story but more of a focus on two items that change over a long, undefined period of time: a dog and the weather.

The author notes, in this case, may be worth reading prior to the story as they could give a better appreciation for the meaning of the tale. The story is good but I feel it suffers from being too short. Then again the premise is worthy of a novel so anything less than 300 pages would likely feel too short.

 

The Girl with Flowers for Hair by Elizabeth Shack (debut 11/5 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Gina paused at Adam’s doorway and took in the room, particularly the crude drawings of a girl with flowers poking out of her head. It had been five years since he disappeared. The police had taken pictures but with no clues the trail had grown cold. She had bought him a new set of colored pencils for his thirteenth birthday just a couple of weeks ago. A silly gesture that Charles had told her to stop; they were both grieving in their own way. A door slammed shut and a voice she could never forget echoed through the empty hallway. “Mom, I’m home.”

This is a nicely told tale of loss and redemption but with a twist. The author does a good job of letting us into the world of Gina and Charles, two parents grieving for a missing child. A sense of loss soon replaced with joy as the missing child returns as if nothing had happened. The fabric of the story is woven well and the ending has a nice little twist. Give this one a read, it’s worth the effort.

 

Just the Facts: A Zombie Story by Cat Rambo (debut 11/6 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)
1. There are Zombies
2. Zombies are not particularly fast. There is even a comic called Late Zombie, where the hero zombie keeps showing up too late to eat the brain.
3. Readership has been declining lately.
4. The author of the comic has decided to visit the zombies, so she has constructed a Plexiglas zombie cage and had it placed in with the zombies.
5. Zombies are really boring.

This is another of the stories that uses a novel approach to presenting the material. I found it interesting and enjoyed the story, but I can see it may not be for everyone either because of format or subject matter. I thought the author did a very good job of building to the surprise conclusion, even though I could see it coming. Read the story and see if you can too.

 

Like Son Like Father by Jed Cole (debut 11/7 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

I knew Felix was going to be a genius. When he was three he was playing with some garbage. Before the year was out he had built a prototype shelter, a tower that stretched above the oily clouds and debris left behind in the world. Those few of us left could now survive. Using twine, wood and scrap metal he built a bridge across the L.A. rift that nomad tradesmen still use today, five years later. Every day his huge form rises before dawn and he comes home late every night. But today he has shown me his latest work, one that brought a tear to my eye.

This was a really good story with a major twist at the end. Set in a time of post-apocalyptic Earth among a people trying to survive. One man’s child proves to be the savior of mankind, but is he one of us or something else? One of the best of the year, give it a try.

Recommended.

 

A long distant infatuation becomes an obsession for a reclusive woman in Breva by Nicky Drayden (debut 11/8 and reviewed by Frank D). Dr Gianna Nero is the foremost expert on the sSuryn language. The aliens, survivors of a decimated world, have asked for refuge on Earth in exchange for advanced technology. Their arrival was still forty years away when they first contacted Earth. An awkward young student, Gianna quickly picked up on the sSuryn emissary’s (named Breva) inflections and complicated speech until she alone understood all his nuances. The close attachment with Breva turns into an attraction. Anticipation and anxiety grows in Gianna as the sSuryn ships arrival nears, then disaster strikes. The alien ship is adrift and they need help.

“Breva” is a tale of fixation. Gianna is a girl who is an introvert. Breva serves as her online dream man, an ultimate outsider and loner. She is truly the only person in the world that understands him, leading to an odd fantasy she concocts in her imagination. As the day of Breva’s arrival nears, anxiety on her aging appearance and uncertain reception of their first meeting consumes her. All of that goes out the window when the alien ship suddenly goes silent with only a brief call for help as a last message.

“Breva” is told in staggered flashbacks at different points of Gianna’s life. They show a young Gianna as an odd bird trying to fit in at the university when the sSuryn are first discovered, to an early thirties scholar who has surpassed her boss as Breva’s interpreter, to the older expert who is threatened by a younger aide who is exceeding her understanding of sSuryn. The tale is rolled out like a mini epic. Gianna is a mirrored opposite of Ulysses, the monsters she battles are internal and the longing she experiences is not for home but for the adventurous beyond with a man who can never really be compatible. The story’s arc is a twist and its finale is an unexpected conclusion.

I found “Breva” to be an entertaining read. It read quicker than its long short story designation. It is a good work of sci-fi of an odd woman who falls into an odd relationship cultivating into an odd finale. How oddly natural.

 

An instructional guide on how to handle first contact with unknown aliens is the premise of Guidelines for First Contact in Simplified Technical English by Jetse de Vries (debut 11/11 and reviewed by Frank D). This detailed directive covers all eventualities, from the benign to the malevolent. If it doesn’t help, you never had a shot anyway.

This tongue-in-cheek offering is clever and thorough, a very well done work of humor.

 

A fallen god plies a new trade in The Book of Love by Michael Haynes (debut 11/12 and reviewed by Frank D). Angus is a drifter, frequenting bars and taverns as he travels. He carries around a magical book. In it, words about love become true. Pete, Angus’s latest customer is suspicious but agrees to pay the former god’s asking price.

Mike Haynes is a writer who never fails to impress me. Angus’s magic is real but he still comes off as a charlatan. He hesitates with Pete but the man agreed to his double-the-price offer immediately. The tale has a sweet twist at the end. Worth the read.

 

A queen is focused and determined to complete The Machine by Sean Robinson (debut 11/13 and reviewed by Frank D). She is the Mistress of Science and her machine is the pinnacle of her achievement. Nothing will stand in her way to complete it. She can’t be bothered by minor matters like a collapse of the environment. Nor will she let anyone stop her, not even her husband. He will help her, one way or another.

“The Machine” is a disturbing look on obsession. It is the only thing that matters to her. My only objection to this piece is I had no idea what the purpose of the machine was.

 

Life goes on, even when a part of you has died. Die for You by Alex Gorman (debut 11/14 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a married couple after an alien invasion. Much has changed, including their relationship.

“Die for You” is the aftermath of a cowardly man. He had let his wife down, and can never regain her respect again. A hard but good tale.

 

The stories Kirk tells during bath time take on a life of their own. From Tuesday to Tuesday by Peter M Ball (debut 11/15 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of two people existing in their own bubble of a relationship. Every Tuesday, Deanna takes a bath and begs for a story from her boyfriend. Kirk’s stories have an unintended consequence of altering reality. His life changes the next morning – a new profession, a change in scenery, and a different Deanna , for the entire week.

“From Tuesday” is a tale of regret. Kirk tires of the Tuesday changes, and has vowed to never tell another tale again, but Deanna has a way of pulling a new one out of him. The relationship the two have is a dysfunctional one. They are two dysfunctional people caught in a dysfunctional, yet changing, reality. I am frankly puzzled why the two remained together. Kirk frequently reminds himself that he does not love her. Deanna’s own words make it clear she has little respect for him. Much of the tale is less about the different reality that faces Kirk after the Tuesday’s, but of the odd dynamic about the two.

The underlying message in this piece of two people who are caught in a relationship stuck in an endless loop regret. I believe the tale serves as a metaphor for relationships that are bounded by familiarity rather than compatibility. I have a simple solution for their dilemma: seek counseling.

 

The protagonist reflects on When The World was Full of People by Patricia Russo (debut 11/18 and reviewed by Frank D). A familiar face is seen across the street. A man who looks like the protagonist’s brother is loading large bottles of water. He plans to plant a flower the protagonists knows doesn’t exist. But plant he does, and grow they do.

“When The World” is tale of reflection. I confess, the point of the piece was lost on me.

 

The old Omega meets the new Alpha in The First Stone by Wren Wallis (debut 11/19 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist’s ex, hands him an unassuming stone, the first stone of creation, just as time comes to a stop. Creation is ending and the old creator is passing off the job of a new creation to him. The protagonist is overwhelmed and knows he is underqualified for the task, but knows who is qualified to fill it.

“The First Stone” is a religious themed tale. The protagonist is cast as character who is the wrong person at the right time. I found the ending of this tale predictable.

 

A loyal employee underestimates his worth in Final Inspection by Afalstein JD Kloosterman (debut 11/20 and reviewed by Frank D). Wilfrid is an inspector on an assembly line in an automated factory. He has done the job for decades and seeks retirement. His life has been within the plant for years , company policy on contamination making it impossible for him to leave. He has repeatedly requested a leave but the company has said that they are unable to fill his position. The changing products the line produces makes him wonder , the hospital beds and farming equipment that used to be assembled have given way to advanced weaponry. Just what is going on outside anyway?

“Final Inspection” is a tale of complacency. The unseen management is content with Wilfrid and has no intention of making a change, despite the fact his presence inhibits the functionality of the plant. There is a hint of a ‘Terminator’ type of world out there, but the enclosed environment of the plant keeps Wilfrid in the dark.

Inventive tale. I rather enjoyed it.

 

The devil barters to end a man’s pain in Screwtape by Helen E. Davis (debut 11/21 and reviewed by Frank D). All he offers the man is a favor, vowing to leave his soul untouched. An individual soul is valuable to the devil, but with this one customer, he can accomplish a lot more without his.

Timing matters a lot, and the debut of this tale hinges much on its timing. The story has a nice twist for a finale. Very cleverly done.

 

A girl, a kiss, and an invitation to follow is all it takes for a young man to seek The Patient Stars by Ryan Simko (debut 11/22 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist has a chance meeting with the girl of his dreams. She teases him to find her in the emerging settlements of space. Thus begins a desperate game of hide-and-seek.

“The Patient Stars” is a chase. The protagonist is in pursuit, searching entire worlds to find the girl he met in a chance encounter on one lonely night. He travels across the stars, aging slowly as he jumps from world to world. Human civilization grows around him and leaves him behind; an old relic of a long gone age.

“The Patient Stars” is more of future history of the rise of galactic man than it is about one man’s search for a woman. Although I did appreciate the view of our future us, the story never had a destination for the reader.

 

A gladiator is near his freedom in Three is a Sacred Number by Carrie L. Cadwallader (debut 11/23 and reviewed by Frank D). Kloth is a blue skinned alien, champion of 99 bouts. One more and he’ll win his freedom. Only one other has accomplished that feat, and that champion doesn’t want to see his record matched.

“Three” is an alien tale. The hero is a slave forced to fight. He doesn’t savor in the glory but the exercise has made him a hard individual. Interesting tale. It left me intrigued.

 

Your right to exist will be allowed once you can claim that I Have Read the Terms of Use by Kenneth Schneyer (debut 11/26 and reviewed by Frank D).

“I Have Read” is a legal document for those about to be born. A very clinical (and humorous) look if birth was a legal agreement.

 

An endless winter grips two lovers in The World Will End in Fire by K. C. Norton (debut 11/27 and reviewed by Frank D). The world is freezing, and for the protagonist and his wife, staving off the inevitable becomes a pointless exercise. Viva does not want it to end this way and prefers to choose a brilliant way to leave the world.

“The World” is a tale of two people faced with the end of the world. The sun has gone out and whatever warmth is left is quickly evaporating. The story is a small slice of two people’s life in the final act of a greater tragedy.

 

Remembrance in Stone by Amanda C. Davis (debut 11/28 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

Fire is pain and air does not quench it. If Gera had lived to teach her air, she’d be prepared. Instead the runes fell on her shoulders. Gera had taught her water, but even when she enters the sea she is swept away by it. Rolled and tumbled until she is nearly dead, then the sea spits her out as if tired of her presence. She starts a fire that does not warm her, calls a wind that does little to dry her. Finally she wanders back to the house and stares at the rectangle where Gera lays. She wasn’t even able to cut the lines straight. If only Gera had lived to teach her.

I found this one a little jumbled and confusing. The writing was so vague that I never did really identify with the character. Then, at the end of the story, the main character makes an abrupt change in demeanor and thought process. It’s almost as if the author said, “OK time to end the story and make the character change her perception.” It simply didn’t work for me. The author spent so much time setting up the conflict that the ending was disappointing.

 

Tell Me How All This (And Love too) Will Ruin Us by Sunny Moraine (debut 11/29 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

You were screaming when I pulled you from the boat. I’d bound your legs with steel poles and doused you with whiskey. I thought you might die in peace, and I made myself ready for my own death. By the time we reached the island it was sunset, and I pulled the boat ashore. I made a fire from driftwood and wrapped you in blankets. How much of this will you remember? Enough to care? I’ll show you in the most vicious way possible. You may be lucid, but that’s another thing I’ve given up caring about.

We seem to be in a month for strange surreal stories. This is another one I never really understood. The author chose to weave a disjointed tale about two people, at least I think the other being is a person because it is told in a somewhat rambling soliloquy and I was never sure who or what he was prattling on about. About two paragraphs in I wished I’d never started it. So maybe there is a good story in there you can find, I certainly couldn’t.

 

A Year of Outstanding Work

Although we have yet to publish our December’s reviews, I would like to give you my top ten choices for the year. Give them a look. If you like any of them enough, consider nominating one for the upcoming Million Writers Award. I have my pick for the year.

Love’s Footsteps by Cat Rambo

“A Phone, My Heart, and Maybe My Last Shred of Dignity” by Luc Reid

“Five Minutes” by Conor Powers-Smith

“The Bargain” by Henry Szabranski

“Holy Diver” by Gra Linnaea

“Such Days Deserved” by Lee Hallison

Sparg by Brian Trent

The Perfect Coordinates to Raise a Child by Barbara A. Barnett

Highest Possible Setting by Em Dupre

Andâ€

Melancholia in Bloom by Damien Walters Grintalis

In my June review, I compared Ms Grintalis’s story to some of the best Twilight Zone episodes ever to debut on TV. “Melancholia” is sad, beautiful, and special. It had an ending that was bitter, but as I pointed out in my reviewâ€

“†(the) Twilight Zone proved that the very best tales don’t have to have a happy ending for them to be enjoyable. In fact, the bitterest endings in that show are where it achieved its greatest accolades, and like those memorable but bitter episodes this story deserves praise reserved for a true classic.”

If there ever was a published Daily SF story that deserved an award, “Melancholia in Bloom” would be it. I will be nominating it for the Million Writer’s Award. It has earned it.

 

On The PremisesFrank Dutkiewicz has put his snooty and pretentious opinions to good work as a full time finalist judge for On The Premises. A guest judge in the past, he will now help decide the winners of the tri-annual online magazine every issue.

On The Premises is a contest publication. Each contest challenges writers to produce a great story based on a broad premise supplied by our editors. Here is their mission statement.

Our Purpose
On The Premises aims to promote newer and/or relatively unknown writers who can write what we feel are creative, compelling stories told in effective, uncluttered, and evocative prose. Entrants pay no fees, and winners receive cash prizes in addition to exposure through publication.

For writers eager for a fair shot in the publishing world, On The Premises is a blind read contest , all entrants are instructed to submit their work without their name on their script. From the award winning authors to first time writers, all have an equal shot.

Daily Science Fiction: June 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Did you contribute to Daily Science Fiction‘s Kickstarter campaign? If so, thank you very much. They made their goal with room to spare. That means the daily emails with delightful and never-read-before work of science fiction and fantasy will continue. Did you catch all that June had to offer? If not, this is what you missedâ€

 

“Pictures in Crayon” by Elizabeth Shack (debut 6/3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) takes place in a far-future, dystopian world where the earth is dying, and children are taken off-world via a lottery drawing. The narrator wants to see other stars, wants to get off earth, wants to live, but she’s not the only child in her family.

I thought the ending was somewhat predictable, however, it was no less enjoyable, and melancholy.

 

“Note to Self” by Hans Hergot (debut 6/4 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) starts in such a humorous way that I was expecting a continuous laugh riot. However, the story turned sentimental and became the best of both worlds.

Thomas’s future self has won a time-travel contest in which he’s allowed to write six words to his past self to be delivered at a particular time. (Which isn’t fully explained, but doesn’t really matter.) I won’t spoil what the six words are, because what they mean is greater than what they say, which is what makes this story so great.

 

“Three Wishes” by Melissa Mead (debut 6/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

In another delightful, twisted fairy tale from Melissa Mead, a golden coyote is stuck in a trap and thus rescued by a simple woodcutter. The woodcutter is given three wishes and mistakenly, and humorously, wastes the first two. His wife lets him have it for his foolishness, but demands the third wish be saved for something wholly selfish. She is a good wife. However, (spoiler) the woodcutter’s second wish absolutely needs to be undone.

This story, aptly, comes with a twist you might expect from a three-wish story. The twist, however, has a lot of heart.

 

“True Love” by Alex Shvartsman (debut 6/6 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

At Temporal Excursions, Inc., you can step inside the mind of a past figure and experience their lives precisely as they did, minute by minute, in only an hour.

Molly seeks the experience of pure love. The kind, she says, that just isn’t seen around. However, she is repeatedly discouraged by the real lives of Helen of Troy and Cleopatra. Apparently our history books aren’t as accurate as the true day to day lives of these historic women.

But after each disappointment Travis, an employee of Temporal Excursions, is there to listen just as he is there to plug Molly back in during each subsequent visit until. Through with the past, Molly just might have discovered something of interest in her present.

 

“The Ships That Stir Upon The Shore” by Rahul Kanakia (debut 6/6 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

In a future where the earth’s temperature is a deadly problem, people have been relegated into domes to survive. (However, this is not the focus of the story.) A broker of homes’ possessions sets his sights on a wealthy home whose owner is still alive. In the hopes that everything goes according to plan, based on past performance, he brings his family along to assist in the transition between the previous owner and them.

At first I was confused. The world made a lot of assumptions that I knew what the heck it was talking about. Then it settled into its story and I was sucked in – completely. What unfolds is as heartwarming as it can be in this quite dystopian future. I wished for a little more set-up regarding the change of heart. However, I still feel this is a top-notch story.

 

Simon gets an awesome gift that will spare him from pain in Jumping Into The Sky” by Samantha Murray (debut 6/10 and reviewed by Frank D). Grandma had finally sent Simon a birthday gift worth using: invulnerability cream, good for one day. He always wanted to jump off a cliff, remembering the look on Laura’s face when he backed out on a dare from before. The cream grants him the courage to dive ahead; an easy thing to do when the consequences are eliminated.

“Jumping” is a tale for those who wished they could summon courage from a jar. This predictable storyline has an unpredictable finale. The side effect was logical, but unforeseen. Well done.

 

A miracle drug promises to cure everything in Curing Day” by Dustin Adams (debut 6/11 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a nine year old boy centuries old. Pathway is a miracle inoculation that fixes all but erases memory. Shamus is one of the few who retains his memory. He alone sees the decay and remembers the ones who have died from accidents. The world is slowly falling apart and he alone can remember the slight changes of the effects disrepair.

“Curing Day” is a story I read in an infant draft. This final draft is a testament on how much work it takes to turn a good idea into a marketable story. Loved the concept of this piece , a world that decays while a society is locked in a pharmaceutical induced amnesia. Well done, my friend.

 

A bullied boy seeks sanctuary in his City of Chrysantemum” by Ken Liu (debut 6/12 and reviewed by Frank D). Bobby is a target of bullies. The small boy is tormented and beaten daily. On the pages of his art and in the corner of his mind he imagines a prince like himself in a city where boys aren’t forced to fight and are free to live in peace.

“Chrysantemum” is a fantasy only in the mind of the author’s protagonist. Bobby has a tale so many can identify with. His school is his dungeon. His two classmates are his predators, seeking him out so they can dish out their sadistic punishment for their own pleasure.

“Chrysantemum” is likely the least speculative story DSF has ever published. The tale is sad because there is too much realism in it. Bobby is not just a victim of cruel kids who say hurtful words that will inflict harm on his confidence. He is practice for future felons earning their own education in what should be the safe confines of a public institution. Bobby’s make believe kingdom serves as is his sanity’s refuge, his way of coping in his adolescent hell.

If you are sensitive to children being abused, avoid this tale. But in my opinion it is a story we should all read.

 

A superhero finds her rival, friend, and lover in Dark, Beautiful Force” by Jessica May Lin (debut 6/13 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a defender of justice who competes with another hero. The two develop a relationship as they battle the forces of evil and become intimate. The battle between good and evil will always carry on, regardless of the obstacles in life.

“Dark, Beautiful Force” is a tale of an extra special woman and her soul mate. The powers of the characters are unknown and the villains they fight are faceless. The struggle in this tale is of the inner turmoil the protagonist battles as she first competes than falls in love with her rival. The protagonist loses her unborn child while battling a vague antagonist. The loss leaves her hollow inside, and her depression drives a wedge between the two heroes. Her soulmate hatches a plan to save her from herself.

The vagueness of this superhero tale robs the story of its superhero flavor. The story almost could have been told without superhuman powers. The only fight that matters , to the protagonist and the reader , is the battle our heroine had with herself from the start. The plan her lover hatches (I would imagine) would do the heroine more harm than it could possibly do good. For all its vagueness, I found this tale nevertheless enjoyable, despite its dark conclusion.

 

“I’ll Leave The Light On” by Patricia Russo (debut 6/14 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Dahyana found the boy throwing rocks at a stop sign. She recognized him immediately by the glow. Mrs. Miller told her she would recognize them, and she had because they were like her. She took her time slowly developing rapport, drawing in the angry young man. He would always be angry until she could bring him to others like her. Bring him in, train him, teach him; only then can he fulfill his purpose.

I found the writing in this one a little uneven in spots, particularly the opening paragraph. If you work your way past that particular sandbar, you will find an intriguing story about people that live among us, but have a very different reality. I would encourage you to put in some extra effort and give this story a try.

 

“The Silver Witch” by Tara Calaby (debut 6/17 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

When Rosalind was discovered straddling Leda the townspeople knew she was a witch. When the miller (whom she had rejected), the priest, and Leda’s betrothed testified they were sure. The decision was made. Rosalind must die to cleanse Leda’s soul of her spell. But when they tried to carry out the sentence the townspeople discovered something about the power of love.

This story is well written and gives us something to consider about how and who we fear in the world. It does so with a twist that that shows us even more. It also says something about the power of love. Give it a try.

 

A priest is sent to hell to find a man among the damned in Holy Diver” by Gra Linnaea (debut 6/18 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is chosen by God to find a single soul in the fiery pits of hell. God had him sacrifice himself so he would gain entrance into the underworld. Hell is like a prison, priests are singled out , as if they are criminals who have committed a crime judged too heinous even for the fellow prisoners to accept. The protagonist learns to adapt in hell, as he searches for a man God so badly wants him to find.

“Holy Diver” is so much like a war story. The protagonist is on a mission in enemy territory. He knows nothing of the man he is searching for or the reasons why God wants him to find him. He is just a loyal soldier in God’s army and does not question his unknown orders.

I found “Holy Diver” to be an extraordinary and risky tale. The mystery of what the damned priest could be looking for , and the landscape of hell he walked through – had me hooked from the start. The answer to this mystery was a stunner. A warning to the faithful: the twist to this story you may consider blasphemous, so you may want to avoid it. I, however, loved the direction and the implications of the finale.

Recommended.

 

The Big Bad Wolf plans a big meal in Big Bad’s Hot Date” by Melissa Mead (debut 6/19 and reviewed by Frank D).The wolf of “three pigs” fame, plans a nice pork roast for his date. The trick is getting the slippery porkers to join in the meal. Thanks to his ingenuity, and the pigs’ predictable pattern, his date is destined to turn out just fine.

Inventive take on an old classic. I liked the way Ms Mead’s devious mind thinks. Well done.

 

Part of an immortal conscience faces irreversible death in Restorative” by Andy Dudak (debut 6/20 and reviewed by Frank D). The 3877th instance of Fingal Boyd is told he cannot rejoin the collective conscience because he has been inflicted with a virus. His shell, or ‘meat puppet’ , a man named Ciaran who has whored out his body, reflects with bitter irony that they will die together. Regret fills 3877 as death nears. He has never cared for his host body before, but weighing your actions of your life , and how they affected others , is a new experience for the greater being of Boyd.

“Restorative” is a tale set in a repressive society. Although the story is too short to fully explore the ramifications of a conscience impressing itself into one of the downtrodden, the plot to this piece centers on one part of a split being abandoned by its greater self. The vessel 3877 has occupied was once its own person. Ciaran had sold himself to be used, and abused. Now used up, 3877 feels the consequences of what he has done to Ciaran, and 3877 does not like it.

My main complaint to “Restorative” is it was far too short. A far larger , and better , story was left untouched. A thought provoking story with a satisfying ending.

 

A grieving actress is asked to reprise a memorable role in While Memory Holds a Seat” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (debut 6/21 and reviewed by Frank D). Rose is a member of a planet-hopping traveling theater troop. Dark and tragic events in her past transformed the once bubbly girl into a withdrawn and depressed woman. A decision of what to preform must be made for the troop’s next stop. Verna, her daughter, suggest they do ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and wants Rose to play Belle.

“While Memory” is a story about a woman who has condemned herself to her own hell. A tragic accident has left her hollow inside. The tale is mostly a mini-biography of Rose’s past. It is all a set up for climactic finale that was dulled by the lengthy and depressing backstory.

 

A couple attempts to rid their world of a pest in All Kinds to Make a World” by Georgina Bruce (debut 6/24 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist and his wife find a creature outside their home and do their best to kill it, but try as they might the little bugger refuses to die. They don’t give up at first, but in a weird Stockholm syndrome twist they come to adore the monster.

“All Kinds” is a strange story (I mean that with modest sincerity). Like the creature in the tale, I became endeared with it by the end.

 

Two young students pine for each other in Pinned and Wriggling on the Wall” by Usman T Malik (debut 6/25 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is spending one last evening with his girl, Sara , a med student with a talented hand for sketches that come to life. They are in love but her father makes it impossible for them to be together.

The subplot to “Pinned” is the two-dimensional beings that Sara has drawn in her notebook. One drawing attempts to escape while the protagonist makes a play for Sara’s heart. I confess, I did not connect the relevance and/or metaphor the author was seeking for this tale. I am afraid the story’s point was lost on me.

 

The innocence of youth can be quite tragic in Such Days Deserved” by Lee Hallison (debut 6/26 and reviewed by Frank D). Annie and her young friends have claimed the empty lot as their own. They have dug a hole and called it their fort. So when their fort is occupied by a strange – and scary looking – visitor from beyond, they react in a most human way.

“Such Days” is ET gone wrong. The opening paragraphs open with Annie and her innocent hopes as she stares up at the stars, which makes the gravity of what happens afterwards very shocking. I think the events of this tale would probably be the most likely outcome of a first contact scenario. I think the choice of using children made this worked best. Well done.

Recommended.

 

A soldier’s bid to fight repression crosses lines in The Frenchman’s Jihad” by JT Howard (debut 6/27 and reviewed by Frank D). Jean is part of an elite fighting unit combating the spread of contraband seed in the farming community. The son of a farmer cut down by thugs, Jean is happy he no longer works in the fields. His unit is out to stop the illegal seed trade, no matter what.

“Frenchman” is a tale set in a world of tyranny. It is a story where a soldier suddenly realizes he is on the wrong side. The author is an experienced warrior, and the tone and details shows the depth of his knowledge. “Frenchman” is a sci-fi war story very much like the speculative fiction tales told in the height of the Cold War. I found it to be crisp and compelling.

 

A sick woman exhausts the memories she stored for her daughter in Melancholia in Bloom” by Damien Walters Grintalis (debut 6/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Helen has a family heirloom for her daughter Rebecca: a magical box that stores memories. It is a treasure Helen found after her mother died, and in it, are the strips of cloth and the notebook her mother left for her explaining the magic of the box. For years, Helen has stocked the box with rose petals full of memories and a diary she has kept for Rebecca, but a debilitating disease has struck Helen and memories meant for Rebecca are the only things that keep her connected to this world.

“Melancholia” is a story told from two perspectives. From Rebecca’s point of view seeing her mother as a once lively woman now locked in a vacant shell, and from the words in Helen’s diary as she lives with the horror of losing her mind. Rebecca’s story is one that thousands of people could tell; the experiences of watching a loved one succumb to Alzheimer’s. Her mother is a woman who is lost to her; a walking catatonic, a parent who has left this Earth, yet still lives. The pain of viewing the vibrant woman she once knew now locked in a shell is too much for her to bear. Helen’s story adds an extra dimension to the tale. The magical box of memories is an heirloom passed down through untold generations. She found it after her mother passed away and discovered the gifts of memories inside. The rose petals she placed inside the box are memories she intended to leave her daughter, but the memory-fading disease that has her in its grip makes the temptation to re-experience what she lost to great for her to resist.

This story has a premise very much like Michael Haynes’s Scraps, but, where Mr Haynes’s piece was a tale of beautiful discovery, Ms Grintalis’s is a heart-wrenching tragedy. The two subplots of “Melancholia” complement each other. Helen is aware of the injustice she is doing to the boxes legacy and of the gift she is robing her own daughter, but the reader can’t blame her for it. Her written confession that choosing not to seeing a doctor when the first signs appear because it would ‘make it real’ is something we all can sympathize with. The recaptured memories allow Helen to be normal once again, even if it is for a brief moment. They keep the disease at bay, but the memories she has stored , and meant for Rebecca to experience , are finite in number and will be gone once spent.

I wondered when I finished this tale if Daily SF was Ms Grintalis’s first choice to publish her story. I’d imagine that a good many publications would have told her that it wasn’t right for them; a modern fantasy, short in length, a quick narrative and , most of all , an ending that was anything but happy. Not quite dark enough for a publisher of horror but the complete absence of cheer would have likely disqualified it for a bunch of publications and that is too bad. The early speculative fiction TV classic Twilight Zone proved that the very best tales don’t have to have a happy ending for them to be enjoyable. In fact, the bitterest endings in that show are where it achieved its greatest accolades, and like those memorable but bitter episodes this story deserves praise reserved for a true classic.

“Melancholia in Bloom” is a dynamite work of art. From its aptly named title to its somber finale this is a tale worthy of remembrance. Thank you Daily SF for delivering it to my email box.

Highly recommended.

 

And then there was oneâ€

On June 27th Dr. Steven Wittenberg Gordon announced on his writer’s blog , Songs of Eretz – that he would no longer be reviewing Daily SF on a regular basis. For an entire year, Dr. Gordon wrote a review of every DSF story the day it debuted , no small feat. His reviews were honest and thoughtful, and he didn’t miss one in all that time , including the ones that were written by the Diabolical Plots staff. And to prove we can take it, as well as dish it out, here is what he thought of our work.

“Coin Op” by David Steffen
The business-like, complete lack of emotional response from the android was amusing, as were its sexual extortion tactics. A snide comment at the end of story detracted a bit; there was a missed opportunity to make this a moral tale with a chilling (ahem) climax. 3 out of 7 rocket-dragons.

“This Is Your Problem, Right Here” by David Steffen
This story was revolting and hilarious at the same time. Original and memorable. 7 out of 7 rocket-dragons

“Curing Day” by Dustin Adams
There is certainly the grain of a great story here. I wish Mr. Adams would have provided some explanation for how the anti-aging drug works and why the side-effect occurs. The story is a little difficult to follow, but its original premise makes it worth reading. 4 out of 7 rocket-dragons.

“Fool’s Gold” by Frank Dutkiewicz
A good story, but the intellectual dialogue from the mouths of supposedly uneducated serfs was distracting. 5 rocket-dragons.

Dr. Gordon provided what I’ve been claiming Daily SF deserves from the leading reviewers of speculative fiction , insightful, thoughtful, and honest assessments of the works offered by one of the leading publishers of short, genre specific fiction in the industry. It is a disgrace that the recognized reviewers have been neglected by them and a shame Songs of Eretz will no longer picking up their slack. We will miss reading the doctor’s opinions.

But hey, if the good doc would like to keep a toe hold in DSF reviews, we would be happy to make room for him. I’ll keep your work load light, Steve.

 

MB_JLWhy are these two people so happy? Because you came through for them. The editors asked for your help in funding Daily SF and you didn’t disappoint. They met their goals with room to spare. On behalf of Jon and Michele, thank you for your support.

Daily Science Fiction: October 2012 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

It is, at the time of this writing, the weekend after Thanksgiving. This is the first time I’ve managed to complete my monthly review of Daily SF in under a month of the last story’s debut. Hooray for being current! But enough of my self-congratulatory back-patting, let’s look at something that deserves real praiseâ€

 

Darcy believes in her men in “Mama’s Science” by Shane D. Rhinewald (debut 10/1 and reviewed by Frank D), but Mama warns her not to misplace her faith in such an unreliable creature. Darcy’s father leaves for the stars when she is just five. Bitter, she blames her cynical mother for driving him away. Thus begins a lifetime of head-banging between the two as Darcy builds and shatters relationships.

“Mama’s Science” is a tale of a girl who can’t pick a good man to save her life. Her mother is the pessimistic one, predicting failure and disappointment whenever a man springs on the scene. The story is a commentary that Darcy was in search of support when she needn’t look no further than her mother. But to me, Darcy’s mom hardly comes off as a supportive parent. In the real world, cynical views of the opposite sex from a parent will have a negative effect on a child’s future relationships and I can’t help but to wonder if this was one of the reasons why Darcy couldn’t keep (and pick) a good man.

 

A woman falls for a merman in “What the Sea Wants” by P. Djeli Clark (debut 10/2 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is greeted by a young boy with deep black eyes, once again. He is beckoning her to rejoin him in the sea, a request she was unable to deny several times before. But she is now an old woman, and memories of the people she hurt before, steel her from his charms.

“What the Sea Wants” is a tale of time and evolving legend. The protagonist first met the merman when she was a child, diving into the deep blue off her father’s boat when she became mesmerized by the boy’s dark eyes. She is drawn back to shore where she learns much time has passed and a legend of her disappearance has a risen. The merman returns after many years, pleading for the protagonist to return with his alluring eyes.

I found “What the Sea Wants” to be an enchanting tale. The conflict of desire versus obligation plagues the stories heroine. Each time she returns to the shore, a fresh legend of her disappearance, and knowledge of the broken lives she shattered when she left, is there to greet her. The merman always comes back, years later, to reclaim her. The story is sound and gripping but the ending is a dark one. Well worth the time for a quick read.

 

“Not the Destination” by Richard E. Gropp (debut 10/3 and reviewed by Frank D). Protagonist embarks on trip in space and takes the slow route.

“Not the Destination” is very brief and left me full of questions. It is not known if his motives are for solitude or scenery. Not knowing made the story unsatisfying for me.

 

Kelley accepts the only thing her mother wanted to protect in “Scraps” by Michael Haynes (debut 10/4 and reviewed by Frank D). Her chain smoking mother has passed away, not done in by cigarettes as Kelley predicted but in the horrible fashion of a house fire. She is handed a small fireproof safe, the only thing to survive the blaze. Inside is an item that was a bone of contention in their relationship, a dollar store scrapbook her mother gave her for a Christmas gift. Inside the pages are mementos of heartbreaking events in their relationship , programs to a school concert Kelley played in, a cast list to spelling bee her mother never made it too, and such. The book revives bitter memories Kelley would just as soon forgot but these little scraps have memories of their own.

“Scraps” is a tear jerker of a tale. Kelley remembers a mother who was rarely there for her. Kelley believed her mother threw the book away after her fit when Kelley opened the gift. Other bitter memories surface as she thumbs through it, but when her hand brushes against one of the items a new vantage point of an event flashes in her head; memories that belong to her mother.

The first half of “Scraps” is of Kelley’s recollection of her relationship with her mother. In her eyes, mom was an irresponsible parent. The author does an excellent job of getting the reader to sympathize with Kelley, but as in most contentious relationships, there is another side, and we get to see it. The story is a reflection that many people who have lost a loved one who were difficult to love can identify with.

I found “Scraps” to be a wonderful story. The only gripe I had with it was the disconnected perspective the author used. The 2nd person perspective gave the story an extra layer of distance when the premise deserved a close and personal one. It dulled some of its emotional impact. It robbed a very good story from becoming a rare jewel of the ages. Nevertheless, “Scraps” is a must read.

Recommended.

 

Jiao needs to know more about a nerd’s magic coat in “Nathan and the Amazing TechnoPocket NerdCoat” by K J Kabza (debut 10/5 and reviewed by Frank D). Attractive, she has been propositioned by geeks before, but when Nathan pulls out a teapot too big to hide in his coat, out of a pocket, she agrees to meet him after work.

“Nathan” is a tale of a curious waitress and man who is hiding more than storage closet’s worth of items in his coat. Jiao is sure the Ichabod Crane-ish man isn’t being honest with her when he claims his teapot trick was just a sleight-of-hand ruse. She isn’t buying his denials as his story keeps changing and the amount of things coming out of his coat keep growing. Her curiosity becomes horror when a hand reaches out of one of the pockets.

I found the story long in development but with a satisfying twist in the last half of the tale. I hesitate to write more so as not to spoil the story for those who haven’t read it but I will say the ending had a nice poetic justice finish to it.

 

An alien is losing her mother again in “Blue Sand” by Caroline M Yoachim (debut 10/8 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a squid-like creature. She has just pushed her mother’s corpse into the sea where it can live a happy afterlife and visit her when the tide is low. She becomes concerned when the blue sand covering the beach is showing signs of change. The aliens from Earth have come to take the sand , as souvenirs and to use as glass , and now her mother and the other ghosts are beginning to fade.

The aliens of “Blue Sand” have a unique connection to their ancestors. The blue sand that lines the beaches are the broken down remnants of the departed. The protagonist can visit her mother skittering on the surf and talk to her. Strange pebbles of green slivers first begin to appear then the blue sand slowly begins to be replaced by white. Her mother is disappearing, and this time for good.

“Blue Sand” is an environmental message wrapped within a Far Eastern mythological theme. The unseen humans cannot see the ghosts and have no idea what they are doing to the life on this world. The protagonist is powerless to stop them but has a connection too strong to allow it to be abandoned. Well told. I liked the ending.

 

Renan paints for his master in “Caput Mortuum” by Andrew Kaye (debut 10/9 and reviewed by Frank D). He is a dim man who can see colors outside ordinary people’s viewable spectrum. He paints what he can see for his master, a trait that aids his master’s experiment.

“Caput Mortuum” is told from the perspective of a mentally challenged man. He can see the remnants of magic. His talent is crucial to his employer , Esteban Soliente , as he works to develop an armor to protect ordinary men against magical weapons.

The author of this tale did a wonderful job writing from the perspective of a clueless protagonist. Esteban is working on a revolutionary protective gear that could tip the balance of power, which makes him dangerous to many. The reader is in the unique position of knowing more than what the protagonist can grasp. Difficult to do, masterfully done.

 

Each day the postman delivers a piece of life lost along the way to an old man in “Lost and Found” by Jamie Todd Rubin (debut 10/10 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). The young caregiver watches as each is delivered and relished as the old man comes to remember things long forgotten. It is the week in a life of all of us at some point in time. A week that will end on a Sunday sometime in the future.

This was very well written. It took a while to get into it, required an investment from me, but the payoff was well worth it. The author did a good job of pulling me into the life of the main character and showing me a bit of his life. As the story moves to its inevitable end, I came to know the man and feel what he felt. Well done.

 

Commander Thero watches the destruction of the planet from his bridge. In “This is the Way the World Begins” by C. L. Holland (debut 10/11 and reviewed by James Hanzelka), they will need to destroy all life before they can begin reshaping it for their purposes. The Prefector wants his own planet and it’s the commander’s job to give it to him. In spite of some problems with enslaved beings they use to wipe out the world’s population everything is proceeding as planned, or is it?

This is a nice little morality tale. The author set it up nicely, but the plot was a little too obvious. It is still nice to get a little reminder that absolute power, or the illusion of such, can ultimately lead to our own demise. Nicely written and the point is well made. Give this one a read if you’re in the mood for a little twist of fate.

 

The protagonist is keeping it real in “Shimmer” by Amanda C. Davis (debut 10/12 and reviewed by Frank D). She is an artist in high school. Too many of her other classmates are caught up in the latest craze, shimmer. It is the ability to turn perception into reality. Do you want to be tall and beautiful? Improve your image and your peers will perceive you as so. Trying to become something you are not does not sit well with the protagonist, but a successful artist in this altered-percption world requires a good front for the admirers of art. She must decide if her desire to showcase her vision worth her self-respect.

The protagonist is appalled by shimmering so she becomes disappointed with her good friend, Benjie, when he pastes a photo-shopped image of himself , taller and handsome – in the form of a poster on the walls in school. She wishes everyone could simply be themselves and not the false faÃ’ ade that shade people in their lives. An invitation to present her art gets her to compromise her principles. Benjie is put off by her hypocrisy, forcing her to reflect on her decisions.

“Shimmer” is an odd premise. The constant changing perceptions of others morphs the features of people from moment to moment. Why such a technology would be desired is lost on me. The heroine of this tale wins an opportunity to present her work in an art exhibit , a one in ten thousand chance. She wants to look her best for the exhibit (an understandable reaction) but her friend Benjie can’t help but to shove her own words back at her.

“Shimmer” is a tale featuring a deep protagonist in a sea of shallow characters. The story is a commentary on society’s constant need for improvement of self-image at the expense of our own self-respect. An odd set of circumstances brings the protagonist’s love of art at odds with own values, setting up a finale fitting for an artist eager to make a statement. I found the story to be heavy on message, and thought the storyline was stretch. Perhaps readers who remember high school as a cruel place can appreciate the message in “Shimmer”. I for one would sooner forget it.

 

Gar-gag is out for another conquest in “Trophy Wife” by Samantha Murray (debut 10/15 and reviewed by Frank D). He is after his seventh alien life-giving organ trophy. This new world has a different form of contest, and is out to master the art of the battle the call ‘dating’.

This short tale is a tongue-in-cheek look at the hazards of internet dating. Cute but with a predictable outcome.

 

“The Chosen One” by Huston Lowell (debut 10/16 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a complex tale that debates the contrast of blind faith and scientific analysis. Two men, in their search for the Chosen One, watch a little boy playing and while one man sees signs in everything the boy does, the other suggests caution and further study.

I found myself confused when one man accused the other of being the Chosen One, especially after they’d described the specific conditions the Chosen One need be born under, but I believe that was immaterial to the true purpose of the story, which was the debate mentioned above.

 

“The New Kid Is No Angel” by James Valvis (debut 10/17 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is having a hard time getting along with a new friend. The two can’t come to an agreement on which superpower is better.

A tongue-in-cheek flash tale of a geeky comic book loving pair. Mildly amusing.

 

The protagonist attempts to get in touch with her mother in “My Mother’s Body” by Christie Yant (debut 10/18 and reviewed by Frank D). Her mother has succumbed to a horrible but unidentifiable disease. She has the same illness and is taking the action her mother sought.

I confess, I didn’t fully grasp the premise of this piece. The images of what her mother went through are disturbing but I am quite lost at what she is doing to counteract it. It appeared a healthy human being had sacrificed herself for reasons that are unclear to me.

 

Mark finds his special someone in “Phone Booth” by Holli Mintzer (debut 10/19 and reviewed by Frank D). In a city full of superheroes, an occasional detour in your day from a villain can be expected. Mark’s train is diverted where he meets the girl of dreams, Lisa. The two hit it off and a budding relationship soon follows. She is a guarded woman, often gone on business trips and errands but spends every available moment she has with him. When the world is full of ‘capes’, and villains to keep them busy, disruption in a relationship can be expected, can’t they?

“Phone Booth” is the tale of an everyday man within a world rich in superheroes. Lisa is just the type of girl he has been in search of his entire life; lovely, thoughtful, caring, and with a bit of mystery about her. Their relationship is a slow developing one. Lisa’s friends are wary of Mark and protective of her. Of course, on this world, disaster can strike in any moment.

“Phone Booth” has a premise that is pretty transparent. It isn’t hard to see where the story is headed. It is (spoiler alert) very much like the movie “My Super Ex-girlfriend”, minus the corny and dark humorous component. This story examined what it would be like when you live in a battlefield of good versus evil on grand scale. The author wanted to keep a story with an out-of-this-world premise grounded. Nice tale of a sweet romance set in the most extraordinary settings.

 

Losing your memory at 30,000 feet can be an experience. In “Don’t Look Down” by Anatoly Belilovsky (debut 10/22 and reviewed by Frank D) the protagonist is a man suffering from dementia. Sky diving is his idea of treatment. Nothing like seeing your life flash before your eyes to spur those old memories into action.

I had to read the author’s comments to understand the concept for this story. I was confused on why he was suddenly hit with amnesia. “Don’t Look” is a tale with a very slight speculative element. It seems to me, he is suicidal and his daughter is irresponsible for allowing him to flirt with death like this.

 

An introvert enjoys a cup of coffee in a diner. “The Number Two Rule” by Lesley L. Smith (debut 10/23 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a woman who is lost. She spends her time watching an especially cute little girl play in the park every day. She must never interact with anyone. She should be invoking rule # 2, but it is a very difficult rule to follow.

“Number Two Rule” is a story set for a twist. For me to reveal anymore would be revealing too much. I rather liked this tale.

 

Sam needs to say his final goodbye to his departed wife in “Over There” by Dany G. Zuwen (debut 10/24 and reviewed by Frank D), but is not sure he can face her to do it. Ellen, his wife, died years before but had her essence downloaded. He can see her holo-image in the Room where they can talk but not touch. A depressed Sam met Naomi six years before when he last visited the Room. He plans on visiting Ellen one last time to let her know he found someone new, but discovers old feelings are a hard thing to dismiss.

“Over There” is set in a future where the afterlife is real, made possible with technology. Sam is racked with guilt, and his departed wife’s understanding words only makes it worse for him. She is willing for him to move on.

This tale has quite a poetic ending. Because of her ability to traverse the electronic net, Ellen has kept tabs on her husband. Sam comes off as man who should have invested in on grief counseling. Interesting story. I’m glad I read it.

 

An origami artist competes without his hands in “Susumu Must Fold” by Tony Pi (debut 10/25 and reviewed by Frank D). Susumu is an origami master who lost his hands in a tragic accident. Cyberneticists were unable to attach arms that would return the digital dexterity he needs for his craft. Entering the hall with one arm and hand covered in a glove, Susumu is out to demonstrate that hope is never lost.

“Susumu” is a tale of perseverance. The origami master must overcome his own limitations and the taunting words of a rival. In his corner are miniscule robots he is mentally connected too. The method of folding is different but art is something that comes from the heart.

I read an earlier version of “Susumu” when it appeared in the writer’s group contest the author referred to in his comments after the story. I thought then that the protagonist had an unfair advantage over his opponents then, just as I do now, but the issue of what is fair play is not the point of this tale. The competition Susumu is not against his fellow competitors but rather against the disability thrust upon him. I feel the message in “Susumu” would have had more meaning if the protagonist had been a painter instead. A story of microbots folding paper just seems too much like cheating to me.

 

Mia fights the Empty. “A Handful of Glass, a Sky without Stars” by Damien Walters Grintalis (debut 10/26 and reviewed by Frank D) follows a week in the life of a young woman surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. Toxic fumes have poisoned the air, a result of a war fought a generation before. The citizens are devoid of feelings , the Empty. An inhalant combats the condition but its effects fade over the course of a few days. Many chose to end it all before Saturday , the day to regenerate against the Empty. TGIF is now a matter of life and death.

The world of “A Handful” is a depressing lot. The city of which Mia lives is an island of refuge in a sea of devastation. Much of the world is dead. Protestors insist the rest of humanity should follow suit. Mia clings to her fleeting feelings and dreams of the stars her father claimed beyond the dark, polluted sky.

I found it difficult to believe a city like the one in “A Handful” could exist. It is a faÃ’ ade; its citizens operating as if their world is still functional, inconceivable when the very air and soil is toxic. The story is an examination on how civilization could continue when hope itself is gone. I am unsure how the drug Mia took could counteract it, or how the government could feed the masses. Viability of the storie’s premise left me with too many questions to give the tale’s message a fair shot.

 

Caroline is her father’s daughter in “My Mother’s Shadow” by Henry Lu (debut 10/29 and reviewed by Frank D). She is a little girl, one of the cursed born without a shadow. Her mother married a man without one and the trait has been passed down. Shadowless people have been condemned by god and are shunned. Caroline wishes she could be more like her mother, but is too full of resentment to know it isn’t her shadow that makes her mother so special.

“My Mother’s Shadow” is a tale of prejudice. The shadowless people are treated as harshly as the Jewish people were under the Nazis. Caroline misses her father but resents others like her, feeling as if they’re responsible for her misery. The tale is told well in the eyes of a small child who is discriminated for no reason other than sharing a lineage with a cursed race. Her anger is misplaced as she attempts to make sense of the hatred towards her.

Nice but sad story. The ending may have been too open ended for some but I rather liked how it was concluded.

 

The protagonist has a best friend who is always watching over her in Just Today by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (debut 10/30 and reviewed by Frank D). Ben is a ghost, killed in a hit-and-run accident while they were trick and treating. Usually, he is watching out for her but fails to warn her when the neighborhood bully corners her. It’s too bad Ben can’t help her, but he keeps trying anyway.

“Just Today” takes place while the protagonist as on her way to school. Several images from different movies (A Christmas Story, Ghost, Sixth Sense) came to mind while I was reading this, making it feel as if the author borrowed heavily with the premise as she wrote it. The story drifted and the plot had trouble remaining grounded. Cute idea but the incomplete ending and jumbled storyline lessened the enjoyment of the story for me.

 

Little Red Riding Hood boards the bus to Grandma’s house in “Red at the End of the World” by Lynda E. Rucker (debut 10/31 and reviewed by Frank D). This darker version of a famous fairy tale begins very un-fairy tale-ish. The famous Red’s attempts to remain low key are foiled by a blabby bus driver. A cute young man , Snow White , attaches himself to her and the pair embark on the journey to granny’s together.

“Red” is a strange retelling of the legendary Grimm classic. It took a good third of this tale for me to realize who the protagonist was. Red takes an instant liking to Snow White (how SW became a he is beyond me) and is expecting the grisly scene when she arrives at Grandma’s.

I confess, I have no idea what point the author was trying to make in this story. I found the needless sub-plots , the Snow White character, unexplained references to anarchistic events, grisly scenes of violence , to be distracting and head-scratching to their relationship to the rest of the story. Particularly puzzling was the ending. It alluded to a larger backstory. Instead of a creepy ominous feeling of dread I think the author was after, it left me shrugging my shoulders in indifference.

 

Helping to fertilize a grass roots movementâ€

If there is a person who has the capability to generate a buzz via the web in the closed universe of speculative fiction writing, that person would be John Scalzi. If you don’t know who he is, then you don’t read enough science fiction. His acclaimed novel, Old Man’s War has been in every Best Science Fiction Novel list I have taken the time to read. His latest novel, Redshirts, debuted at number 15 on the New York Times hardcover fiction best sellers list. To list all his accomplishments would likely force Dave to get out his scissors and preform a rare edit for one of my reviews. So to summarize, John Scalzi is one popular guy.

His blog, Whatever, gets a lot of web traffic (as Diabolical Plots once discovered a couple of years back in a redirected link from Mr Scalzi, thank you very much, sir). With a daily visitor rate in the neighborhood of 50,000, John has been all too willing to share his vast network of followers for the up and coming writers. One way he has done that is with an Award Awareness Post. For two years running, he has given authors and editors the opportunity to promote their works for consideration for the Hugo’s. The thread is very long (205 comments) but I was delighted to find a good 7 or more authors mentioning their Daily SF stories as candidates (some of them I felt were worthy). At the tail end of the long lists of posts, you will find DSF editor Jon Laden’s own list of stories he felt were deserving.

Did any of them get nominated? Sadly, no, however, making the long list for Hugo’s Best Semipro Magazine, was Daily Science Fiction. Although it only garnered 5% of the vote, it beat out several publications that made the short list in the past. Not bad for an often ignored , but innovative , email publication.

Thanks to the voting members who wrote in the magazine. Hopefully, they’ll get DSF to crack the top five next year (not an easy feat when you see who they’re up against). And hopefully, Jon and Michele will make the editor’s category next year.

Have you ever watched an old Star Trek episode and thought it would suck to be the guy wearing a redshirt on an away mission?

John Scalzi’s Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas is a novel for you. This New York Times bestselling ‘soon to be classic’ is a tale of a young redshirted ensign assigned to the Intrepid, where wearing the redshirt on an away mission is a death sentence. To learn more, visit macmillan.com

Daily Science Fiction: February 2012 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Well, so much for that pledge. Disaster hit me a month plus ago. My laptop died. Fortunately, most of the stuff I was working was backed up, except for the reviews of Daily SF. No big deal, just had to reread, rewrite, and resave the entire month of reviews I did. Good thing these stories are worth a second readâ€

 

“Worlds Like a Hundred Thousand Pearls” by Aliette de Bodard (debut 2/1 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). Okay this is the part of the review where I tell you a synopsis of the story. The problem is that after reading this several times I’m not sure what that story is. It starts out with an explanation of the transcendental number, e, and progresses through Buddhism, ending in a parable wrapped in a metaphor. Maybe it’s just because I read it on the 20th of April. (If you don’t know the significance of that date, ask a college student.)

This story definitely isn’t for everyone, because it sure wasn’t for me. I found it confusing, muddled and I’m still not sure what the point was. I guess there was an attempt to build a pseudo-existential parable, but it was lost on me. There were some good little descriptions in there, like the worlds being stacked on one and other like a child’s stacking toy, but they are too few and not joined by any connective tissue. In the end the story felt like a bad saying I had found inside some fortune cookies.

 

The death of a monkey is seen from several perspectives in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Monkey” by Ruth Nestvold (debut 2/2 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). As we progress from the simple statement, that a monkey was alive and then died, to more detailed descriptions, the impacts are revealed. This is a story in thirteen vignettes each building on the previous ones. They tell a story of man’s inhumanity and the ape’s all too human reactions to it.

I liked how this story changed perspectives with each segment, and how the author used this perspective change to touch our sensibilities. He leads us down the path we know we must go, but rebel against. Good story, handled with deftness and a clever setup.

 

The main character is pulled into a game night in “Cloudburst” by Robert Reed (debut 2/3 and reviewed by James Hanzelka), forcing him to put aside business and focus on mundane interactions with his wife and son. A sudden storm interrupts and as it grows in intensity and destructiveness he is forced to view the world differently, often applying his own particular prism to the events.

This is a simple tale proceeding from a mundane night at home to more profound thoughts. The author does a good job of injecting wonder and mystery into a seemingly simple set of natural events. I liked the way he managed to weave several levels of consciousness into what might seem a simple night of homebound normalcy interrupted by a simple storm. The writing is clear and crisp as the air after that cloudburst and as evocative as the display of lightening in the northern sky.

 

Be careful what you pour down a drain is the theme of “Biomass” by Alexander Stanmyer (debut 2/6 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this tale is a commercial genetic therapist, working within the confines of a Living City. A botched batch of a concoction to boost a client’s immune system is dumped into the city’s waste reservoir, and now the city is showing signs that it isn’t feeling so well.

This story is set in a future where cities are living breathing life forms; tailored to absorb our waste, see to our needs, and grow the infrastructure a city needs. The author presented it as one person’s confessional, keenly aware he is the instrument of the city’s oncoming death. Perhaps because of its short size, the tale is eerily dark, making it appealing and revolting, depending on your particular flavor of speculative fiction. I must confess I loved this premise but was disappointed because of the brief manner in which it was told. This is a tale that deserves a far larger narrative. A novella or novel is the proper venue to tell a tale like this correctly, and I encourage the author to bring it to life so we can view what a metropolitan involuntary manslaughter crime truly looks like.

 

“Magic Enough” by Chuck Von Nordheim (debut 2/7 and reviewed by Dustin Adams). Sometimes there’s just enough magic. As adults, we wouldn’t know. Perhaps the real world and our bills and busy lives steal the magic from us, or perhaps it just fades with time.

For young Evan, he’s got just enough remaining to conjure his invisible friend and pass a tangled message to his best friend who is about to pass from our world. The boys know, they understand, even if the parents only wonder.

 

“Angry Child” by Benjamin Rosenbaum (debut 2/8 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is an interesting story of a man, plummeting to his death, contemplating who is to blame for his falling; himself, for not catching hold of the window as he was pushed through it, or his daughter, for having done the pushing.

Other contemplations take place during the life-flashing fall but for the most part, the plot through-line, that which led his fall, is what I found most gripping.

This is the first story I’ve read by Benjamin, so I can’t say if his style is traditionally wordy and purple, but this particular prose was a bit too over-the-top for me to fully sink my teeth into. However, the story is sound.

 

The Empress Uvay is dying and must choose her heir in “The Steel Throne” by Eric James Stone (debut 2/9 and reviewed by Frank D). The hard empress has two descendants to choose from; a son , the rightful heir, and her daughter , child of her heart. The two have their own strengths that would benefit the great nation she helped to create, but would lead the empire in opposite directions. She has only one real choice to make, and only she can change it.

“The Steel Throne” is mostly a historical look back at the empire Uvay created. The narrative explains how the nation came to be and shows why her choice is so difficult to make. The path the author took to tell this story made it obvious that a twist was on its way. It read like one big set up for an ending that had only one of two ways to go, which turned the reveal into a coin flip for the reader.

Early tension. A prophesy. A mysterious girl. A kingdom under tyranny. What more could you ask?

 

In “The Age of Three Stars” by Kenneth Schneyer (debut 2/10 and reviewed by Dustin Adams), the author draws a complex life for Petros, the aging protagonist. His station, blacksmith’s apprentice, and his age, say a lot about his character. A self-professed coward, he hid during a preliminary uprising, and was the only rebel to survive.

Now, thirty some years later, the prophecy of a new age, heralded by an eclipse, should be about to come true… but he’s the only one who remembers the date.

He relates the prophecy through song to Zandra, a young street urchin dead-set on being his apprentice, thus unburdening his tainted soul.

The conclusion and how the prophesy plays out is best told by Kenneth, not I. So please sit back and read this Friday offering. You won’t be disappointed.

Recommended.

 

A man seeks a magical item that will give him an advantage in “The Pencil of Truth” by Shamus Maxwell (debut 2/13 and reviewed by Frank D). Magnus knows his shops, asking the owner for a “magical object that will change my life for the better, then for the worse, After turning down the first two choices, the owner offers him a pencil that writes only the truth.

“The Pencil” was a delightful story. The pencil changes anything the writer writes but what it reveals can never be predicted. Waiting for information you’ll find useful can take some time, and may reveal facts you really didn’t need to know. For a work of flash, the twist and turns in this tight narrative had me on the edge of my seat. The ending was to die for.

Recommended.

 

“Joey LeRath’s Rocketship” by Julian Mortimer Smith (debut 2/14 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a recently missing boy recruited to pilot a vagrant’s cardboard rocketship. Billy is lost. He ran off when his parents began to argue in the crowded Crouchtree market near a nuclear weapons stand. Joey LeRath finds him and offers the scared lad a bit of candy and a safe place out of the crowd. Joey has made a spaceship, flimsy as a weathered shack. He needs a pilot, and Billy is just the man for the job.

“Joey LeRath’s Rocketship” is a fantasy story set in a science fiction world. Billy’s family has torn itself apart on the eve when the Earth is about to do the same. The tale was difficult for me to buy. Although I found the writing solid, I was left unsatisfied following along. The ending left me wondering what the whole story was about.

 

“Pulse” by Stephen Gaskell (debut 2/15 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is an interstellar probe on its way the Crab Nebula.

“Pulse” is one of the Numbers Quartet’s offerings. The story receives its inspiration from the Elementary Charge equation. I failed to make to connection between the equation and the story.

 

In, “In Her Arms of Dresden Place” by Damien Walters Grintalis (debut 2/16 and reviewed by Anonymous) a glassblower repairs what appears to be the broken remains of a glass woman and somehow breathes life back into her. The story is about his relationship with the re-animated statue and how his ‘help’ may be contributing to the problem of adjusting that the statue has. I think this story is a metaphor for the heart and mind, and although the metaphor is taken quite literally it works quite well on that level. Nicely written.

 

Tom has the solution to Marla’s allergies in “Nanomite” by Patricia Duffy Novak (debut 2/17 and reviewed by Frank D). Marla’s husband is a bit extrinsic who has a habit of jumping to conclusions and solving paranoid problems with grand schemes. He is sure Marla’s cold is caused by dust mites, but not to fear. The latest technological advancement is guaranteed to solve the problem, for good.

“Nanomite” is told from the perspective of a wife with an excitable husband. Marla sniffles is all the proof he needs to pepper the house with tiny robots to exterminate dust mites. After going a summer without a running nose, the first signs of a cold returns in the fall, spurring a new worry for Marla.

The story is slightly science fiction. It is more of an everyday tale with a small futuristic element inserted to make it fit DSF. Although I enjoyed the voice, I expected a grander resolution to this tale. The ending left me slightly disappointed.

 

“Digital Blues” by Greg Mellor (debut 2/20 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) starts as a wistful siren’s call. It beckons the reader to come visits old places, feelings. The passion and feelings are laid bare, as if the teller wants to show us how entwined the two of us are. Slowly it is the depth of an algorithm’s love for its mainframe that is revealed as the two lover’s quest for fulfillment.

This story started out almost as verse, but without any underlying meter. It was as if Shakespeare wrote in a mixture of prose and mathematics, but lacked a soul. The story pulled me in by unraveling the twine. But alas, it was not to be, for the ending did not live up to the promise of the beginning. The strong foundation laid by the earlier passion was weakened by the tepid ending. It was a piece of such promise left unfulfilled.

 

A pilot crashes on the home planet of a race his force is keeping imprisoned by blockade in “The Prisoners” by D.K. Latta (debut 2/21 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). He is remarkably uninjured, but is held captive by the reptilians that are his hated enemy. While the elder being set to watch him seems unthreatening, the pilot knows their true nature. Though he is uninjured, the pilot cannot move; he cannot imagine how the telepathic race has bound him. If he could free himself Chanthrow would kill his captor with his bare hands and escape. The price for his release may be too high to pay, the truth often is.

This is an excellent story of how our perception can be colored by prejudice, whether it is of our making or not. The story does a good job of drawing us in spite of a few strange word choices, such as “.., like a wave slamming him against the surf.” This phrasing caused me to stumble once or twice. These few minor glitches aside, the writing is clear and crisp, the underlying theme timeless. One of the best I’ve read on this site.

 

An imaginary friend seeks a purpose in “Nilly” by Benjamin Rosenbaum (debut 2/22 and reviewed by Frank D). The boy who imagined Nilly has died. Now the imaginary child wishes to attach someone new.

“Nilly” is a small tale within a far larger, yet unknown, story. Something awful happened to Nilly’s creator. Somehow, Nilly is responsible. An effort to attach himself to the boys sister goes all wrong and now Nilly is left alone.

I am not sure what was going on in this tale, but in a good way. The unanswered questions left me wanting for more. Not knowing the entire story inhibits me from giving this intriguing story a full recommendation. However, I feel as if there is enough to this brief universe to warrant a greater work of art.

 

A boy finds a treasure from a dead civilization in “Saurus” by John Van Pelt (debut 2/23 and reviewed by Frank D). The book he brings to his clan he hopes is filled with stories. The words within are eloquent but does it hold the treasure he is after?

I found this brief tale curious but nothing more.

 

“Bus Ride to Mars” by Cat Rambo (debut 2/24 and reviewed by Frank D). Djuna boards a bus headed to Paradise. The bus to Mars is a five-day journey with many stops along the way. The passengers are just as intriguing as the bus’s multiple destinations.

“Bus Ride” is a people watchers tale. Djuna doesn’t want to go to Mars, or get to know her fellow passengers, but the odd people on the bus tell their own tales within earshot of Djuna. The passengers on the bus are as odd as the alien bar in Star Wars.

I confess, I am befuddled on the point of this tale. The cast of characters are a mish-mash of competing genres and are as odd as the aliens in the bar scene in Star Wars. The passengers sound more shallow than interesting to me. Djuna, the protagonist, I’m guessing would agree with me. The entire story left me confused because I was never sure if Djuna had passed and ‘Paradise’ was indeed heaven (the unanswered question of why heaven would be on Mars makes me believe otherwise). The bulk of the tale are tracks of sidebar stories the passengers tell, which made me wonder if “Bus Ride” was a retelling of the Canterbury Tales. Whether it was or not matter little. The real attraction to this piece is Ms Rambo’s ability to compile an array of odd individuals with random tales and turn it into a single story.

 

“Storytellers” by Jen Brubacher (debut 2/27 and reviewed by Frank D). Beatrice and Gary have stories to share. The pair compete to tell about the extraordinary events of their day.

“Storytellers” is a dual perspective narrative of two tale-weavers. Beatrice has the ability of making mundane events sound compelling while Gary’s astounding tale has a way of coming out humdrum. Gary’s ghost tale proves to be far more interesting than even he imagined but Beatrice’s boring story may end up one-upping him in the end.

Like Ms Brubacher’s characters, I have two different reactions to this piece. I found the overall premise of “Storytellers” to be silly. It took an extraordinary right turn that (in my opinion) cheapened the greater tale. The story’s final lineâ€

“Well, that makes sense.”â€

â€I couldn’t have disagreed with more. The real draw to this piece was Ms Brubacher’s portrayal of two polar opposites through different perspectives. I enjoyed following along while one character listened and judged the other while they told their exciting tale. A true jewel of a gift for the author to bring characters to life like that. If it wasn’t for the way the tale ended, I would have given this story an enthusiastic recommendation.

 

Anna needs one last operation for her to achieve immortality in “The Procedure” by L.E. Elder (debut 2/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Her last biological component , her brain– is defective. She is one of the last of the bio-residued beings , or humans , left. Her daughter is eager for her to become Alltech. Only ten percent of her components are bio, what could she possibly miss if she were to ditch the last of it.

There is a curious moral to “The Procedure”. Anna was an early advocate for cyborg rights. The opposition gradually gave way, not because they were swayed but rather because they died out and while the techno-enhanced lived on. The ‘people’ in this story have lost all their humanity but have retained their consciousness. Anna is the unique position of realizing the people she opposed ended up being prophetically correct.

I liked this tale a lot. “The Procedure” put a price on immortality, the fare being the loss of your soul. But the ‘people’ in this tale don’t care, having likely lost the sense of the true value of what they once possessed. The author in this tale established the fine line of where humanity strides and where being human ends.

I found this story to be thought provoking , what science fiction is all about.

Recommended.

 

“The Princess of the Perfumed River” by Aliette de Bodard (debut 2/29 and reviewed by Frank D). Thein has been waiting for Kim. She left two years before to investigate the Artifact , an alien vessel in space. She is back on Earth but so distant she might as well be light years away.

This tale is part of the number quartet series. The in feels left behind, hoping Kim will be the one to save him. Her distance leads him to believe she will never come back, but he may have misunderstood why she is so far away. Distance isn’t always one person’s inability to separate. Sometimes it may be one person’s inability to find their way back.

The theme to “The Princess” was difficult to decipher. As a fan of several of Ms Bodard’s works, I have become accustomed to the deep nature of her plots. The short narrative did not make this easier to puzzle out. In fact, its brief size made it more difficult. It took a second reading for me to fully grasp this storyline. Even so, I wished more answers would have been available to me.

 

Congratulationsâ€

The Million Writer’s Award is an award for speculative fictions most notable online short stories. To my dismay, only one story from Daily SF made the list, but if you could only pick one story for the award, you couldn’t have gone wrong with Eugie Foster’s “Requiem Duet, Concerto for Flute and Voodoo”. In our September 2011 review I wrote in my recommendationâ€

I first heard of Eugie Foster years ago. A friend told me he read the best story ever in a popular critique group. That story went on to win the Nebula in 2009. If “Requiem” is any indication on how well she writes, you can expect several more awards to come her way in the near future. The story was just plain dynamite. It is the best Friday story I have read at DSF yet.

â€and it is still the best Friday story I have read yet at Daily SF. Although I disagreed strongly with Million Writer’s Award choice last year, I am hoping they will get this one right and choose “Requiem” as their overall choice and give Daily Science Fiction a much deserved feather in its cap.

 

Dave Steffen is editor and owner of this wonderful ezine Diabolical Plots. He recently reached a goal many writers desire, the chance to become a full-fledged member of the Science Fiction Writers of America organization. Congratulations, my friend.