Award Eligibility Post 2014

written by David Steffen

And now the gratuitous award eligibility post–feel free to skip over it if you’re not interested, but figured there might be someone out there who might want to see it. This post covers works by Diabolical Plots and by me personally.

From time to time people ask me if they can nominate the Submission Grinder. In the past, I thought the answer was “no” because most of the awards seemed to be very publisher focused–so the best way I thought to try to recognize the Submission Grinder would be to nominate Diabolical Plots. But there ARE a couple categories the Submission Grinder qualifies for in some awards, so I’ve listed those two first.

And just to be clear, no I don’t really think we have a shot at anything, but I see no reason why I can’t mention what we’re eligible for.

Writer’s Resource/Information/News Source

1. The Submissions Grinder

I wasn’t aware of this award until this year, part of the Preditors and Editors Reader Poll. Someone has seen fit to nominate the Grinder, so thought it would be worth mentioning.


World Fantasy Special Award – Non Professional

1. The Submissions Grinder

Likewise, I wasn’t aware of this award, but it’s another way to recognize the Submission Grinder directly if you want to see it recognized.


Best Short Story

1. “Catastrophic Failure” by David Steffen at Perihelion

2. “Always There” by David Steffen at Lakeside Circus

3. “Unraveling” by David Steffen at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

4. “A Switch in Time” by David Steffen at Perihelion

5. “The Thing About Analyn” by David Steffen at Stupefying Stories


Best Related Work

All of the articles that I’ve written here and in SF Signal are eligible for this category, but I’m not going to list all dozens of them. I’ll just mention the one that I thought was most notable:

1. The Best Podcast Fiction of All Time (at SF Signal)


Best Editor (Short Form)

1. David Steffen (for nonfiction)

Note that although we’ve been reading slush for fiction publication in 2014, we haven’t published any fiction yet, so only my nonfiction editing can be taken into account. And Anthony isn’t eligible this year for the same reason.


Best Fanzine

1. Diabolical Plots

Next year, instead of Best Fanzine, we’ll be eligible for Best Semiprozine because we’ll be a paying fiction market.


Best Fan Writer

1. David Steffen
–For the short fiction listed above, the large number of nonfiction articles here and in SF Signal.

2. Carl Slaughter
–Mostly for interviews

3. Frank Dutkiewicz
–Reviews of Daily SF

4. Laurie Tom
–Anime reviews



The Best of Toasted Cake 2013-

written by David Steffen

Tina Connolly’s Toasted Cake podcast is still going strong! She reduced her publication frequency for a little while to spend time with her newborn baby, but pretty soon Toasted Cake will be back up to its weekly rate. By my reckoning, Toasted Cake published 41 short stories between my last list on January 21, 2013 and the end of 2013.

Two of my own stories were also reprinted on the podcast. I don’t consider my own stories for inclusion in the lists, so I’ll just mention them here in the header: This Is Your Problem, Right Here and What Makes You Tick.


The List

1. The Girl Who Was Loved By The Sea by Spencer Ellsworth
The POV character here is the personification of the ocean, who has fallen in love with a girl because of the myths she makes up about it. The ocean tries to interact with her as she grows older.

2. The Oracle of DARPA by Bogi TakÃ’ cs
Written as a transcript of a DARPA researcher with an oracle meant to predict threats. But the Oracle speaks so cryptically so as to be basically useless. Fun stuff! Some of the oracle’s language reminds me of conversations with the Orz when playing Star Control II.

3. Through the Cooking Glass by Vylar Kaftan
When baking gingerbread cookies, a woman finds that she has spawned a tiny little civilization of cookie people.

4. Hazelwitch v. Hazelwitch by K.G. Jewell
Follows the court proceedings involving the breakup of two magic-users.

5. Taking Care of Ma by Lee Hallison
This one reminds me of my dad and his distrust of technology, trying to help out an aging mother with technological solutions.


Honorable Mentions

After the Earthquake by Caroline M. Yoachim

2014 Hugo Noms!

written by David Steffen

It’s award season again! If you’re eligible to vote for the Hugos, you have until the end of March to decide on your picks. I wanted to share my picks, as I always do, in plenty of time so that if anyone wants to investigate my choices to see for themselves they’ll have plenty of time.

Quite a few of the categories I don’t have anything to nominate because I don’t seek out entries in them, so I left those out. And for any category that I have eligible work I mentioned them alongside my own picks.

The entries in each category are listed in no particular order.

Best Novel

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Premier novel by Leckie. Great premise, difficult point of view, great space opera. I reviewed it here.

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
The 14th and final book of Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time series.


Best Novelette

Monday’s Monk by Jason Sanford (Asimov’s)

Best Short Story

The Promise of Space by James Patrick Kelly (Clarkesworld)

The Murmurous Paleoscope by Dixon Chance (Three-Lobed Burning Eye)

HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! by Keffy R.M. Kehrli (Lightspeed)

Hollow as the World by Ferrett Steinmetz (Drabblecast)

The Boy and the Box by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed)

For Your Consideration:
I Will Remain in After Death Anthology
Could They But Speak at Perihelion
Reckoning at Stupefying Stories
Meat at Pseudopod
Coin Op at Daily Science Fiction
Escalation at Imaginaire

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

Ender’s Game

Warm Bodies

Game of Thrones Season 3


Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones)

And Now His Watch Has Ended (Game of Thrones)

Walk of Punishment (Game of Thrones)

Second Sons (Game of Thrones)

Valar Doheris (Game of Thrones)


Best Editor (Short Form)

Neil Clarke (of Clarkesworld)

John Joseph Adams (of Lightspeed, Nightmare, and anthologies)

Tina Connolly (of Toasted Cake)

Norm Sherman (of Drabblecast and Escape Pod)

Shawn Garrett (of Pseudopod)


Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Daily Science Fiction


Escape Pod


Best Fanzine

SF Signal

My work for you to consider:
Diabolical Plots
I do consider Diabolical Plots a zine. Consider, too, that this was the first year Diabolical Plots also provide the Submission Grinder. The Submission Grinder itself doesn’t fit any of the categories, I think, but Diabolical Plots does.


Best Fancast

Toasted Cake




Cast of Wonders


Best Fan Writer

Ken Liu

Ferrett Steinmetz

Juliette Wade

Cat Rambo

Anne Ivy

For your consideration:

David Steffen
Frank Dutkiewicz
Carl Slaughter


“Catastrophic Failure” at Perihelion

written by David Steffen

My story “Catastrophic Failure” just went live at Perihelion today. It’s outside my usual comfort zone, hard SF, near novelette size, about a disaster on a Venusian mining crawler. Full of action and science fictiony goodness. If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think.

The State of the Grinder: Year One

written by David Steffen

Can you believe it’s been a whole year since we officially launched The Submission Grinder? At that time the Grinder only had its base functionality , the minimum required feature set to make it basically useful. We had just launched, so of course we didn’t have any submission data yet apart from the data of its founders. The Grinder site was pretty unreliable as well, down almost as often as not. And the choice of Courier font for everything on the site, while chosen with the intention of giving a nod to the typewriter-based standard manuscript format that is somehow still used today, managed to almost universally annoy everyone who visited the site.

These days the site is stable, we’ve changed the style to be more aesthetically pleasing, our user base is growing and with it our collection of data. We continue to hold to our commitment to never charge anyone for any feature. And our feature set is continually improving.

A concern oft-cited in the early days was that the site would be just a flash in the pan, here today gone tomorrow. To which we responded “The only thing that proves longevity is longevity”. So here we are a year later and still going strong, still improving. And we plan to stick around. So what’s gone on in the last year since the launch?


Markets: 2642 (1165 open)
Users: 2033
Submissions: 34,403
Total site visits: 244,963
Unique visitors: 28,013
Pageviews: 1,444,035
Page per visit: 5.89
Largest contributors of site usage
1. Organic (Google)
2. (Main Site)
3. Codex
4. AbsoluteWrite
5. Facebook

Shiny Features

We have implemented a wide variety of features that we feel are shiny and useful, too many to want to list them exhaustively here. But here are a few of the ones we are the proudest of.

1. Response Time Chart



A histogram on each market page of the response times for that market. The red bars represent rejections, the green are acceptances. The higher the bar, the more responses on that particular number of days wait. You can see in this example that this particular market has a nice bell curve of rejections centered at around 20 days, with a long tail and acceptances scattered all over. You can get a lot of information at a glance.

2. Response Recency Chart



Another histogram, this one represents how long ago the responses were reported, with today being on the left side of the graph and one year ago being on the right. From this you can glean different kinds of information. For instance, you can discern an expected period of response,such as the Writers of the Future snapshot here where you can see their quarterly submission cycle pretty well. And you can also tell if a market just stops responding for some period of time, like you can see at intervals in the Analog snapshot.

3. My Market Response List



It’s common to want to look at the recently reported responses just for the markets where you have pending submissions, but before this feature you would have to visit each page manually and look at that list. This list provides a single list which lists out the recent responses that only includes those markets where you have pending submissions.

4. Post-Acceptance Tracking


Acceptance of a story is one of the goals of writing a story, but it’s not the ultimate goal. After the story’s accepted, you need to deal with the contract, payment, and publication of the work. That is all an important part of the process so we let you track that information as well.


Upcoming Shiny Features

And we have plenty more coming down the pipeline, including:

1. Newsletter
Among other things, you will be able to customize the newsletter to suit your exact interests. If you only want to hear about updates to pro-paying romance markets, that’s what you’ll get. This will also include other sections like a Fundraising callout which will provide links to newly announced publishing-related fundraising drives.

2. Poetry and Nonfiction Markets
We don’t yet have full support for these,you can track your submissions to them, but the full listing and search engine is being worked on.

3. Publication Brag.
Users who opt-in can already see their name on the site when they get that rare acceptance, but this will also help you spread the word when that story actually gets published.

4. Dean Wesley Smith Submission Score
The author Dean Wesley Smith has published a suggested system called the Race for encouraging writers to submit which has proven itself extremely useful. The Grinder will calculate this number for you, to help spur you on to send that story out.

The Submissions Grinder Proto-Newsletter

written by David Steffen and Anthony Sullivan

This is a copy of the newsletter sent out to users of The (Submission) Grinder who have opted in for the newsletter as of Monday, November 10, 2013. We have included it here to let people who might be interested in hearing about the upcoming newsletter feature, but who are not users or who have not opted in.


Hello Grinder Users!

“What’s this in my inbox?” you might be asking yourself right now. Well, if you’re getting this email, your address is registered to a user of the (Submission) Grinder and in your profile you have opted in to the Grinder’s newsletter. If you don’t want to receive any more emails from us, all you have to do is uncheck the “Newsletter” box in your profile settings. If you believe you have received this email in error, let us know.
So, this is our first newsletter. More of a proto-newsletter, I suppose you could call it, to give you an idea what we have in mind for these newsletters and to give you an opportunity to give us some feedback about what kind of content you would like to see in these newsletters. This will probably be a weekly-ish newsletter once we have it off and running, though it might be a while before that happens–this is an early audience check.
So, here’s a list of subsections that we have in mind for Grinder Newsletter.
1. Greeting–A brief hello from us folks running the Grinder, might include a wish for happy holiday (for instance), a link to this week’s Diabolical Plots article, a link to newly published stories by the folks behind the Grinder. This will generally be quite brief, but is mostly a place to say “Hello” to all you fine users.
2. Grinder feature updates–When we have a shiny new feature we want to share with you, we’ll mention it here so that you can give it a try.
3. Market Updates Based on Custom Genre and Pay Interests–This is the core of the newsletter: market updates delivered right to your inbox, pointing out new market listings and market listings which have opened, temporarily closed, or permanently closed in the time since the last newsletter. But even better, this section of your newsletter will be tailored to your personal market interests of genre and minimum pay rate. If you want to get only updates about pro-paying fantasy/science fiction/horror markets, that’s what you will get. If you want to get only updates about any General genre markets, that’s what you will get.
4. A list of upcoming submission and theme deadlines
5. List of fundraising Calls–There will be a section of publishing related fundraising calls, be they Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or any other medium. A lot of anthologies, magazines, etc, do this kind of fundraiser from time to time, so it is our hope that we can help raise the visibility of their efforts. We will post the ones that we come across on our own, but we will also happily take suggestions (once the newsletter is running, that is)
For instance:
Escape Artists Fundraiser: Escape Artists, the audio production company that brings you the fiction podcasts Pseudopod, Podcastle, and Escape Pod, is running short on money to an extent that they won’t be able to continue much longer at the current funding. Follow this link to find a post with a brief summary, a link to the full metacast, and links to different donation options. There are also donation incentives (extra stories) if you chip in before the end of November.
6. List of recently accepted (and recently published) authors–A list of names of the authors who have logged acceptances since the last newsletter and who have selected to opt for the Brag feature. In the future this will also include those who’ve been recently published.


So, what do you think? Does the newsletter, as described, sound like a useful feature of the (Submission) Grinder? Are there other shiny ideas that you’d like to suggest to us? Just reply to this email or use the Grinder’s Contact Form to tell us what you think. I will also post this to Diabolical Plots so that other people who may not have signed up for the newsletter yet can see what we’re offering–feel free to comment on that post as well (or, again, use the Grinder’s contact form)
Thanks so much for using the Grinder.
best wishes to you and yours,
David Steffen and Anthony Sullivan, Grindmasters

“Could They But Speak” at Perihelion

written by David Steffen

This story was published about a month ago, but I haven’t gotten around to posting about it until now.

A previously unpublished story is now published at Perihelion, free to read, and it even has an illustration. It’s the story of Gunther the Dachshund who is one of the first and most public recipients of the Awakening procedure that allows animals to talk. He’s become a canine rights advocate since the procedure, but now it appears that someone is making an attempt on his life. Gunther and his agent (formerly his owner) Daniel must solve the mystery of who tried to kill him.

If you get a chance to read it, do let me know what you think.



SFWA: To Join Or Not To Join

written by David Steffen

NOTE: Coincidentally, there is a row going on right now about SFWA and things that Mike Resnick and Barry Maltzberg have said in their editorials in the SFWA Bulletin publication. I’m not here to comment on that argument one way or the other, and I haven’t taken great pains to follow it, but I have seen uncivil responses on both sides. I wrote this article several months ago and have only altered it to add this note at the beginning. I scheduled it to coincide with my SFWA membership renewal month, but that just happened to be about the time of this argument. If you want to know more about that argument, Google for it and I’m sure you’ll find plenty to chew on. But that’s not what I’m commenting on here.

Since I started writing SF, one of the long-term milestones I’d set for myself was to become eligible to join SFWA. SFWA keeps a list of markets that meet their criteria for professional markets, including pay rate, circulation level, regularity of publication, longevity, and variety of authors published. To become a SFWA member with short stories you have to sell three stories to qualifying markets.

In mid-2012, five years after I wrote my first word of fiction, I finally reached that goal, securing a sale to Escape Pod to add to my prior sales to Bull Spec and AE. I decided to go ahead and pay the $80 membership dues and find out what membership was all about.

Now my membership renewal is due this month, and the rates have gone up to $90. I am a pragmatic person and I don’t intend to pay that kind of money without considering the cost-benefit tradeoff. So, I’m trying to decide if it’s worth the money to renew my membership or whether I should just let it lapse. So I’m going to list out what I’ve seen as the benefits, to decide whether or not those are worth $90 to sign up again.

Note: This list is based only on my own experience of what I found to be potential benefits to being a member of the organization. Michael A Burstein mentions in the comments, for example, a print directory and the SFWA Handbook, neither of which I recall having seen.


1. Support of SFWA
Before I get any further, let me make it clear that I’m not questioning that SFWA does work that is of value. They do a lot of great things, acting as a writers’ advocate to point out when a publisher is offering questionable contracts, keeps a list of professional markets that have to meet certain criteria, provide lists of information for beginning writers to get their start and many other things. They run the Nebulas, which are one of the two big awards of the SF community.

To do this, they need money. I understand that. I think it’s worthwhile to give them some money for the things that they do. Some smaller donation per year? Definitely. $90? Well that seems pretty steep to me. Although I’ve made more than that in writing income each of the last few years, I’m not guaranteed to make that, and it would be very frustrating to me if I spent more on writing organizations than I made in writing.


2. Nebula Voting
The Nebula awards are one of the two big awards in the SF community (the other being the Hugos). The Nebulas are voted by active members of SFWA, which means you need to make qualifying sales and pay that membership fee.

There’s some satisfaction to knowing that you’ve contributed toward the award that fandom watches, but I personally have little enough influence over the result and am often surprised at the stories that actually get nominated (though not always) that it’s not something worth paying anything for.


3. Nebula Award Packet
Related to the last one is something new provided in recent years–the Nebula Packet. It’s still in kind of an experimental state, but every Active SFWA member can download all nominated works as part of the Nebula packet. They provide it so that voters can be more informed about the works that they’re voting for, but you could see the membership fee as paying for a collection of published works, including half a dozen novels and as many young adult novels.

This is certainly something of value, and it can help keep a pulse on the Nebula community, seeing what kind of stories they nominate. It’s certainly worth something, but not the full membership by itself by any means. Especially since the Hugo awards provide a similar packet for their nominees, that award is more interesting to me, there tends to be overlap between the awards, and the Hugo membership costs less money.


4. Forum
SFWA has a members only forum. Various levels of SFWA membership have access, including associate members who are not writers but who have other involvement in the community like editors. There are several benefits to the forums.

a. Interacting with industry professionals
There are plenty of recognizable names about the SFWA forums, such as Jerry Pournelle and editor Gordon Van Gelder. If you want a place to interact with them, this isn’t a bad place to do it.

But I’ve been spoiled by Codex forum, which costs nothing, has interesting and active conversations, and has both rising stars and some very recognizable names. A lot of the big names that would be on the SFWA forum are already reachable in some other online presence, Codex or Facebook or Livejournal or elsewhere. And, well, the SFWA forum is not particularly well moderated–an argument can escalate into something very unpleasant and not much is done about it. If you come across one of those conversations it makes for a very unpleasant experience. So while these conversations are of some value, there are perhaps better and free places to get similar things.

Note: Cat Rambo pointed out in the comments below that there is a new moderation team in place led by Cat

b. venue for sharing your published stories for award consideration
There is a section of the forum specifically for sharing your stories with other members for them to consider for Nebula nominations. In theory this is a handy way to spread the word about your stories.

I say “in theory”, but since others only read what they feel like, work by a relative no-name like me is probably not going to be read by most people. Again Codex has spoiled me, because they have something similar on that forum, and when I participated in that on Codex I got feedback from many people who actually did read the story as a result. I expect this has to do with establishing rapport with the Codex people because I’ve been in closer contact with them.

c. free fiction from industry professionals
In the same forum where you can share your award-eligible work, of course others are sharing theirs. The work posted there varies from various levels of experience, but there is plenty of good work to be read there and from more renowned sources. For instance, Gordon Van Gelder seems to post most F&SF stories there, so if you like that magazine enough you might consider the SFWA fee more reasonable as providing something like a F&SF subscription.

This would be a perk if I had more time than I knew what to do with. But I already have way more fiction to read than time to read it, so adding more fiction posted by its writers isn’t a huge perk.

d. Nebula suggested reading list
This is definitely a neat feature, a list of stories sorted by the number of recommendations given for it. Unlike the self-posting of stories, the result is more meaningful (authors are not allowed to recommend their own stories). This is very neat because you can get an early pulse of what people like before the award results are out. If you care about such things it can guide your reading or just give you a list of well-liked fiction.

This is a neat feature, but essentially only because it gives you a peek at what the Nebula results might be before the Nebula nominations are announced. That’s not something worth money to me.


5. GriefCom
This is the grievance committee available only to SFWA members. If you have a problem with a contract they will help you sort it out. SFWA is a large enough and visible enough organization in the fandom community that they do have some clout to clear up contract conflicts when they arise.

I can see how this would be hugely beneficial for higher stakes contracts, like with novels. However, at this point I write short stories pretty much exclusively. Short story contracts are generally very straightforward, and most of those that I have managed are low enough yield that paying a membership fee to get help with potential problems would be counterproductive. If I did sell a novel I might consider starting a membership in case I needed help.


6. Emergency Medical Fund
This fund provides interest-free loans to Active members in emergency medical situations

This seems to be mostly beneficial to someone who doesn’t have health insurance. I do, so that’s not a draw.


7. The SFWA Bulletin
The SFWA bulletin is a quarterly nonfiction magazine that provides writing advice articles, reviews, market rundowns, and other information about the SF publishing field. You can subscribe to the Bulletin if you’re not a member, but it costs as little as $32 for a year in the US, to $90 a year for outside of North America, or $10 per single issue.

If you find this content valuable, this would be a big draw of membership, justifying a great deal of the cost since you don’t have to pay for the subscription then. But none of the information in the magazine issues that I’ve seen so far has struck me as anything that I couldn’t find elsewhere, and generally I don’t find writing advice all that helpful because each writer really has to find their own way in any case.

In addition, by what I’ve heard the production of this magazine takes up a large portion of the SFWA budget. Why, I’d like to know, is it deemed worth that kind of expenditure? If this magazine weren’t taking up a bunch of the budget, the money could be spent elsewhere and perhaps rates could lower.


8. The SFWA Member Directory
Active members have access to a member directory in which each member can provide whatever contact information they want, addresses, phone numbers, emails or whatever.

While this is a convenience, I don’t see this as a big value. Most anyone who is a writer these days who would respond to contact from me is going to have an online presence anyway. It would make more sense, in general, for me to contact them via those publicly available routes than to cold-call them. Maybe there will come future work that I will be involved in for which this kind of contact information would be useful, at which point I may need to reconsider this opinion.


9. SFWA Convention Suites
SFWA hosts a convention suite at some convention. WorldCon for sure, I’m not sure what other ones. Members can come, as well as bringing a guest. There is food and drinks, sometimes meals or other times snacks. Other SFWA members come and go. Sometimes there might be specific events in the suite, like release parties or retirement parties.

So far I haven’t been very active on the SF convention circuit. I am very frugal by nature, and especially since I have a family to which I would need to justify the travel and the expense, I haven’t done it much. I did go to WorldCon 2012, however, which was a really great experience. Even once I decided to go I wanted to keep down my expenses as much as possible, sharing hotel room and other cost-saving measures. One of the things that I at first found was hard to be frugal on was food, since the hotel convenience store had the most expensive and most disgusting wrap that I’ve ever eaten, the cheapest thing they had available, and going out to restaurants always adds up quickly. Soon I realized, though, that I had access to (at least) three sources of free food: the convention suite (available to everyone but mostly only very simple cheap food like peanut butter, cereal, etc), the green room (available to program participants, somewhat nicer food), and the SFWA suit (pretty good spread, even with some meals). So the availability of very good spread at certain times was huge perk and a huge money-saving measure. Also, whenever I came to the suite I would scan the nametags for people I’d like to talk to or people I’d met online, and even if I didn’t recognize anyone I met some very cool people chatting with whoever was about.




10. The secret handshake that will make editors buy your stories. Joining SFWA will make editors buy your stories.

The last sentence was a lie, but it is the kind of thing that seems intuitive from many beginners’ point of view. You can put your membership in your cover letter if you want, but it’s not going to make a lick of difference. It might be a point of mild interest, but isn’t going to make a difference in your sales. Having a marketable name can influence a sale, but your SFWA membership has nothing to do with that. Some big names aren’t members, some no-names (like me) are. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t have a marketable name, your story just have to kick enough ass that the editor wants to buy it despite your lack of notoriety. In either case, your SFWA membership does not matter.




The Verdict

So, what does it all come down to? At this point, I am not going to renew my membership. I mightpay something like $40 a year for the Nebula packet alone. I would pay some larger amount (maybe a few hundred dollars) for a lifetime membership, but $90 a year (which will certainly go up periodically as it did this last year) is just too much for me at this point in my career.

I think that at this point I’ll renew my membership whenever I am planning to go to WorldCon that year, because it is such a good place to meet people and also to save money on food expenditures that it is well worth the membership fee to do it. In the years when I do that I’ll happily read the Nebula packet and actively participate. But otherwise I probably won’t unless something big changes to convince me of the worth of a membership. With a newborn at our house, I’ll be skipping WorldCon this year. Next year it’s in London, too far of a jaunt for me. So for at least the next couple years I am out.

For those who choose to maintain their SFWA membership, I am curious to hear other points of view on the subject. What is it worth to you? Why do you do it? Do you consider cost-benefit as I have? Is it more a point of pride than a monetary value? Please share!


Daily Science Fiction: February 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Whew. A lot going on in our little Diabolical world. So much David Steffen has left the substitute in charge. David assures me that Anthony Sullivan is more than capable for the job, and said he has yet to miss an edit.

On to this month’s review!


A little girl has a gift the alien overseers need in “Substitutes” by Colin P. Davies (debut 2/1 and reviewed by Frank D). Melinda has been blessed with the ‘gift’, the ability to navigate the stars. Aliens have come to Earth and spread a condition among its youth. Melinda’s father calls it a disease, but for the few who have been affected, they are prized by the aliens. They offer compensation to Melinda’s father, and a substitute that is in every way a perfect copy of Melinda. It isn’t enough for Melinda’s dad, but the aliens are relentless. The pair have been playing a cat and mouse game as they try to stay a step ahead of the aliens, but the creatures who have managed to travel the stars are far too clever to shake.

“Substitutes” is an eerie tale. Whatever the affliction Melinda is under, it has affected her mental capacities. Her father reacts how I’d imagine most people would react, angrily and fearfully. The brief tales plays out like a Stephen King premise, clones stalk the pair as they run to new homes. An increasingly desperate father gets more violent with every encounter.

I really liked this story. Liked it so much I was disappointed that it ended so quickly. Add 80,000 words as good as these 2000 and it would make a great novel.



An abandoned and hungry girl stumbles upon an edible house with her brother. “Hungry” by Robert E. Stutts (debut 2/4 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a captive in a cannibalistic witches’ home. The witch has imprisoned her brother in a cage and is fattening him up while impressing the little girl to be her apprentice. The little girl knows this will not end well for her and her brother, no matter how much the outcome changes.

Mr Stutts R rated version of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ is dark, even for this very grim Grimm tale. I found myself glued to it, as if I had fallen under a spell. Daily SF has published many disturbing tales. There may be a creepier tale than “Hungry” in its archives but if there is, it isn’t coming to mind.


The need to belong compete with its consequences in “Wildness and Wet” by Lee Hallison (debut 2/5 and reviewed by Frank D). Leah watches a flash dance performance from the safety of her bedroom window. The dancers are teenagers her age, connected via implants to the web. They share a clique like no other in history. Leah wants to be a part of it, and the boy who climbs to her open window may be too alluring to resist.

“Wildness and Wet” is a tale of temptation. The kids joined in this futuristic web have a shared physic ability thanks to the enhance technology. They garner all the substance they need through the implant and share a closeness ordinary human contact can never achieve, but their candle burns twice as quick and they die very young , burned out expending the extra flare they have enjoyed. Leah is like an imprisoned princess , unable to be a part of the exciting world she sees but she is very aware of the price she would have to pay to be a part of it.

I have one major complaint about this story , way too brief. This is just a taste of a far larger idea. I hope Ms Hallison explores this world further and shares her findings with us in the future.


A scientist and his greedy sister fight over their departed father’s possessions in “Mirror Image” by Peter M. Wood (debut 2/6 and reviewed by Frank D). Sam is a physicist but even he can’t piece together what his extrinsic father’s basement lab is all about. Doris, his sister, wants to sell it all and split the sale 50/50. She had already bilked Dad of the rest of his assets but it is never enough for her. Sam wants to see if there is anything to his late father’s claims of alternate realities, but Doris’s greed may make it all a moot point.

This tale explores the insanity of adults who fight over their departed parents belongings and adds a convenient twist to it. Amusing, in this world and in the one next door, I’m sure.


The Time Travel Device” by James Van Pelt (debut 2/7 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist has created a means to travel through time. He isn’t able to control where he goes, his own desires choses his destination for him. Where you go can say much about the person you are.

This short tale has a morbid tone to it. Fascinating destinations, but I’d be worried if I were the protag.


A socially awkward girl makes her pitch for a date in “A Phone, My Heart, and Maybe My Last Shred of Dignity” by Luc Reid (debut 2/8 and reviewed by Frank D). Iowa is a loner in a society where no one is alone. Her life is a series of disasters. Today has been an unusually brutal day even for her, but reflection can help heal her self-inflicted wounds.

“A Phone” is a comedy of errors with a love story buried within. The story is told in a string of flashbacks , unusual but effective when written by someone as skilled as Mr Reid. Iowa has fallen for a woman giving a demonstration at 20th century fair. Iowa hatches a very crazy plan in hopes of impressing her.

I simply loved this tale. The ending of it was the beginning; watching Iowa’s crazy plan unravel in reverse made it that much more entertaining. You may need to jump back to the opening to notice the sweet conclusion to the story.



Charles Milford speaks for the President in “For The People” by Ronald D. Ferguson (debut 2/11 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). He has no official title, no position, but he sees him every day; which makes him the perfect vessel for the explosives planted in his abdomen. The resistance movement plans on using the drugged Milford to kill both the President and the Vice President. But will the plan succeed or do the rebels have it all wrong?

This story was set in the not too distant future, maybe one we can even see from here. I thought it was a little uneven at the beginning; but as I read on, I was rewarded with a pretty good story. It had a nice little twist at the end, and I’m a sucker for those, so maybe I’m prejudiced, but I thought it worked well. I think if you keep an open mind at the start of the story, it’s worth it in the end.


Kane is an empathy in “The Needs Of Hollow Men” by K.A. Rundell (debut 2/12 and reviewed by James Hanzelka), one that works for the police to solve crimes from the emotions left behind at the scene. A “hollow man”, someone empty of his own emotion. His lack of personal emotions facilitates his work, of course the meds help. But Kane is a man in trouble; the emptiness has been filled by everyone else’s emotion, squeezing him from inside. Who can help ease the pain he feels? Who will help the needs of a hollow man?

This story is well laid out and does a good job of ushering us into Kane’s world. We also get to see how he is starting to unravel. I think the author did a nice job of striking the right balance of information about Kane and the emotion he is dealing with. Nice story.



Two fairy tales intertwine in “A Hairy Predicament” by Melissa Mead (debut 2/13 and reviewed by Frank D). Mother Gothel has taken Rapunzel of her overwhelmed parent’s hands. Disposing her abundant hair has proven problematic but Rapunzel has an idea. Mother Gothel knows a Fae spell has its consequences, and a grieving widowed giant has come to complain.

This dark fairy tale is written with a tongue in cheek. Cute.


A little girl draws maps of the future in “Maps” by Beth Cato (debut 2/14 and reviewed by Frank D). Christina is cursed with the ability to predict the tragic future. Her left hand independently pinpoints the place where future events will happen. It is a gift she does not want and she is willing to maim herself to rid herself of the curse.

“Maps” may be the most tragic story I have ever read on DSF (quite a claim for this publication). The story was like watching an accident on the side of the freeway, I couldn’t tear my eyes away. High marks to Ms Cato for her accomplishment.


A creepy guy offers to buy a woman a drink in “Five Minutes” by Conor Powers-Smith (debut 2/15 and reviewed by Frank D). Sasha is a hard working single mother; stopping at a local pub for a quick drink when a man takes the stool next to her. She needs to get home to her sleeping children but the man is insistent that she wait and listen to him. The strange man claims he has a limited gift of foresight. He only can see five minutes into the future, an ability that hasn’t been all that beneficial for him. Sasha can’t get away from him quick enough but he only wishes for two minutes of her time, offering to sit with her on the deck and watch as the cars pass through the nearby intersection.

“Five Minutes” is told from the perspective from an exhausted woman. That last thing she needs is to placate a disturbed man. It is written as if you are sure this man is up to something sinister; expecting a dark turn of events to spring into action as you read. Well done.

If you were to take the title and the strange man’s backstory into account alone, you would likely be sure how this tale would conclude. It takes a skilled writer to lead the reader into a different direction. Mr Smith’s use of characters and a careful crafting of the tone of the story will make you doubt the obvious.



The world is ending and there is only one place you can go to be saved in “The Mountain” by Andrew Kozma (debut 2/18 and reviewed by Frank D). Salvation from annihilation can be found on a series of hills with very descriptive (and bland) names. The people count their numbers (only a few can be saved) and watch as the universe dissolves.

“The Mountain” is told from a distance and with little emotional flare. The faceless characters of the story are rescued but have nothing left. I failed to see the point of any of it.


A fatigued man frightens an imprisoned woman in “Coffee Pot” by Jez Patterson (debut 2/19 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is huddled in a bed, watching a man who sips coffee. She just wants him to fall asleep so she can escape. Escape has its permanent drawbacks, in her case.

I hesitate revealing anymore to this tale. Suffice to say it has an effective twist. Unfortunately, the storyline didn’t capture my interest that much.


“I Heard You Got a Cat, I Heard You Named Him Charles” by M. Bennardo (debut 2/20 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist has heard his old girl friend has gotten a new pet. It was unnecessary, because he could have taken the position of a cat for her. He could be anything she wanted, and had never left her side.

This story is told from the perspective of a shape changing stalker. He is willing to do anything for her just so he can stay by her side. He is the ultimate in creepy behavior. I really felt for his girl.


Fulfilling a need can get very expensive in “Coin Op” by David Steffen (debut 2/21 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist of this short work of humor is woman who is experiencing a bit of a losing streak. Her girlfriends have pooled their money together so she can spend an evening with an android gigolo. Not sure how far she is willing to go, she opts for the ‘pay as you go’ method. Unfortunately, passion and frugality make incompatible companions.

“Coin Op” opens as a strip tease. The android takes bits of clothing off for a nominal fee that is pennies at first. The less he wears the stiffer the price. The fact the protagonist is female makes me suspect the viability of the premise, especially when the android is completely devoid of any passion at all. However, the questionable premise does lend to the absurdity of the scene. Particularly amusing is how the android’s member is treated as ‘medical waste’ when he is finished, making me feel shameful in the protagonist’s behalf.

I imagined this brief and amusing piece brightened a few people’s morning when they read it in their inbox.


A young man searches for love, in real life, his dreams, and through cyberspace in “Crabapple” by Lavie Tidhar (debut 2/22 and reviewed by Frank D). Youssou dreams of flying in the arms of an off-world lover. He lives in a house grown from a plant on an old highway in Tel Aviv and mingles with neighbors as he shares drugs and food. Youssou has left his lover and replaced him with a fictional one. The boy down the street knows all about it, because he can experience others dreams.

“Crabapple”, like so many other Tidhar tales I have read, is a difficult story to understand. The backdrop in this surreal premise are references to popular subplots borrowed from classics of the past. Concepts Niven, Pohl, Simak – and several others whose work I recognize but I can’t attach their name to them – appear throughout this tale. They serve as bright neon signs that drown out the sights around them, brilliant to the point of distraction. The story (I think) is about Youssou’s inability to commit. His subconscious attempts to fill this void (total guess), and as a viewer, we are granted a glimpse into his backstory to piece it together. A tangent to this tale is Kranki’s gift of seeing Youssou’s dreams. I would expand on this subplot more but I failed to see any meaningful relevance to the rest of the tale.

I’ve read more short works written by Lavie Tidhar than any other author save my favorites whose collections I have bought in mass in the past. I really want to like his work. He has a poetic flare to his prose. His stories have the feeling of a greater message we all could benefit from. But alas, I have yet to decipher any great message from his stories.

I can sum up all of Lavie Tidhar’s work with my experience of reading “Crabapple.” I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.


“Living With Trees” by Geetanjali Dighe (debut 2/25 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist of this tale is an explorer. He lands on a beautiful green world full of trees like the kind Earth once possessed. The trees are one with the planet, and with their spores and psychic ability, the protagonist becomes one with them.

The author draws upon her association with Far Eastern mysticism to bring this tale to life. The story has an unspoken feel of dread for an ending.


“The Small Print” by Amy McLane (debut 2/26 and reviewed by Dustin Adams), contains one of the singularly most intriguing lines I’ve ever read. Some might suggest it doesn’t carry weight out of contest, but even in context, it was out of context, and hooked me, firmly, into the story.

“The Druskies call you Padre Smallprint, because you’re always hunting for the catch.”

The story is about a man who removes memories, cleans them of their owner, and sells them to others. (We know nothing of his general clientele, and only learn of one customer of seemingly very ill repute, which adds to the story’s sullen mood.)

When the memory is gone, what is left in its place is a piece of himself. “She’ll come back. She’ll come and come until there is nothing left of her…” the Padre thinks after the initial visit/sale of a woman who’d sold an average summer day.

There are some complex ideas here, and some I feel could be interpreted differently by different readers. What exactly did he do inside her memory? Author Amy McLane doesn’t spell everything out for us, which in my opinion, enhances the tale.
Melissa Mead has written several humorous and interesting twisted fairy tales and to my delight I keep getting tapped to read them.


“Hazel Tree” by Melissa Mead (debut 2/27 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) I feel is weaker than the others, but it is nevertheless fun and, well, twisted.

Here, the put-upon stepdaughter has a magic hazelnut tree at her disposal. What she does with it is what any business minded, industrious individual would do… She profits!


A surrogate android experiences all the joy and pain of child birth in “Hope, Shattered” by Brian R. McDowell (debut 2/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Damara has been designed for the specific purpose of carrying a child to term. Most mothers who use her do so to maintain their physique, but the current mother whose child Damara is carrying is not one of those shallow women. Damara experiences all the discomforts of child birth, as well as all of the emotional peaks and valleys a mother goes through during the event as well. She is just what modern day parents need, if only it were possible for them to tend to her needsâ€

“Hope, Shattered” is an emotional tale. Damara was built for a purpose. The original birthing-bots were built without emotions, but that made them to eerie and machine-like for parents. So her updated model has been equipped to act more like a mother living through the experience. It has left her with a flaw that is heart-wrenching. A neat story, most striking about it is that the author is male.


Welcomed competition…

For months, Diabolical Plots has been beating the drum that Daily Science Fiction has failed to receive the attention we here believe they have earned. It is our opinion that it is a disgrace DSF receives for its first two years, with the exception of this lone website, only passing and brief reviews for selected stories, but that is no longer the case.

Songs of Eretz is a blog written by Dr Steven Gordon. He is a prolific author and poet, and reviews Daily SF the day each story appears (where in the hell does he find the time?). He writes a brief synopsis, what he thought of the piece, and shares his rocket rating. He even goes through the trouble of adding an appropriate photo for each story. I’m impressed.

Aside from the reviews he does of Daily SF, Dr Gordon writes a book report for the latest classic he has completed. Well thought out and well done. The good doctor is very good and very committed to his blog. Give it a look. As a reviewer, I give it 7 out 7 rockets.

As much as I have chastised the publication in the past for their snub of DSF, I would like to congratulate Tangent Online for including several Daily Science Fiction stories in their year end Recommended Reading List. Despite the fact that Tangent doesn’t review Daily SF, Bob Blough was moved enough by a handful of stories to include them for Tangent‘s list. I applaud Dave Truesdale for including them in this year.

Perhaps this would be a good time for Tangent to reconsider if Daily SF is worth their time. I know most of their offerings are shorter than majority of the stories Tangent chooses to review, but DSF does publish a showcase, longer tale every Friday. That makes 4 , 5 tales a month, comparable to what Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and so many other vaunted publications the reviewing site never fails to miss. Surely the quality of the writing at Daily SF is equal to what those celebrated magazines publish, but don’t take my word for it , my illustrious reviewing superiors , take your own recommendations to heart.

stork carrying baby

David Steffen has a very important matter that he needs to attend to. For that reason, he has left DP in the very capable hands of Anthony. The matter is a secret, very secret. You couldn’t get it out of me no matter how hard you tried.

See David? Told you could trust me!


“Coin Op”

written by David Steffen

I’m a bit tardy in posting this, but in February Daily Science Fiction published another of my stories: “Coin Op”. It’s a comedy, based around sex. It is definitely mature content, so if you don’t care for that sort of thing, just skip it. And feel free to let me know what you think of it. Here it is.