The Best of Pseudopod 2015

written by David Steffen

Pseudopod has now been running for nearly 10 years, which makes it an old fogey in terms of fiction podcasts.  2015 marked a major moment in the podcast’s history–the podcast increased the amount that it paid its author’s to what is considered in the industry to be professional rates.  This is very exciting because not many podcasts have been able to afford to do this.  I hope this will bring in even better stories by an even broader set of authors, and that will hopefully help give the fiction podcast industry more respect when it comes to awards and such honors which have typically looked over podcasts.

Shawn Garrett is still the editor of the podcast, but he has taken on a new co-editor–Alex Hofelich.  In 2015 they published 67 stories (some in multi-story episodes)

The List

1. “The Last Bombardment” by Kenneth Schneyer
Adorable  toddlers parachuting from the sky.  This is a strange new kind of war.

2. “Comparison of Efficacy Rates for Seven Anti-Pathetics as Employed Against Lycanthropes” by Marie Brennan
Written in the style of a scholarly research paper focused on the important and practical research of fighting werewolves.

3. “The Bleeding Game” by Natalia Theodoridou
A man discovers that when he cuts himself, he can revisit past times before the death of his girlfriend.

4. “When It Ends, He Catches Her” by Eugie Foster
A story of dancing, and love, in the time of plague.

5. “Final Corrections, Pittsburgh Times-Dispatch” by M. Bennardo
Written as a newspaper corrections section the day after the beginning of the end of the world.

6. “Thing in the Bucket” by Eric Esser
Fair warning, this one gets pretty squicky in several ways.  The manufacture of a homonculus from menstrual blood.

7. “Lullabies for a Clockwork Child” by Shane Halbach
Parents always see the best potential in their children, don’t they?

 

Honorable Mentions

“The Godsmaid Clara and Her Many Smiles” by Sharon Dodge

“The Discussion of Mimes” by Michael Payne

“Hunger” by Caitlin Marceau

 

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.

Review: Nebula Short Story Nominees

written by David Steffen

You can find a full list of the 2013 Nebula nominees here. This is a review of the short stories nominated this year for the Nebulas, which are chosen by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

1. ‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,” Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Lightspeed 6/13)
The story of an interplanetary colonist from Earth who traveled with her husband with the expectation that they would be able to return in ten years, but a pathogen keeps them from returning. Their daughter, born on the colony, has never seen Earth and has grown up with her mother’s stories of the old world. This story has roots in the experience of immigrants here on Earth, but is all the more heartfelt for the differences rendered by SFnal treatment.

Top notch. Not much else to say, just go read it. This is easily my pick for the category.

 

2. ‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,” Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed 1/13)
Old Earth isn’t worth preserving anymore, most people say. It should be broken down into its component materials for the further development of New Earth. But not everyone wants to evacuate the planet. For people who have spent their whole lives there, raised their families there, that’s a difficult and painful transition to make.

Not a bad story. I felt for the character, but it was a bit maudlin for my tastes. There is conflict, certainly, but nothing that the character can do anything about so the story just kind of happens around him. Not bad, but just not my cup of tea, I guess.

 

3. ‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,” Kenneth Schneyer (Clockwork Phoenix 4)
This is told as though it were one of those audio tours you can sometimes get at museums to walk you through the exhibits in some meaningful order. It steps through an artist’s works from the beginning of her career to her death, examining how her technique changed with events in her life, in particular in the representation of loved ones who had died.

I found the technique for this one served to only increase the distance between me and the character so that she’s a historical figure of little importance to me rather than really immersing me in the story. It was very faithful to its medium–I would enjoy listening to this in headphones as I walked around an art exhibit looking at each of the works as it’s described. But on its own, without the actual art having been created and shown to me in parallel, it reads pretty much like I’d expect a museum tour to read without being able to be there or look at anything–kind of interesting but very prolonged and all of the most interesting stuff is not onstage. I found some of the discussion questions after each painting rather annoying because so many seem to be based around the writer of the audio tour not really paying attention to the quote the author herself gave about why some figures are drawn differently than others. If Mr. Schneyer hired an artist to make the paintings that go along with this story and presented them together, I’d happily buy the ebook for that.

 

4. ‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)
This story starts out with the whimsical hypothetical in the title, as spoken by a woman to a friend she loves dearly, and continues on to give real life reasons why she is pondering this whimsy.

The characters read as real once the story got to the story, but I found all the hypotheticals more irritating than entertaining or illuminating. If A, then B. If B, then C. If C, then D. A story this short shouldn’t feel too long, but to me it does. Eventually the story gets to the actual story behind the hypotheticals, but by that time I was just impatient for it to be over.

 

5. ‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13)
A girl’s mother leaves her family behind. The girl thinks the circumstances imply that her mother is a selkie (a mythical shapeshifting creature that could turn into a seal by pulling on her sealskin, but would be trapped in human form if that skin was stolen).

Most of the body of the story is the girl criticizing the tropes of selkie stories, which I wasn’t very interested in, partly because I haven’t seen enough selkie stories to really say whether her tropes are actually accurate or not. While some of the circumstances of her mother leaving match a selkie story, I didn’t see any really strong evidence that that was the case, so it just seemed to be a story about a neurotic fixation caused by family trauma. The family trauma, perhaps I should’ve felt moved by, but it happened before the story started, and rather than confront the real situation she spends all of her time obsessing about selkie stories.

Not my thing, I guess.

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.