Using SF Podcasts to teach Business and Economics

written by Moritz Botts

Who wouldn’t have liked to have studied their university subject using their favorite science fiction or fantasy stories? I missed a crossover between my favorite genre fiction and the subject he was studying, so when I became a PhD student and lecturer at a German university, I decided to take matters into my own hands and asked my professor if I could teach a business course using Escape Pod as the main source. I might have understated the fact that Escape Pod is a science fiction podcast thoughâ€

The first question of course is, whether science fiction or fantasy stories lend themselves to the subject that is taught. Accounting would be a difficult subject to teach with a Robert E. Heinlein story, and human anatomy courses should probably stick to the regular, human based textbooks. There are certainly fields which are much more open to genre fiction, like anthropology, which Julianna Beaudoin of Western University in London, Canada, teaches via science fiction and fantasy classics. Authors like Ursula K. LeGuin, a daughter of anthropologists, immediately come to mind in this field. Ram Mudambi of Temple University, PA, uses the fantasy novel The Empire of the Zon as a source for his undergrad international business classes. If a manager has to study foreign cultures and their ways of doing business, why not go for a totally foreign, a fantasy culture? I decided to not rely on my students’ motivation to read though, but rather thought that podcasts would be a solution that make it more likely that students could listen to the “required listening of the week” during their commute, while exercising, or while shopping. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that all podcasts offered by Escape Artists are available free of charge.

Before the course began, I asked myself a couple of questions: Were Escape Pod, Podcastle, or even Pseudopod, podcasts I have been following since 2010, suitable for a university course? Would the young generation of students be open to genre fiction? Could podcasts make it easier for students to follow the course? There was only one way to find out!

In the summer of 2014, the course “Business and Economics in Fiction Podcasts” was offered to undergraduate students of international business at a German public university. The university has a strong international focus, and more than 50% of the students who eventually signed up for this course were exchange students from the European Erasmus program, coming from countries such as Poland, Russia, Turkey, France, Italy, or Greece.

Students picked a podcast from a selection of science fiction and some fantasy podcasts, mostly from Escape Pod and Podcastle. I had preselected these podcasts to include some economics or business related topic, often following suggestions from Escape Artists’ forums. These included totally new takes on supply and demand with Nancy Kress’ “Nano comes to Clifford Falls” (EP 075), the meaning of value with Daniel Abraham’s “The Cambist and Lord Iron” (PC 051), or intercultural communication with David D. Levine’s “Tk’tk’tk” (EP 045). You can see the complete list of stories at the end of this article. In many cases, this meant near future stories with social criticism by authors such as Nancy Kress or Cory Doctorow. Even though students would usually be 21 years old or older, no Pseudopod stories were selected.

The course was offered as a “soft skills” course with credits but no grade, to make it easier to experiment a bit. A typical week would include two presentations by student groups and a section on different academic skills, such as presenting, citation, editing podcasts, or creating a wiki. Therefore, even if the idea of using the podcasts terribly backfired, the students would have still taken something useful with them.

The results of the course were somewhat mixed. On the one hand, all stories were suitable to be used as case studies in economics or business on an undergraduate level. One German student mentioned that he had been very skeptical about using science fiction stories at first, but when he listened to his story – Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Tamarisk Hunter” (EP 384) , he immediately “got it”. A group of Turkish students presented Tobias Buckell’s “Anakoinosis” and expressed a deep concern for the ethical issues discussed in the story. For me, it was initially a bit weird to hear my students present genre fiction authors and talk about the awards they got, but why should a story concerning aliens and spaceships be any weirder than a business case?

The lack of a grade for the course led to a couple of rather lackluster presentations though, and not all students would listen to the podcasts regularly. For future iterations of this course, incentives for a stronger engagement of the students should be given. Also, as the stories seem to “work” in an academic setting, grades could certainly be given, which should raise the quality of the students’ presentations.

To evaluate the course, I handed out a questionnaire during the last class. This survey is not really representative, because of the small class size. Nevertheless, there are a couple of trends that can be seen. Most students hadn’t really heard of podcasts before the start of the course. They usually listened to the course’s story on their computer while not doing anything else. There was only one native speaker of English in the course, and most students found it easier to follow the stories in a written format alongside the audio file.

About half of the students actually like science fiction stories. While most students only listened to a couple of the podcasts, they usually listened to more than one, the most popular being “Tk’tk’tk”.

I am sure that I will offer this course again in an upcoming semester. New and engaging Escape Pod (and Podcastle and Pseudopod) stories will certainly enhance the next course, so keep them coming!

 

Short stories included in the Curriculum

Week 1: From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled… (Michael Swanwick), Escape Pod
Week 2: Accounting for Dragons (Eric James Stone), Podcastle
Week 3: Nano Comes to Clifford Falls (Nancy Kress), Escape Pod
Week 3: The Tamarisk Hunter (Paolo Bacigalupi), Escape Pod
Week 4: Dragonomics (Lance Shonberg), Cast of Wonders
Week 4: The Cambist and Lord Iron (Daniel Abraham), Podcastle
Week 5: Anakoinosis (Tobias Buckell); Dunesteef
Week 5: Special Economics (Maureen F. McHugh), Clarkesworld
Week 6: Anda’s Game (Cores Doctorow), Podiobooks
Week 6: Patent Infringement (Nancy Kress), Escape Pod
Week 7: Just Do It (Heather Lindsley), Escape Pod
Week 7: Tk’tk’tk (David D. Levine), Escape Pod


MoritzBottsMoritz Botts is a research and teaching assistant at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. His research focuses on intercultural differences in management, while his teaching includes international management and innovation management. He is also an intercultural trainer and interested in innovative teaching methods with diverse media. He has written a horror short story in German published in an anthology and various academic articles. You can contact Moritz at botts@europa-uni.de

 

Daily Science Fiction: August 2013 Review

It’s almost Christmas and I’m still looking at summer stories. Time to get my rear in gear. Fortunately, August had some jewels to help me deal with the frigid weather.

 

An apology is like giving up a little piece of yourself, so says the author of Apology Accepted by Kathryn Felice Board (debut 8/1 and reviewed by Dustin Adams). Within the story, apologies cure on a physical, as well as emotional, level but come at the cost of the giver.

But what if the giver is a therapist, and people’s pain too unbearable for her to deny them a piece of herself, an apology from her to them? Would she eventually run out? If so, what kind of person would remain?

I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking, emotional story. I imagine I’ll recollect it often in the days to come.

Recommended.

 

Inspired by a true story, For Sale by Owner by Kate Heartfield (debut 8/2 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) tells the tale of a man, Ron, who watches out his window, toward a cliff, for would-be jumpers. In a simple fashion, Ron invites them to his nearby home for “a cup of tea and a chat.” He has saved most, and lost many, but he himself endures stubbornly, seeking the day when his replacement comes along.

The mark of an extraordinary tale is one that makes all of life’s distractions disappear and loses the reader in the telling. This is one such story. This is why we read stories. This is why fiction exists, to enlighten the human condition, and to share it with others. This story, and the true story that inspired it, are both worth reading.

 

What could have been “another zombie story” turned out to be quite the opposite. In Zombie Widows by Natalie Graham (debut 8/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) we have a woman, recently widowed, who desperately misses her husband. Because zombies are created from any remaining DNA, a house must be purged of everything that once belonged to the deceased loved one, which makes for a sad tale indeed.

 

An abandoned pet waits vigilantly for his family to return in Sparg by Brian Trent (debut 8/6 and reviewed by Frank D). Sparg is making breakfast. He has observed his owners carefully during their morning ritual. The batter is difficult to stir, and bowl large to hold with his tentacles, but he so desperately seeks their approval and happiness. He is doing his best for them. Now if they were only hereâ€

“Sparg” is the tale of loneness. He is a squid-like pet living in a low gravity environment. Clever, loyal, and eager to please, he wonders what he could have done to make them leave so suddenly as they did. The dominant member of the human family , Deepvoice , mentioned something about a war as they rushed out the door.

“Sparg” is a unique tale told from the perspective of a very bright pet. Although I was never sure of his species (squid sounds right), it is clear that he is capable of far more than any ordinary human companion. You can feel the loneliness of the abandoned family member and can sympathize with him while he attempts to right any wrong he believes he has done.

From “Old Yeller” to “Lady and the Tramp”, I have experienced many pet tales before. This one was out of this world.

Recommended.

 

A man foresees his future in Memories of Forgetting by Kenneth S Kao (debut 8/7 and reviewed by Frank D). Memories of a life yet to be unravel for a young man when he is approached by his future wife. The memories surface only when she is near and fade as soon as she leaves.

Intriguing tale. Not bad.

 

A new apprentice discovers innovative and improvement has little chance against the ingrained and familiar. The Traveling Raven Problem by Ian Watson (debut 8/8 and reviewed by Frank D) follows Igar on his first day as an indentured servant for a carrier raven service. The Corvomaester has little use for his new helper’s questions and suggestions. The service has run on the same routine for three millennia. Clearly it isn’t broke, so there is nothing that needs fixed.

“The Traveling Raven” is a tale of entrenchment. Igar’s boss is uneducated and is comfortable with his position as Corvomaester. It is clear ‘new’ ideas fall way outside his comfort zone. The story is filled with back-and-forth dialog. The Corvomaester speaks a guttural dialect , very difficult to understand. Although I found the lesson of this tale intriguing, piecing together the speech of these characters was a chore.

 

Just Like Clockwork by K.G. Jewell (debut 8/9 and reviewed by Frank D). Hemiz is the zookeeper of a clockwork zoo. His animals are all mechanical works of dials, springs, and gears , except for the only Galactic Tech piece, the Shurilian lion. The lion is supposed to be indisputably accurate, so when its roar is slightly off in the zoo’s show, the perfectionist zookeeper won’t rest until he finds out why.

“Just Like Clockwork” is a sci-fi physics mystery. Earthquakes have plagued the technologically isolated planet of Krinnia ever since the Shurilian built their space elevator. The Shurilians have said their elevator has nothing to do with the quakes, and its lion is in tune with the planets rotation and cannot possibly be malfunctioning. Hemiz is sure all his clockwork animals are functioning as designed, and finds it unlikely his zoo animals couldn’t all be off at the same time. He has a theory, a theory that could prove dire for his world.

This story has a resolution I found cunning but the premise of two owners of a novelty attraction solving it I found difficult to believe. The villain of this piece was cut from the same cloth as a James Bond antagonist, foolishly revealing their plans for no good reason other to gloat.

 

A patient doesn’t know if he’s coming or going in Hiking in My Head by Gareth D Jones (debut 8/12 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is in a mental hospital, but doesn’t know why. He sees people in his head, yet cannot remember who they are or who he is. The doctor says he is cured but his brain doesn’t know it yet.

“Hiking” is a story based on a theory I’ve never heard of before, where some dreams are influenced by outside events are memories run in reverse. An odd tale I had to read twice to partially understand it.

 

Explorers find the edge of the world and discover what lies below. In Nova Verba, Mundus Novus by Ken Liu (debut 8/13 and reviewed by Frank D) the crew of the Sesquipedilian brave the Atlantean Ocean, and with the aid of an aerostat, float over its side. The world is as he Hindu’s describe it , a flat disc resting on the back of an elephant, who stands on a stack of turtles. The lower they descend, the simpler they become. What changes are in store for this brave crew?

“Nova” is a lighthearted, yet clever, work of flash from one of the brightest writers of our time.

 

A curse afflicts a bride in Seaweed by Mari Ness (debut 8/14 and reviewed by Frank D). The woman in this tale awakes in a blanket of seaweed every morning. Despite the best efforts of many in the kingdom, nothing can be done to halt this curse. She (and her husband) know from whence this curse came, and she is determined that her husband takes responsibility for his part.

This is an odd tale and I’m not quite sure if I got the point of it.

 

A depressed and lonely girl finds solace and companionship In Dreams by Jeremy Erman (debut 8/15 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist dreams of a place with purple skies every night. It is a place for people like herself, withdrawn and shunned. She meets a boy, establishes a relationship. Like romances in real life, the dream and their feelings for each other fade, but she does not leave the surreal place empty handed.

This brief tale has a twist that many readers may have missed. So subtle.

 

A man hired to find the meaning of life for the dying searches for the meaning of living in The Black Bough by Conor Powers-Smith (debut 8/16 and reviewed by Frank D). Louis Gibbs is a dreamer. He absorbs the complete memories of his clients , every second of their life , and reflects upon it to give them the answers that always eluded them. Louis has the memories of sixteen people in his head when he absorbed his latest client’s memories. Henry is a widower afflicted with a terminal disease. Before Louis can finish mulling over Henry’s past, Henry dies. It has happened before, but while contemplating his client’s memories, sadness overtakes him with the knowledge of what Henry children will think of their fathers passing.

“Black Bough” is a tale of reflection. The middle-aged Louis has little trouble separating the memories of clients twice his age from his own. He managed to perform his job with a detached distance surgeons need to do to be effective. Henry’s long but common life becomes a tipping point for Louis on the heels of tragic news , his leukemia has returned.

This protagonist in Powers-Smith’s tale is a man who is suddenly struck with issues when he was absent of them before. His news has left Philosophy major emotively empty. Searching for his own meaning in life would be incomplete. His business, with its abundance of memory files, can offer so much more.

I contemplated why Louis would choose the course of actions which led to the finale of this piece. Without spoiling the ending for you (if I haven’t already), I can only assume he wasn’t really searching for an answer. Rather, he just became overwhelmed with a reality he couldn’t handle. Intriguing story but I’m unsure of its meaning.

 

An unassuming sidekick receives his just rewards in Recognition by Bill Glover (debut 8/19 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a loyal assistant to a superhero, the Checked Avenger. He has an inconspicuous nature for a power – others fail to notice him when he is present. Despite his unpretentious gift, he has never failed to miss the superhero award banquet. It is quite unexpected when his boss receives an award, but what happens next surprises the protagonist most of all.

Liked the moral of this tale but I do wonder, considering his power, how did the protagonist manage to get invited to the banquet in the first place?

 

A mailman falls for an extrinsic, yet reclusive, mysterious woman in The Matchmaker by Sara Puls (debut 8/20 and reviewed by Frank D). Don has hand delivered packages to Ruthetta for thirty years. Always marked fragile, Ruthetta has hinted to Don that they are filled with fairy tale characters. Don has always been drawn to the bubbly but alone woman, but never had the courage to tell her how he felt. As the frequency begins to slow to a trickle, then not at all, Don worries that he has waited too long to express himself.

“The Matchmaker” is a two tiered love story. Ruthetta cares for fairy tale creatures, doing her best to find them someone that will care for them. Don worries that poor Ruthetta never bothered to think of herself. Sweet little story.

 

A ghostly alien wonders about the strange orbs that circle the stars in An Impossible Matter by Sylvia Anna Hiven (debut 8/21 and reviewed by Frank D). Thorn is drawn to the 3rd orb an alluring blue and green ball of matter circling a star. The Grand Patri tells his inquisitive underling that nothing of importance can exist on such things.

“An Impossible Matter” is a short tale told from a unique perspective. A new story from a well-worn idea.

 

A family visits Granny in Tomorrow is Winter by Callie Snow (debut 8/22 and reviewed by Frank D). In this dystopian future, the protagonist is a little girl accompanying her parents to a retirement home. The first day of winter is coming. The day is a holiday, of a sort, but is celebrated as if the cold that marks the season rarely happens anymore.

“Tomorrow is Winter” has a storyline that is half metaphor. The story is told from a growing child who sees the hypocrisy of the celebration. Her town is covered in a dome to protect it from the pollution outside, making observing any changes of seasons irrelevant. An intriguing angle to this tale is Isabella’s (protagonist) corrective protocols to monitor her behavior. She is equipped with some sort of Pavlov-ian device that shocks her for her social faux paus. I would have liked to know more of this subplot. “Tomorrow” had some intriguing aspects but their details were elusive. A deeper story would have been preferable.

 

A heartless girl contemplates her cold demeanor in A Change of Heart by Rachel Halpern (debut 8/23 and reviewed by Frank D). Clara is an unusual child. She is well aware that she lacks the emotional peaks and valleys she sees in others. She has learned to mimic feelings, mindful of responsive cues to simulate face expressions and appropriate verbal responses to emotive situations. Faking it hasn’t left Clara satisfied, and she is wondering if the empty space in her chest may have something to do with her wooden condition.

“A Change of Heart” is a Tin Man tale. Clara’s parents fill in the pieces for her when they show her a wooden box and explain of the unusual procedure Dr. Annin preformed that saved her life at a young age. Her heart was dying, so the doctor removed it and stored it in the box, where it still beats. As long as it remains in the box, Clara is safe and immortal, but Clara knows that a life without a beating heart is not a life at all.

I have mixed emotions about “A Change of Heart”. Although the story is a solid one, I felt it was longer than it needed to be. The narrative seemed to drag, as if the author had trouble telling an emotional tale through the eyes of a protagonist who lack emotions. The result was too much backhanded explanations, a simile or two too many, and long stretches of internal contemplations. I felt the tale could have been stronger as a short-short, or maybe, as a work of flash. Nevertheless, the concept was an interesting one. I can see why the editors decided to publish.

 

Friendship is the theme of A Crown of Woven Nails by Caroline M. Yoachim (debut 8/26 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a little girl who makes friends with a shape shifting alien. The Splitters came to Earth to help rebuild civilization after an atomic war. Gratitude evolves into suspicion as fear compels humanity to imprison the Splitters. The little girl remembers her friend, Cobalt, and tries to rekindle their friendship years later after the aliens are free, but people change, as do the aliens who change shape at will.

“A Crown” revolves around the memory of gift the protagonist receives from Cobalt when they were adolescents, a crown Cobalt transforms from discarded nails. The story is much like any story could tell from their own experiences , a memory of a long ago friend from an innocent time. Although the shape-shifting aliens gave it a new flavor, the story’s theme I found less than remarkable.

 

An unwanted guest has a habit of crashing weddings in Three Weddings and an Objection by M. M. Domaille (debut 8/27 and reviewed by Frank D). An off world ice fishing community celebration is interrupted by a defense probe, ruining a blessed couples special day. The guests all flee before the murderous probe mistakes them for a rebel assembly. Two more weddings are attempted but the probe still appears each time. Will love conquer all?

This tale set in an isolated setting has a usual angle to it. There is a slight twist to the story, and a slight appeal to the tale.

 

Psychic abilities ruin a love affair in Love is Orange, Love is Red by Eric James Stone (debut 8/28 and reviewed by Frank D). A sickness afflicts a couple that grants them the ability to sense the emotions of each other. Disappoint is the result when they discover their feelings don’t run at equal depths.

Mr. Stone explores the consequences of knowing exactly how another feels about you. The protagonist attempts to explain his mundane emotional state for his lover with an analogy of viewing colors differently. Intriguing tale but this passion driven story is told from an emotional distance. It loses its luster in the processes, giving it a clinical feel to it.

 

Flip Side by Chip Houser (debut 8/29 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

The woman sat beside the road in her tattered dress. She argued with herself about the past. Was the accident her fault? Was she driving too fast? Or was it Tommy’s for not watching where he was going? She throws her empty bottle in frustration. The old man eases his way across the street, dodging the crumbling asphalt and broken glass. Standing next to her he pulls out a bottle and holds it out to her. “Whiskey?” she asks. “Something better,” he replies. She drains the bottle, choking on the sickly sweet liquid. “You’ve poisoned me!” she cries. “No I’ve set you free,” he replies. “It will be better this time.”

“Flip Side” is a story about what could have been and what you would give to set the past right. The author deftly unfolds the tragedy that stunted this woman’s life, and shows us that there are worse things than death. He then offers us hope that someone out there will give us a second chance. Someone that will give us back the chance to make the right choice. I liked how well he did this and still found the room to paint such a vivid picture of the participants. This one is worth the read.

 

I’ll Never Find Another You by C J Paget (debut 8/30 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

He first sees her at the party. She’s dressed like a genie. There’s something familiar about her, but he can’t quite place it. He works his way over to her and they exchange banter, agreeing to flee the boredom of the party. She retrieves her coat from the Jag and follows him to his Audi. “Nice car,” he says. “It’s stolen,” she replies. As they drive she asks about finance, and quantum mechanics. At his place he opens the gate and watches her face, the disappointment is obvious. “Not what you expected?” he asks. She shakes her head like it doesn’t belong there. “Now what’s this all about he asks?” “Quantum Mechanics,” she replies.

This story meanders along the trail of alternate universes and what-could-have-beens, ending in the only way it could. The author takes their time laying out the premise, which doesn’t help in my mind. Once you get to the end you’ll find you don’t care much for either of the two characters that populate the story. It has some interesting premises, but the inherent flaws in the characters are just too much to get past. I found myself hoping for the end to come, and it didn’t come fast enough.

 

Sound Check

A few reviews ago, I suggested the editors take a look into the audio market to help get their vast library out there. They responded to me by offering me the audio editor’s job. After sending several unanswered queries to the largest audio publishers out there, I can confidently confirm that I suck as an audio editor. I am clearly out of league but do firmly believe that an audio version of Not Just Rockets and Robots would be a hit. So†.

I am asking for help, advice, a shovel to help me dig out of this hole that I am in, to get Daily SF on its rightful place in the audio section of literature. Anyone got anything for me?

snapperFrank Dutkiewicz needs no introduction.

Daily Science Fiction: July 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Whew. Just emptied a big pile of commitments on my desk and can finally get around to reviewing some excellent material. So while I’m going over August’s offerings, why don’t you take a gander at what July’s stories were all about.

 

Remembrance by David G. Uffelman (debut 7/1 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

The Old Mother of a herd of elephants hears news of grief from her distant counterpart. As she prepares to move the herd, to pay respects, she’s questioned by her eldest daughter and eventual successor. This is a good lesson for the younger, and for all. They set out on their journey because the Old Mother knows best.

What I didn’t know until after reading the story comments is that the human, the object of the elephants’ grief and respect, was based on Laurence Anthony. The “Elephant Whisperer.” I felt the tale was lovely, and after learning this fact, I gained a deeper appreciation for the entire story.

 

Memories like Bread, Words like Little White Stones by Cecile Cristofari (debut 7/2 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

When an elderly man loses his memories, his wife, unable to watch him drift away, picks up a summer job delivering mail. At first, she sees a postcard that reminds her of an earlier holiday.

Before long, like the real life postman (Ferdinand Cheval) who collected stones along his route to build a palace, the woman’s letters grew into a house. But in fiction, the house could become real, and inviting, and welcoming.

Beautifully written, the story builds, a piece at a time, toward a warm and peaceful conclusion.

 

Scramble! by Melissa Mead (debut 7/3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

A twist on Humpty Dumpty, living on a different planet, guarding other eggs. When the king’s men knock him down, crack him, and refuse to put him back together again…

Humpty Dumpty gets even.

 

In Portal Worlds and Your Child: A Parent’s Guide (With Examples) by Matt Mikalatos (debut 7/4 and eviewed by Dustin Adams) we have a wonderful guide (with examples) of what to do, and how to react, should your child be able and inclined to travel or have traveled via portal to another world.

I appreciated the layout of the story, and following one particular girl through her travels there and back, but one thing hung me up a bit. On the one hand we have the guide, which begins firmly entrenched in the fantastic reality of a child– “Watch for imaginary friends, talking
animals, or strange behaviors (avoiding sidewalk cracks, fear of open closets, obsessively locking bedroom windows, etc.).” Which I loved, because I figured this would be a story that would leave me questioning my perception of reality. On the other hand, the story itself journeyed into the realm of fantasy, becoming its own fantastic world, which, for me, negated the “reality” of the earlier writing.

However, that said, this remains an enjoyable read. (And a handy guide.)

 

Memories of Mirrored Worlds, by Barbara A. Barnett (debut 7/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) gives us glimpses of the life of Alison Marie, Queen of the Nightlands, daughter of reality, and Servant of Death. This tale is filled with the melancholy of someone who is physically torn between two worlds, but also emotionally. Alison Marie wishes to return to the world where she is a queen, and is visited many times over her life by those beckoning for her return, but she cannot because to go is to forget her own mother.

While I appreciated the sadness and the duality within Alison Marie, I felt somewhat let down by the introduction of a new character late in the story, who is granted that which Alison Marie cannot have. Seemed too easy.

 

Of Ash and Old Dreams by Sara Grey (debut 7/8 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

She is no longer a young girl sweeping ash from a fireplace and dreaming of true love; she is a queen. But her feet have grown fat and the glass slippers hurt to wear. The years wear on and the magic gown of her youth becomes a worn and faded reminder of the past. The parade of years will eventually turn her hair to grey and she can no longer muster the strength to attend the affairs beside her king, but what else can she do she is a queen?

This is a very good story that explores the concept of what happens after the ball where Cinderella meets her prince charming. The author has done a masterful job of capture the slow decay brought on by time and leads us to a place we all get to eventually. Well written and well-paced this is a very good story. Take the time to read it.

 

Tell Them of the Sky by A. T. Greenblatt (debut 7/8 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

She first came into his shop wearing a silk robe, the crÃ’ me color so out of place in the city. Aya plays with the toy birds and kites, but doesn’t ask the question. Over the years she and Kitkun dance around her desire to know what is above the black layer of smog overhead. She asks about the sky, but isn’t ready to seek it. In time she goes to fight in the latest war and Kitkun fears he has lost her, but when she returns she is sadder and wiser. Will she seek the sky?

This is a nice story, well told and well-paced. In it you can find the quest of youth for the unknown and the determination to seek your dreams later in life. The characters are well drawn and the author does a very good job of building relationship. Give this one a read.

 

Bedtime Stories by Jayson Sanders (debut 7/10 and reviewed by Frank D). The Creator is putting down His children for their great sleep. They beg and plead that they are not ready, but it is time for them to go. They are due on last story before they make room for those who come next.

“Bedtime Stories” is a tale of a deity ushering out mankind. It is written as a loving parent tucking in their children for their nighttime rest. A brief and distant tale.

 

The Flight Stone by KJ Kabza (debut 7/11 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a starving orphaned girl selected to become an air knight. The airborne horses cannot handle a heavy load so the small and light are needed to fill the duty. The best chance to become a knight is to remain thin. Failure means expulsion. As cruel as the school is, it is far better than the streets.

“The Flight Stone” is a tale of desperation. The children have nothing but the school, but to remain, they have to weigh almost nothing. Even the smallest of growth spurts dooms a candidate. This tale is a metaphor for the conditions that creates bulimia. The story is difficult to get through and sad. Knowing why air knights are so important would have helped. Without it, the tale was nothing more than a needless child abuse story to me.

 

A fighter climbs into unlucky number thirteen in On The Big-Fisted Circuit by Cat Rambo (debut 7/12 and reviewed by Frank D). Jane is a mecha-suit fighter, battling in four story robots for the honor of corporate sponsors. The suit has twelve previous pilots, and thirteen is the unwritten limit of a suit. The previous pilot backed out but that isn’t an option for Jane. She fights so her impoverished family will have a better life, and fights like this pay too well, even when the outcome is ordained.

“On The Big-Fisted Circuit” is Riley in an Aliens hydraulic suit set in a Real Steel premise. Jane has a problem many up-and-coming athletes have today; they are the sum of the hopes and dreams of their impoverished family. The self-sacrificing premise is a common one and made this story of Ms Rambo’s disappointing and impressive at the same time for me. The storyline was a thin one, and its outcome predictable. It is a testament to Ms Rambo’s skill that she could stretch it out and compile it to make it more than it really was. Nevertheless, “Big-Fisted” was a story I’ve heard before. Only the setting, and Ms Rambo’s fresh paint, gave it an original feel.

 

A married couple shops for fruit in Theories of Pain by Rose Lemberg (debut 7/15 and reviewed by Frank D). The two characters in this tale buy an apple, wait for it to rot, while they live their life. The changing events are like the different textures of fruit (or I could be completely wrong).

Truthfully, I’m not sure what this was about. I couldn’t make the connections between the analogies and metaphors the author was after. The point of the piece was lost on me.

 

A persistent novelist makes his pitch to a publisher in Diamond Doubles by Eric Brown (debut 7/16 and reviewed by Frank D). A series of letters is presented as a possible explanation for the disappearance of a book publisher. The letters are a series of pitches, accompanied by manuscripts, speaking of life in the far future, written by a “T Traveler”. They hint of the authors past, and of our distant future.

This tongue and cheek tale has a premise that is quite predictable. Cute.

 

A hasty hostage taking creates a new opportunity for the protagonist in The Negotiation by D. Thomas Minton (debut 7/17 and reviewed by Frank D). Samson is a desperate man, down on his luck with a series of bad choices has led him to strap explosives to his chest, demanding money from a bank. Alexandre used to hold a job to deal with poor souls like Samson: attempt to appeal to their good side and save them for themselves. He was terrible at it. Samson presents a new opportunity for Alexandre, and this job appeals to his previous weakness. He just needs Samson to cooperate.

The premise to this story relies on the twist. A bit out of the blue (the twist) but a good one nevertheless. Not bad.

 

A temporal maintenance worker follows time tourists in Join Our Team of Time Travel Professionals by Sarah Pinsker(debut 7/18 and reviewed by Frank D). Its Magda’s first day of her job. She is a disguised bag lady tailing tourists of the future in modern day New York. Her job is to pick up the trash they leave behind , remnants of the future , and follow them until the pick-up point. Then it occurs to her, what if she misses the pick-up point?

“Join Our Team” examines the menial work of time travel. It is cheaper to hire people like Magda to pick up after time tourists then it is to train the tourists to blend in the past. Magda needs this job , so much she didn’t read the fine print when she signed her contract. Amusing little piece.

 

For Your Protection by Steven Mathes (debut 7/19 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

Joseph has his weekly appointment for a brain scan. He prepares himself, both physically and mentally: new clothes and reminders to not answer the voices in his head out loud. As he nears the park the female voice tells him to take a cab; he resists but finally hails a car. Halfway around the park the air shimmers and the veil drops, trapping most of the people inside. By the time he gets to the mental health center only a few bots are left chasing papers that are blowing in the wind. He turns and heads into the center with the waiting scanner.

This is the beginning of a really good story, but unfortunately this tale doesn’t live up to the promise of these early scenes. The world Joseph inhabits is a mishmash of crazy, aliens and intrigue, but the reader is never sure which. This can be a decent premise if well handled; this one wasn’t and I never developed a real affinity for Joseph or a good sense for his world. I would have liked more.

 

Demonic Summoning, Ratings and Reviews by Simon Kewin (debut 7/19 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

This collection of ratings is a summary of user’s reviews for the app Demonic Summoning. It seems the users found the app to work less well than expected, unless the instructions are followed explicitly. Even then mixed reviews seem to indicate some difficulty with making the app run properly. A few users were cut off mid review, indicating the software may contain discontinuities of a critical nature. Still the developer does ensure that these issues will be corrected and encourages prospective users to give it a try. I will report on our success as soon as I can locate my researcher.

This is a very cleverly done little ditty done as a collection of user reviews of software for summoning demons. The author has done a good job of leading us along with the path from negative reviews, to positive reviews, to downright scary results. A nicely done ending caps the thing off. It may not be your cup of tea, but I enjoyed it immensely.

 

An enticing invitation to an unknown destination tempts an overworked student in Breaking Orbit by Rachael Acks (debut 7/23 and reviewed by Frank D). A dragon rolls up to the platform in place of Ayako’s usual train. It tells Ayako to jump on, but the wary student hesitates. A homeless man warns Ayako that the dragon will stop coming if she keeps refusing, but what good can come from pursuing a whim?

“Breaking Orbit” is a tale of choices. The dragon represents the sum of Ayako’s dreams. She has responsibilities with her education. Would it be wise to turn her back on them? The tale is a good metaphor for all who weigh of pursuing frivolity against boring practicality.

 

A time traveler helps a boy face his bullies in Sticks and Stones by Kevin Pickett (debut 7/24 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist stands next to a small child who is about to pummeled by four larger and meaner boys. The cloaked guardian has a way of evening the odds for the child who will grow up to do great things.

Not a bad time traveling tale. Didn’t catch the subtle twist until my second read.

 

Squeak by Emma Osbourne (debut 7/25 and reviewed by Frank D). Keesa wanted to be a lion, but instead becomes a mouse when her time for transformation arrives. She doesn’t understand why the gods refused her wish, until the hunters arrive.

Squeak is a story of faith. The protagonist learns why our prayers are sometimes ignored and how a curse can be a blessing in disguise. A good short tale.

 

By The Hands of Juan Peron by Eric James Stone (debut 7/26 and reviewed by Frank D).

Tomas Peron is summoned by his father, Juan Peron , Emperor of Latin America. The Emperor informs his Catholic priest son that he will be the next person in line to the throne. Tomas does not approve of his father’s heavy hand, nor does he like the Emperor’s treatment of the church, but Juan has trump card that can change Tomas’s mind. God exists, and he can prove it.

“By The Hands” is an alternative history tale involving the late Juan Peron of Argentina. His nation is the dominant nation of Earth in this timeline. Their technological superiority was made possible thanks to a crashed saucer and surviving alien in 1947. The Argentinian timeline is one of five diversions from a common historical thread marked by the dropping of the atomic bombs in World War II. The surviving alien, named Angelica, has said the multiple timelines are made possible by design and is watched over by the Prime Observer. The Observer decides which timeline is worthy to pursue and is usually determined by a major event that gathers His attention. The Argentinians have used the alien technology to keep tabs on the other timelines. Juan knows God (or Prime Observer) will erase all but one line, and he has a plan to make sure the Argentinian line that will be the one that must survive. So when one alternative timeline has discover the means to travel to other lines, Juan decides to execute a plan that will attract the attention of God so He will show favor on his world , a plan that will involve the death of millions.

I admit, nothing gets me excited like a well-planned work of alternative history. “By The Hands” is a tale that stays true to the genre. The premise is nicely detailed, complete with a firm set of rules. Juan Peron is a hundred year old man, still very much alive thanks to alien assisted rejuvenation technology. He rules with an iron hand, much to the dismay of Tomas. Tomas agrees to his father’s request to be his heir but has second thoughts when he grasps his fathers ‘ends-justifying-the-means’ plan for survival.

“By The Hands” is a good tale. True to history with teasers for histories that never were. If you like Alternative History as much as I, then you won’t want to miss this one.

 

He was the most expert programmer in the world, in The Programmer and the Social Worker, or, A Love Story about Feature Creep by Tina Connolly (debut 7/29 and reviewed by James Hanzelka), but when his wife fell sick he packed up his seven laptops, unrolled CAT6 cable, and escaped to the cellar. She went to work, shopped, read her library books and slept alone. After seven days he emerged with bloodshot eyes and full of caffeine. He drug her to Sweden for the cure. Each time they put her under she demurred, but they cajoled, pleaded and begged until she relented. In the end she was permanently cured, her code perfected. But would the feature creep end the love story?

This is a strange little tale. Lots of computer speak and gobbledygook to wade through, but underneath is a nice love story and two opposites. The story winds on, with the programmer driven to save his wife, she trying to hold on to the normal. He succeeds beyond his wildest imagination, or at least hers, but in doing so she starts to leave him behind. When she turns back to beckon him to her, will he follow? I liked this story, not as much as some, but the subtext was quite endearing. Give it a try.

 

Super-Parents Last All Childhood Long by Erica L. Satifka (debut 7/30 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

Caleb planned to break up with Shora after the movie, but when they got back to her room and she removed her shirt, he couldn’t do it. Still she was crazy to believe her parents were robots. Well not crazy, but definitely strange. Later, he went to the bathroom and searched her medicine cabinet, but found no pills. She wasn’t crazy, just strange. Later, at the store, as he buys a paper to look for work he starts to notice how distant and remote people are. Just the result of today’s isolated society, or was it?

I never did get fully into this story. Maybe it was by design because it was drawing a comparison to the remoteness of interaction in today’s society and what we perceive as the blandness of robotic emotions. To me, however, the plot just never fully developed. It just sort of bumped along with the underlying subtext, but never drew me in to the characters.

 

A man is plagued by an object of his guilt in The Dollmaker’s Grief by Michelle M. Denham (debut 7/31 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist recognizes an android doll standing in a shop’s window. The object is a reminder of a dark and regrettable moment in his life. The doll is missing something, something the protagonist can never give it.

“The Dollmaker’s Grief” is a solemn tale with a depressing twist. I was impressed that the author managed to make a sad story even sadder.

 

Making Your Money Work For Youâ€

For a good three years Daily Science Fiction has been laying a foundation as an attraction. With an original distribution plan, a rate to attract the best talent, and a selection of material that spans the breadth of speculative fiction, the publication has become a magnet for readers around the world. In short, you couldn’t find a better billboard if drove the length of the Washington Beltway (go ahead and try, I dare ya).

If you have a book, event, film, or Fortune Five Hundred product (McDonalds or Coca-Cola would be fine), and you want to focus your message on a specific audience, you can’t find a better place than Daily Science Fiction. DSF‘s readers are not a group of comic book nerds who hide in the closet to read by flashlight. No. They were a group of comic book nerds who used to hide in the closet to read by flashlight, but are now doctors, lawyers, professors, and successful career business men and woman. They are bright, on the upper half of money earners, and above all, loyal. Your Ad showcased on the electronic pages of DSF will be seen and your item will be noticed. Looking for an edge in a crowded market? Daily Science Fiction will help your product stand out in a crowd.

And because the friends of our friends are Diabolical Plots’ friends, here is this month’s bio featuring Daily SF‘s first advertising customer.

 

UFO2cover-200x300Why does science fiction and fantasy have to be so serious? Who says it has to be?

Alex Shvartsman (got to be funny with a name like that) has given us his latest anthology of side-splitting works of speculative fiction. Unidentified Funny Objects 2 is now available for purchase. Featuring original works from Mike Resnick, Robert Silverberg, Ken Liu, and Tim Pratt (to name just a few), UFO2 promises to be a hit. It’s funny. I should know, and I’m not saying that just because I helped to pick them out.

Associate Editor’s pick: “Class Action Orc” by James Beamon. Some lawyer jokes just never get old.

Daily Science Fiction: June 2012 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Summer is almost done and we have just started with the beginning of Daily SF’s lazy day offerings. So what did we think of them? I’m glad you asked”

 

Debbie’s petunias are dying and her girlfriend Sharon is leaving her, and it’s all the aliens fault in “The Time of Their Visitation” by Lisa Nohealani Morton (debut 6/1 and reviewed by Frank D). Three horned aliens have come to Earth to observe humanity. Debbie is one of the ten percent who can see them. Their entry into our society has changed the way people have thought about their lives and many, like Debbie, resent them for it.

“The Time” is a story about human relationships with voyeuristic aliens as a backdrop. Although harmless, the aliens are getting blamed for every small incident in the world. The reader enters the tale while Sharon is in the middle of moving out. Debbie’s life is falling apart around her and the aliens appear to be enjoying her misfortune.

“The Time” is an examination on how we are quick to blame external events for our own problems. This realization comes to Debbie early into the piece as she observes others attributing the aliens for their own misfortunes. I found this story sweet but too much like other breakup tales. The aliens made it unique but the author wanted to make them a minor subplot so not to take away her real intent for the piece. She succeeded.

 

In “The Princess and the Monster” by Ryan Creel (debut 6/4 and reviewed by Anonymous) a dragon is pursuing its prey. During the pursuit it flies here and it flies there, generally causing mayhem and fear amongst the humans who see it. It eventually finds the elf it seeks and the story ends with jokey finish.

This didn’t work for me on many levels. It was quite a brief story, yet full of jarring usages of a writing style most writers avoid. I found an overuse of conjunctions, particularly with the word ‘And.’ There were several sentences that repeated the same words and phrases, giving the prose an echo effect. A good example being a comparison of the dragons pupils to knives that was repeated. Of course all of this may have been done for a reason (there are no right or wrongs) but to me it felt like the whole thing needed a final edit.

I liked some of the descriptions of the dragon, but ultimately the whole story was based on withholding information from the reader. The dragon knows why it hunts the elf. The reason forms the punchline (or do I mean twist?) of the story, yet this is kept from the reader although it would be foremost in the dragon’s mind. The reader is led to believe it hunts the elf for other reasons. The end of the story felt like a joke–one I have come across before and one that made me feel I’d wasted my time reading the story–and so I felt the ending weakened the story as a whole. Two rocket dragons.

 

“An Open Letter in Defense of Our Alien Overlords” by Katherine Heath Shaeffer (debut 6/5 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) is written as a letter to the editor that outlines the subjugation of Earth by an alien force. The author outlines the good that has come from the occupation, like forced peace and improved environment. He goes on to show how even the alien action of using numbers implanted by genetic tagging serves a higher purpose. But recent changes in the alien force signal changes, but what kind of changes? Will there be renewed hostilities, or is it a signal of something else?

This was an interesting way to cover some standard themes. The author has updated the technology quite well, the biological tagging and violence activated machines were among my favorites. This is a fun romp through a potential future and the author makes the most of a novel take on the subject. Nice story, somewhat reminiscent of the old “War of the Worlds”.

 

“Metal and Flesh” by Steven R. Stewart (debut 6/6 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

Sato is human; Kuro-4 is a robot. They are huddled together in the damaged module trying to repair each other so they can survive. Sato needs Kuro-4 to get supplies because the environmental suits have been lost. Kuro-4 needs Sato to provide a reason for someone to come to their aid, because no one would try to save a machine. Mars is forty-four days from Earth. Can they both survive that long?

This is a nicely woven survival tale that is really about what it means to be human. Touching on some of the same themes so common in the work of Phillip K. Dick, this story is very engaging. That alone was enough to endear this story to me, but the author deftly handled the story making it most memorable. Nice little story that you won’t be sorry you took the time to read.

 

Five angels gather for breakfast to discuss business and slaves in “Angel Plantation” by Tina Connolly (debut 6/7 and reviewed by Frank D). The newest member, Angel Jerome, has a fraction of the organslaves his colleagues have. The other plantation owners wonder aloud if he is deserving a spot at their table. Jerome shares their opinion.

The angels in “Angel Plantation” are not like the corporeal beings we all know. The slaves they own are clones of themselves. Where others have work gangs approaching a 100, Jerome keeps only 7. He sees them as extensions of himself, and not tools to further his own wealth.

“Angel Plantation” has a moral that runs back a two centuries and a dilemma we may see in our distant future. It examines what the definition of property is, and touches on the possibility on whether we own our own genetic material. It is a brief tale with many questions we may be faced with yet.

 

An idealist loses her wings in “Fairy Tales” by Eliza Victoria (debut 6/8 and reviewed by Frank D). The Diwata are a lost race. Their world is gone, destroyed by greedy humans. Their magic is powerless without their world and what few that are left, live among humanity. Pauline is a college freelance writer who has been documenting the history of the Diwata people. She has become an expert of their blight. She meets a Diwata noble in the library of the university. Their friendship blossoms, yet they remain too different to become close.

“Fairy Tales” is a complicated tale. What begins as a lone Diwata’s personal tragedy becomes a far larger and grimmer epic. The story is about Pauline’s obsession about a winged fairy-like race. The Diwata that are left are choosing to lose their wings. Some because of injury, others to fit in. The tale follows Pauline and her gradual infatuation with the Diwata and with a lost princess. The wings of the Diwata are their identity, and when the lose them, they lose their future.

“Fairy Tales” is aptly named. It speaks of a naÃ’ ve girl’s hope and of the world a race has lost. It has flashbacks that aren’t written as flashbacks. The tactic turns the story into a disguised mystery, setting up a clever final scene. The story is not for people who gravitate to Daily SF‘s short and sharp fiction, but it is a tale for the ones who appreciate personal struggles. The ending is a promise of a greater tale but is nevertheless satisfying.

 

A better path develops for a distraught man in “Double Exposure” by Lou Antonelli (debut 6/11 and reviewed by Frank D). Jake is about to end it all. He has been trying to keep his high maintenance wife happy for decades and has needed to embezzle to satisfy her spending habits. Now, on the verge of indictment and abandoned by his spouse, he buys a gun. Before he pulls the trigger, he spies a Kodak one-day photo hut. Curious, he pulls up to the window. They are holding pictures of him and his last girlfriend from 30 years before. The package is a lot thicker than it should be.

“Double Exposure” is listed as an Alternative History story but I would classify it as a Magical Realism tale. It is set as a second chance tale, a look into a life that should have been. The author is inspired by his memories of the old photo huts (I remember them) and of their disappearance. A cool idea (photos of another life), one that I could imagine would make for a great anthology.

 

A disabled man is looking forward to his day of rebirth in “Deathday” by Jonas David (debut 6/12 and reviewed by Frank D). In the future, mankind has found a way to make a better life for everybody. A new mechanical body to replace the withering biological one all were born into. The transfer of consciousness is called your Deathday. The process has proven to be failsafe. Once the transfer is made, the new body oversees the old and dead one into the ground. It is a time of celebration and all your friends are there when you emerge from your changing room. So strange how the ones who have made the step find the celebration necessary, but distasteful.

“Deathday” follows along with a debilitated young man named Cobalt. His Deathday is near and a day behind his closest friends own day of rebirth. He is looking forward to the perfect body he has already seen but rumors of a legendary error plague him. Tales of a transfer that went wrong and of a still alive biological half and a wandering mechanical disturb all who have heard it. When he attends his best friend’s Deathday, her reaction to him when she emerges from the changing room strikes him as odd. Those around him assure him that she will be fine. He hopes so but wonders how he will react when he opens his new eyes for the first time.

“Deathday” is a futuristic tale that mirrors our own views of the afterlife. Excitement yet anxiety lie under the surface of Cobalt’s psyche. Evidence that it will be better is all around him. He had no reason to fear his day of rebirth, but his friend Thallium now makes him concerned. I found the tale a bit on the slow side, making the tale read longer than its actual length. I wondered why the author chose to focus on relationships that seemed to have little to do with the development of the plot. Like the protagonist, it all became clear in the final scene. I find that part to be dynamite and well worth the price of admission. Loved the great final act and parting last line.

 

Elise packs for a move in “British Colonial” by Amanda Clark (debut 6/13 and reviewed by Frank D). They are about to leave Beijing, heading back the West, but her dÃ’ cor controlling husband is missing. He always had a taste for a more Western style of decorations, forcing her to leave many of her enchanted Asian prizes behind.

“British Colonial” is the tale of a resentful woman. She is less concerned about the whereabouts of her husband than she is about the things she is leaving behind. The wonderful paintings and etched carvings in the furniture stir to life with her touch, but her husband never liked them, much to his eventual dismay.

“British Colonial” is one brief but dark tale. The ending shouldn’t have been such a surprise but the author’s heavy descriptive writing makes it easy to miss. A thick but delightful tale.

 

Your deepest desires can be achieved with “The Magician of Words” by Ruth Nestvold (debut 6/14 and reviewed by Frank D). The magician plies his trade in an alley of filled with former lives, if you can find him, and have the courage to let him know what you really desire, the sky will be the limit for you.

I wasn’t sure if this tale was metaphorical or not. I am afraid its greater meaning was lost on me.

 

The future in “The Pretty Woman Without Mercy” by Steven Mathes (debut 6/15 and reviewed by Frank D) is bleak and hopeless. Those who no longer age are not welcome in a world too crowded. Knight flees civilization and to the wilderness, where technology is no longer welcome. The scared man stumbles on a house that is yet to be demolished and begs the woman inside for help. She will give him one night’s stay in return for his DNA.

“The Pretty Woman Without Mercy” is a story with a titles that does not fit. The world in which Knight lives is what is harsh. Her offer for shelter is no small offer. The fact that she has two dogs and a gun is what I would consider wise on her part. Knight is a man who is prepared to die. Those who flee to the wilderness can expect no less, but the Earth is not what it used to be. Although wild life is beginning to reclaim to Earth, it may already be too late for them. The sky is already empty of birds and the trees all look sick. The pretty woman may have the answer for the planet and Knight both.

“The Pretty Woman” had a few issues for me. A protagonist with a name I had to get used too, an incomplete premise, and a mismatched title. It took a good portion of it for me to get grounded. It did, however, have a very sweet ending.

 

The protagonist is off to meet her boyfriend’s parents in the fairy world in “Faerie Food” by Kat Otis (debut 6/18 and reviewed by Frank D). There is one hard lesson they give all human visitors, don’t eat the food. It is a rule she intends to not break, but temptation is a hard thing to resist.

“Faerie Food” is a classic story of “the grass is greener on the other side’. The faerie world is gorgeous beyond belief. She feels out of place and unworthy of her half-human boyfriend, Maelon. And worse, the food smells exquisite. Odder still is Maelon’s human father, at home among these stunning beings while happily consuming their food and drink, with a knowing look in his eye.

This tale serves as an excellent metaphor for those who are in fear of meeting a loved one’s family. Too often many fear we won’t measure up to a standard we could never hope to match, when the truth is we already are an equal. An excellently executed work of flash fiction.

 

A single father mourns for his lost wife in “Ryan’s World” by Paul Ebbs (debut 6/19 and reviewed by Frank D). The colonists are poor on Ryan’s world. Transport land but paying for the things that will heal and benefit the farmer’s lives, are beyond their means to purchase. He is pooling his money so when the same illness afflicts his son, he will be able to save him when he couldn’t his wife.

The majority of “Ryan’s World” is a sad and depressing tale. The protagonist is racked with guilt. He allowed his wife to pass so he could save their son when the time came. Now every Sunday after church, he alone visits her grave.

I have more I would like to say about this tale but a twist at the end prevents me from revealing more. I can say it changed the sad tone of the tale, drastically. Whether you approve or not I cannot say but I will admit it left my feelings conflicted.

 

A convicted sorcerer confesses his crimes to His Imperial Majesty in “Dark Roads for the Eternal Ruler” by Eric James Stone (debut 6/20 and reviewed Frank D). The former right hand man to the prince has decade old offenses had come to light, leaving the future ruler no choice but to convict him. The sorcerer reveals his atrocities to his country’s new emperor. His crimes were made on the prince’s behalf so he could become the ruler, and now he has one last gift to give.

“Dark Roads” is written as a letter. The protagonist expresses joy at the prince’s ascension to power but regrets that he couldn’t be a part of them. His crimes were hidden by an amnesia spell that had expired, and now more will soon be revealed, inflicting the emperor with shame. His letter serves as a confession and a last act of loyalty.

This story has a very clever outcome. Kudos to Mr Stone.

 

A dairymaid plots her rise to power in “Peas, Plots, and Peril” by Melissa Mead (debut 6/21 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a clever and opportunistic cold soul. Through guile, rumors, and false identities; she manages a coup that is the stuff of fairy tales.

“Peas” is an intentionally vague tale. It took me a second read for me to discover that I was reading a tale of the ascension of an evil character in a popular fairy tale. Fascinating, but I found myself wishing for more details.

 

A mysterious boogeyman plagues people in their homes in “The Midnight Knock Again” by Patricia Russo (debut 6/22 and reviewed by Frank D). The first thing parents teach their children is to never answer the “knock’ on the door. It happens at odd times, is distinct from normal knocks, and will change you, or take you, if you answer the door. The “knock’ never comes to the happy in society. Great pains are taken to watch over the depressed and solemn to keep them from making a mistake they will regret. The few that have opened the door have a shell shocked expression that never leaves them. Legends of what is behind the knock vary but only the most down and out would want to answer it ” or the hopelessly curious.

“Midnight Knock” is a creepy tale. The author uses the greater part of the tale to tell about the mysterious knocks and of what happens to those who answer it. The long campfire-ish tale narrative approach works to establish the ominous feel of the knockers. The second half of the story follows along with the protagonist. Some bad fortune has brought the knocks to his door. His curiosity gets the best of him. What he finds is not what he expects.

The “victims’ of the knockers all share a type of amnesia after an encounter. Why this would be is never explained satisfactory. What the story does moralize is a boogeyman may not be so frightening if you’re willing to face it, and most boogeymen live in the dark regions and doubts within us. Although long, “Midnight Knock” is a story that seizes you. I found myself curious to find out what lay behind the knock and satisfied when I found out what it was. I don’t understand why the protagonist had to suffer from amnesia. It turned his adventure into doubt of its reality. What was satisfying was a protagonist willing to find out for the benefit of us all. I found the story to be a nice and enlightening tale.

 

The protagonist buys a vacuum for her mother in “Taking Care of Ma” by Lee Hallison (debut 6/25 and reviewed by Frank D). The vacuum cleaner is a self-reliant, AI unit, but Ma doesn’t want something else doing the cleaning and attaches a handle to the machine. Her daughter is frustrated by her mother’s resistance to technology but the salesman has assured her that the unit will adjust to her mother’s extrinsic behavior.

“Taking Care” is a cute story with a very cute ending that made me smile.

 

“The Watchmaker’s Gift” by Rich Matrunick (debut 6/26 and reviewed by Frank D). An old woman brings roadkill back to life with the golden gears of clockworks. The protagonist is a turtle she saved before. Along with restored life, intelligence is granted to the animals saved. The gears must be wound. Mortality is in the form of spent springs and lives lost.

“The Watchmaker’s Gift” is a different type of Frankenstein tale. The woman in this tale resurrects the animals for reasons that aren’t as noble as the protagonist believed. The story ends up being a tale of companionship. I hesitate summarizing anymore so as not to ruin the outcome of the piece.

 

Monsters make a plea in “The Dream of the Night-Shift Power Worker” by Edoardo Albert (debut 6/27 and reviewed by Frank D). They say the world has become dull, in need of pizzazz and a little excitement. They can give it to mankind (and they won’t bother you at all). All you need to do is turn out the lights.

The tale is more of a bad sales pitch then it is a story.

 

A man must pass a religious loyalty checkpoint in “Sacred Artifacts” by Greg Leunig (debut 6/28 and reviewed by Frank D). In a future fundamentalist America, individuals must prove their commitment to Christianity by stepping on the religious icons of other religions. Those who fail the test are dealt with immediately. The Atheist protagonist contemplates standing for his principles as his parents did.

“Sacred Artifacts” is set in a very dark America. Intolerance for other faiths transforms the nation into a fascist state. The tale is of one man’s resolve.

 

“Answer Man” by A. J. Barr (debut 6/29 and reviewed by Frank D). Mikey Holder has the solution to your problem. His fee is 100 grand and his answer will come at any time. His clients must be willing to accept his call no matter the hour, but satisfaction is guaranteed. The solutions to other people’s problems come to him while he is in the throes of ecstasy, which makes it difficult for him to maintain a relationship when he has to suddenly jump up to make a call.

“Answer Man” is a collaborative work. A story of an extrinsic man with an old talent, it took me until the end to be able to grasp its point. The tale starts off when Mikey abruptly ends an intimate moment to call a client. The solution to the problem his client desperately needed was so simplistically genius it made me laugh. The story takes a turn and Mikey’s life becomes complicated when he meets his soul mate on a flight. Mikey wants to treat his new love like a lady, and not like the inspirational spark that has cheapen every other girl in his life.

“Answer Man” is an odd love story. I can sympathize with his problem (actually, jealous would be a more accurate emotional reaction for me) but I could not understand what the problem was. The premise being that his solution solving had become dry when he met his love. Why? A problem existed for the protagonist when I really saw no reason why it should.

Strong writing, interesting characters, but if you’re looking for a simple solution for the complicated “Answer Man”, you best look elsewhere.

 

Not Just Rockets And Robots indeed

I have a few friends that don’t like reading on a computer screen. I also know of a few writers who will only submit to print publications. So a 21st century novel idea of a publisher sending a daily story via email is something that would never be their cup of tea. Too bad for them, or is it?

There were plenty of reasons for aspiring authors ” and fans of ” speculative fiction to attend this year’s Worldcon in Chicago. At the time of this writing, the con had yet to open, but if you were there hopefully you had a chance to attend Daily Science Fiction’s launch of their first print publication, Not Just Rockets and Robots ” a collection of their first year of stories is now available for your bookshelf.

I haven’t purchased the book but have read enough of those stories to give it an enthusiastic recommendation. I am curious to know if the collection was set in chronological order or not. The collective work of the Alphabet Quartet would have been nice if it were assembled together or not. Regardless how it was done, if you know of a fan of fantasy and/or science fiction, Not Just Rockets and Robots may be the perfect gift for them this Christmas.

 

Michele Barasso and Jonathan Laden are the editors of Daily Science Fiction. Sept 1st marks their second full year of publication. They wanted to make speculative fiction as easily available to its readers as possible. As Mr Laden said in an interview earlier this year to Write 1 Sub 1, “Daily Science Fiction was our way to change the publishing industry. As quotable people have said, “First be the change you want to see from the world”‘.

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.

The Best of Escape Pod 2011

 

written by David Steffen

And here is the final of my “Best of” lists covering the year 2011. Escape Pod published steadily over the year, publishing 59 short stories. Among their usual fare, they also published winners and runners-up from their 2010 Flash Contest, whose winners were decided by forumite polling.

Recently they’ve announced that Nathaniel Lee (of Mirrorshards fame) has been given the position of Assistant Editor. I am very happy to hear this. He has already whipped the Drabblecast slushpile into shape, and he has done an admirable job with the Escape Pod slush as well. So if anyone had been frustrated at slow response times or lack of response to queries when trying to contact Escape Pod, you should give them another try.

And on to the list!

 

1. Rejiggering the Thingamajig by Eric James Stone
read by Kij Johnson
An intelligent spacefaring vegetarian Buddhist Tyrannosaurus Rex, a trigger-happy smartgun that talks like Yosemite Sam, and an ill-defined quest with an incomprehensible talisman at the end of it. Awesome.

2. For Want of a Nail by Mary Robinette Kowal
read by Mur Lafferty
Social and maintenance problems on a generation ship. The title doesn’t tie into the story all that well, but very good stuff.

3. Movement by Nancy Fulda
read by Marguerite Kenner
The protagonist in this story has what her society has labeled as temporal autism (which as even she points out may not have much relation to autism but such are public buzzwords). A very compelling story in a world not quite like our own and told by a very interesting POV.

4. Honor Killing by Ray Tabler
read by Mur Lafferty
This rather reminded my of Tobias Buckell’s Anakoinosis, with fuzzy little aliens demanding to be oppressed. In that case, it was slavery, in this case, murder.

5. Captain Max Stone Versus DESTRUCTOBOT by Angela Lee
read by Josh McNichols
One of the great entries to the flash fiction contest, overall this has a great feel of old-timey radio fiction, pulpy and fun and worth some great laughs.

6. London Iron by William R. Halliar
read by Andrew Richardson
Another entry from the flash contest. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s an action-packed flash story.

 

Honorable Mentions

Wheels of Blue Stilton by Nicholas J. Carter
read by Christian Brady

Marking Time on the Far Side of Forever by DK Latta
read by Josh Roseman
A robot protagonist who is an incarnation of temporal culture clash.

Many Mistakes, All Out of Order by M.C. Wagner
read by Wilson Fowlie

Daily Science Fiction: November 2011 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Month # 14. If you ever took the time to browse through DSF’s library and checked out the authors who have contributed, you’d see many of the same people who have had stories published at Daily SF are published in the same publications Locus and Tangent Online deem worthy to promote and review on a regular basis. I have pointed this out before but it is clear those two big boys could care less what I think. I can’t let that stand.

I could continue to hammer away at Locus for their snub, but only one person reviews short material there (how Lois Tilton does it baffles me) and at least they did take the time to read one week’s worth last year (even recommended a few). Still, Locus can’t be taken completely off the hook – more on them later. The real injustice is Tangent Online‘s insistence that Daily SF is still not worth their attention, and this will not do.

In Tangent‘s own mission statement they have made a promiseâ€

“â€of reviewing as much of the professional short fiction venues in the fields of science-fiction and fantasy as possible.”

It is a promise they almost keep. The editor, Dave Truesdale, has consistently maintained a fine staff of reviewers. Together, they have been able to review every SFWA magazine still in publication save Daily Science Fiction. To add insult to injury, Tangent has expanded beyond its mission statement to include semi-pro, non-SFWA publications and anthologies. Yet, you will not see a single mention of Daily SF anywhere in their pages. Not in their online publication or in Tangent‘s SFF.net news feed. As far as Mr Truesdale and Tangent is concerned, Daily Science Fiction really doesn’t exist.

I am not going to guess on Mr Truesdale’s motives, and he isn’t interested in sharing his opinion with me, but the time has come for Tangent Online to either review something of Daily SF or change their pledge to accurately reflect what their true intentions in the field of speculative fiction are, because it can’t be about “reviewing as much of the professional short fiction venuesâ€as possible” if they won’t even acknowledge the existence of the fastest growing publication in the field today.

But alas, this hasn’t been the first time I have sung this song. All of my bitching hasn’t even raised an eyebrow of one of the “leading” reviewers of speculative fiction yet. But if can’t beat them down, then I’ll get them to join me.

I would like to invite our newest reviewer to Diabolical Plots, Carl Slaughter.ÂCarl has reviewed for Tangent Online for the pastÂtwo years. He was one of its leading writers, reviewing most of the material Tangent routinely covers. He is known for his hard hitting and in-depth reviews. He is a long time member of the Critters Writers Workshop and has seen (and predicted) the rise of many of its novice writers into the professional stalwarts authors of today.

Carl’s separation from Tangent has granted him spare time to focus on his own writing, but reviewing is in his blood. So I begged him asked if he would like to join our team. Surprisingly, he never heard of Daily SF until I introduced it to him. So will Mr Slaughter think highly (as I do) of DSF? Or will he prove that Tangent‘s policy of ignoring the publication is justified because of inferior content? I was eager to find out, so I had Carl lead off with this month’s reviews so we could all see for ourselves.

 

The Stories

“Dark Swans” by Terra LeMay (debut 11/1 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter) is about a girl who goes trick-or-treating. But she’s no ordinary girl, so her parents know she can’t do ordinary trick-or-treating or go to an ordinary Halloween party. So they make special arrangements. And this is no ordinary Halloween night for this girl zombie. It is a joyous occasion for her, but a bittersweet ritual for them. This is billed as fantasy, but it’s better described as tragic horror. “Dark Swans” is a moving story with a creative premise. Highly recommended.

 

“Call Center Blues” by Carrie Cuinn (debut 11/2 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter) is a not very original service robot story with not very much content and a very predictable ending. Pass.

Time for a grandmother to depart this reality. She doesn’t want to leave yet. She wants to continue contributing to the family. Her granddaughter has devised a way, though not to the grandmother’s liking.

 

“Time to Go” by Erin Hartshorn (debut 11/3 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter) strikes me as amateurish. This science fiction story is definitely the runt of the litter. But it’s only a few paragraphs, so taste for yourself.

 

“And The” by Alyc Helms (debut 11/4 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter) is a Dragon sacrifice story with a twist. The chosen girl spends a year in the dragon’s lair learning her way around, then the two play a deadly game of hide and seek. The year includes many conversations full of intriguing banter. The first thing she discovers is that he’s a dragon but not a dragon. Meanwhile, she spends a lot of time in his library. Then there is the mysterious amber orb and the rhythmic humming, both of which, of course, are the key to the game. The premise and the conclusion are so obvious, yet so elusive. If you’re a description lover, the first scene is a feast. If not, you may want to skip to the dialog. The story is a bit too long but enjoyable and the ending is very satisfying. Don’t miss this one.

 

A man questions a professor on his speech in “Geniuses” by Christopher Kastensmidt (debut 11/7). A man who attended the protagonist’s lecture on geniuses interrupts the professor, while enjoying a beer at the local bar. The man makes a wager with the professor that he can’t name 10 geniuses of this century.

The story is of lost geniuses. Most of the geniuses, in the man’s wager, are people who were lost to tragic events before their brilliance can ever be realized. Frustrated with the futility of the strange man’s bet, the professor leaves.

I found “Geniuses” to be a frustrating story. The identity of the wage-maker ended up being a mystery. He could have been an angel, time-traveler, or alien , we never found out. What I found particularly puzzling was what could the professor possibly do with the information? If mystery man knew these people were to be saviors of mankind, why didn’t he do something to make sure they lived to their full potential? For a guy who knew an awful lot about geniuses, he didn’t appear to be very bright.

 

A fallen king seeks revenge on the prophet who misled him in “A Great Destiny” by Eric James Stone (debut 11/8). Groshen, now a deformed commoner, finds the man who prophesized his victory over the Emperor, when he was still a king. The prophet’s two predictions ended disastrously for Groshen, believed to be dead (and lucky to be alive), he corners the prophet in alley. Just as his about to exact his revenge the prophet has one last prediction for him.

“A Great Destiny” is short, yet is well-constructed story with an intriguing premise. Not his best, but Mr Stone again demonstrates why he is one of the top writers in speculative fiction today.

 

Ned the Neanderthal pays a visit to the doctor in “Ned Thrall” by Amalia Dillin (debut 11/9). Ned is the first viable Neanderthal to walk the Earth in a very long time. Dr Habber, his creator, is checking on his progress.

“Ned Thrall” is a tongue-and-cheek story set in a future where genetic altering is a common practice. I found the tale cute and funny but incomplete. It read like a first scene to something much larger.

 

 

“Trading the Days” by M. E. Castle (debut 11/10) is a person’s contemplation of a day’s worth. The protagonist describes a bad day, and wonders if he/she should discard it, but some days are the days you wait for, and any given day lost, cheapens any day worth saving.

If my assessment of “Trading the Days” confuses you, than I did my job of explaining what I got out of this piece. I am not sure if this was a metaphorical exercise, or if trading one’s days in is a possibility in this difficult to grasp premise.

 

A teacher must determine how far a pair of apples have fallen from their tree in “Fields of Ice” by Jay Caselberg (debut 11/11). Marsius has the task of determining if the fallen Tyrant’s children share his dark talents in magic. Prince Sten has his father’s looks, and his cocky attitude as well, while Princess Antalya is withdrawn. It is Marsius’s job to determine if these two are spoiled offspring of the privileged, or a dangerous threat.

The formerly royal children of the fallen tyrant are prisoners. Marsius instructs the children on the basics of magic. Prince Sten is eager to show off his limited talents while Antalya sits quietly and watches, cautious as a young girl locked in a prison would be. Their future depends on how they perform in these tests. And Marsius’s future depends on how well he does on his test.

“Fields of Ice” is told from the perspective of a man who must decide if two children are innocent or potential monsters. The Tyrant had power that must never be unleashed again. If an inclining of his talents has been inherited, than drastic means will become necessary. Marsius must be sure. He is the judge and executioner, and such a task is not easy when it involves children.

“Fields of Ice” is a very good stand-alone tale that looks as if it was pulled from a much larger story. Not the grandest of tales from DSF but well worth the read.

 

Celeste has a chance to explore the stars in “Silver Sixpence” by Craig Pay (debut 11/15). She will be gone for years while her husband and daughter remain behind. The relativity time difference will mean she will age slower than her family, but it is only one trip and just a few years. How much could she miss?

“Silver Sixpence” is a story of a woman’s ambitions in conflict with her family responsibilities. Celeste’s husband and daughter are forced to take a backseat to her drive and desire to see new worlds. The story is a new twist on an old premise; a family divided because of a workaholic’s inability to recognize what is important.

 

“Everyone Loves A Hero” by Fran Wilde (debut 11/16 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) covers a lot of ground in this short story about a hero – and his heroic live-in. She cooks, she cleans… she pays the bills. The hero is too heroic to receive payment of any kind – from anyone.

But what is credit card debt compared to saving the world? The answer may surprise you. I know I was, pleasantly so.

This story – very well written and great for a grin. I rated it 6 of 7 rocket dragons.

 

In “The Last Necromancer” by Thomas F Jolly (debut 11/14 and reviewed by Anonymous), a wannabe necromancer has located all the ingredients required to complete a complex spell to raise the dead. Who better to try it on than the spell’s inventor, a long dead famous necromancer. The find the crypt housing the dead necromancer and cast the spell to bring the dead back to life, and the corpse reanimates. The old (and recently dead) necromancer has a question for the two who brought him back to life–a question about the specifics of the spell.

I thought this story was the exploration of a concept (an interesting one), but I wondered if more could have been done with it. It was nicely written, but didn’t wow me. I would give it 5 out of 7 dragons.

 

“Everyone Gets Scared Sometimes” by Ari B Goelman (debut 11/17 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a story about a girl, exact age unknown, who has reintegrated into society after living many years in the “Dead Zone”. The dead zone being where the zombies are.

An interesting twist on the zombie genre, because life has returned to normal, or at least as normal as it can be for those living in the city – but still living with fear.

The girl, known only as She, seems helpless, and able to be taken advantage of. Though not as clearly drawn as I would have liked, we find out this isn’t at all the case.

I rated this story 5 out of 7 Rocket Dragons.

 

To completely review “Meet Archive” by Mary E. Lowd (debut 11/18 and reviewed by Dustin Adams), would be to give away plot points that reveal themselves as expertly and flawlessly as the rings of an onion. So I will merely hint, and urge you to read this wonderful story for yourself.

Archive is a story teller. He spends his time in the All Alien Cafe, regaling those who listen with “stories about his world… Though he never knew it.” We hear bits and pieces, enough to leave us wanting more, but the true tale lies in who – or what – Archive really is, and what he means to the one who loves him.

This is the epitome of a short story. Brilliant. I gave this story 7 out of 7 Rocket Dragons.

Recommended

 

In “Safe Empathy” by Ken Liu (debut 11/21 and reviewed by Anonymous) a young woman is leaving a party with her partner. He hasn’t had a great time and he wants to ‘share’ his negative feelings with her as a way of unburdening himself. In the story, the mechanism of sharing is kept vague, but appears to be a more direct experience than simply talking about problems.

The girl ruminates that in the past he would share his triumphs and happiness as well as his sorrows, but nowadays he only seems to want to share his sorrows. She doesn’t appreciate such a negative diet and consequently uses ‘protection’–a kind of condom for the heart. It isn’t clear how this works either.

The story talks about classes at school where these condoms for the heart were shown to the kids and their use explained.

This story didn’t really work for me. It was well written with nice clear prose, but the main elements–the sharing of emotions and the ‘protection’–were left vague. The plot was pretty thin and can be summed up as follows; she was unhappy with her partner–reasons were given–and so she left.

 

As the title to “The Bicycle Rebellion” by Laura E. Goodin (debut 11/22 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) implies this is a modern day fable about the day bicycles rebel and attempt to overthrow humans as the dominant species on earth. Set in Australia it follows the growth of the rebellion and the determination of one bicycle repairwoman to set it right. Can she accomplish her task in the face of the determination of the mechanical mobs and the interference of humans looking to their own interests?

I think someone has been spending too much time with their bicycle. This tale is well written and drew me in despite the fact that it’s not exactly my cup of tea. The author did a good job of taking a premise that is silly on the surface and making it sound believable. It’s worth a read, even though it might not sound like your thing.

 

“Daddy’s Girl” by Leigh Kimmel (debut 11/23) is the tale of a daughter who clings to her father’s love. The protagonist lives a harsh as punishment to her father’s sins. She has held true to her promise to always remember that he loved her. She endures the injustice of guilt by association so she would one day join him in heave.

“Daddy’s Girl” is a long set up for a final scene in the afterlife. The author successfully makes her protagonist a sympathetic girl forced to live a life of torment. Her father is known for his cruelty and is remembered as one of the most evil in history but to her, he was always the apple in her eye.

The ending becomes an indictment, one that made me uncomfortable. It turned a sweet tale into an awkward moment.

 

A goddess is on the prowl in “Venus at the Streetlight Lounge” by Cheryl Wood Ruggiero (debut 11/24). Venus stalks an unfaithful man nuzzling with a young lady in a bar. She gets him alone, where she learns all is not as it seems.

“Venus” is a modern day telling of a Roman Goddess. It is short and has a twist. Not grand but worth a read.

 

“Sand-Child” by Marie Croke (debut 11/25 and reviewed by Carl Slaughter) is a coming of age story. A barren woman, at her husband’s insistence, creates a child from sand. But she gives him only positive emotions. There is much agonizing by all 3 about who blames who for what. A recurring theme is the mother’s nagging doubts. She is concerned that her child has a crucial flaw.

“He has all he needs to be happy,” she said, more confidently than she feltâ€despite all her labor, she worried. Useless misgivings, she told herself, but that did nothing to ebb her feelingsâ€She bit her lip, not wanting to admit how badly she felt something was amissâ€She wished she had his steadfast belief. She wished her insecurities could be smoothed as easilyâ€Abi cringed inside at Akelbi’s faith, her mind reeling in her worry that perhaps she had not created him as strong as she thought she hadâ€She wanted to scream the answer at him, but it hid in the recesses of her mind, burying itself somewhere she could not reach so that Kel would not know, leaving only a tendril of dread that refused to be pacified by words, no matter how smooth they sounded.

Through tragedy she discovers that her fears were justified. Through pain, she mends the flaw. A well written story containing many lessons about life, relationships, and humanness.

 

A desperate girl searches an online dating service for a knight in “Looking for a Knight in Shining Armor” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 11/28). The protagonist takes note of silky webs growing in the snow-covered pines. “Wyrms,” is what the old crazy guy claims and hands her a can of spray to take of them. But as in an infestation, you never get them all, and there are only two ways to take care of a dragon.

This story was quite cute. Very amusing and well written.

 

An old boyfriend appears at Mia’s door in “A Puddle of Dead” by Grayson Bray Morris (debut 11/29). It has been 15 years since Henry left Mia for drugs. Mia went on with her life but Henry’s reappearance has rekindled old emotions. Henry is clean, looking better than Mia remembers. He has come to spend one last evening with Mia, a goodbye he didn’t give her before.

The story dives us right into the middle of an older Mia’s next chapter of her life. She has married and has children, but tosses them aside the second she sees Henry again. It isn’t until after dinner, and a bit of romance, the subject of their split up is brought out into the open. And just as he appears out of the blue, Henry leaves, but Mia has no intentions of just letting him go and tails her long lost love. She discovers that people don’t change as easily as a they appear on the surface, and finds out what lengths of sacrifice the people we love will make to make us happy again.

“A Puddle of Dead” is meant to be a moving story of love and sacrifice, but anger is the emotion it spurred from me. The two characters in this piece do indeed love each other but their actions are of selfish and needy people who have no regard of the people who have given everything they have to them, unconditionally. It made me furious that Mia would fall into a man who took her love for granted 15 years prior, at the risk of ruining her loving family. Worse, Henry’s loving final goodbye is nothing more than a passive aggressive gambit. How dare he drop in like that to disrupt her life, one last time. If he truly loved her, he would have just left well enough alone and allow the love of his life to live hers without additional complications.

 

A new breed of hog drops in London in “The Butcher’s First” by Seth DeHann (debut 11/30). Strange ships from the sky crash into a pre-20th century England. The cargo they carry are of animals similar to pigs. The local butcher takes advantage of the new beasts, crafting cuts of the latest delicacy to hit London.

The story is an impressive take of a dedicated butcher presented with a new product. Not sure if the animals were extraterrestrial livestock, or something more. I felt the ending of this piece left the story incomplete.

 

â€And about the other guyâ€

Locus has posted their award poll for 2011. It has asked its readers to vote for the favorites in a variety of categories. You’ll find few of the authors listed as contributors to Daily SF, but sadly, none of the stories printed in DSF made their list. A bummer, but the real injustice is their category for favorite magazines. Locus has compiled a list of 34 publications of short fiction to choose from. Daily Science Fiction did not make it. The next category for their awards is for best editor. 40 people have made that list but you won’t find a Jonathan Laden or Michele Barasso anywhere on it. So what gives? How can this be? I used to complain with a tongue planted firmly in my cheek that a conspiracy was afoot when it came to embarrassing absence of Daily SF. Could this be a simple oversight? I can’t fathom how, but this will not stand.

If you are reading this, you likely find something special about Daily Science Fiction. Locus has allowed write in votes for all categories. For the sake of fair play, I am asking all to please visit Locus’s voting page http://www.locusmag.com/Magazine/2012/PollAndSurvey.html and write in Daily Science Fiction for favorite magazine and Jonathan Laden and Michele Barasso (separately) for Best Editor. And if there was a story you thought was extra special, by all means write that in as well.

A common premise in speculative fiction is of individuals making a difference in their world. This is a time when your simple action would make a big difference. Jon and Michele have bent over backwards for providing us all a venue to read fresh material from our favorite genres. It is time we all show them a little of that love back.

 

Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

Carl currently teaches in China where electricityÂis anÂinconsistent commodity.

Welcome aboard, Carl.

The Best of StarShipSofa 2011

written by David Steffen

Well, StarShipSofa is still StarShipSofa. I said what I thought last year, and nothing much has changed, so I’ll just say “ditto”.Â

Forty-nine episodes this year, with (by my count) 58 stories.ÂÂ On to the list!

1. That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made by Eric James Stone
This story is great, starring a Mormon missionary in space, interacting with aliens who live in the heart of suns. So many great ideas, very well written, great stuff.

2. The Gurnard by Neal Asher
A very strange world with strange, altered evolution. Lots of good SF ideas and philosophy on a very bizarre alien world.

3. A Clown Escapes From Circus Town by Will McIntosh
Will has a knack for coming up with strange and compelling worlds. This one starts off with the event mentioned in the title, a clown escaping from Circus Town, but this is no ordinary circus, no ordinary world, and he soons discovers this as he explores and finds the other super-specialized villages through the land, and finds the nature of their shared existence.

4. Her Acres of Pastoral Playground? by Mike Allen
A very enjoyable cosmic horror story. Everything seems normal at first, but it soon becomes clear that there’s something wrong with this reality.

5. Frankenstein, Frankenstein by Will McIntosh
Hey, look, Will McIntosh again! Apparently I like Mr. McIntosh’s writing. this is very enjoyable, taking place around the turn of the 20th century including the World Fair where Nicola Tesla put on his great electric light display. An ordinary man with a bolt through his head has been passing himself off as Frankenstein’s monster in a roadside freak show. On his way to the World’s Fair, he runs into another freak show also claiming to have Frankenstein’s monster.

6. Raft of the Titanic by James Morrow
The first part of this story is really great. It starts off true to history, with the Titanic clashing with the iceberg and beginning the tragic sinking of the great cruise ship. From that point, it diverges greatly from history, and actually proposes a way in which most of the passengers could have survived. The plan actually seems plausible, though I don’t know the science well enough to confirm it. What starts out as a amazing alt-history beginning gradually stretches out and out and out and gets less and less plausible until it has morphed from a serious and compelling alt-hist to something more like a farce. If it had started as a farce, that would have been one thing, but the shift from one style of story to another made the whole thing much weaker than either part would’ve been. Still, this story is worth listening to even just for the first part.


Maker of Leviathans: Eric James Stone

A Nebula Award winner and Hugo nominee, Eric James Stone has been published in Year’s Best SF, Analog, and elsewhere. Eric is a Writers of the Future winner, graduate of Orson Scott Card’s writing workshop, and assistant editor at Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Eric lives in Utah. His website is www.ericjamesstone.com.

David Steffen: ÂThis has been quite a year for you, winning your first Nebula award, and being nominated for a Hugo for the same story. ÂHave these awards been a major goal for you? ÂWhat’s next?

Eric James Stone: I remember reading Hugo and Nebula anthologies when I was a teenager, so I felt incredibly honored to be nominated for both awards. While I did dream about being nominated for a Nebula or Hugo, I didn’t think it was all that likely because there are so many excellent authors writing today.

David: ÂWhere did the idea for your Nebula-winning, Hugo-nominated story “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” come from?

Eric: It came from an assignment at a writing workshop taught by Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Sheila Williams. The prompt was: “You are in the middle of the sun and can’t get a date.” Because my religion is a big part of my life, and because I hadn’t seen a story with a believing Mormon protagonist in a high-tech future, I decided to write such a story. I wrote the first third of the story while at the workshop, but I had no idea what would happen in the rest of the story. Fortunately, I received a lot of encouragement from friends to finish the story, so I did. At the time, of course, I had no idea it would get nominated for anything.

David: ÂDo you find your view on writing has changed since you took the role as assistant editor at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show?

Eric:Â I’ve really learned the importance of a satisfying ending. One of the worst things for an editor is to read a story with a good beginning and middle, but which falls apart at the end.

David: ÂHas writing gotten easier for you over the years, or harder?

Eric: Both. It’s gotten easier in some ways, because I think I have a better feel for what makes stories work. But it’s gotten harder in other ways, because I notice my weaknesses more but haven’t quite figured out how to solve them.

David: ÂIf you could give just one piece of advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?

Eric: I took some creative writing classes in college. I thought one of the stories I had written might be publishable, so I submitted it twice and got rejected both times. That discouraged me enough that I quit writing stories for over ten years. My advice to new writers is not to be as big of an idiot as I was. Keep writing.

David: ÂWhat’s your happiest memory?

Eric:Â 2009 was a really happy year for me for reasons mostly unrelated to writing, so I look back on it rather fondly.

David: ÂWhat fictional place would you most like to visit?

Eric:Â The U.S.S. Enterprise.

David: ÂDo you have any works in progress you’d like to talk about?

Eric:Â I’m in the process of editing a novel for a publisher who may be interested, but I can’t go into specifics about it.

David: ÂAny upcoming publications?

Eric: I have new stories forthcoming in Analog Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Digital Science Fiction, and Blood Lite 3: Aftertaste. (For some reason, I have the sudden urge to sing “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others.”) My Nebula-Award-winning story will be reprinted in an anthology called Monsters & Mormons, as well as the Nebula Awards Showcase volume coming out next year.

David: ÂWhat was the last book you read?

Eric:Â Mission of Honor by David Weber. His Honor Harrington series is my favorite series.

David: ÂYour favorite book?

Eric:Â Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.

David: ÂWho is your favorite author?

Eric:Â When I was a teenager, it was Isaac Asimov. Later, it was Orson Scott Card. Now, I’ve read so many fantastic stories by great authors that I really can’t choose a favorite.

David: ÂWhat was the last movie you saw?

Eric:Â The last movie I saw in a theater was X-Men: First Class. I think the last movie I watched at home was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.

David: ÂWhat is your favorite movie?

Eric:Â Probably Raiders of the Lost Ark.

David: ÂEric, thanks for taking the time for the interview.

Image Copyright 2008 by Eric James Stone.

Daily Science Fiction: June Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

At the time that I am writing this, DSF has passed its first year of publication. No news has surfaced on whether it is now a SFWA qualifying market. With a subscriber base of over 2600 and website that receives 10,000 visitors a month, I can only imagine that it is the-powers-that-be have yet to do the necessary homework to determine what most of us know already; they’re one of the most widely read speculative fiction venues out there right now. Some may consider their growth slow but I am finding it remarkable considering its expansion has been a grass roots type of campaign. Word is gradually spilling over, links are shared, and ecstatic authors announce their success to this new outlet.

Daily Science Fiction is the way of the future. The higher ups just don’t know yet. If you are still not sure, then check out this month’s reviews and go to their site and read them yourself.

 

The Stories

An explorer searches for a lost party in “V is for Vamonos” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 6/1). The nameless protagonist braves the jungle to find the Colonel. The Colonel is ill and his camp has been overrun. Has it all been for naught?

This story is set in a world in which animals can speak and have become partners with humans. Other than that I cannot find a redeeming quality about this piece. The story goes nowhere and resolves nothing. I couldn’t even decipher what species the protagonist of the story was. The tale was like the setting, lost in a jungle.

 

Death has come for the protagonist’s beloved husband in “Dealing with Death” by Brenta Blevins (debut 6/2). She is there when the dark angel arrives to take him. She strikes a deal and accompanies Death as he runs his rounds.

“Deal with Death” shows the grim reaper as a compassionate soul, using his power to relieve the pain the dying suffer. All pain is not so easily seen. The angel aims to spare some of pain that is yet to be received.

The story has a fitting end. Although the tale didn’t wow me, it left me quite satisfied that I read it.

 

An inconsequential man awakes to learn a time-traveler has come to kill him in “Apology” by Sam Feree (debut 6/3). A young woman from the future sits on his new couch in her muddy shoes, informing him he is the one person in history whose life matters none. He has become the stress reliever for a time traveling society, getting murdered thousands of times. They spend the day together, contemplating life and enjoying it to its fullest.

“Apology” is a dark comedy. I found the two characters very likeable. The time traveler is a fun girl who has had a bad day the day before. The protagonist is a detached fellow, taking the news of his upcoming murder quite well. You get the feeling that learning his life is, and will be, unimportant as a justification of a suspicion he always had. The story evolves into a romantic comedy, without the romance. We follow the pair around Chicago. The soon-to-be-dead hero just rolls with it all. Resigned that he will be murdered and accepting it as an eventuality.

The story line to “Apology” does sound weird but the tale comes off as normal. The two treat the entire affair like a first date, rather than a tragic horror that it should have been. I found Sam Feree’s writing style attractive. The story was easy to follow and enjoyable to read. Maybe it was because I found his protagonist easily identifiable (I hope not). If you are one who detests romantic comedies, this one likely isn’t for you, but overall, I found it not a bad tale at all.

 

“Sister” by Melissa Mead (debut 6/6). Sister and Brother flee from their cruel Stepfather. The pair take refuge in a cave near an enchanted stream. Despite her warnings, Brother drinks from it and transforms into a deer. He now must avoid the King who hunts in the woods. Perhaps Sister can protect him yet, pleading with the king.

“Sister” is written like an Aesop tale. The story has that halting and disconnected feel to it. The characters have names that our pronouns and the story jumps through long stretches of time. However, like an Aesop tale it has a moral and a fitting end to it.

 

A man opposed to a fascist society is prepared to perform a mutual assured destructive act in “Dharma Dog and Dogma” by Steven Mathes (debut 6/7). The authorities have busted down Dobbin’s door. He waits with his trusted German shepherd by his side and his thumb on a nirvana bomb. The device will instantly ascend all who are worthy to heaven in a kilometer radius. Potts, the fascist negotiator, is eager to stop him.

I found this premise to be ridiculous. The bomb does two things; bring awareness to all within its range than make all who are worthy vanish. It causes no other damage. I would think a society eager to control would welcome its use, seeing that it instantly rids all who oppose it off the map. I did, however, enjoy the writer’s way of bringing the piece to us. His writing is crisp and engaging.

 

A disgraced prisoner is found by his warden in “W is for When” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 6/8). Future violent convicts are sent to the past, made female and expected to become upstanding citizens. The warden is disappointed to discover the future felon has made prostitution her profession. She learns the practice of gender switching and exile has been declared cruel and unusual, but taking a job that is considered illegal does not bode well for her. The warden can overlook the indiscretion, if she is willing to do him a favor.

This was one of the better stories the quartet dreamed up. Loved the concept of the future time travel punishment. What made this one great was the poetic justice ending. Recommended.

 

A junkie constructs his dream woman from a discarded photo in “Building a Future” by Rhonda Jordan (debut 6/9). The protagonist finds an old picture in an abandoned house. He makes up stories of a fantasy past and tells it to others until he finds a female junkie who used to build androids. The pair work together to build their android, gradually forgetting their drug dependency as they create.

The tale is told as a success story. It was, but came off as disconnected success story. The distant feel made this piece not as appealing as it should have been.

 

Aliens seek to improve our favorite pet in “Made of Cats” by Judith Tarr (debut 6/10). Another invasion from space befalls on Earth. This time the alien’s motives are peaceful. They transform our cutest partners into something even cuter, as a demonstration of their good intentions, proving that even the best marketing sometimes overreaches.

“Made of Cats” is written as a humorous piece. Expect anything else and you’ll be just as disappointed as the protagonist’s five-year old daughter in this tale. I must admit, the story had its moments (the diet crack I found particularly amusing), but I felt it stepped over the line of funny and into the ‘generally silly’ territory half way through. Nevertheless, humor is subjective and subjectively speaking, Ms Tarr did well, but as a guy who likes to weave tales that tickle the funny bone, I can safely say my sides were never in danger of splitting.

 

Modern progress has come to a potion-maker’s home in “The Thinning” by Christopher Owen (debut 6/13). Becky is not happy at all when the power company arrives to link her house with the electrical grid. She sees no need for it and its very existence is a disruption to her potion creating.

Without elaborating, this tale is woven while Becky is in the middle of a love potion. The two events , making the potion and the arrival of modern convenience , have little to do with each other. The ending of the piece has a twist that mattered little to the overall plot.

 

In “The Clex Are Our Friends” by Mario Milosevic (debut 6/14), you are a soldier in a galactic war. The story is a manual intended to help you with the occupation and mopping up duty on the planet Cleck. It advises you on how to treat the native species and adapt to their culture. Take heed of its advice, even when it doesn’t make sense.

This satire of military and diplomatic protocol is more ridiculous than humorous. The manual is written as a pep talk, even when its very pages makes the world seem like a tour guide through the slums of a third world nation. Not a fun place at all.

 

A wizard misinterprets a want ad in “X is for Xylomancy” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 6/15). A Xylomancer shows up for an audition for a xylophonist. It appears they have little use for a sorcerer whose gift is to predict the future by reading sticks but the Xylomancer is out to prove them wrong.

When I read this I thought, “Really? Working for a band is the best this guy can do?” I have chastised many stories on DSF for being about nothing. This story falls in that category but it deserves praise. Sometimes pointless tales can be fun. This story was fun.

 

June’s reality is up for interpretation in “Blivet for the Temporal Lobes” by Dave Raines (debut 6/16). June’s life changed the day an experimental surgery cured her epilepsy. Her mind now sees people and things as metaphors of their true nature , transforming them how her brain perceives them. Threatening people become horrible monsters while the kind and caring turn into softer images. Her world has become an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ kaleidoscope equipped with modern day cultural references. June has learned to adapt to her revived life, accepting her ‘gift’ as a way to see how people really think and behave, until the day a man walks into her life who doesn’t change at all.

“Blivet” is a very inventive tale. Despite its short length, Mr Raines effectively plunged the reader into a world most of us would consider a hell. June’s ability appears to have a psychic quality to it, or at least June assumes it to be as such. She somehow manages to keep her job as a waitress, even when customers morph into wolves, mannequins, and other similes that fit how she perceives them. A man she refers to as Adonis is the lone exception. His failure to transform unnerves her, and turns this tale into a metaphor of its own.

“Blivet” is the type of story for everyone who was suddenly faced with doubts in their own ability. June has come to rely on her gift, using it to see how people feel and grasp at how they treat others around them. Adonis represents her shortcomings and salvation in one package.

It was while I wrote this review, it dawned on me the larger meaning of this story. “Blivet” is not just a well-told tale; it’s a metaphor on human perception. I found it ironic how a story of metaphors so effectively hid one of its own. I hope those who judge which tales of speculative fiction are the outstanding ones in next year’s awards, don’t overlook this one because of its length. Recommended.


Humanity adjusts to a plague of undead in “The Three Laws of Zombie” by Lavie Tidhar (6/17). Susan Hobbes is in search of a zombie who doesn’t obey the three laws that are ingrained in all zombies. Society has come to grips with them, creating religions and rationales for their make up and psychology. Ms Hobbes isn’t interested on how they fit into humanity. She wants to know if they are here to end it.

“The Three Laws” is part satire, part horror, part mystery, with it all mixing like a stew of milk, water, and oil. The story line is disjointed; jumping from action scene, to an article, to a character’s inner contemplation. The title and loose plot devolves into a half-hearted comedic attempt involving Isaac Asimov’s three laws governing robots. The story is difficult to get into. The changing scenes of small slices of society made it impossible for me to get grounded into the plot. One thing I did find interesting was the nature of Tidhar’s zombies, an evolutionary leap as a plant/animal hybrid, allowing them to survive on photosynthesis. The tale is unpredictable with an ending I wasn’t expecting. In fact, I’m still not sure what that ending was about.

Based on Lavie Tidhar’s ability to get his stuff published in almost every publication I have reviewed over the past year plus it is clear he has a following and is able to impress any editor he presents his work to, but I just don’t get it. One thing I will say is he has certain appeal to his writing. His stories do draw me in and his plots are unpredictable, but they almost always lose me before the end. One of these times he’s going to write something that I love; unfortunately, this one ain’t it.

 

A man on a forsaken world wishes to connect with God in “Godless” by Stephen V. Ramey (debut 6/20). All the worlds of humanity have been linked into the Wholeness, save Earth. Man’s home world has become a worldwide slum, a primitive backwater. The Wholeness is seen as a link to God by the protagonist. He is approached by an off world tourist, a woman who seeks to get dirty on the filthiest of worlds. The protagonist wants to be touched by God, no matter what the cost.

“Godless” is an idea that is taken from A C Clarke’s axiom that advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic to a more primitive society. I liked Mr. Ramey’s approach to this notion, well done; however, I felt the story was too brief to fully explore a future where off world technology outstripped Earth to this degree. Perhaps the author has intentions on building on this. I would like to see his next publication if he does.

 

A terminally ill John has awoken from a cryonics sleep to be greeted by a brother he never had in “His Brother was an Only Child” by Ronald D Ferguson (debut 6/21). When John Ashley died, he left a dying world. The one he has returned to appears to be rebounding. Enough trees have grown to make a forest, a strange creature called a ‘rabbit’ now has a population of a thousand. The planet appears to be on the mend but the caretakers of the hospital he is confined to are off. Save for his brother, everyone is distant, refusing to speak to him. Another patient shares the ground with him, deformed and shy. John finds it increasingly odd this hospital he is in and wishes to rejoin society again but learns recovery may take more time than he has.

This tale is reminiscent of an old Twilight Zone episode (not going to say which one), but the twist reveal in this story was done far cleverer than that crafty tale. Mr. Ferguson did a splendid job, providing enough clues so when I got to the reveal I was shocked that I didn’t know what was going on all along.

“His Brother” was masterfully done. Recommended.

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An ill woman is surrounded by yellow in “Y is for Yellow” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 6/22). The protagonist’s husband has moved her into a home painted in yellow. Everyone who comes to see her is clothed in the school bus color, even the grass is killed to rid it of the green. Her husband has said it is necessary for her cure. Green calls to her, but yellow stands in her way.

This is a clever superhero story, like none I have ever read. The sex of the protagonist threw me off, but it is story line that is too good for the comics. I loved it.

“Y’ isn’t the best story the quartet wrote, it’s not even the best this month, but it impressed me. Recommended.

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Angering your time traveling girlfriend can result in unfortunate consequences in “Love at the Corner of Time and Space” by Annie Bellet (debut 6/23). Darrin has been abandoned at the Crossroads of Time and Space. It’s not first time he has made Ashley mad but it is the first time she failed to come back to get him. The surreal corner is nowhere with access points to anywhere, the problem is Darrin has no idea on how to access them. He can continue to wait for her in this place where time isn’t a linear measurement, or find a way out for himself and a way to repair their relationship.

“Love” is the story of man who hasn’t yet grown up. It is clear Ashley is the one in control, and she is vindictive woman with the ability to send her naughty boyfriend into the ultimate time out. The story starts off with Darrin and his passively aggressive, self-pitied attitude stuck, wondering if Ashley is ever going to come back. The rest of the story is Darrin contemplating what he’s done wrong, just like a spoiled child in ‘time out’ would do.

The only appeal of this tale was the setting, a strange and surreal place, but I found its lone character not likeable at all. It sounded like his girlfriend pulled all the strings in their relationship , a narcissist with too much power , but his whining self-contemplation made me think he deserved her.

“The Artwork of the Knid” by John Parke Davis (debut 6/24) is the story of an alien species who have quietly come to live among us. The Knid are small and unassuming creatures. They’re slimy with tentacles for mouths and are intrigued with us. The silent creatures (silent because they don’t speak) have become something of a new age immigrants, performing menial labor work. They appear to absent of any creativity or imagination of their own until the protagonist is granted a rare artistic viewing.

“Artwork” is a strange type of tale. There is a deeper meaning to this piece but I confess it missed me. Part of the story briefly touched on what the knid where doing on Earth. The characters puzzle on this subject, not remembering when they first appeared. An explanation on how they got there wasn’t even explored. From what I gathered, they were just ‘there’ as if they always were.

The tale shifts when the protagonist’s first views a knid’s ‘play’. The event sounded more like a psychedelic trip than artist’s creation. Strange by description, religious by the effect it left on the protagonist. From that point on, the protagonist becomes something of a minor activist for the knid, treating them as a big brother would a smaller and weaker sibling, doing his best to protect them from a cruel world.

“Artwork” is a tale that drew me in. I was genuinely intrigued by the writer’s presentation of the knid and his protagonists perspective of them. I truly wanted to learn more about them. However, like the story itself, once I learned all I could about them, I discovered they weren’t all that interesting after all.

 

A knot connecting two ladders slips on Hevsen’s ladder, setting in motion a chain of events resulting in the “Fall of the City” by Daniel Ausema (debut 6/27).

“Fall of the City” follows a trail of innocuous circumstances. The story is set in civilization built on webs with machines called ‘spiders’ used like cars. The entire place appears to be overly fragile. I wasn’t sure if the city I was reading about was set in a steampunk genre or an alien civilization.

I thought the tale was told from way too distant of a perspective. The place also was strange, lending to a general disconnect I had with the piece.

 

What could be a bigger thrill than space jumping from a space elevator? In “Freefall” by Eric James Stone (debut 6/28) we find out. Gina loves to freefall. Her brother and father run the elevator but she is after only the thrill of the jump. Then disaster strikes. The asteroid counterweight breaks free and her brother is on the crawler on the way up. GeoTerminal 1 will be saved but at her brothers expense. She is his only hope.

“Freefall” is excellent science fiction. The premise is based on a future but likely technology with a potentially real problem. The story is quick and thrilling. The protagonist’s solution to the problem I found clever. My biggest complaint was its length. The story could have and should have been larger. It would have likely been fantastic instead of great. Recommended.

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Anna is running in “Z is for Zoom” by the Alphabet Quartet (debut 6/29), but is she running from something or in search of the thing?

This tale baffled me. Anna just runs. Why? Couldn’t really tell you. There are hints but I was unable to decipher the reasons from them.

 

In “The God of the Poor” by James Hutchings (debut 6/30), the gods pick who and what they will have dominion over. Only one item is left. Who will look over the poor?

This is a very short, Aesop like tale. It didn’t quite work for me.

Analysis

ÂThis month marks the end of the Alphabet Quartet’s contributions. I have greedily reserved all the stories for myself to review. The entire series is set to be available soon at Escape Artists. Some of them I thought were wonderful, a few left me scratching my head, a good bunch I recommended. My personal favorite was the first, and longest of the bunch; “A is for Arthur”. This story is high on my best-of list for the year. In fact, it may be # 1. It is worth reading again.

Special note: My fellow reviewers (James Hanzelka, Dustin Adams, and Anonymous) have not abandoned me, nor did I forget to credit them for reviews they have done. This month was all mine but the next will be mostly theirs. I have just received my copy of the latest Writers of the Future. I plan on doing my usual review for the publication so set it upon myself to get all the June reviews done while piling July’s on my minions shoulders so I can turn my attention to the yearly anthology when it came in.

 

Frank feels like a big boy now, doing a whole months of reviews all by himself. He is so proud but is wondering when he will get his cookie.