Daily Science Fiction: July Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Fall is here but memories of a warm summer resurface when I compiled these reviews from my wonderful friends. The June reviews were ones I reserved for myself but while I worked on them my rock-solid cohorts plugged away at July. Mr Anonymous, Dustin Adams, and James Hanzelka have done their diligence and gave these wonderful works of art the once over. I, of course, couldn’t let them take all the glory so took the time to review a few of them myself. But this review isn’t about the people who do the reviewing, it’s about the storiesâ€.


The Stories

“Barnaby: Or, As Luck Would Have It” by K. G. Jewell (debut 7/3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a tale of irony. Or in Barnaby’s case, unfortunate irony. Barnaby travels to an auction in Paris to bid on a simple abacus for his and his family’s collection, but soon finds something much more interesting, a ward of Napoleon, which brings good luck to the wearer.

The ward, however, can only be possessed by someone who is pure of heart, and Barnaby wants it for unselfish means. At first, Barnaby thinks only of himself, and thus cannot own the ward, but eventually, upon rearranging his thinking to that of his sick fiancee, becomes able to steal the ward from its current owner. Only at the last, does he realize his mistake.

I won’t reveal the particulars of the ending, but I will say the clues presented throughout were fairly revealing. Because of this, the story felt long. Once it became obvious there was to be a twist of luck at the end, I found myself anticipating it and growing impatient as the details of Barnaby’s desire and his theft wore on.

Overall, this was a fine story, but it could have been a little shorter.


I found “Like the Fourth of July” by John Paolicelli (debut 7/4 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) to be a convenient story for the date it was published, but lacking in being a true yarn.

We focus on a girl renamed Rebekah, who lives among others in a cult ready to cross over on the day of Rapture. Reminiscent of the Heaven’s Gate cult, we’re given a glimpse of what it might have been like.

Rebekah remembers her “before” name and at the last moment, decides not to take her pill and expire with the others, but to go outside and observe the comet which she’s been told will resemble a trillion Fourth of Julys.

This turns out to be quite true as the comet crashes into Earth and presumably extinguishes all life. I’m all for humanity ending stories, as long as that’s the beginning of the story, not the quick end.


“UPGRADE” by Allison Starkweather (debut on July 5th 2011 and reviewed by Anonymous).

An old woman’s failing memory is worsened by the fact her implant–digital memory–is failing too. Her grandson arranges for her to have state of the art module to replace the defective unit and so improve her life.

I had a sense of growing annoyance when I read ‘UPGRADE’. To be fair, I always get that sinking feeling when I have a nice mature story idea sitting on my hard drive waiting to be written and then come across something similar already written by someone else. However, this story was well written, and reflected some of the lack of coherence implicit with a failing mind. It was an easy read, but not a standout story. I did think that a little more could be done with the premise, but perhaps that is just me.


Is this what the future holds? Is this the extreme of cures in pill form? In “Blink” by Carol Hassler (debut 7/6 and reviewed by Dustin Adams), it is indeed. The pills to eliminate sleep proved to have ill effects, so the next great thing are pills which allow for the reclamation of our blinking time. Seconds a day add up!

I enjoyed this story, and interestingly, DSF broke the story in a place where I felt it had reached its natural conclusion. I then displayed the entire story, but found the additional words didn’t add to the narrative. In fact, they started us in a different direction which was wrapped up quickly, albeit apropos to the story itself.

So, I encourage you to check this story out. Read to the break, or beyond, it’s almost like reading two stories for the price of one. Someone should market this idea. Perhaps there could be a pill…


“Off The Shelf” by Gaea Dill-D’Ascoli (debut 7/7 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) represents the idea of purchasing a child. The main character buys a baby boy, after his expiration date, and we spend a few paragraphs reading about her/his second thoughts regarding the purchase. Each time something negative happens in the boy’s life, doubt creeps in regarding the initial purchase.

At 350 words, there isn’t much time to get to know anyone, but the author does a fine job of presenting a problem, and giving us a conclusion.

I found the age of the boy difficult to keep track of. I couldn’t latch on to a linear storyline. I also felt the short word count hurt the story. If it doubled to 700, this story could have easily been twice as satisfying.

Short, and well written, it’s worth a quick read.


“Filling up the Void” by Richard E. Gropp (debut 7/8 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is about an indentured servant who’s paying back a debt to the geneticists that gave him his new wolf body. The repayment is made through filming porno movies with other animal/human hybrids, as well as through individual sexual encounters.

The death of the Big Bad Wolf’s favorite client, The Linguist, creates minor complications to the plot, but major ones to his heart. However, here is where the story diverges.

As it turns out, The Linguist works at a university, “developing computer algorithms to better encode information.” i.e. coding our consciousness into data form. His death – is only the beginning.

This is a love story, told through the eyes of sex, violence, swear words, and blasphemy. (These are the author’s words, not mine.) Certainly this story offers a different fare, but heed the initial warning at the top of this page. If these things aren’t for you, read the following day’s story.


“Persistence” by Kurt Newton (debut July 11th 2011 and reviewed by Anonymous)

A pair of brothers have created a machine to bridge the gap between the living and the dead. They try to contact their father to offer him some solace.

This was a brief, well written story with an interesting, but not relatively fresh premise–I am reminded of a similar device proving the existence of Jesus in an another story.

There is a nice twist delivered half-way through the story. Despite being a very short story, it persisted for longer than I expected after the twistâ€


“Suspicious” by James Patrick Kelly (debut 7/12 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). After suffering a traumatic end to her marriage and suspecting infidelity Marva Gundersen seeks treatment. Initially agreeing to having a false memory implanted, she now wants it removed, or does she?

This story has an interesting premise and is done fairly well. I was a little let down by the ending because it seemed a little too mundane for the level of expectations built by the story.


“Distant Dragon” by L.L. Phelps (debut 7/13 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). Mei Ling is sitting with her grandfather hoping to catch sight of the yearly flight of the dragon. The dragon’s appearance brings the rains that sustained her village, but few are chosen to see him. Mei Ling hopes this will be her year.

This is a nice story about family, faith and the hopes of children. Like Santa, Mei Ling’s dragon is something that transcends the real world, and the author does a good job of transporting us to that mythical realm.


“Heart of Gold” by James Valvis (debut 7/14 and reviewed by Anonymous) is a super short story about a man born with a heart of gold, literally. It is written more like a fable. His condition is discussed in the story and compared to other conditions (brass balls!).Then man with a heart of gold meets a man without a heartâ€

I enjoyed this very brief story. It was well written, nicely paced and ends well. Small, but perfectly formed. Recommended.


Doll is a new little sister to Jakey, but not a normal little sister in “Still Life” by A.C. Wise (debut 7/15 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). She’s been created to fill the void left by a missing wife and lost daughter. As this family moves through life there are the normal twists and turns, but will the ending be the same?

I found the writing a little uneven in the beginning, but once the story settled in it became better. The story itself has a great deal of depth and touches on a number of different themes. In the end though, it’s a story about a family. The author does a good job of getting you to feel their loss and growth.


What if you had a peculiar form of Alzheimer’s? One where you could only remember what happens in the future. How would that affect those around you? Well, in “Deathbed” by Caroline M Yoachim (debut 7/18 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) you are about to find out.

This is a short story with a big impact. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but the sadness and love the author packs into this little tale is touching.


“The Wishwriter’s Wife” by Ian McHugh (debut 7/19 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) is the story of a gentle and generous wishwriter and his gentle and generous wife. The wishwriter writes wishes so that people may get what they desire from a single wish, as long as it doesn’t break certain rules. He has his wish, but does his wife?

I’m not a big fantasy fan, but this story was well crafted and carried a nice story. I was a little put off by the repetition of “gentle and generous”, but that is a small quibble. The story has a nice little twist at the end, which I love in a shorter work.


“Paying the Tab” by Brain K Lowe (debut 7/20) is the story of Santos and Bernard. Santos is the hunter, Bernard the prey. Stalker and Werewolf meet one last time in a bar where hunter becomes prey, or does he?

I love a good werewolf or vampire story set in modern times. This is one of those with twists and turns throughout its short length. Good fun and a good read.


In “Counting Coup” by Kat Otis (debut 7/21 and reviewed by Anonymous), a world where people are divided into ‘daylighters’ (see in the day only) and ‘nightlighters’ (see in the night only), a young girl is able to see in both worlds due her mother catching moonblink during her pregnancy. When a young nightlighter comes silently to steal her belongings to prove his manhood to his clan(?), she spots him in the darkness and they talk for a while…

This story was a nice read and was well written. I found it rather hard to believe that groups of people could ONLY see in the day or ONLY see in the night, but I guess a longer story may explain this condition satisfactorily. That said, I was able to overlook this while reading and enjoyed the story.


“Forever Sixteen” by Amy Sundberg (debut 7/22 and reviewed by Frank) is the story of a very old woman who is still a young and vibrant sixteen-year old virgin. Clara is the Sybil, a woman with the gift of prophecy. She has been frozen in the twilight between adolescences and adulthood, the time in which a virgin girl is blessed with foresight, but with the gift of immortality comes isolation. She is a prisoner in a palace, forever locked away from a real life. Clara plans an escape, hoping a champion will rescue her, or at least take her virginity so her gift will be useless. She pins her hope on Eric, a young man seeking advice for his path.

“Forever Sixteen” is a castaway tale for a woman who isn’t alone. Her palace is set in a barren land. Clara is living in regret. She clings to a name she hasn’t spoken of in eons, the last bit of a girl she used to be long ago. Her noble commitment to become the Sybil for the benefit of her family now rings hollow to her. She increasingly seeks escape.

The story turns midway through when a new Sybil is ushered in, her replacement, a young girl who is looking forward to becoming immortal, will allow Clara to leave for good, but exchanging places for this naÃ’ ve girl is more than Clara can bare.

I did like this story. Done from Clara’s perspective, you can envision the poor girl’s imprisonment within her mystique. From afar, she is revered. Imagine if the Pope begged you to help him escape for the Vatican. You might think he was testing your faith.

Although I did enjoy the premise, the sad existence of the character (and sad ending as well) left me more bummed as I read on. I almost feel as if my life would have been richer if I passed it by. Good story, but don’t expected it to brighten your day.


“Toad Sister” by Joanna Michal Hoyt (debut 7/25 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a tale about the necessity of the negative. Told first person from the perspective of the character who is traditionally vilified, the protagonist, in this case, is shunned until the realization comes that there’s a place for her in the world after all.”

“Toad Sister”‘ suffers mildly in prose due to its brevity, however, it makes up for this with compact storytelling. The story, for the most part is told, not shown, contradicting the modern tendency toward all show and description. Sometimes it’s OK to just tell it like it is, and how it happened. This story agrees.

I gave this story 4 rockets.


“Only Backwards” by Kenneth S Kao (debut 7/26 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a quaint story about a perfect moment and the time travelers who seek to revisit said moment.

I think.

Kenneth Kao gets a pass because I’ve read numerous quality stories from him. Regarding this one, I can only state that I started it confused, finished it confused, and was confused along the way. I love time travel stories. Big fan. Just not this one.

I rated this story by giving it 1 rocket.


The court jester entertains Prince James with a tale of a past employer of his in “The Jester” by Maria Melissa Obedoza (debut 7/27 and reviewed by Frank). The jester is popular in the court. He is loved by all but is clumsy. The jester jests to the prince that he is really a dark mage and shows him a box with puppets joined by a string, claiming they are a princess and her lover.

I found this to be a pleasing tale. The tale is a fable within a story, told well in the short amount of words with a creepy ending. What I didn’t like was the author’s overuse of adverbs, giving the piece false excitement when it wasn’t needed.

Despite my minor complaint, “The Jester” is a tale worth reading.


“Blessed are the Sowers” by Robert Lowell Russell (debut July 28th and reviewed by Anonymous)

I read Blessed are the Sowers once on the principle that a story only needs to read once and everything should be clear–I didn’t quote get that. The human race has been pushed to almost extinction by an alien race; Earth has been destroyed and humanity is on the run between the stars, but they haven’t given up. Despite being hunted themselves, human covert military units raid alien owned worlds, wreaking havoc and vengeance. The message they are sending is clearâ€

The story is one big explanation–a summary of events, if you will–delivered by the human commander to a captured alien. There is no action apart from small gestures, holding hands, etc. While the world/situation was interesting I can’t say the story really worked for me on an emotional level.


Patricia finds a bowler hat on the ground with a head poking through the soil under it in “The Large People” by Karen Heuler (debut 7/29 and reviewed by Frank). In short time, other heads begin to emerge from the earth, growing like weeds. Men and women, smartly dressed, reading newspapers while drinking coffee as if waiting for the bus, sprout from the ground until they are free from the earth. They are headed to the city, on their way to change it. The retired Patricia – missing her professional life – follows along.

“The Large People” is a uniquely inventive tale. The ‘grown’ people are indeed large, standing at a towering seven feet. They are coming to green up mankind’s sprawling progress. Patricia inserts herself as member of the group. Their leader, the bowler hat wearing man named Roland, is grateful that she is joining on their crusade. She becomes conflicted when she learns of the groups intentions. As the lone real person, she wonders if she is betraying mankind.

The story starts off as a curious fantasy that evolves into a speculative tale of activism. What first appeared as a harmlessly fun story, became a violent one. Roland tells Patricia that they are declaring war; even admitting that some may get hurt. The changing premise did give it a different tone.

Ms. Heuler wrote a splendid story. I could see a reader or two getting turned off by a tale that starts off as harmless fun then turning into something that appears to be making a political statement. “The Large People” does have an environmental activist flavor to it, but I rather liked it. The story does deserve a recommendation but the holes in its premise kept me from giving it one. I found it difficult to accept that no one wanted to detain seven-foot strangers when so much mayhem occurs. Absent that, I found the tale flawless, an excellent tale complete with a subtle moral.



Flash fiction is on the rise. More publications ask for it, are publishing more of it, and are reserving larger amounts of space in their pages for it. Yet, it is treated like the forgotten stepchild, left to walk home alone from school to do the chores while the natural children are driven to their dance recitals and football practice. Novella and Novelette receive all the praise while Flash Fiction child gets the calluses. Well not this time.

On Oct. 10th, Daily Science Fiction brought to all who receive their emailed story attention, the Micro Awards. The award honors the best flash fiction story of the year (flash fiction defined as works of fiction 1000 words and under). The editors of DSF encouraged their readers to nominate their favorite of the year. There is one problem with that, readers aren’t eligible to do the nominating.

As stated in their rulesâ€

An author may submit one story of his or her own; the senior editor of a magazine or anthology, or any staff member designated by him or her, may submit two stories if both are from his or her own publication and neither is self-written.

So we can’t (unless you wrote the story) but Jon and Michele can, and they can pick their own favorite, one apiece.

Although I can’t nominate my favorite, picking the one I think should win is something I can do here. There are several well worth nominating, but picking my favorite here at DSF was easyâ€

”Buy you a Mocking Bird” by Eric James Stone.

â€unfortunately, it debut Dec. 14 of last year (bummer). My second place choice would beâ€

“Y is for Yellow” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut June 22) .

â€but there are several well worth nominating. I hope to see several from DSF in the final round of the Micro awards. I urge all who have submitted to DSF to submit theirs to it.

I would like to congratulate fellow reviewer Dustin Adams for his finalist entry in the 3rd quarter of the 2011 Writers of the Future contest. His story was picked in the top half of the eight finalist; unfortunately, you need to make the top three to win L. Nevertheless, an amazing feat. Expect to see big things from Dustin in the near future. He is that good of a writer.


Published by

David Steffen

David Steffen is an editor, publisher, and writer. If you like what he does you can visit the Support page or buy him a coffee! He is probably best known for being co-founder and administrator of The Submission Grinder, a donation-supported tool to help writers track their submissions and find publishers for their work . David is also the editor-in-chief here at Diabolical Plots. He is also the editor and publisher of The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List series. David also (sometimes) writes fiction, and you can follow on BlueSky for updates on cross-stitch projects and occasionally other things.

2 thoughts on “Daily Science Fiction: July Review”

  1. Thank you for the review! Shortly after The Jester, I encountered an editor (for another short story) who also criticized my overuse of adverbs. I’ve been trying to work on that ever since. 🙂

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