The Best of Podcastle 2014

written by David Steffen

It’s been a great year for Podcastle with some of my favorite episodes ever after they and their sister podcasts came back from the brink of having to close due to lack of funds. The podcast is still edited by Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind and they’re doing a great job.Just a few days ago there was a metacast that announced big new things coming up, including that Alasdair Stuart and J. Daniel Sawyer are now owners of the company. Just yesterday I learned that Dave and Anna are stepping down from their editorial positions early this year after five years in the position–I hear that the full details are in the most recent episode along with the story Rachael K. Jones’ “Makeisha in Time” but I haven’t had time to sync my iPod and listen since I heard this, so I don’t know much more about it yet.

On to the list!

The List

1. “Heartless” by Peadar O Guilin

2. “The MSG Golem” by Ken Liu

3. “Stranger vs. The Malevolent Malignancy” by Jim C. Hines

4. “Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy” by Saladin Ahmed

5. “Gazing into the Carnauba Wax Eyes of the Future” by Keffy R.M. Kehrli

6. “Help Summon the Most Holy Folded One!” by Harry Connolly

 

Honorable Mentions

“The Old Woman With No Teeth” by Patricia Russo

“Underbridge” by Peter S. Beagle

“Ill Met in Ulthar” by T.A. Pratt

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Science Fiction February 2014 Review

We continue our author spotlight with this months featured author Damien Angelica Walters. Damien is a favorite Friday featured author. Her work has appeared 7 times at Daily SF, including this month’s finishing tale.

 

Android copy finds its creator. Children of Frogs by Morgan Brooks (debut 2/3 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a robotic engineer who escaped the paternal grip of her oppressor. She built a cyborg copy of herself but now the copy has found her. There is no room for identical women in the same place. Someone will need to go.

“Children” is the tale of obligation. The protagonist ran away from her sick father. Her Asian roots committed her to care for him but she was eager for a life on her own. What her cyborg replacement lacked in outward appearance she made up with for an identical inward personality.

I must say this tale perplexed me. Tying the story’s title with its premise is something I completely missed. Piecing together the backstory with the characters motives also eluded me. I don’t know if the man she left behind was a bad guy or just a burden. What I didn’t miss was its moral , you can run from your sins but you can never escape them.

 

Exchanges in No Man’s Land by C J Paget (debut 2/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Two women within a VR (I think) are on a secret mission. One is a super spy fully cut out for this type of subterfuge, the other joined to try to change the world through radical peace.

What we discover the true nature of the mission to be, is not what was assumed, but a world-changing technology that if twisted and put in the wrong hands will have catastrophic consequences. Loyalties reverse and doing the right thing becomes pitted against survival.

 

Pair of Rogues by Jonathan Vos Post (debut 2/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

This story is interesting, insofar as the facts contained within are disseminated with professionalism and lead me to believe they are truth framed in a tale.

The tale is of a narrator observing a planet named Partner, which orbits the same sun. The facts are how it’s possible for planets to leave one solar system and wind up in another.

I felt this story was dry and tell-ish until I read the author comments. Then things made more sense and I appreciated the tale for the author’s intent. I suggest reading them first.

 

When You Want Another Man’s Girl by Stefanie Freele (debut 2/6 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Envy, as mentioned in the author’s notes, is the crux of this micro-flash. The observation is the more things change, the more they stay the same.

An illegal party is a most excellent place to have one’s competition for affection arrested. I wouldn’t call this a twist as much as a revelation, and it’s a wicked one at that.

 

Grand Kitsch by Jane Elliot (debut 2/7 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Interesting and completely believable story about a young girl in our inevitable, amped up future. She figures she’ll try anything once, and the particular anything the story focuses on, is getting married. But it’s not married like it is today, it’s disposable.

The style here is inventive, as if the author time traveled to the future and returned with vivid details of vernacular and how people behave while high (which is how the narrator spends the entire story.) I enjoyed this story more from a writer’s point of view than a reader’s because of the way it’s told, instead of what transpired.

 

Jesus has returned in Revelations by Brenda Kezar (debut 2/11 and reviewed by Frank D), and he is seeking converts. A reporter investigates a small church’s claims that Jesus lives within the walls. The reporter soon discovers who he really is , immortal, all powerful, and a vampire.

“Revelations” is a faith challenging story. The author explains much on the Biblical version of His miracles with this version but is sure to inflame a few of the faithful with its premise. Proceed with caution if you are a regular church goer.

 

If She Pushes the Button, Turn to Page 116 by Robert Lowell Russell (debut 2/11 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Susan and Phil are exploring their basement, now cluttered with images generated by the paperback manual in Phil’s hands. Susan is amazed at how personal and detailed the text is. Following the text they explore the clutter of Phil’s grandfather that now populated their basement, right down to the dust the images carried in with them. The two follow the path the manual leads them on, flipping from page to page, watching their movements captured on the page. They follow the manual down to the hidden cavern the manual has created under their basement where they find the box housing Phil’s evil twin from the same dimension as the manual.

This story takes a little effort to get into, but if you let it carry you along it can be fun. The plot twists and turns like the ladder the couple follow to the cavern beneath their house (or their make believe house, I was never really sure). The author does a good job using the reflection of the characters off their opposites in the story to build the storyline. Overall a pretty well done effort, give it a read.

 

Dear John by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 2/12 and reviewed James Hanzelka)

John Smith
C/o NASA Ceres Project
Dear John.
I’m sorry to tell you this while you are so far away (you must be at the end of the solar system by now) but I think it’s only fair you hear it from me and are not left wondering. Besides we’ve always told each other the truth (although you never did explain Lisa Walter’s panties in your glove box after your going away party). So I wanted to tell you before you heard it from someone else first that I’m seeing someone else. I know we never made a promise to wait for each other, but with how difficult it’s become to find food and drink since we got hit by the plague it’s probably better to move on. And Melvin was so sweet to fight his way through the zombies (they’re not really zombies, that’s just what we call the roaming bands of rioters looking for food after the nuclear exchange) that I just couldn’t send him back outside, so I let him sleep in the spare room. He really has been a godsend.

This is a tragedy in a one page note. The author deftly weaves the dear John letter together with the telling of the disaster that Earth has become after the astronaut left. In spite of the horrific situation the writer describes the humor comes through quite clearly. This one will brighten your day, even if it is just in comparison to how bad things might have been.

 

Love dies on the infield of a Little League diamond in St Valentine’s Day Mashup by G.O. Clark (debut 2/13 and reviewed by Frank D). An alien with striking resemblance to the mythical Cupi, steps outside his tiny saucer with his bow and arrow in hand and is cut to ribbons by a paranoid military.

“St Valentine’s” is a very amusing, but short, mashup of a couple of different premises. Very funny.

 

A strange rock brings two people uncomfortably close together. Rob Lithim Used to be Two People by Brynn MacNab (debut 2/14 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of an obsessed man and his dysfunctional attempts at maintaining a relationship. He can’t let go of his girlfriend, Tam. Lithim is a close friend (lover?) who happened to be near Rob when he comes into contact of a rock with special powers , condemning the two to be one.

“Rob Lithim” is a strange story that is difficult to grasp. A mish-mash of flashbacks made it cumbersome for me to determine the where and when of disconnected scenes. The story clearly shows Rob as one F’ed up individual who now possess a disturbing superpower. If the tale stuck to that simple frame of a premise, it would have been majestic, but the real story wasn’t about that, but of a needy man’s self-absorbed character. Too bad.

 

A starving boy hooks the catch of a lifetime in Mermaid by Jonathon Schneeweiss (debut 2/17 and reviewed by Frank D). Izam latches onto a huge fish, but the monstrous catch gets away before he can pull it in. His family needs money and food, the lost fish would have helped them make it through a few more days. So when a mermaid surfaces, holding the squirming fish in her hands, an opportunity of a lifetime is just a net’s throw away.

“Mermaid” is a tale of fortune and empathy. Izam is so hungry he can count the ribs under his skin. His father had told what to do if he were lucky enough to be so close to a mermaid. Catching it will change the fortunes of his family overnight but the beauty and kindness of the creature causes him to question the intentions of his actions. It takes an enticing bait to net a clever catch, a lesson Izam’s dad never taught him.

I have seen many of stories with a premise nearly identical to “Mermaid”. However, the author here managed to package a familiar twist quite nicely. Well done.

 

A stage of life goes up in flames. Saltcedars by Shannon Peavey (debut 2/18 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of young woman on the verge of adulthood. The time has come to burn her tamarisk tree , the origin of her birth. Her hopes and expectations of an idealistic youth go up in the flames. It is time for her to move on and wait. From the ashes of the tree will spring a new tamarisk. The next generation awaits.

“Saltcedars” is a tale of growth. The story is set during a time when the children of this community are on the cusp of becoming adults. The trees are phoenix-like anomalies , the old growth is torched to make way for the new. Ms Peavey created a tale that serves as a wonderful metaphor on the uncertainty and anxiety of growing up. A new chapter is turned when we emerge from our innocent youth into the responsibility that is adulthood. Well told.

 

An instruction guide for a human hosting a parasitic matrimony is What is Expected of a Wedding Host by Ken Liu (debut 2/19 and reviewed by Frank D).

The story is an instructional guide for people about to become a home for advanced alien parasites. Clever but the premise is a familiar one.

 

All the diamonds and jewels cannot buy peace for a kingdom, or happiness for a marriage. Toads by Mari Ness (debut2/20 and reviewed by Frank D) explores the eventuality of an old fairy tale’s consequences.

“Diamonds and Toads” is a fable I had missed in my youth. The story lacks a satisfying conclusion for me.

 

A condemned man gets more than one chance. The Seventeen Executions of Signore Don Vashata by Peter M Ball (debut 2/21 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of immortal man who sentence to death, over and over. The protagonist is one of Vashata’s many executioners. Despite three fail attempts to complete the deed himself, he is called as an consultant by his predecessors on how to proceed with Vashata’s sentence. The protagonist becomes fond with the criminal, even willing to become his friend.

“Seventeen executions” is a commentary on the merits of the death sentence. I believe the author sought to point out the futile of punishment and on how robs its victim of atonement. Vashata is cast as a romantic but flawed man. He has a charm about him. The failed attempts to kill him have left many scars on the man which lend to the sympathy more than one executioner feels for him.

Vashata is cast as a likeable character but I couldn’t help but to notice the nature and acts of his crimes were never explored. His crimes could have been as inconsequential as littering as far as the reader could know. One thing that didn’t escape me, whatever he did more than one jurisdiction , and nation , felt his crimes deserved death as a penalty. There is only one description that would warrant multiple attempts to exterminate an immortal man: a monster. A man like that doesn’t earn freedom because it is too hard to carry out his sentence. A man like that needs to be in cage, as would any monster too dangerous to be allowed to roam free.

 

Inebriation gets a lot simpler. Fermentation by Christopher Kastensmidt (debut 2/24 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a fungus that turns any stomach into its own brewery.

Silly and frightening. I agree with the author, way too many people would willingly accept this infliction, damn the consequences.

 

All the town is abuzz when Miss Violet May from the Twelve Thousand Lakes by Tina Connolly (debut 2/25 and reviewed by Frank D) arrived into town. Miss May is a girl from the far north that has come south to marry a local boy. There are rumors that frightening ghosts live up there, but Miss May seems far too cheerful to have come from a place like that. Married life proves to be not it’s all cracked up to be. The smile, and Violet, slowly begins to fade away with each passing day.

“Miss Violet May” is a metaphor on failing relationships. The protagonist in this story is another man who is sweet on the married woman. To him it is apparent that Violet married the wrong man. I was appalled by Miss May’s decision in the end, and like many woman who find the courage to opt out of violent relationship, I do hope she found herself again.

 

Be wary of the local cuisine. La Paella by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 2/26 and reviewed by Frank D) is a letter of regret from a diplomat. He wasn’t as careful as he needed to be when he made his choice of picking clams on the beach.

This one is another in Ms Wrigley’s Postmark Andromeda series. A man’s eagerness to break a bland diet lands causes an interstellar incident.

 

A meat packing company is rewarded an unusual contract in On Disposing of a Corpse by Tom Jolly (debut 2/27 and reviewed by Frank D). The company paid for the rights of salvaging the remains of an icon. Although the cleanup was costly, they more than made their money back on novelty sales.

Interesting look at the after effects of a well-known classic. I love this type stories.

 

Green is for Silence, Blue is for Voice, Red is for Whole, Black is for Choice by Damien Angelica Walters (debut 2/28 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist of this apocalyptic tale is a young woman named Leda. She is a survivor, one of the lucky few healing in a futuristic regeneration ward. The war has left the Earth devastated and humankind scarred and disfigured. Medical science works feverishly to heal the repairable, but the damage is extensive. Therapy and time is needed, but how much time no one can know.

“Green is for Silence” is a grim story. One could argue that the theme is one of hope but the sheer devastation that is only hinted about, would be more for any ordinary person to comprehend. Leda is just like all the other patients of the ward , alone, mutilated, and without a future. Everyone she ever knew and all she ever had is gone. All she has left to look forward to is a life where she can feel whole again. The wait will be a log one.

Leda’s journey in this bleak tale takes a turn toward the end. It completes the moral of the piece , time heals all wounds. The conclusion leaves the protagonist with a life of uncertainty, but it is a life where she can make her own choices once again.

 

The Scary Career of a Prolific Writer

Daily Science Fiction is a treasure chest of jewels. This unique publication has proven to serve as an excellent metal detector for the precious gold that lies right under our feet, and Damien Angelia Walters (previously known as Damien Walters Grintalis) is one of the brightest gems they have brought to my light.

To share the vast wealth of published material she has to her credit would take pages for me to write, but an excellent example of her talent is her debut horror novel Ink. The many reviews I have read about it our quite glowing (and also too numerous for me to share), but Horror Review’s own Christine Morgan summed up the larger consensus by describing it asâ€

INK, the book, is a gorgeous piece of work, with a rich and enticing cover. INK, the story on the inside, is also a gorgeous piece of workâ€

†and later statingâ€

Debut novels should not be this good

We wanted to know about Ms Walters in hopes of uncovering the magic elixir that makes her such a good writer.

1) What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

I think my greatest accomplishment is realizing that there is no one accomplishment. Writing is a continuous series of accomplishments, both small and large, like selling a story to a magazine I thought of as a white whale, and then selling a second story to that same magazine, or being able to look back at an older story and see how much I’ve grown as a writer.

2) Who would be your choice as the best undiscovered/ up and coming author in short fiction today?

Although they’re not undiscovered, I’d like to first give mentions to two of my favorite short fiction authors: Sunny Moraine and E. Catherine Tobler. Their prose and their stories make my heart hurt, in the best possible way.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to designate who is up and coming and who is not.
Some other authors who I’ve only read a few stories from but think they’re on the right path to eventually be very well known are Usman Tanveer Malik, Martin Cahill, and Brooke Bolander, although in truth, Ms. Bolander has had quite a few stories published in high profile magazines so she might not be up and coming but already arrived.

3) Do you have a recommendation for a Daily Science Fiction tale for us? The one story you think is a must read for the lovers of speculative fiction?

Tastes are so very subjective. All too often, one person’s must reads are another person’s did not finish, so I’ll simply point out two DSF stories that I adore:

Tell Me How All This (and Love too) Will Ruin Us by Sunny Moraine

Falling From Earth to Haphazard Sky (Tadpole Remix) by E. Catherine Tobler

 

Damien WaltersDamien Angelica Walters’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in various magazines and anthologies, including Lightspeed, Nightmare, Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume One, Strange Horizons, Apex, and Glitter & Mayhem. Sing Me Your Scars, and Other Stories, a collection of her short fiction, will be released in Fall 2014 from Apex Publications.

Review: Nebula Novelette Nominees

written by David Steffen

And the next category up in Nebula nominees, voted by professional SF and fantasy authors, stories from 7500-17,500 words. As I work my way up in the category lengths I generally enjoy less of the stories because the longer categories could often do with significant trimming.

So I was surprised and pleased after only really digging one of the stories in the Short Story category, that this category did much better.

 

1. ‘‘Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,” Henry Lien (Asimov’s 12/13)
Suki Jiang, inhabitant of the world of Pearl, has been sent to a boarding school for being willful and disrespectful to her parents. This is the essay she writes about her experiences at Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters. The main measure of worth in this society is ability to perform martial arts while ice-skating on the surface that is made of pearl.

I found the protagonist of this story extremely entertaining, proud to the point of arrogance and focused on her goals even when she doesn’t take much time for forethought before the things she says and does. The story had my vote from an early moment when Suki faces off in martial arts skating against a team of nuns who want to cut her hair as punishment.

 

2. ‘‘They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s 1/13)
No one knows why the glassmen have come, forcing us to follow their rules and their moralities, punishing with sudden violence any resistance against them. Those who survive have little time to concentrate on anything else but trying to eke out a living from the land under the eye of the glassmen. No one has even seen a glassman in the flesh, because they hide behind their remote controlled devices. One of their rules is that no abortions are outlawed, and the protagonist’s sister wants to find a doctor who will give her an illegal aboriton, but they have to travel some distance to find one while avoiding glassmen who will force her to stay at a hospital to carry the baby to term.

The glassmen in this story were scary and strange enough that their presence in the story carried my like for it. I felt for the main characters and very much wanted them to survive their journey, and was kept guessing what the glassmen really were and what they really wanted throughout.

 

3. ‘‘The Waiting Stars,” Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky)
This is told as two seemingly separate stories, taking place in a world that will be familiar to her fans, as she has told stories from this world before. One story is about Lan Nhen and her sister Cuc as they go to rescue a damaged mindship that contains the mind of a relative. They come from the Dai Viet culture where ships are controlled by human minds, birthed as mechanical objects from human wombs. The other story follows Catherine, who has been “rescued” from Dai Viet culture by the empire which has tried to give her a new life in the imperial way.

Aliette’s stories have a great deal to say about how cultures interact with each other, not in the war that is often the subject of SF stories, but more in regards to cultural assimilation, imperialism, and the motivations of individuals who are just trying to survive in the boundaries where wildly disparate cultures intersect. She has a real gift for exploring this topic. This is a very good story. It did take me most of the story to guess how the two tales are related to each other, but it was done well. The fact that I placed it as #3 on the list is no insult to its quality, it’s just that this category held some tough competition.

 

4. ‘‘In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,’‘ Sarah Pinsker (Strange Horizons 7/1 , 7/8/13)
Millie’s husband George is in the hospital, and he might not be long for this world. In a comatose state, he moves his hand in a drawing motion. Given a pen he sketches the rough blueprint of a structure she’d never seen him draw in all his years as an architect, even the more fanciful conceptual projects he’d drawn in his career for the military. What could it be?

As with the #3 on the list, this one’s not #4 because I disliked it–it was just a tough crowd. I felt like Millie and George were real people. They sounded like great people to know and I was especially interested in the sprawling backyard treehouse of motley design that he put together for his children. I was interested to see where it all turned out and I was fully invested in the story. It was a good story, it just didn’t quite work for me as well as the other ones.

 

5. ‘‘The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,” Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/13)
Tian Haoli, the litigation master, is approached by a man carrying a text which has been forbidden by the emperor, pursued by the emperor’s assassins. The man asks Tian Haoli to hide the book for him, and he must then decide what to do.

This wasn’t really speculative fiction. The Monkey King himself was the only pseudo-speculative element, but it seemed pretty clear that this was just a figment of the litigation master’s imagination. The story is based in real tragedy, but I thought it was a little too heavy on message. It was hard to just go along with the story when it seemed the author was just using it as a medium to tell about a historical event that people might not be aware of. I prefer story to be primary, message secondary. As a documentary, I’d want to read more, but as fiction it left something to be desired.

 

6. ‘‘Paranormal Romance,” Christopher Barzak (Lightspeed 6/13)
“This is a story about a witch. Not the kind you’re thinking of either.” Sheila is a modern witch who specialized in love. Helping a lonely person find new love, helping a person in a fading marriage hold it together, anything along those lines, but she’s never had much luck in love herself.

I didn’t find very much in the story to keep my interest. The opening lines seem to match a pattern I’ve noticed in some recent stories in the last few years which start with some variation of “I’m going to tell you a fairy tale. But not the kind of fairy tale you’re expecting.” I’ve never found this to be a very intriguing beginning, because the format never ends up being much less predictable than the fairy tale it claims to be totally unlike.

In this case, I could’ve used some tension, some goal for the character. She seems content enough doing her everyday work. She’s good at what she does. Her mom continually is trying to set her up on romantic outings, but she doesn’t really seem that concerned about her lack of a relationship. And if she doesn’t seem that concerned, why should I be? But in the end it seems that what the story was about was her finding a relationship, something which she wasn’t looking for at all. Generally a story with a relationship as a major factor shows me that the person really wants a relationship, or perhaps there is other focal tension and the relationship grows from that. This one was neither, and I didn’t think it worked. So, generally, I found the story quite dull and lacking in tension, and I was never interested in the love interest, and it didn’t really matter to me whether a relationship started or not because the character didn’t seem that concerned.

 

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.

Interview: Ken Liu

interview by Carl Slaughter
introduction by David Steffen

ken_liu_small

If you’ve kept up with science fiction publications in the last few years, you’ve probably at least heard the name Ken Liu. Dozens of his stories have been published just in the last couple of years in the biggest and best SF publications out there today, including F&SF, Analog, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction… The list goes on and on. He won the Hugo for “Mono No Aware” this year. He won the Hugo and the Nebula for “The Paper Menagerie” last year, one of my personal favorite stories I’ve read in years. I just read a fun story by him on the Drabblecast titled “The Call of the Pancake Factory”, about a representative of a certain supercorporation amusement park happening to cross paths with a cult of Cthulhu–great story. He’s on a roll, and showing no signs of stopping. He’s a great writer and you should check out his work if you ever get a chance to read it.

 

You’ve been getting an awful lot of stories published the last few years. Did you build up an archive or have you just been a really busy guy lately?

For the longest time, I wrote very slowly, and so there never really was much “inventory.” But I’ve been writing at a somewhat steady, faster pace for the last four years. The more I write, the more ideas I seem to have. So that has worked out well.

 

How do you maintain quality and quantity? Natural talent, hard work, long hours, disciplined lifestyle, or some combination?

I think over time, I’ve learned to do a better job of picking out which story ideas seem cool but won’t work, which ones are good for flash pieces, and which ones are good for longer development. That has helped to reduce the number of stories I have to trunk.

I’ve also learned to work better under deadline. Knowing how long it takes me to finish a story and polish it to the point where I’m satisfied with it builds confidence, and that makes it easier to take up new projects and plan them into my schedule.

 

What’s your day job? How do you find time for family, the office, and the keyboard?

I used to be a programmer, became a corporate attorney, and now I work as a litigation consultant for high-tech patent cases, which sort of combines my areas of expertise. It’s very interesting, stimulating work, and probably helps with giving me story ideas.

I have two young children at home, ages 3 and 1. As anyone with young children knows, they severely constrain your writing time. I’ve learned to be better about time management and use the little writing time I do have more efficiently. For example, I try to do some drafting on my commuter rail ride every day.

I can’t say I’ve got it figured out. My novel revisions are going much more slowly than I’d like, partly due to the lack of uninterrupted writing time. But plenty of writers have figured out such a balance before, I just need to keep on working on my process and improve it.

 

Some author’s sell to the same two or three markets or half a dozen markets. You’ve been selling to every market under the sun. What’s the explanation? Diverse material? Looks better on your resume? Just like to shop around?

I enjoy working with different editors. Every editor has taught me something new. And I do write a wide variety of stories, so some stories might be a better fit with F&SF while others might work better at Analog. Not every editor likes everything I write.

I also like being exposed to new readers through new markets, so being published in multiple markets has worked out well for me.

 

You’ve been winning and being nominated for a lot of awards. Mike Resnick said about awards, “When you walk out of the convention, nobody on the street knows who you are.” This in contrast to, for example, the Oscar. How has winning famous awards affected you personally? How has it affected your career? More sales? More fan mail? Invitations to speak at conventions? Requests for interviews?

I can’t say it has affected my personal life significantly — I did get a lot of congratulations from my friends and co-workers, which made me very happy. I think the stories that were nominated got more readers, and of course I’m happy about that.

Career wise, since I don’t have a novel, I can’t point to any concrete sales boost from the awards. I do think some of the translation deals I’ve gotten were due to the awards — if nothing else, they help with name recognition, especially overseas.

Unless people ask about the awards though, I just don’t think about them much. I’m very grateful to have been nominated and to have won some of them, but what keeps me writing isn’t the desire for awards, but to write stories that I want to read myself.

 

You’ve been concentrating on short stories. What does the novel horizon look like?

I’m working on a novel, an epic fantasy of sorts, set in a secondary world created by my wife and me together. The setting is an archipelago, and there are magical creatures, gods, and lots of fanciful machines based on ancient Chinese mechanical engineering. The plot is loosely adapted from the historical legends about the founding of the Han Dynasty, and some of the cultural aspects are derived from classical East Asian elements.

The first draft is done, but there’s a lot of rewriting left still.

 

What about the screen market? Any queries to or from Hollywood to buy or write scripts?

I do like scripts, and want to get better at writing them. But there’s not much of a market for them unless you’re in Hollywood, so, for now, I’m focusing just on narrative fiction.

 

What’s the market like for science fiction in China? Aren’t they more into traditional fantasy? You know, beings with magical powers. Personification of animals, like the famous Chinese novel, “Journey to the West.” (Or is it more accurately translated, “The Journey West”?) Is there a market in China for traditional science fiction? Biotechnology, space travel, etc.

I’m not an expert on the Chinese science fiction market, but from what I’ve seen, science fiction does very well there. Of course, China is a very big country, so even if only a small percentage of readers are interested in science fiction, the absolute numbers are going to be big. Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy, for example, sold some 400,000 copies, and that’s a hard science fiction first contact story. (I’ve been engaged to translate the first book of the trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, into English, and Tor Books will be publishing the book in the US in 2014.)

A lot of my writer friends in China — in science fiction, fantasy, and slip-stream — seem to have many more readers (even if they don’t all have novels out yet). And even my own stories, translated into Chinese, seem to have generated more feedback than they received in English. So I’d say the market is very healthy, overall.

 

Besides China, how are overseas sales going?

I have a Japanese collection coming out from Hayakawa Publishing in 2015, and I’ve sold a few reprints to markets in France, Spain, Italy, and other countries. Sometimes I get a chance to work directly with the translators, and that’s always such a pleasure.

 

You have all your stories critiqued on the Critters Online Workshop. How has that affected your writing and your sales?

I haven’t used Critters for most of my fiction for a while now. Over time, I’ve developed a circle of beta readers (several of whom I met through critters) whose opinions I trust, and it’s just more efficient to get their take than to go through critters, especially when I’m under tight deadlines.

I think Critters taught me, above all, how to figure out which critiques are helpful and which ones are not. When you’re relatively inexperienced as a writer, there’s a lot of benefit to getting a wide range of opinions because they help you figure out who your target audience is. Learning to ignore opinions from people who aren’t in your target audience is a difficult lesson because our natural tendency as writers is to try to please everyone. But that’s impossible, and it’s better that you learn this lesson earlier rather than later.

 

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Listen when other writers share their process and try their techniques out, but don’t be surprised when most of them don’t work for you — but also be prepared for the possibility that a few will. You won’t know which is which until you try them though.

 

Carl_eagle

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 electricity is an inconsistent commodity.

 

Daily Science Fiction: June 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Did you contribute to Daily Science Fiction‘s Kickstarter campaign? If so, thank you very much. They made their goal with room to spare. That means the daily emails with delightful and never-read-before work of science fiction and fantasy will continue. Did you catch all that June had to offer? If not, this is what you missedâ€

 

“Pictures in Crayon” by Elizabeth Shack (debut 6/3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) takes place in a far-future, dystopian world where the earth is dying, and children are taken off-world via a lottery drawing. The narrator wants to see other stars, wants to get off earth, wants to live, but she’s not the only child in her family.

I thought the ending was somewhat predictable, however, it was no less enjoyable, and melancholy.

 

“Note to Self” by Hans Hergot (debut 6/4 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) starts in such a humorous way that I was expecting a continuous laugh riot. However, the story turned sentimental and became the best of both worlds.

Thomas’s future self has won a time-travel contest in which he’s allowed to write six words to his past self to be delivered at a particular time. (Which isn’t fully explained, but doesn’t really matter.) I won’t spoil what the six words are, because what they mean is greater than what they say, which is what makes this story so great.

 

“Three Wishes” by Melissa Mead (debut 6/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

In another delightful, twisted fairy tale from Melissa Mead, a golden coyote is stuck in a trap and thus rescued by a simple woodcutter. The woodcutter is given three wishes and mistakenly, and humorously, wastes the first two. His wife lets him have it for his foolishness, but demands the third wish be saved for something wholly selfish. She is a good wife. However, (spoiler) the woodcutter’s second wish absolutely needs to be undone.

This story, aptly, comes with a twist you might expect from a three-wish story. The twist, however, has a lot of heart.

 

“True Love” by Alex Shvartsman (debut 6/6 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

At Temporal Excursions, Inc., you can step inside the mind of a past figure and experience their lives precisely as they did, minute by minute, in only an hour.

Molly seeks the experience of pure love. The kind, she says, that just isn’t seen around. However, she is repeatedly discouraged by the real lives of Helen of Troy and Cleopatra. Apparently our history books aren’t as accurate as the true day to day lives of these historic women.

But after each disappointment Travis, an employee of Temporal Excursions, is there to listen just as he is there to plug Molly back in during each subsequent visit until. Through with the past, Molly just might have discovered something of interest in her present.

 

“The Ships That Stir Upon The Shore” by Rahul Kanakia (debut 6/6 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

In a future where the earth’s temperature is a deadly problem, people have been relegated into domes to survive. (However, this is not the focus of the story.) A broker of homes’ possessions sets his sights on a wealthy home whose owner is still alive. In the hopes that everything goes according to plan, based on past performance, he brings his family along to assist in the transition between the previous owner and them.

At first I was confused. The world made a lot of assumptions that I knew what the heck it was talking about. Then it settled into its story and I was sucked in – completely. What unfolds is as heartwarming as it can be in this quite dystopian future. I wished for a little more set-up regarding the change of heart. However, I still feel this is a top-notch story.

 

Simon gets an awesome gift that will spare him from pain in Jumping Into The Sky” by Samantha Murray (debut 6/10 and reviewed by Frank D). Grandma had finally sent Simon a birthday gift worth using: invulnerability cream, good for one day. He always wanted to jump off a cliff, remembering the look on Laura’s face when he backed out on a dare from before. The cream grants him the courage to dive ahead; an easy thing to do when the consequences are eliminated.

“Jumping” is a tale for those who wished they could summon courage from a jar. This predictable storyline has an unpredictable finale. The side effect was logical, but unforeseen. Well done.

 

A miracle drug promises to cure everything in Curing Day” by Dustin Adams (debut 6/11 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a nine year old boy centuries old. Pathway is a miracle inoculation that fixes all but erases memory. Shamus is one of the few who retains his memory. He alone sees the decay and remembers the ones who have died from accidents. The world is slowly falling apart and he alone can remember the slight changes of the effects disrepair.

“Curing Day” is a story I read in an infant draft. This final draft is a testament on how much work it takes to turn a good idea into a marketable story. Loved the concept of this piece , a world that decays while a society is locked in a pharmaceutical induced amnesia. Well done, my friend.

 

A bullied boy seeks sanctuary in his City of Chrysantemum” by Ken Liu (debut 6/12 and reviewed by Frank D). Bobby is a target of bullies. The small boy is tormented and beaten daily. On the pages of his art and in the corner of his mind he imagines a prince like himself in a city where boys aren’t forced to fight and are free to live in peace.

“Chrysantemum” is a fantasy only in the mind of the author’s protagonist. Bobby has a tale so many can identify with. His school is his dungeon. His two classmates are his predators, seeking him out so they can dish out their sadistic punishment for their own pleasure.

“Chrysantemum” is likely the least speculative story DSF has ever published. The tale is sad because there is too much realism in it. Bobby is not just a victim of cruel kids who say hurtful words that will inflict harm on his confidence. He is practice for future felons earning their own education in what should be the safe confines of a public institution. Bobby’s make believe kingdom serves as is his sanity’s refuge, his way of coping in his adolescent hell.

If you are sensitive to children being abused, avoid this tale. But in my opinion it is a story we should all read.

 

A superhero finds her rival, friend, and lover in Dark, Beautiful Force” by Jessica May Lin (debut 6/13 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a defender of justice who competes with another hero. The two develop a relationship as they battle the forces of evil and become intimate. The battle between good and evil will always carry on, regardless of the obstacles in life.

“Dark, Beautiful Force” is a tale of an extra special woman and her soul mate. The powers of the characters are unknown and the villains they fight are faceless. The struggle in this tale is of the inner turmoil the protagonist battles as she first competes than falls in love with her rival. The protagonist loses her unborn child while battling a vague antagonist. The loss leaves her hollow inside, and her depression drives a wedge between the two heroes. Her soulmate hatches a plan to save her from herself.

The vagueness of this superhero tale robs the story of its superhero flavor. The story almost could have been told without superhuman powers. The only fight that matters , to the protagonist and the reader , is the battle our heroine had with herself from the start. The plan her lover hatches (I would imagine) would do the heroine more harm than it could possibly do good. For all its vagueness, I found this tale nevertheless enjoyable, despite its dark conclusion.

 

“I’ll Leave The Light On” by Patricia Russo (debut 6/14 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Dahyana found the boy throwing rocks at a stop sign. She recognized him immediately by the glow. Mrs. Miller told her she would recognize them, and she had because they were like her. She took her time slowly developing rapport, drawing in the angry young man. He would always be angry until she could bring him to others like her. Bring him in, train him, teach him; only then can he fulfill his purpose.

I found the writing in this one a little uneven in spots, particularly the opening paragraph. If you work your way past that particular sandbar, you will find an intriguing story about people that live among us, but have a very different reality. I would encourage you to put in some extra effort and give this story a try.

 

“The Silver Witch” by Tara Calaby (debut 6/17 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

When Rosalind was discovered straddling Leda the townspeople knew she was a witch. When the miller (whom she had rejected), the priest, and Leda’s betrothed testified they were sure. The decision was made. Rosalind must die to cleanse Leda’s soul of her spell. But when they tried to carry out the sentence the townspeople discovered something about the power of love.

This story is well written and gives us something to consider about how and who we fear in the world. It does so with a twist that that shows us even more. It also says something about the power of love. Give it a try.

 

A priest is sent to hell to find a man among the damned in Holy Diver” by Gra Linnaea (debut 6/18 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is chosen by God to find a single soul in the fiery pits of hell. God had him sacrifice himself so he would gain entrance into the underworld. Hell is like a prison, priests are singled out , as if they are criminals who have committed a crime judged too heinous even for the fellow prisoners to accept. The protagonist learns to adapt in hell, as he searches for a man God so badly wants him to find.

“Holy Diver” is so much like a war story. The protagonist is on a mission in enemy territory. He knows nothing of the man he is searching for or the reasons why God wants him to find him. He is just a loyal soldier in God’s army and does not question his unknown orders.

I found “Holy Diver” to be an extraordinary and risky tale. The mystery of what the damned priest could be looking for , and the landscape of hell he walked through – had me hooked from the start. The answer to this mystery was a stunner. A warning to the faithful: the twist to this story you may consider blasphemous, so you may want to avoid it. I, however, loved the direction and the implications of the finale.

Recommended.

 

The Big Bad Wolf plans a big meal in Big Bad’s Hot Date” by Melissa Mead (debut 6/19 and reviewed by Frank D).The wolf of “three pigs” fame, plans a nice pork roast for his date. The trick is getting the slippery porkers to join in the meal. Thanks to his ingenuity, and the pigs’ predictable pattern, his date is destined to turn out just fine.

Inventive take on an old classic. I liked the way Ms Mead’s devious mind thinks. Well done.

 

Part of an immortal conscience faces irreversible death in Restorative” by Andy Dudak (debut 6/20 and reviewed by Frank D). The 3877th instance of Fingal Boyd is told he cannot rejoin the collective conscience because he has been inflicted with a virus. His shell, or ‘meat puppet’ , a man named Ciaran who has whored out his body, reflects with bitter irony that they will die together. Regret fills 3877 as death nears. He has never cared for his host body before, but weighing your actions of your life , and how they affected others , is a new experience for the greater being of Boyd.

“Restorative” is a tale set in a repressive society. Although the story is too short to fully explore the ramifications of a conscience impressing itself into one of the downtrodden, the plot to this piece centers on one part of a split being abandoned by its greater self. The vessel 3877 has occupied was once its own person. Ciaran had sold himself to be used, and abused. Now used up, 3877 feels the consequences of what he has done to Ciaran, and 3877 does not like it.

My main complaint to “Restorative” is it was far too short. A far larger , and better , story was left untouched. A thought provoking story with a satisfying ending.

 

A grieving actress is asked to reprise a memorable role in While Memory Holds a Seat” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (debut 6/21 and reviewed by Frank D). Rose is a member of a planet-hopping traveling theater troop. Dark and tragic events in her past transformed the once bubbly girl into a withdrawn and depressed woman. A decision of what to preform must be made for the troop’s next stop. Verna, her daughter, suggest they do ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and wants Rose to play Belle.

“While Memory” is a story about a woman who has condemned herself to her own hell. A tragic accident has left her hollow inside. The tale is mostly a mini-biography of Rose’s past. It is all a set up for climactic finale that was dulled by the lengthy and depressing backstory.

 

A couple attempts to rid their world of a pest in All Kinds to Make a World” by Georgina Bruce (debut 6/24 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist and his wife find a creature outside their home and do their best to kill it, but try as they might the little bugger refuses to die. They don’t give up at first, but in a weird Stockholm syndrome twist they come to adore the monster.

“All Kinds” is a strange story (I mean that with modest sincerity). Like the creature in the tale, I became endeared with it by the end.

 

Two young students pine for each other in Pinned and Wriggling on the Wall” by Usman T Malik (debut 6/25 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is spending one last evening with his girl, Sara , a med student with a talented hand for sketches that come to life. They are in love but her father makes it impossible for them to be together.

The subplot to “Pinned” is the two-dimensional beings that Sara has drawn in her notebook. One drawing attempts to escape while the protagonist makes a play for Sara’s heart. I confess, I did not connect the relevance and/or metaphor the author was seeking for this tale. I am afraid the story’s point was lost on me.

 

The innocence of youth can be quite tragic in Such Days Deserved” by Lee Hallison (debut 6/26 and reviewed by Frank D). Annie and her young friends have claimed the empty lot as their own. They have dug a hole and called it their fort. So when their fort is occupied by a strange – and scary looking – visitor from beyond, they react in a most human way.

“Such Days” is ET gone wrong. The opening paragraphs open with Annie and her innocent hopes as she stares up at the stars, which makes the gravity of what happens afterwards very shocking. I think the events of this tale would probably be the most likely outcome of a first contact scenario. I think the choice of using children made this worked best. Well done.

Recommended.

 

A soldier’s bid to fight repression crosses lines in The Frenchman’s Jihad” by JT Howard (debut 6/27 and reviewed by Frank D). Jean is part of an elite fighting unit combating the spread of contraband seed in the farming community. The son of a farmer cut down by thugs, Jean is happy he no longer works in the fields. His unit is out to stop the illegal seed trade, no matter what.

“Frenchman” is a tale set in a world of tyranny. It is a story where a soldier suddenly realizes he is on the wrong side. The author is an experienced warrior, and the tone and details shows the depth of his knowledge. “Frenchman” is a sci-fi war story very much like the speculative fiction tales told in the height of the Cold War. I found it to be crisp and compelling.

 

A sick woman exhausts the memories she stored for her daughter in Melancholia in Bloom” by Damien Walters Grintalis (debut 6/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Helen has a family heirloom for her daughter Rebecca: a magical box that stores memories. It is a treasure Helen found after her mother died, and in it, are the strips of cloth and the notebook her mother left for her explaining the magic of the box. For years, Helen has stocked the box with rose petals full of memories and a diary she has kept for Rebecca, but a debilitating disease has struck Helen and memories meant for Rebecca are the only things that keep her connected to this world.

“Melancholia” is a story told from two perspectives. From Rebecca’s point of view seeing her mother as a once lively woman now locked in a vacant shell, and from the words in Helen’s diary as she lives with the horror of losing her mind. Rebecca’s story is one that thousands of people could tell; the experiences of watching a loved one succumb to Alzheimer’s. Her mother is a woman who is lost to her; a walking catatonic, a parent who has left this Earth, yet still lives. The pain of viewing the vibrant woman she once knew now locked in a shell is too much for her to bear. Helen’s story adds an extra dimension to the tale. The magical box of memories is an heirloom passed down through untold generations. She found it after her mother passed away and discovered the gifts of memories inside. The rose petals she placed inside the box are memories she intended to leave her daughter, but the memory-fading disease that has her in its grip makes the temptation to re-experience what she lost to great for her to resist.

This story has a premise very much like Michael Haynes’s Scraps, but, where Mr Haynes’s piece was a tale of beautiful discovery, Ms Grintalis’s is a heart-wrenching tragedy. The two subplots of “Melancholia” complement each other. Helen is aware of the injustice she is doing to the boxes legacy and of the gift she is robing her own daughter, but the reader can’t blame her for it. Her written confession that choosing not to seeing a doctor when the first signs appear because it would ‘make it real’ is something we all can sympathize with. The recaptured memories allow Helen to be normal once again, even if it is for a brief moment. They keep the disease at bay, but the memories she has stored , and meant for Rebecca to experience , are finite in number and will be gone once spent.

I wondered when I finished this tale if Daily SF was Ms Grintalis’s first choice to publish her story. I’d imagine that a good many publications would have told her that it wasn’t right for them; a modern fantasy, short in length, a quick narrative and , most of all , an ending that was anything but happy. Not quite dark enough for a publisher of horror but the complete absence of cheer would have likely disqualified it for a bunch of publications and that is too bad. The early speculative fiction TV classic Twilight Zone proved that the very best tales don’t have to have a happy ending for them to be enjoyable. In fact, the bitterest endings in that show are where it achieved its greatest accolades, and like those memorable but bitter episodes this story deserves praise reserved for a true classic.

“Melancholia in Bloom” is a dynamite work of art. From its aptly named title to its somber finale this is a tale worthy of remembrance. Thank you Daily SF for delivering it to my email box.

Highly recommended.

 

And then there was oneâ€

On June 27th Dr. Steven Wittenberg Gordon announced on his writer’s blog , Songs of Eretz – that he would no longer be reviewing Daily SF on a regular basis. For an entire year, Dr. Gordon wrote a review of every DSF story the day it debuted , no small feat. His reviews were honest and thoughtful, and he didn’t miss one in all that time , including the ones that were written by the Diabolical Plots staff. And to prove we can take it, as well as dish it out, here is what he thought of our work.

“Coin Op” by David Steffen
The business-like, complete lack of emotional response from the android was amusing, as were its sexual extortion tactics. A snide comment at the end of story detracted a bit; there was a missed opportunity to make this a moral tale with a chilling (ahem) climax. 3 out of 7 rocket-dragons.

“This Is Your Problem, Right Here” by David Steffen
This story was revolting and hilarious at the same time. Original and memorable. 7 out of 7 rocket-dragons

“Curing Day” by Dustin Adams
There is certainly the grain of a great story here. I wish Mr. Adams would have provided some explanation for how the anti-aging drug works and why the side-effect occurs. The story is a little difficult to follow, but its original premise makes it worth reading. 4 out of 7 rocket-dragons.

“Fool’s Gold” by Frank Dutkiewicz
A good story, but the intellectual dialogue from the mouths of supposedly uneducated serfs was distracting. 5 rocket-dragons.

Dr. Gordon provided what I’ve been claiming Daily SF deserves from the leading reviewers of speculative fiction , insightful, thoughtful, and honest assessments of the works offered by one of the leading publishers of short, genre specific fiction in the industry. It is a disgrace that the recognized reviewers have been neglected by them and a shame Songs of Eretz will no longer picking up their slack. We will miss reading the doctor’s opinions.

But hey, if the good doc would like to keep a toe hold in DSF reviews, we would be happy to make room for him. I’ll keep your work load light, Steve.

 

MB_JLWhy are these two people so happy? Because you came through for them. The editors asked for your help in funding Daily SF and you didn’t disappoint. They met their goals with room to spare. On behalf of Jon and Michele, thank you for your support.

My Hugo Ballot 2013

written by David Steffen

I’ve spent the last several months reviewing award nominees. I decided to take it one step further and post the final decisions that I plan to post to my Hugo ballot with explanations (where I deem them necessary) about why I voted the way I did. I encourage anyone reading this to post discussion in the comments about how they voted, why I am wrong in my choices, etc.

What makes this more interesting is that the Hugo Awards use an instant runoff voting system. You rank your changes from 1-x, and can also set a number to the “No Award” category. You can find all the nitty gritty details at the Hugo Page explaining votes. I like the system a lot, much more than just a simple single-cast vote, because if your primary vote is for the least popular story, your other preferences still count for something.

If you are a nominee, keep in mind that I am just judging these based on my own preferences and, though I aim to not make my reviews mean, if you don’t want to hear my honest opinion of your work than you might want to skip this article.

For a full list of the nominees, see the original announcement on the Hugo site.

 

Best Novel

1. Redshirts, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
2. Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)

Reasoning: I’ve only had time to read one book and a partial so far. I finished Redshirts and reviewed it here–I enjoyed it quite well, though there were some parts I didn’t like it was huge amounts of fun. I’ve started Throne of the Crescent Moon but haven’t finished it yet. Throne of the Crescent Moon is a solid book so far, but even though it has the strength of being set in a non-European based fantasy world, it still lacks the novelty that Redshirts has for me.

 

Best Novella

1. The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
2. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
3. San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
4. The Stars Do Not Lie by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)
5. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “On a Red Station, Drifting” by Aliette de Bodard. See my Novella Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Novelette

1. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
2. The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
3. Rat-Catcher by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
4. The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
5. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente. See my Novelette Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Short Story

1. Immersion by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)

2. Mono No Aware by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

3. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson. See my Short Story Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Graphic Story

1. Locke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks, Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

2. Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)

3. Saga, Volume One, Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples (Image)

4. No Award

Reasoning: See my Graphic Story Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

1. The Cabin in the Woods
2. The Avengers
3. The Hunger Games
4. Looper
5. The Hobbit

Reasoning: See my Dramatic Presentation, Long Form Hugo 2013 Review for more detail. I didn’t regret the time spent on any of the movies, so I gave them all a rank.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

1. Game of Thrones, “Blackwater”, Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

Reasoning: I’ve never seen an episode of Dr. Who (gasp!), so I can’t comment on the show in any way. I’ve only ever seen the pilot episode of Fringe, which did not inspire me to watch further even though I was excited about the show from the trailers. But my wife and I are avid watchers of the Game of Thrones series. The show is really solid throughout, great writing, casting, special effects, set design, costume design, everything is really stellar. And this episode was an especially awesome episode of a major battle, with great tension and great action all around. Even if I had been familiar with any of the other nominees, it likely would’ve come on top.

I don’t have anything against any of the other four winning the award, so I’m not casting a “No Award” vote for this category. I’m sure that one of the Dr. Who episodes will win anyway.

 

Best Editor, Short Form

1. Neil Clarke
Neil does great work at Clarkesworld, and I look forward to every episode of Clarkesworld. I tend to have a bit of a polar reaction to Clarkesworld stories. I either love them or don’t get them at all. But when I love them, the stories are well worth listening to the others to get to. Also, as a writer, I appreciate Clarkesworld’s lightning-fast response times.

2. John Joseph Adams
I enjoy listening to the Lightspeed podcast as well. I tend to have a polar reaction to Lightspeed stories as well, and a similar appreciation for lightning-fast response times, and it was hard to decide which to rank higher. He and Neil are ranked close enough in my mind that it’s almost a toss-up between the two and I just gave Neil the edge because he’s been a head editor longer. It’s for cases like this that I really appreciate the instant runoff voting.

3. Stanley Schmidt
I am often not a huge fan of Analog stories, often too nuts-and-bolts for me. But they’ve published some really great ones. I will immediately buy any issue with Juliette Wade in the pages, because her linguistics-based SF stories that have run there are among my favorites. There was a Wade story last year, too, a definite bonus. This was Stanley’s last year as editor so it would be neat to see him win, but I’d rather vote based on who I thought was the best rather than nominating for warm fuzzies about the guy who retired.

4. Sheila Williams
I don’t read Asimov’s very regularly, simply because they don’t have a podcast. I have read good stories in the issues that I’ve bought, so I’d have no complaints about her winning.

Reasoning: I’m not familiar with Jonathan Strahan one way or the other. I’m not going to cast a vote for him, but I’m also not casting a “No Award” either.

 

Best Professional Artist

1. Dan Dos Santos
Dan Dos Santos is awesome. I have a print of his depiction of Moiraine Damodred on my office wall. I love his other art as well, such as his Warbreaker cover. He just has a very skilled hand and great eye. I rarely enjoy others’ cover art as much as his. His character art in particular is really great–the examples in the Hugo packet are good ones, especially the baby-toting warrior woman, and the punk woman in the bathroom.

2. John Picacio
I picked for a large part because of the Hyperion cover with the elaborate mechanical monstrosity holding a human infant. His other covers are really good too.

3. Julie Dillon
I LOVE the “Afternoon Walk” image, with all the monsters being walked like dogs in the park.

4. Chris McGrath
I like the gritty style of these, almost like found photos of fantastical places.

5. Vincent Chong

Reasoning: They always say not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case I had to judge the artist by his cover. The only one I’m very familiar with is Dos Santos, so I had to judge based only on the samples. This was a hard category to pick favorites. I would not be disappointed for any of these five who won the award. But, I’ve gotta pick someone.

 

 

Best Semiprozine

1. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
2. Clarkesworld
3. Lightspeed
4. Apex
5. Strange Horizons

Reasoning: See my Semiprozine Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Fanzine

1. SF Signal

Reasoning: I’ve enjoyed going to SF Signal for various content for years, so I’ll happily give them my vote. The other four I am aware of, but have never read. I’m not using the “No Award” vote, because I don’t have anything against the other four.

 

Best Fancast

1. No Award
2. SF Squeecast
3. SF Signal Podcast
4. Galactic Suburbia Podcast
5. The Coode Street Podcast

Reasoning: This is the second year that the Best Fancast category has been running, and all five of last years nominees are nominated again. This makes me think that no one is actually listening to them and is just nominating past nominees as a habit. I think this may also have to do with confusion over the classification of podcasts who pay their authors, like Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Escape Pod, Drabblecast, and so on. By the word of the rules, these would all be considered Fancasts but many people might guess that they would be classified as Semiprozines. I asked the question of the Hugo committee long before the nomination period ended to clarify publicly the classification of these, but they never responded to me. This is hurting my favorite magazine’s chances of getting award nominations because anyone who wants to nominate them may be splitting across categories. I was very disappointed that the Hugo Committee didn’t respond to my question.

In large part to raise my small voice of protest about the Hugo Committee’s lack of clarification, I am choosing No Award as my primary vote. I would love to see a quality fiction podcast get award nominations, and maybe even win. No offense to the nonfiction podcasters who do good work, but if I wanted to listen to a conversation about SF I would just talk to someone about SF. It’s the stories that I’m here for. And if my favorite fiction podcasts aren’t allowed into the category, then I’m not interested in the category.

It also bothers me that StarShipSofa is the lone fiction podcast representative, because their constant over-self-promotion, Hugo vote begging, unfiltered content , lack of payment is just too many factors that bother me about them. And that’s even not including the aborted nonfiction project they had planned some years ago to supporting a plagiaristic audio adaptation–it was aborted when the moral problems were pointed out to Tony, but I felt that an editor shouldn’t need to have this pointed out to him. It may seem wrong to criticize a “fancast” nominee for unprofessional policies, but venues like Escape Pod and Toasted Cake have shown me that just because a podcast is staffed by volunteers in their spare time doesn’t mean that there have to be no standards.

So I’ve ranked the four nonfiction podcasts about StarShipSofa so that even if “No Award” gets eliminated as a possibility, I’ll be encouraging one of the others to get the award rather than StarShipSofa.

 

Best Fan Artist

1. Spring Schoenhuth
I love the jewelry designs of Schoenhuth, particularly the Robot Transformation, and the Four Electron Atoms designs. I don’t generally wear jewelry other than my wedding ring but those make me want to start.

2. Galen Dara
a really neat dreamlike style. I particularly like the Ghost River Red image. It feels like a story, and the vivid reds of the hero and the shadowy adversary are very eye catching and intriguing.

3. Brad W. Foster

4. Maurine Starkey

5. Steve Stiles

Reasoning: As with the Professional Artist category, I had to judge these by their samples and would not be disappointed if any particular one of these won, but again i have to choose.

 

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)

1. Mur Lafferty

Reasoning: I confess that Mur is the only one whose stories I am familiar with, and I ran out of time to read the contributed works of the other authors. So, certainly no reason to use the No Award, but my lone vote is cast for Mur.

 

Conclusion

And that’s my take and my voting strategy on all of the categories where I picked up enough of the material to be able to cast votes. There are three categories that I didn’t touch at all: Best Fan Writer, Best Editor Long Form, and Best Related Work. In the In the Related Work category, I did not have time to read any of the nominees. In the Fan Writer and Editor Long Form, I am unfamiliar with these people’s work.

How did you vote? Care to share, drop a comment. I’ve enjoyed putting this together, and I think I’ll try to do the same series of articles again next year. Let me know if you enjoyed it, folks! Do you find it appealing to see how someone else spent his votes?

Review: Hugo Short Story Nominees 2013

written by David Steffen

And, my favorite award category of the SF award season, the Hugo Award for Best Short Story. The Hugos are my favorite bunch of awards since they are meant to represent the tastes of fandom itself (albeit the portion of fandom that has the money and time and inclination to register and read to vote). And the short story length in particular because that’s the length that I prefer to do most of my reading.

Interesting this year that there are only three nominees for this category, due to a requirement that all stories on the final ballot must have received at least 5% of the overall vote. On the downside, there are less nominees to read and review. On the upside, it seems like a good sign that there is a good portion of quality speculative fiction being published regularly that there were no clearer standouts for the votes!

 

Hugo Award for Best Short Story

1. Immersion by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
A very interesting setting, set in Longevity, a world which has been recently conquered by a galaxy-spanning Empire. The war is over, but the conflict continues as the Empire sends tourists through to absorb the culture. The biggest element of this absorption is a technology called an immerser, which all of the Imperials use heavily to interact with their world, acting at its most basic level as a translator but altering perceptions of reality in everything you do. To deal with Imperials at all, the locals have to user the immersers as well. It’s a battle to maintain your own beliefs and perceptions in the face of reality overlays.

This was published in Clarkesworld, where I first heard it on their podcast. It’s a solid story, well written. The worldbuilding in this one was especially good.

 

2. Mono No Aware by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)
Hiroto is one of the survivors of the end of the world, riding on a solar sail away from the earth that has been rendered unlivable by a meteor. The story is written as a recollection of interactions with his father who was not one of the survivors, who taught him many lessons about life and what it is to be Japanese.

I’m rather torn on my opinion for this story. I wanted to like it, there were characters, there was good basis for emotion and a plot, a definite speculative element. For me it walked the line between effective emotional writing and being a wee bit sentimental. I like a story that makes me feel, but there’s a fine line that separates that from being able to see the author pulling the strings.

 

3. Mantis Wives by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
Eventually, the mantis women discovered that killing their husbands was not inseparable from the getting of young… It was believed that mantis men would resist their deaths if permitted to choose the manner of their mating; but the women learned to turn elsewhere for nutrients after draining their husbands’ members, and yet the men lingered. And so their ladies continued to kill them, but slowly, in the fashioning of difficult arts. What else could there be between them?

This excerpt from the first section of the story pretty much sums it up. The rest of it is the same, but more so. It’s written like a lovingly-written Kama Sutra style book for Mantis Wives to read to think of new ways to torture their husbands to death. That is all it is. No characters. No plot. Just descriptions of torture written as if they were descriptions of sex. That’s not a story. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a story.

This is one of those nominees that really frustrates me because I don’t understand what anyone could see in it it, let alone the minimum 5% of the nominating population picking this as one of their 5 favorite short stories of the year. I have no idea what people found appealing about this. If you are reading this and you liked it, perhaps you could leave me a comment and clue me in.

Review: Nebula Novella Nominees 2012

written by David Steffen

On to the next category for Best Novella. I find this one another awkward one, covering word counts from 17,500 to 40,000. I like novels because they have room to spread out and really make you care about a broad range of characters in an intricately woven plot. I like short stories because they can really hit you with a story, worldbuilding, or other elements, get in and get out while you’re still excited. Novella I find is kind of awkward length, like a story that wants to be a novel but somehow just doesn’t have the stamina to make it all the way up there.

But, if I’m going to read novellas, I may as well start with the ones that others consider the best of the year, so here goes.

As soon as the Nebula nominees were announced I started reading through each category from Short Story up, intending to get as far as I could before the voting period ended on March 30. Since each category covers fiction that is progressively longer, the rate at which I can read them drops as I move on to each category. Unfortunately, I’m a pretty slow reader, so I didn’t have time to finish them all, and then I’ve moved on to Hugo-nominated works.

There were six nominees in total. I was able to read five of the six nominees, but I ran out of time before I could finish them all, and then the Hugo nominees were announced, giving me another load of stories to read. Katabasis (F&SF 11-12/12) by Robert Reed is the story that I didn’t get to read. Sorry about that, Mr. Reed! I’m a pretty slow reader and the Nebula voting window just wasn’t long enough.

This will be my last of the Nebula nominee reviews for this year, because it’s all that I had time to read in the scant time between announcing the stories and the voting deadline. Coming soon will be the Hugo nominees (some of which overlap with these)

 

Nebula Award for Best Novella

1. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
An apocalypse hits the Earth in 2014, killing most people and rendering most of the planet unliveable. Very few people survived, and those were saved from certain death by boxlike tentacled figures (nicknamed Tesslies) that would appear in a shower of golden sparks, grab the person, and take them somewhere else. These survivors wake up in a building with no doors to the outside, with machinery meant to serve their basic food and sanitation needs. The Tesslies never told them what was happening, but their best interpretation is that aliens have attacked earth and kept some humans as specimens. Many years later a new piece of machinery they call the Grab machine appears in the Shell which periodically makes a window through time to the years before the apocalypse. Whoever goes through, the Grab machine yanks them back to the future with whatever they’re touching, so they use it to grab supplies and to grab children to help repopulate the future (adults die when they pass through). This part of the story follows Pete, a fifteen year old boy who is a child of some of the original survivors.

Meanwhile, back in 2013, mathematician Julie Kahn is working with a police task force trying to determine a pattern to the robberies and kidnappings.

This is one of the very few novellas I’ve ever read that worked effectively at its published length. I related completely to both Pete and Julie, even when they did things I didn’t agree with or when their actions were in direct opposition to each other. This story had me interested from beginning to end and it felt neither too long nor too short. Well done, Ms Kress, well done. Unfortunately, I hadn’t finished reading this before the Nebula voting period ended, but there’s a good chance that it will garner my Hugo vote for the same category.

 

2. All the Flavors by Ken Liu (GigaNotoSaurus 2/1/12)
Elsie Seaver is the daughter of a business owner in Idaho City in 1865. Much of the town, including her father Jack’s store have been burned down. Needing the money, Jack rents houses to Chinese miners despite his wife’s misgivings about their unfamiliar way of life. Elsie befriends the miners, especially a distinctive man named Lao Guan who tells her stories about a Chinese god who bears a very close resemblance to Lao Guan himself. They learn a great deal from each other in the time they spend together.

I ranked this story at 2nd because I liked the characters the most of the three that I read. I really liked Elsie and I enjoyed very much her interactions with Lao Guan. The story switches back and forth between Elsie’s time and Lao Guan’s stories, drawing some parallels between Lao Guan and the god in the story but never making the connection entirely concrete. The stories took up so much of the story space I wanted them to mean something, to tie into the main story in some way that was significant. So this story as a whole was either way too long, because it could’ve been split up into two component stories and the one about Elsie and Lao Guan would’ve been all the better for its conciseness. Or the story is way too short, lacking the space to really tie together its halves and making me really care about those other stories.

 

3. Barry’s Tale by Lawrence M. Schoen (Buffalito Buffet)
This is the story of Conroy, an interstellar businessman and his buffalito companion. Buffalito look just like buffalo but are the size of a dog, they can eat literally anything, and they fart oxygen. he has traveled to a planet called Colson’s World where a single family lives, all the adopted children of Colson himself. Most of the visitors to the planet are there for the barbeque cookoff, but Conroy is there to make a business proposition to Colson, to convince him of the value of buffalito that are Conroy’s business. While he’s there he meets Bethany, a little girl who has dangerous powers that have prompted her mother to keep her sedated for the safety of everyone. Only now the medication isn’t working anymore.

Hey, good to see what the buffalito thing is about–I know Lawrence Schoen was giving away buffalito plushies at his WorldCon reading, and I saw them on people’s shoulders throughout the weekend. Apparently two of his books have been published around buffalito, and this was part of a short story collection.

This story took way too long to get going. The first hook for me was about halfway through, which is entirely too far in a novella length work, where the stakes are finally revealed to try to save the girl from those who want to kill her to prevent her killing others accidentally (stakes that I can care about) that give our protagonist something more interesting to do than trying to sell buffalito breeding rights (about which I don’t give a damn). The second half of the story was action packed and interesting, but it was buried behind that first half.

It seemed, too, like I was supposed to be enamored with Reggie the buffalito and how irresistibly cute he’s supposed to be. And yes he is cute. But not enough to carry thousands and thousands of words on his own. It’s very possible that this story was targeted at people who’ve read Lawrence’s buffalito books, in which case I’m just not part of his target audience.

 

4. The Stars Do Not Lie by Jay Lake (Asimov’s 10-11/12)
Morgan Abutti, 4th degree Thalassocrete, member of the Planetary Society, has discovered something new in the stars that violates the truths taught by both the Lateran and the Thalassojustity belief systems that rule the world. He has arranged for a public discussion of his findings, which could shake the world. Bilious Quinx, master of the Consistatory Office (aka Inquisition) must find Abutti before he makes his heresy public. Eraster Goins, head Thalossocrete, has very different motives for finding Abutti.

As you might be able to tell from this brief explanation, there are several religious factions which at least to my mind were never clearly differentiated. Maybe that’s an intentional statement about religious schisms, maybe it could’ve been made clearer, or maybe I just don’t get it. I generally liked the Morgan Abutti character who did not consider his findings a heresy but only wanted to share his findings of the universe to expand their understanding of it, a scientist trying to work within a religious government system. But I just didn’t find the stakes all that riveting. Whether or not Abutti’s announcement becomes public, some other scientist will discover the truth anyway (as the story itself points out), so the events of the story feel pretty moot to me. It doesn’t help that the grand discovery has implications for major future changes, which don’t make it into the space of this story. Those major future changes are what I’m really interested in. If Jay writes a story about those I will read that story eagerly. But this one just didn’t feel all that relevant even within its own context.

 

5. On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
Cousin Linh has arrived on Prosper Station, seeking refuge from the Emperor, whom she has rebelled against in a token fashion. Quyen, magistrate of the station, allows her refuge grudgingly. Linh’s visit causes no end of trouble.

The world of the story takes traditional beliefs and uses futuristic technology to reinforce them. In particular, people in this society are not only expected to honor their ancestors, they also have memchips implanted in their brains that allow their ancestors to give them advice on everything that is happening around them. Very cool idea. The station’s systems are run by the Honoured Ancestress, a being that is sort of a metahuman, with an altered version of a human mind that allows it to run all of the day-to-day affairs of Prosper, and allowing residents of the station to interact with this mind by entering the trance. There’s something wrong with the Honoured Ancestress of Prosper.

I loved the worldbuilding in the story, but I just wasn’t that interested in the main events that took up the bulk of the story. Linh and Quyen’s conflicts didn’t really interest me. I didn’t particularly relate to either one, and it didn’t matter to me which one succeeded or failed in their goals. The state of the Honoured Ancestress was, to me, my biggest interest in terms of plot, but it did not have as much text devoted to it as I would’ve liked, and the solution to the problem was presented without a lot of interesting development to get there.

So this story just wasn’t for me. It was just too long to justify the parts of it I was actually interested in. It didn’t help that the length was such, and my free time segmented enough, that it took a dozen sittings to get through it.

 

Review: Nebula Novelette Nominees 2012

written by David Steffen

On to the next category of the Nebula awards, the Best Novelette, which covers fiction between the word counts of 7,500 and 17,500 words. Generally I’m not a big fan of novelettes because to me they feel like short stories that have overstayed their welcome. Even though they can be more than twice as long as a short story I rarely feel like they have more meaningful content than a short story and so the story is just diluted in a larger space. It’s an awkward length, I think, not enough room to spread into more plot arcs like a novel would do but too long for the appealing conciseness of a short story.

But if I’m going to read some novelettes, I may as well read the ones that other people nominated for the Nebula award. They’re supposed to be the cream of the crop, after all. So, here goes. I’ve read all 7 of the nominees and rank-ordered them based on preference.

Nebula Award for Best Novelette

1. The Waves by Ken Liu (Asimov’s 12/12)
Maggie Chao is a resident of a generation ship headed for a distant colony that will take 400 years to reach its destination. She’s settled in for her leg of the journey, raising a family that will take her place, when they receive a message from Earth with the formula for eternal youth. Eternal youth, while attractive, poses its own difficulties in an enclosed environment where all of the resources have been scheduled and rationed precisely to allow them all to survive to their destination. And this isn’t the only major change to their lives as they continue and as they land to make their colony. Technology has been developing on Earth while they traveled, and a singularity has already passed by the time they land, and it may not be the only one.

This story had a very Golden Age feel to me, in the best way possible. There were characters, and I liked those characters, but what really made it memorable to me was the progression of technologies from start to finish, each one being kind of its own stage of worldbuilding. It evoked a really nice sense of wonder that kept me interested and happy to be reading it. The main story is interspersed with Maggie telling different mythical Creation tales, each of which ties into events in the main story in interesting ways.

 

2. The Pyre of New Day by Catherine Asaro (The Mammoth Book of SF Wars)
Hypron is a telepath with withered legs who lives with his brother Oxim on the bleak muddy landscape of a frontier planet called New Day. They’d come here with other colonists to this terraformed world to make a life for themselves, but were abandoned by the founders of the colony when the terraforming failed, and the atmosphere turned more and more toxic. As more and more colonists died, Hypron’s telepathy proved a major weakness for him as he was forced to live through each person’s grief as their loved ones died. But he and his brother have survived, eking out a life here by working together. Until the day that Oxim is killed by pirates, leaving Hypron alone on their tiny home in the middle of the mud sea and with no way to get food, to call for help, or transport himself away.

Meanwhile, Soz Valdoria finds him by chance. She is a Jagernaut, one of a class of technologically enhanced human rumored with a vicious reputation as monstrous killers. Her ship needs maintenance after battling a monster in the mud sea, and she needs a place to dock it. She too is a telepath, and she follows Hypron’s grieving thoughts to his home and docks her ship there to do her maintenance. She befriends Hypron. Soon the pirate ship that killed Oxim returns, and Hypron and Valdoria have to work together to survive.

I liked both characters in this story quite a lot. I really wanted them to survive. The worldbuilding was interesting, and the story well written. The main flaw I saw in this story was the power-balance didn’t lend itself well to providing the story with tension. At the beginning of the story when Hypron realizes he is alone and without any conceivable way to survive, there is absolutely nothing he can do but contemplate suicide to make his end more quick. While I felt for the guy, there wasn’t much tension in that inevitable fate from which he has no power to escape. When Valdoria shows up at just the right time, she of course turns Hypron’s chances completely around, but she is so capable that when the pirates show up again I never had the slightest doubt that she would take them out. So again, I never felt a lot of tension.

But the story has plenty of good things going for it.

 

3. The Finite Canvas by Brit Mandelo (Tor.com 12/5/12)
Molly is a medical doctor on the barely habitable old Earth, which has been abandoned by most of humanity. Her clinic is supported by a donor, but she’s barely scraping by to get herself in food and clothes. A woman walks in to her clinic, named Jada, hard in body and mind, a wanted assassin and member of a crime syndicate fleeing pursuit here. Her body is covered in stylized scars, each marking one of her kills. Off-planet she would have an artist do the scarring for her, but there is no such luxury here on old Earth. She is here to ask the doctor to give her a new scar to commemorate Jada murdering her partner. In exchange, Jada will pay her money that Molly sorely needs for medical treatment, and give her a story.

I enjoyed this story. I really felt that both characters were real people, who find common ground despite all their differences. Jada tells her story as Molly adds to Jada’s scars. I really was enjoying this story until the ending, where it takes a sudden turn that for me came out of nowhere. Judging by the story’s text, this turn was meant to be understandable and justifiable, but I didn’t find it that way. The ending made me wonder what exactly I had missed in everything that came before it that made that ending work, wondering if I’d missed the point entirely.

 

4. Close Encounters by Andy Duncan (The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories)
This story tells of events later in the life of Buck Nelson, one of the cheerful and vocal alien “contactees” of the 1950s and 1960s. Once very vocal and happy to share his stories, he’s withdrawn from the public eye over the years. A reporter, Miss Hanes of the Associated Press, knocks on his door and tries to get him to talk again. He rebuffs her, but she’s persistent, and eventually she talks him into talking with her about his stories about alien contact with the alien who called himself Bob Solomon and their travels together to the moon, Mars, and Venus. He’s been telling stories for so long after the contact that even he doesn’t remember which ones were true. The date is nearing of the annual picnic which he used to invite people to join him in stargazing in the hopes of Bob Solomon coming back.

I liked Buck a lot, a colorful salt of the earth kind of guy. His interaction with Miss Hanes was very entertaining. Likeable characters are a definite plus, but though there was an ending that tied things up, I felt like the story in general was kind of meandering and too slow to get where it was going.

 

5. Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia by Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 8/22/12)
Renn never learned great skill in art, but she did develop a skill in magic that allows her to paint things perfectly at the cost of destroying the artistic subject. Her former teacher, the great artist Lisane de Patagnia is dying–she has not given Renn her estate, but she has insisted that Renn paint her with magic. This is a practice forbidden due to the fatal consequences, but she wants to leave something behind that will become her legacy and Renn’s when she and Renn are both gone.

Lisane collected student lovers like trinkets, using them and discarding them when they disinterested her, always in pursuit of someone. Renn was one of her lovers, but so were others, including Orla who is receiving Lisane’s estate.

This is a story of loss and of grieving, and of finding your own place in the world. It was well-written, but I found that I couldn’t relate to any of the characters enough for the story to really have an impact. Lisane is selfish to the point of sociopathy, pursuing her art and her carnal desires in the most selfish possible way, with utter disregard for the well-being of those she tears apart in the process. And the students who flock to her become such doting doormats with utter disregard for their own well-being that I couldn’t relate to them either.

 

6. Swift, Brutal Retaliation by Meghan McCarron (Tor.com 1/4/12)
Sisters Brigid and Sinead are mourning their brother Ian. Ian was a fan of pulling pranks, and now that he’s gone the sisters have started to pull pranks on each other in escalating fashion. They begin to see visions of their brother, and they realize that he always manifests during an act of a prank. Does he manifest because they are evoking his spirit in pulling pranks the way he would have? Or is he trying to stop them? Or something else entirely?

I didn’t really care about what seemed to be the central questions of the story, why the pranks brought their brother around. And in the end I didn’t really care about any of the characters. A story about grieving is a great way to emotionally connect with me, but mixing it with childish and malicious pranks leaves me not liking any of the characters. By the end I didn’t care what happened to any of them.

 

7. Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 8/12)
Joseph McCarthy has become President of the United States and life is good for everyone. Yes it is good, as defined by the goodness measures laid down by President McCarthy, everything from the war effort to the structure of the family unit. Never mind the radiation and the widespread impotence or the government choosing your occupation. The story is told as alternating propoganda videos by the McCarthy administration and two children who are trying to find their place in this world.

I felt like I should like this story. For those who may not know, Joseph McCarthy was the US Senator who singlehandedly started the Red Scare, lying his ass off to convince people that Communists were infiltrating us, thousands of spies acting as normal American families. Anyone could be a Communist spy, and you had to keep vigilant and report the slightest odd behavior. But McCarthy never showed any evidence of this in our world, and eventually was disgraced because everyone came to the conclusion he was lying.

McCarthy as President is a great premise for a dystopian future. Even I (who generally doesn’t have interest in politics) can’t help but extrapolate from that basic premise to something really terrible.

I generally liked the sections of this story that were told as editing notes on propoganda tapes. I’ve always liked stories that felt like “found” documents, and this had that feel. The propoganda feel gives an uneasy overpatriotic ring to this part of the story, very creepy.

But the “honestly” told parts of the story bothered me. I mean, bothered me in a way that meant I didn’t like it rather than the seat-squirming involvement in the propoganda sections. I’m having trouble putting my finger on exactly why, but it meant that I didn’t like the story in the end. The closest I’m able to put it to words at this moment is that the “honestly” told parts of the story felt somehow even less genuine than the things that were clearly meant as propoganda. The over-the-top propoganda videos seemed to have been meant as a cautionary tale, and these other sections were meant to show the real life behind the propoganda, a life that isn’t so great. But to me these other sections didn’t ring true, to the point that they feel like propoganda directed at me and authored by Valente, using the obvious propoganda to try to drive me toward believing the other part is authentic when it really just felt like a more subtle propoganda to me. And, I mean, the main message I can detect there isn’t a bad one, that McCarthyism is a scary thing and that it’s a good thing that it didn’t sweep the American mindset and stay there. But the way that it’s told makes me want to distrust every part of the story as more propoganda, and that means that everything is so disingenuous to my gut feelings that there’s nothing of meaning here to me. In the end, this story just ended up just leaving me irritated.