Daily Science Fiction: September 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Welcome to the only ezine publication that takes the time to review all of the stories of one of the most read speculative publications, and most submitted to professional publishers, Daily Science Fiction. We are proud to be able to show DSF, and its celebrated authors, that their work is read , and studied. For three years we have held true to our commitment that Daily SF should not be ignored. They shouldn’t. The material is too good to be overlooked. But don’t take our word for it. See for yourself.

 

When the Selkie Comes by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 9/2 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

This flash story is about a young girl suffering the loss of her best friend / girlfriend. Her mind can’t fully accept that she’s gone, especially because of bullying, so she invents a world of magic around herself like a protective bubble, imagining her friend has gone to a better place.

I wasn’t able to escape into the fantasy because this tale was true-to-life. Magic is mentioned, but doesn’t play a part. I wish it had, because I was hoping for some sort of redemption, but instead we just have a very sad, very real story.

 

The Velveteen Rabbit Says Goodbye by Melissa Mead (debut 9/3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing many of Melissa Mead’s altered fairy tales, but this one leaves them all behind. If you read only one, make it this one.

The Velveteen rabbit is sent to his Boy, who has been sent to war. While there, he sees horrible things, but his job is simply to be there for his Boy, as well as for others, because they need him.

RECOMMENDED

 

A carnival attraction draws an inquisitive customer in The Vanishing Girl by Michael T. Banker (debut 9/4 and reviewed by Frank D). For two dollars, a girl promises to make something you offer to disappear. Her magical touch delivers. Intrigued, he offers her something friendly. Big mistake.

“The Vanishing Girl” is a tale I read when it first appeared in a writer’s group contest. The ending is quite abrupt, and fitting.

 

A tribute of a town’s savior shows up at the doorstep of a young lady’s home in The Witch’s Cat by Kalisa Ann Lessnau (debut 9/5 and reviewed by Frank D). The companion of a Witch takes to the protagonist when its master dies. The Witch did much for the town. The people she helped all whisper their thanks to the cat (named Sampson) as the protagonist walks tours the community. Sampson contributes to the bonfire while the town performs one last tribute to the Witch, surprising them all, but the magic of the witch has not stopped giving, after all.

“The Witch’s Cat” is a tale that had me guessing throughout. The Witch had left a lasting mark on the local people, she being an icon like many leaders throughout history. I really had no idea where this story was heading and its conclusion is one that I whole-heartedly approve of. Very nice work indeed.

RECOMMENDED

 

The old Angel of Death appeals to the new angel to spare humanity. In Dark Angel, Archangel by Kevin J. Anderson (debut 9/6 and reviewed by Frank D), the Grim Reaper has lost his job to the White Lady. He has refused to exterminate humanity and has been stripped of most of his power. The White Lady has no such qualms. Angels of Deaths have been replaced before – mass extinctions having rendering the previous angel useless. The Reaper intends to not let humanity fade from Earth. He knows why the rest of the aurorae want man to perish. The aurorae will have much to fear, if he can convince the White Lady why man should survive.

“Dark Angel” is a supernatural tale with a very different premise. The otherworld beings are products of the Aurora Borealis. The fear humanity feels for the Angels of Death have made them powerful, too powerful for the beings that have created them. The story becomes a battle, ending in a self-sacrificing act to prove a point.

Frankly, I found this story to be a stretch, even for a speculative audience. It read like a mash up of concepts that floated around in the author’s head.

 

A letter of concern (complete with footnotes) is sent to the people of Earth in Uh†Guys? by Luc Reid (debut 9/9 and reviewed by Frank D). Aliens send us a message in a lingo that we can all understand, you dig?

I found this amusing tongue-and-cheek message piece entertaining.

 

A man follows a character of importance in Tunnel Vision by Zach Shephard (debut 9/10 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist tails a woman he identifies as ‘The Protagonist’. He passes by other characters with wild stories of their own, but he is unconcerned about them. She alone has captured his interest.

“Tunnel Vision” is a story of a viewer focused on a single person. The tale is strange, told as if a reader is living in the imaginative world of another’s creation. The people he passes have incredible and compelling tales of their own, tales he ignores.

This story has a disconnected and odd premise to it. Surreal, yet interesting.

 

The cycles of the tides have a feminine influence in Ebb and Flow by La Shawn M. Wanak (debut 9/11 and reviewed by Frank D). Megan waits at the shore, watching the tide come in as a hint to know when her time has arrived.

This premise is based on a switch on the attraction of the tides , it is a woman’s menstruation cycle and not the moon’s gravitational influence. Interesting, but silly.

 

A vampire craves to see the sun in Finally Free by Frances Silversmith (debut 9/12 and reviewed by Frank D). This brief tale explores the motives of a vampire who has lived in the dark for far too long.

Short and sweet.

 

A failed artist tries to find his purpose in a world filled with androids in The Titanium Geisha by Elias Barton (debut 9/13 and reviewed by Frank D). Wil Feld is the oldest child of a family of accomplished artists. A failure who spends his days on the beach eating hot dogs, Will is bitter and adrift – a boat without a rudder – as he attempts to sail through life as his siblings have. He awaits his perfect mate, a companion android he had picked out in the design specs of an android corporation. When Fern appears on the beach, she isn’t what he expected. She turns out to more than he could have imagined.

“The Titanium Geisha” is a story reminiscent of Philip Dick’s classic Do Androids Dream Electric Dreams? , the story that begat Blade Runner. Fern proves to be just the person Will needs, a mate who challenges an artist who has come to avoid challenges. Fern attempts to blossom Wil’s creative side, but Wil has not the insight, nor the desire his siblings have had all along. The world is clinical to him. Where others see beauty, he finds the practical.

“Titanium Geisha” is long tale for Daily SF. It is long in set up with a reveal that takes a long and winding path to reach its conclusion. The tale is a cleverly disguised mystery. There are clues within the story that should have made the twist obvious but the slow pace and complicated romance does a rather good job of hiding the clues in plain sight. The protagonist is drawn as a privileged jerk, too comfortable in his own self-pity to attempt to move beyond his own short comings. He makes it difficult as a character for a reader to rootfor, which is a shame.

“The Titanium Geisha” is a story with a solid premise. The tale is an intriguing one but one that is difficult to stick with.

 

Pavlov’s Final Research by Gary Cuba (debut 9/16 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

The old man stood on shaky legs, his bones creaking with the effort, and shambled over to the door. “What do they want of me now?” He thought. He opened the door to reveal his old friend, Sergi. “Have you come to tell me they have stopped my stipend after all these years?” Pavlov asked. “Not at all, old friend.” Sergi said. “In fact Stalin wants to honor you as his predecessor has done, but he needs to know about your new work.” Pavlov agreed and led Sergi into the kitchen to observe his latest work, a new approach to conditioning. But who was training who?

This story is a little trite and predictable, but it is well written and the humor comes through nicely. The writer has done a credible job with setting up the premise and drawing the reader into the story. It could probably have used a better punch line, but it is still worth the read.

 

Virtually Human by Melanie Rees (debut 9/17 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

The boy held up the pills, offering one to Miranda. She refused and he popped one in his mouth. “You know you want one,” he said. Miranda refused, stumbling over her words, “I can’t.” His look carried the accusation of cowardice. “Mother would be angry.” Still she is on the verge of succumbing to the temptation when the footsteps on the stairs alert her. “End program,” she commands and the boy fades away.

This was an interesting take on perception and what we seek for in life. The author does a good job of drawing us into the character. And while there are some early issues with gaps in the action that I found disconcerting, overall the story is well written. I liked the way the author changed our view of the world as she changed the perspective of the character. Worth the read.

 

A painter deconstructs his own work in Artist’s Retrospective by David D. Levine (debut 9/18 and reviewed by Frank D). A customer delivers a painting to an artist’s gallery , a caption of a fruit bowl. The painter accepts it and strips down to the point of his inspiration.

“Artist’s Retrospective” is a walk backwards in creation. The story is told in a time reversal, a tale of rediscovery in the eyes of a creator. The piece (story) is a work of a master. Mr. Levine shows off his own artistry as he leads the reader on a path of inspiration and talent , in reverse. Well done.

RECOMMENDED

 

A scientist confesses his crime in Those Little Slices of Death by Susan Lanigan (debut 9/19 and reviewed by Frank D). An inventor removes the magnet in his skull that neutralizes the need for sleep. The result is intoxicating.

This futuristic message piece is written as a commentary of our current political times. Not a bad story but reading the author’s inspiration kind of soured it for me.

 

Unicorns, and Other Birthday Hazards by Jeffery John Hemenway (debut 9/20 and reviewed by Frank D). It’s Greta’s twelfth birthday, and that makes her a dangerous girl. Monsters inhabit her town, brought about by the birthday wishes of little children. The adults need her to fix this with a wish, but she knows that won’t make things better, just worse. But Greta knows what to do because she’s the one that made birthday wishes possible in the first place.

Greta is a prisoner in her own attic as a large man stands guard. Outside unicorns and ponies of all shapes and color rule the grounds. They are the results of wishes small children have made, but no wish comes without a consequence. Greta learned that the day she first found the gnome, and has been planning ever since to undo what she had done long ago.

“Unicorns” is a tale of unintentional consequences. She had intended on saving her sick sister with her first wish, but the gnome had warned her of its consequences. The story is a fast moving tale full of unexpected twists and turns. The quick pace and unseen corners is a telling that was right up my alley, making it a complete pleasure for me to read. My only gripe is the ending left me with unanswered questions. Nevertheless, it was a solid and entertaining read.

 

An editor wants his science fiction writer to make his novel more believable in Worldbuilding by Alex Shvartsman (debut 9/23 and reviewed by Frank D). Peter calls in Bob to nit-pick small details in his latest work.

This short piece has a twist made for the lovers of speculative fiction.

 

The Gifts: Parts 1 -3 by Mari Ness (debut 9/24-26 and reviewed by Frank D), is a tale told around the Grimm fairy tale, The Girl with Silver Hands. Each part is told from a perspective of one of the major players in the tale.

In Part One (debut 9/24), the protagonist is given a chest from his daughter, filled with gold and a pair of silver hands. The gold is his, but it cannot be touched by his own hands.

In Part Two (debut 9/25), we see the prequel to Part One. The girl with stumps for arms is given the silver hands as a gift by her prince, her husband, and protagonist of this tale.

This flash gathers a glimpse of the girl and how her silver hands are given as a gift to her father.

In Part Three (debut 9/26), is the finale as seen through the eyes of the girl with stumps for arms. She watches as her prince , the man she had left , slices off her father’s hands on the chest full of gold.

The original tale (there are many variations, according to my research) is dark like many of the Grimm brother’s tales. Ms Ness’s adaption is told with an alternate ending as an epilogue to the original tale. These three brief adaptions are presented in a slightly darker shade as the already grim fairy tale.

Like many of the fairy tale adaptions told here at Daily SF, the author holds true to the tone of the original piece while spinning it in their own style. Not bad, for a bleak and harsh children’s story.

 

A ghost girl and a man seeking resurrection for his wife seek a planet of dreams in Marrakech Express by Milena Benini (debut 9/27 and reviewed by Frank D). The planet of Zaria is a world where the dead can live on in the space in which dreams exist. Mari is a spirit whose form exists in the presence of her parents. Karima intends on making the sun run for her daughter. Christian Chankari is a man who has used the services of a smuggler , Harry the Slut. Together, they travel aboard the Marrakech Express to Zaria so Christian can bring his departed wife to Zaria.

“Marrakech Express” is a dual plot story. The twin stories surrounding Mari’s ghostly form and the exploits of Harry the Slut have very little in common. Each storyline follows a confusing path until the characters meet in the climax of the piece.

I found this story to be a difficult one to get through. The characters all have odd motives. The rules of the dream state and how they related to the dead I couldn’t make heads or tails out of. The story is slow and underdeveloped. I just couldn’t understand why these people made the choices they made.

Not my cup of tea.

 

An old woman has a soft spot for children, one she has been suppressing for a very long time. How Hagatha One-Eye Fell Off the Wagon by Matthew Cote (debut 9/30 and reviewed by Frank D) is a tale of a reclusive and old woman. She holds tight to a coin stamped with a 200, the time she has remained on the wagon. An older boy performs a breaking and entering on her place, challenging her resolve and will power.

“How Hagatha” is a take on the ole Hansel and Gretel fable. I found it inventive and a pleasure to read.

RECOMMENDED

 

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“Door in the Darkness” published in Stupefying Stories

written by David Steffen

My story “Door in the Darkness” just went live in Stupefying Stories issue 1.9, edited by Bruce Bethke. I’ve been very excited to find this magazine, as Bruce’s style is right up my alley of what I like to read and what I like to write. Sharing the table of contents with me is my good friend Gary Cuba, who Bruce describes as a fan favorite, so that was a nice surprise.

I wrote “Door in the Darkness” after reading “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer. My entire aim was to write a supernatural romance story where I didn’t hate the characters. I like the way that it turned out. If you get a chance to read it, do let me know!

Also, (adding this a week after the original post), just noticed that the Amazon “Look Inside” feature for the magazine lets you see the first section of my story, though it’s cut off by the digital preview.

Adventures in Amateur Art (Drabblecast Edition)

written by David Steffen

Introduction

I’ve always felt drawn to creative endeavors of various kinds. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist. When I was in high school I wanted to program video games. I tend to wander from one creative medium to another, drawn from one to the next by the prospect of something new and interesting. Writing has been the odd duck in this string of attempts in that I actually have stuck with it for years, and I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I’m pretty good. I’m not planning to quit any time soon. Yet I’m still always looking to explore other mediums just to keep myself from getting too comfortable, because that way lies boredom. If you believe in Muses, at least in a metaphorical sense, I like to say “My Muse, she be fickle.” I’ve tried to force her to work for me, and that always fails. She just leaves if I try that, and will stay away until I stop trying to give her orders. I am much happier, and much more productive if I just go with the flow, and let her drive the car.

Anyway, the point is that I am now, as ever, having fun trying out new creative fields. At the moment I’m dabbling in story illustrations. I’ve thought about doing something like this for a while. In particular, I think it’d be fun to illustrate my own stories, or the stories of friends.  But I have never felt particularly driven to do so. But then along came the perfect opportunity, as offered by the Drabblecast!

Drabblecast is working their way up to a major site upgrade. As part of this grand project, Bo Kaier, their art director, has kicked off the Drabblecast Art Reclamation Project (follow the link for all the juicy details). Since about episode 130 of their podcast, they’ve had illustrations for every single episode, provided by volunteer artists. When they move to the new site, in an effort to make everything more uniform and to provide shiny new content to attract listeners, Bo has asked for volunteers to fill in the episode artwork for all those older episodes. Anyone who feels they might like to take a crack at it, there are still more than 50 episodes unclaimed–follow the link. The deadline stated there is August 1st, but that’s a very soft deadline. They’re currently shooting for mid-September launch, and anything they don’t have artwork for at that time… will just have to go without art for now. So, I’m sure they’d love to have whoever volunteer.

I decided to volunteer for 3 episode artworks for now, and I’ve completed and submitted by the time of writing this post. These will go up on the Drabblecast site when it’s ready to launch, but I’ve asked for permission to show the artwork I’ve done here. And, for those who might be interested in such things, I will describe how I did each of these pieces of visual art from start to finish.

The Art

“Malish” by Mike Resnick

“Malish” is a story about a deal with the devil. It’s a bit out of the ordinary for that type of story in that the main character is not the one who makes the deal. The main character is Malish, a racehorse, and his owner has made a deal with the devil, described in the story only as “the gnarly little man”. The devil comes to claim the owner, and while he’s there decides to nab the horse as well. But Malish won’t be taken so easily.

1. What to depict?
The first thing I had to decide is what I wanted the illustration to depict. I chose this specific story because I figured that I could do the image of the horse justice with the “pet cartooning” method that I was playing with last year. So, of course, I knew the horse would be in the image. But I wanted to get at least some hint of the speculative element into the image as well. In this case, the only speculative element is the presence of the devil, described as “the gnarly little man”. One of the biggest moments in the story is when the gnarly little man first tries to take Malish in the stable, so I decided to illustrate that.

2. Picture of a horse
Next, I needed to actually get started on the image. In particular, I needed to get the outline of the horse. My method for doing this is perhaps not the most sophisticated, but I think it worked well enough. First I needed a picture of a horse. I mentioned this to Bo and, he is such a nice guy, he contacted another Drabblecast fan and got me a few home pictures of one of her horses. Of the three, one stood out to me as a particularly interesting image, so I picked that. I like it, because the horse is looking right at the camera. You can see the horse’s face very clearly and it is the most prominent part of the image, but you can also see the horse’s body in the background. It has some interesting perspective proportions, with the horses hindquarters appearing smaller than its head.

3. Cartoon outline of the horse
Now I needed the bold line drawing of the horse, to give it a cartoon feel, with digital colors to be added in later. I can draw relatively well in freehand, but I decided that, in order to do the horse image justice, I would do some good old fashioned tracing. I printed out the image, overlaid it with tracing paper, and traced the boldest lines with a nice thick 1.2mm felt pen. The lines on the outer edges were easiest to see, as they showed through the tracing paper most clearly. Some of the others I had to just eyeball. Note, I added some lines that aren’t strictly lines in the photo, to suggest the shape of the horse’s body.

4. Binary image of outline of the horse
One trouble is that, when I scan this nice clean outline, the scanned image that ends up on my computer is not perfectly clean. The scanner picks up some of the paper’s texture, etc… So, to get a really clean image, I opened it up in Microsoft Paint, and saved it as a Monochrome Bitmap. This format only stores white and black, nothing in between, what computer vision folk call “binary thresholding”. Saving it as that leaves some extraneous speckles, but by zooming upsize in Microsoft Paint, I could clean those up with the eraser tool.

5. Sketching the hand
And then on to the hand. I drew it in a sketchbook freehand using my own left hand as a model. I’m very happy with how the hand turned out, as it’s one of my better attempts at realistic freehand drawing of human anatomy. For now, drawing the hand as close to my hand as I can.

6. Gnarlifying, cartoon outline, binary image
From the sketch I had to get back to a similar type type of cartoon image as the horse. Tracing paper, thick felt tip. And, remember, the hand is supposed to be the hand of the gnarly little man, so at this stage I embellished from the original image to make it gnarly. I tried to add swelling to all of the knuckles, and while I was at it, extend the fingernails and add prominent veins. And then I repeated the same steps I’d used for the horse to get a clean binary image.


7. Combining cartoon horse with cartoon hand
Now to combine the images, resizing, overlaying. Using Microsoft Paint for this again.

8. Simple coloring of image
Simplest coloring step, just using Microsoft Paint’s basic paint bucket. Tried to match colors to photograph. Tried making the hand green to begin with. The story did not specify the color and I wanted it to appear somewhat “other”.

9. Color shading of image
That last coloring scheme was rather too simple, so tried to add a comic style 2 step shading to the main body of the horse as well as to the hand. To make the shaded areas look like a differently lighted patch of the same color, went into Microsoft Paint’s custom colors, started with the original color, and simply dialed the Saturation level down. Since the new shading levels suggest the shape of the horse’s body, I removed the black contour lines I’d added to suggest that shape.

10. Extra Shading, Red Hand
I changed the color of the hand from green to shades of red because one person, upon seeing the image, immediately said “Is that a zombie and a donkey?” Okay, so green does tend to suggest zombies, so may as well change it. Confusing the horse for a donkey though… Not much to be done about that but educate him on the difference between donkeys and horses. 🙂

11. Final copy
Had to make some more changes before the final draft. In the original one, the hand is rather hidden behind the Drabblecast logo. There wasn’t anything to do but to shrink the image down and draw extensions. These extensions go outside the boundaries shown in the photo so I had to estimate what the rest would look like. I also added in a new background color with a gradient so it isn’t so uniform, and added in the title. I got some help from Bo on the title formatting, adding in the darker boundary to the letters, which i haven’t figured out how to do. That’s good because the font didn’t pop out of the background clearly enough without that.

“Marbles” by Ayn Sauer

“Marbles” is a dark story from a child’s point of view. This is one obsessive little girl, fixated upon her button collection. She plays by herself and sorts the buttons by size, color, number of holes. A neighborhood boy invites her over to play, and shows her his stuffed bunny with button eyes. Big mistake, as she immediately extracts one of the button eyes for her collection. And that’s not the end.

1. What to depict?
Decided to do this one in a child’s art style. I figured it could be a simple crayon drawing, perhaps a self-portrait drawn by the girl at a psychiatrist visit after the fact. And, what better moment to show, but the very moment when she has extracted the button eye. So I decided I’d draw the girl with the button, and the boy with the bunny within a child’s simple house shape. A bit later in the story, the boy’s cat plays an important role, so the cat’s in the image as well.

2. The drawing
I learned a lesson from the Malish illustration, to leave room at the bottom for the Drabblecast logo, so I made a grassy lawn down there. Simple house outline. Girl with triumphant smile and pose, holding up the button. Boy wailing and crying with one-eye bunny in tow. Cat off to the side. Instead of making an electronic font, I decided to draw the title and episode number into the crayon drawing itself. And, since the episode number has a zero in it, I made the zero into a button.

3. Final copy
I handed the image off to Bo, and he did some treatments to it, which I thought turned out well.

“The Fine Point” by Gary Cuba

“The Fine Point” has a very classic SF feel to it. In the story, someone has made a profound discovery about the world we live in–the world is made up of a limited set of repeating hexagon-shaped tiles. He proves this by marking a couple of nearby forested locations. Taking a photo from these two locations creates the exact same photograph. Evidence, he says, that rather than making every bit of Creation completely unique, God has used a repeating set of tiles.

I volunteered for this one because Gary’s a good friend of mine. I get a kick out of his stories and I thought it’d be fun to illustrate one of them to share with all the Drabblecast listeners.

1. What to depict?
This one was a bit trickier than the others to try to decide what to do. I wanted to get the speculative element into the illustration, but the speculative element in this case is extremely subtle. It manifests in the story by showing the two photographs side by side, but that by itself wouldn’t make a very compelling illustration to me. Instead, I decided that rather than illustrating an explicit scene/even in the story I would try to illustrate the concept of the story in a more abstract way. I decided that one way that I could manage to do this would be to try to do an image that might interest the great M.C. Escher, blurring the boundaries between reality and unreality. Since the pictures in the story were a forest, I thought I’d start with a forest.

2. Find a forest picture
I’d fully intended to take a forest picture with my own camera. But, that didn’t end up working out. Whenever I would head out to a nearby park, something would stop me from getting the picture. Sometimes it was weather. Once I got all the way there only to realize my camera batteries were too dead to take even a single picture. So, instead, I searched online and found at Burning Well, a website that has public domain images.

3. Sketch the forest
Hey, look, another use for tracing paper! :) I printed out the photo, then laid tracing paper over it. From that I was able to get the boldest outlines, the starkly contrasting tree trunks, the edge of the treeline in the background. There were a lot of details I had to doodle out by eyeballing it, all the leafy details especially.

4. Lay out hexagon pattern
Just found a single hexagon and repeated the pattern until I’d filled the area. In GIMP, I made the spaces between the grid transparent. I wanted some hint of the hexagon tiles in the story, so that the illustration could more effectively bring the story to mind.

5. Combine, with layers
Okay, now to combine three layers together with selective transparency effects. Again, using GIMP.
First, the sketch on the bottom layer, no transparency.
Next, the photograph on top of that, with a radial transparency to make it look like the photograph has bled away in a circular pattern.Â
Next, the hexagon pattern. This one with a square transparency pattern, so that the hexagon just bleeds in at the very edge.

6. Final copy
I couldn’t quite figure out how to get the title just right, so I handed it off to Bo and asked him for help. He worked his magic, and made the title work very well with the image. Note that the new title even has a color gradient from gray to green, that matches the image. Perfect.

Review: Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #47

written by David Steffen

I apologize for being slow to get this out. I realize that issue #48 is already available, which I haven’t had a chance to read yet. But I feel strongly about issue #47 and I wanted to post a review of it, even if it is a bit tardy. I bought issue #47 because it includes a story by my friend Gary Cuba. I like his style and I like to buy copies of his published stories. This was the first issue I’ve read of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (ASIM) that I ever read, and I was very pleased with what I read. Pleased enough that I asked for an ASIM subscription for Christmas. Not only were my favorite stories from this issue extremely good, I liked almost all of them, and I don’t say that about many magazines. I’m letting my subscription on another magazine lap because I simply like too few of the stories, and the few stories I do like, are just not that good. This issue was so much better I am happy to send my money ASIM’s way.

One thing that I really like about Andromeda Spaceways is that their judging system works without the author’s name attached to the story. A lot of the big magazines claim that they choose their stories based on quality and not on the fame of the name, but when asked about judging without author name attached, they tend to get very defensive. With the name stripped off, the story has to stand for itself. If a big name’s story is really worthy, it will rise to the top even without the name attached, but this way second-rate rushed stories by the big names will be less likely to make it through.

I encourage you all to give ASIM a try, based on the issue that I have read, and I hope that the magazine as a whole is as consistent as this first issue was. This one was edited by Patty Jansen, one of a rotating set of editors, so I will be very interested to see how even the magazine feels from editor to editor as well.

Dig up the Vote by Patrick S. Tomlinson

The living dead have been given the right to vote. To take advantage of this, political candidates raise zombies just to collect votes. The protagonist of this story is a volunteer helping out with this process. The story begins as she’s meeting up with the pink-clad Necromancer bringing the walking dead up from the ground, and is the one in charge of feeding them and herding them to the polls and coaxing them into voting.

This story was hilarious from the beginning with the interactions with the Necromancer, to the very end.. Humor is a hard thing to pull off well, but this one had me rolling. I believe this was Patrick’s first published story, so I’m happy that ASIM took a chance on his story. It’s a great bit of comedy, well-deserving of having the coveted first story location, and it was just a lot of fun..

Dog by Stephen Watts

Dog tells of a spaceship-dwelling family living on a ship. Grandpa always insisted that they share the ship with a supernatural roommate that mostly doesn’t bother them… as long as it gets it’s scheduled tobacco offerings. The trouble is, tobacco has been illegalized and becomes harder and harder to obtain.  Grandpa always insisted on the tobacco offerings, but now that’s he’s passed away, none of the remaining family members believe in the necessity of the offerings.

This was a cool story, a nice mix of science fiction and fantasy, supernatural creatures in space. I really cared about what happened to these characters, and I was very anxious to see the story unroll. It was very good.

Killing Time by Felicity Pullman

This is the story of Jane Marshall, the widow of star football player known by everyone simply as “Bull.” Most of the story is told as a flashback, telling of their not-s0-wonderful relationship before his death. For most of the story, the speculative element isn’t very clear, but it is there soon or later.

This was the one story that I just strongly disliked. Both Jane and Bull were nasty individuals without any redeeming features whatsoever. I got the impression I was supposed to be horrified by the dark events of the story, but when bad things happened to these characters I just shrugged. The ending was a twist, but a too predictable one, and one that felt more gimmicky than natural to the story. I would’ve gotten over the ending if I’d cared at all about either character, but as it was I just wanted this one to be over.

The Ship’s Doctor by Charlotte Nash

This is another author for whom this issue is their first publication. Congratulations on that, Charlotte! The title does not refer to a doctor who happens to live on a ship; she is literally a doctor who treats ships. In this future, ships are bio-engineered creatures with real intelligence, and it is no longer just a mechanic-type job. Instead, it’s more something that’s a mix of psychiatry and medicine applied to an anthropmorphized mode of transpot.

This was a really cool idea, and well executed. It took me a little while to get into the head of the main character, but once I got the hang of her point of view, I really appreciated it. This story did a very nice job revealing a complicated setting as part of the story, instead of dumping the information all at once. Her drive, her lust to do what she does makes for a very interesting and unique character, and the other main characters were chosen to be different enough from her to allow some very interesting interplay and contrast between them. I really cared about the stakes in this story, and I was really rooting for it to turn out right.

The Machine Whisperer by Gary Cuba

This is the story of maintenance mechanic Joe, as told by his co-worker. Joe has an extraordinary knack to fix anything, almost verging on the supernatural; he seems to have an aura that alters probability wherever he goes.

I’ll be upfront and admit that I consider Gary a friend, but I do genuinely like to read his fiction. He has a distinctive style that is makes me smile, and this is a lighthearted story in Gary Cuba’s usual vein. This carries the usual lighthearted style of Gary’s work. It’s short but sweet, giving a premise, working with it, but not overstaying its welcome. I actually wouldn’t have minded if this story had been a bit longer, which is not something I say very often.

Hyu Khul and the Broth of Stone by Tam McDonald

A fable-like story, a myth telling of Hyu Khul, a man so respectful of the virtues of his wives that he would refuse to touch them. He takes on a quest to brew a potion he overhears described by the gods, which will render him invulnerable. And, in true fable fashion, it comes complete with a myth.

This one left me pretty lukewarm. The character was so far-fetched he was hard to relate to, and the moral was pretty obvious from the very first line based on that far-fetchedness. None of the people ever felt like real people, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a fable-style story, but I also didn’t really buy the situation, and I wasn’t surprised by the moral. If the moral is so blaringly obvious, it sort of defeats the purpose of telling a fable, no?

Acid by Debi Carroll

A story told by a mermaid-like creature, one of a race of such creatures fished out of the Dead Sea. Their saliva is highly corrosive, and they’re captured to use for cheap and efficient petroleum refining. The mermaids aren’t individuals in the usual sense of the word–they have a sort of race memory, where any one can draw upon memories of any of its ancestors.

I’d read this one over on Baen’s Bar–I liked it there and I liked it here. The race memory point of view was very interesting, and I really wanted to root for the mermaid collective. It takes a little while to understand the point of view at the beginning, but it is just a difficult point of view to convey. Once I understood the premise, I didn’t have any more problems following it. This was very well done.

Leeching Tinnitus by John Phillips

Tommy’s almost 17, and he’s going to live with his last living relative, Baxter, an old man living on a country estate. Tommy’s suffering a case of Tinnitus due to trauma (that’s ringing ears, for those who don’t know). Baxter goes out of his way to make Tommy’s life a living hell, especially his daily task of collecting leeches for Baxter to use as fish bait. Who will come out ahead in the end?

Baxter was a real bastard, but Tommy was such a nonentity that I didn’t really want to root for him either. The Tinnitus seemed to have no real function in the story, other than to give Tommy a distinguishing characteristic. And Tommy did need need something to make him feel more unique, but I needed something more than a medical condition to do it. Maybe I missed something. I mean, it has to be very important if it’s in the title right? The leeches were certainly central to the story, but really were nothing more to me than a grossout factor. Grossout is okay, if it’s just part of another story, but when grossout is all there is… it’s just enough for me.

The Backdated Romance by Ferrett Steinmetz

A time travel love story. Unexpectedly, David approaches Barbara, telling her deepest secrets she’d never told anyone. She knew him before this, but only as an acquaintance, and he goes on to explain he’s from the future after they’d been married. A very cool start, and in true time travel fashion, it gets more complicated as it goes on.

I loved this story. I love a good time travel story and this was a great one. The problems presented were unique and interesting, and the dynamic between David and Barbara was very interesting, with the early years of their history already in David’s past. There were some great twists and turns here, and the story was well done. I’m not surprised like I was such a fan of Ferret’s story–his story “Suicide Notes, Written by an Alien Mind” made #2 on my Best of Pseudopod list.

written by David Steffen

I apologize for being slow to get this out. I realize that issue #48 is already available, which I haven’t had a chance to read yet. But I feel strongly about issue #47 and I wanted to post a review of it, even if it is a bit tardy. I bought issue #47 because it includes a story by my friend Gary Cuba. I like his style and I like to buy copies of his published stories. This was the first issue I’ve read of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (ASIM) that I ever read, and I was very pleased with what I read. Pleased enough that I asked for an ASIM subscription for Christmas. Not only were my favorite stories from this issue extremely good, I liked almost all of them, and I don’t say that about many magazines. I’m letting my subscription on another magazine lap because I simply like too few of the stories, and the few stories I do like, are just not that good. This issue was so much better I am happy to send my money ASIM’s way.

One thing that I really like about Andromeda Spaceways is that their judging system works without the author’s name attached to the story. A lot of the big magazines claim that they choose their stories based on quality and not on the fame of the name, but when asked about judging without author name attached, they tend to get very defensive. With the name stripped off, the story has to stand for itself. If a big name’s story is really worthy, it will rise to the top even without the name attached, but this way second-rate rushed stories by the big names will be less likely to make it through.

I encourage you all to give ASIM a try, based on the issue that I have read, and I hope that the magazine as a whole is as consistent as this first issue was. This one was edited by Patty Jansen, one of a rotating set of editors, so I will be very interested to see how even the magazine feels from editor to editor as well.

Dig up the Vote by Patrick S. Tomlinson

The living dead have been given the right to vote. To take advantage of this, political candidates raise zombies just to collect votes. The protagonist of this story is a volunteer helping out with this process. The story begins as she’s meeting up with the pink-clad Necromancer bringing the walking dead up from the ground, and is the one in charge of feeding them and herding them to the polls and coaxing them into voting.

This story was hilarious from the beginning with the interactions with the Necromancer, to the very end.. Humor is a hard thing to pull off well, but this one had me rolling. I believe this was Patrick’s first published story, so I’m happy that ASIM took a chance on his story. It’s a great bit of comedy, well-deserving of having the coveted first story location, and it was just a lot of fun..

Dog by Stephen Watts

Dog tells of a spaceship-dwelling family living on a ship. Grandpa always insisted that they share the ship with a supernatural roommate that mostly doesn’t bother them… as long as it gets it’s scheduled tobacco offerings. The trouble is, tobacco has been illegalized and becomes harder and harder to obtain.  Grandpa always insisted on the tobacco offerings, but now that’s he’s passed away, none of the remaining family members believe in the necessity of the offerings.

This was a cool story, a nice mix of science fiction and fantasy, supernatural creatures in space. I really cared about what happened to these characters, and I was very anxious to see the story unroll. It was very good.

Killing Time by Felicity Pullman

This is the story of Jane Marshall, the widow of star football player known by everyone simply as “Bull.” Most of the story is told as a flashback, telling of their not-s0-wonderful relationship before his death. For most of the story, the speculative element isn’t very clear, but it is there soon or later.

This was the one story that I just strongly disliked. Both Jane and Bull were nasty individuals without any redeeming features whatsoever. I got the impression I was supposed to be horrified by the dark events of the story, but when bad things happened to these characters I just shrugged. The ending was a twist, but a too predictable one, and one that felt more gimmicky than natural to the story. I would’ve gotten over the ending if I’d cared at all about either character, but as it was I just wanted this one to be over.

The Ship’s Doctor by Charlotte Nash

This is another author for whom this issue is their first publication. Congratulations on that, Charlotte! The title does not refer to a doctor who happens to live on a ship; she is literally a doctor who treats ships. In this future, ships are bio-engineered creatures with real intelligence, and it is no longer just a mechanic-type job. Instead, it’s more something that’s a mix of psychiatry and medicine applied to an anthropmorphized mode of transpot.

This was a really cool idea, and well executed. It took me a little while to get into the head of the main character, but once I got the hang of her point of view, I really appreciated it. This story did a very nice job revealing a complicated setting as part of the story, instead of dumping the information all at once. Her drive, her lust to do what she does makes for a very interesting and unique character, and the other main characters were chosen to be different enough from her to allow some very interesting interplay and contrast between them. I really cared about the stakes in this story, and I was really rooting for it to turn out right.

The Machine Whisperer by Gary Cuba

Hyu Khul and the Broth of Stone by Tam McDonald

Acid by Debi Carroll

Leeching Tinnitus by John Phillips

The Backdated Romance by Ferrett Steinmetz


Jim Baen’s Universe Closing April in 2010

I received some sad news this week. Jim Baen’s Universe will be no more after the April 2010 issue. Jim Baen’s Universe has been distributing compelling fiction three years now and has quickly become a staple of the short fiction market.

The death of JBU is a tough blow to aspirant writers as no other professional market has made such an effort to nurture new writers. Sam Hidaka has said that the slush forum on the bar, which has served as a makeshift workshop for many writers, will remain open for now but its demise cannot be far off.

I give the good folks at the JBU slush bar, especially Gary Cuba, Edith Maor and Sam Hidaka, credit for much of my limited writing success. Both of my honorable mentions from the Writers of the Future contest were posted there and the unapologetic criticism I received there made those stories better by far. Their feedback has made me a better writer and a more effective self-editor.

JBU is only the latest in a stream of recent closing or near-death experiences for short fiction venues. Realms of Fantasy recently hung it up only to be snatched from the jaw of death by Tir Na Nog Press. Paradox: The Magazine of Historical and Speculative Fiction closed in May of this year. A small start up venue, Oddlands, closed in September of last year after only five issues. Even the beast, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine has felt the pinch and gone to a bimonthly release schedule. There are many, many more publications, both online and print, who are suffering right now.

The question is why. We used to say that the internet was killing print media but JBU is an online publication. If this were true then JBU should be fine. Many other online publications have gone under as well so that logic simply doesn’t fly anymore.

Another consideration might be that short form fiction simply isn’t what readers are looking for. Recent success stories include epic series such as the Harry Potter series and Twilight. Both are multi novel sets with some books weighing in the five to six hundred page range. I would never speculate that short form fiction is ceasing to exist but it seems evident that demand is dwindling and publications are going to need to think of new ways to attract readers.

I believe that the time isn’t far off when publications are going to have to look at publishing in a whole new way. JBU tried something new with their Universe Club which provided them much needed capital early on but ultimately regular subscriptions never grew strong enough and they became too dependent on the Club income. I think there are two points of interest to make note of. First, The Universe Club was a success and readers enjoyed feeling like they were part of the magazine rather than just subscribers. This probably kept many of them subscribing longer than they would have otherwise. Secondly, the subscription model is still necessary and must be nurtured with as much care if not more than before.

I don’t pretend to know what they next big thing in periodical publishing is but one thing is certain. Editors all over the industry are watching as each of these guys fall. I hope that they are taking the time to analyze and learn what they can do to insure they don’t suffer the same fate.